Early adversity in Contender Series can’t halt Phil Rowe’s move into UFC


LAS VEGAS — Florida-based welterweight Phil Rowe spoiled Leon Shahbazyan‘s opportunity to join his younger brother in the UFC — and earned a UFC contract in the process.

Rowe (7-2) defeated Shahbazyan via TKO at the 16-second mark of the third round. The welterweight bout headlined Dana White’s Contender Series on Tuesday at UFC Apex, and it was the only fight of the night that produced a UFC contract.

Shahbazyan (7-2) hurt Rowe early with a flurry of left hands, and it appeared that he was on his way to an early finish. Rowe weathered the storm, however, and turned things around in the middle frame. He hurt Shahbazyan badly with strikes to the body and head before finishing him with a right hand in the third.

“I’m all about pushing through adversity,” said Rowe, 29. “That skinny dude would have to kill me in there to stop me. He talked about stopping me in a round. That’s what happens when you put a chihuahua in there with a Florida black lion.”

Shahbazyan, 23, is the older brother of UFC prospect Edmen Shahbazyan (10-0). Edmen was in attendance on Tuesday, as were other friends and family members. Going in, Shahbazyan was more than a 2-to-1 betting favorite.

Phil Rowe came in here and takes on Leon, who comes from a camp where his brother is on fire,” White said. “He gets clipped early and keeps his composure. Got hurt, stayed calm, let [his] game plan play out. He saw his opportunity, and he took it. I love it.”

Besides Rowe, bantamweight Steve Garcia Jr. (10-3) arguably made the biggest statement of the night, as he knocked out Desmond Torres with punches and elbows at 4:35 of the first round. Garcia likely would have been offered a contract, but he missed weight by 3.5 pounds for the 135-pound bout.

Strawweight prospect Mallory Martin (5-2) picked up a decision win against Micol di Segni (7-3), mostly behind her strong grappling skills. White was impressed by Martin’s performance but said the 25-year-old needs more experience.

White had a similar take on light heavyweight Jamal Pogues (7-2), who trains out of JacksonWink MMA in Albuquerque and defeated Marcos Brigagao (11-1) via unanimous decision. Pogues repeatedly ducked under Brigagao haymakers and took the fight to the mat. White predicted that the 23-year-old would make it into the UFC eventually but said it would be unfair to match him against UFC-caliber opposition before he develops a more well-rounded skill set.

Bantamweight Ricky Steele (6-0) rounded out the four athletes who picked up wins on Tuesday but failed to earn a UFC contract. Steele defeated Phil Caracappa (8-1) via split decision in a back-and-forth fight he was able to keep on the feet.

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