Dana White’s Contender Series on UFC Fight Pass has become the new stepping-stone for fighters hoping to show off for UFC matchmakers and earn a contract with the promotion. The show targets “undiscovered” talent and veterans looking to prove that they still have what it takes.
Hawaii fighters have been putting in work to put themselves and the rest of the island athletes on the map. During the eight-week series, four of the weeks featured fighters from Hawaii.
Waianae native Boston Salmon (6-1) appeared on the first episode and won a unanimous decision against Ricky Turcios. Not only did Salmon get the W, he was also awarded a UFC contract and is currently scheduled to fight October 28th in Brazil.
“At first I was trying to get a fight for LFA. I was going to fight June 2nd,” said Salmon. “Then my manager Brian Butler called and said we had better opportunity. He said, “you are going to fight for UFC”. I asked for the details, and he explained about Dana’ White’s Contender series and that I would have the opportunity to win a UFC contract. That was about five weeks before the show. “
“I didn’t know what to expect because it was the first show. From what I had heard it would be in front of a small close crowd. It was a pretty small venue. It was actually strange. I had no anxiety and when I was fighting it was like just another day in the gym.”
Salmon was awarded a UFC contract that night, but the backstory to his performance made it a unique experience. In that small crowd was his father who had been flown in to watch the show.
“It felt very surreal. I say I had tears of joy but it was more than that. I was fighting in front of my father who has been diagnosed with stage four cancer. He was there and to do that in front his eyes meant so much.”
Dan “Dynamite” Ige (8-1) spent all his early career fighting on the islands, but in the last several years has been moving up the ranks in mainland promotions and drawing some attention. Currently training in Las Vegas, he appeared on the third week of the series where he submitted Luis Raul Gomez in the third round for the win. Ige didn’t go home with the contract but still gained a lot.
“The contender series was a great experience,” said Ige. “Although I did not get the contract, I felt like it really put me on the radar. Now whenever someone gets hurt in the UFC and they need a short notice replacement they’ll know who to call! I’m very grateful for all of my fans and supporters in Hawaii. The islands will always be my home and I can truly feel the Aloha out here in the desert!”
Cheyden “Steadfast” Leialoha (6-1) was next in line for week four. In a hard fought battle, Leialoa lost the decision to John Castaneda. This was Leialoha’s first lost.
“Honestly the whole process was crazy. When I found out I was going to be on the show (DWTNCS), I was very excited for the opportunity. UFC’s been a dream of mine since childhood so getting the call meant the world to me and my family,” said Leialoha. “We weren’t allowed to announce it for about a month so the only ones who knew about it were my team, coaches & family. The show was a lot different then what I was used to, and being in Vegas, which is the fight capitol really opened my eyes. I fought a very tough and experienced opponent on a big stage. I felt like that experience definitely helped me mature and grow as a fighter. It was life changing. The biggest thing I can grasp from this is I answered many questions that I had within myself and I now know my capability and my potential. Getting a taste of what it’s like has just made me more hungry. As of right now I am 6-1 and trying to get another fight before the year ends. I’ll fight on whatever show necessary to prove that I really do deserve to be in the UFC.”
“I am 23 years old so this little obstacle will only make me stronger. I’ve been a pro since 2015 so the fact that I got to experience something big like this (after 2 years) will definitely help me in the long run. So for now just putting in work & focusing on my skill set”
Even as his career takes him to new places Leialoha is very appreciative of his local fan base. “I want to thank everybody that has supported me and been apart of my career up to this point. I can promise you guys I put everything I have into preparation and I will leave everything I have in that cage every time. The Positive energy I get from you all motivates me to keep striving. Puna will be on the Map soon. God Bless ”
Martin “The Spartan” Day (5-2) followed in week six, putting on a show but unable to secure the decision. Day was coming off of a first round knock out going into the fight. Despite the loss, Day is not discouraged.
“Although the outcome wasn’t what I had planned I learned a lot from this experience and got to meet some awesome people and made great connections,” said Day. “I look forward to earning my way back into the contender show and eventually earning my UFC contract. Thank you so much to all of my Hawaii people for sticking by my side no matter what. Mark my words, I’ll be back better than ever!”
As the first series of the show wraps up, these four have done a good job of letting the world know that Hawaii has a lot to offer. Mahalo boys. Well done.