Like I said in yesterday’s preview for the Smashes finale, I’ve not paid a whole heap of attention to TUF this year, but I did watch the opening episode and I’m somewhat mollified to see at least one of my two picks for the competition making the final, but ill get back to that in a bit.
Unusually for a TUF finale, the finalists are the only competitors on the main card, almost as if the UFC have realised that they are starting to scrape the barrel a bit by continually picking on the same divisions and given that a lot of potential cast members will be under contract elsewhere. There may be an article on that to come later…
However, the UFC have assembled an exciting card full of heavy handed fight finishers so hopefully this event can do well and the winner of the tournament can move into their UFC career with some real momentum.
Like most UFC cards of late, this one has been hit by injury as one of the team coaches won’t be able to contest the traditional coaches match due to a recurrence of Shane Carwin’s knee injury. Shane had now been out of action for over a year and a half and given his history of spinal and knee issues and the fact that he has a perfectly good day job as an engineer, I fear we might not see him again.
That leaves us with a main event pitting coach Roy ‘Big Country’ Nelson (17-7) against his fellow TUF 10: Heavyweights alumnus Matt ‘Meathead’ Mitrione (5-1).
Despite his somewhat un-athletic build, Nelson is a very experienced and well rounded mixed martial artist, with top notch jiujitsu, good boxing and a chin of granite. With fifteen of his seventeen wins coming by stoppage (surprisingly more from strikes than submissions) and all but one of his losses coming via decision, it’s clear that Nelson is a finisher who’ll be looking to end the fight as soon as possible. He gets back to his Burger King meal quicker that way.
In all seriousness, a fighter who can knock out Stefan Struve and Mirko Filipovic and survive a tremendous beating from the likes of Junior dos Santos and Frank Mir to take the fight to a decision deserves your respect.
It probably helps that Mitrione is unlikely to try and grind his way to a victory. Very much the surprise package of TUF10, Mitrione seemed like the house joker but he’s actually emerged as one of the few fighters from the season to emerge with a lengthy UFC career.
Despite having his first pro fight on the season finale, Mitrione managed to scrap his way to a 5-0 run in his first five fights, and while Marcus Jones and Kimbo Slice might not have constituted elite opposition, his wins over solid pros like Joey Beltran and Tim Hague solidified his status.
However in his last fight, Mitrione was unable to mount any real offence and lost a truly dull match to Cheick Kongo. It seems he struggles against an opponent with a better reach and technical striking than him.
That’s a criticism that could be thrown at Nelson as well, as his 2-3 run in his last seven fights have seen him defeated by the three genuinely elite level competitors that he has faced.
So, don’t expect a technical battle or a great deal of caution. These two are going to come in and attempt to take each others head off, and there’s a good chance one of them will succeed.
This seasons TUF finale features on of my original picks to win* Mike Ricci (7-2) facing off against proud American, Colton Smith (3-1).
I have to stick with my original pick here, as Ricci has the advantage of experience, a more well rounded skill set and coming from a far better gym (Tristar) than Smith. Hell, Ricci has lost twice in nine fights, with the losses coming to current UFC fighter Daron Cruikshank and Bellator Featherweight champion Pat Curran. Smith has never fought anyone even approaching that level.
Setting the scene for the TUF finale are a trio of matches that are likely to be exciting in the extreme. Heavyweight kickboxers Pat Barry (7-5) and Shane Del Rosario (11-1) have been to a decision once in a combined twenty four fights. Don’t expect this to go three rounds…
I’m a massive Pat Barry fan, but his susceptibility to getting knocked out or submitted while trying to finish a fight in the most entertaining fashion possible is likely to be tested to the extreme against the considerably larger Del Rosario who has only tasted defeat once, and getting knocked out by Stipe Miocic is not exactly something to be ashamed of.
Both of these guys are kickboxers first and foremost and this bout has Fight of the Night and/or Knockout of the Night written all over it.
Take my advice. Don’t blink.
That advice holds true for the match before too, as Lightweight bomb merchants Melvin Guillard (30-11-2-1) and Jamie Varner (20-7-1-2) also both come in with a Plan A of knocking the other guy out.
Both fighters are rebounding from losses and will be looking to make an impression, with Guillard desperate to get his career back on track after a 5-0 streak which had him on the edge of a title shot was derailed by a 1-3 run when he came up against the top guys in the division.
Varner on the other hand is a former WEC champion who’s run in that promotion ended on a 0-3-1 streak that meant he wasn’t invited to the UFC when the merger went down. A 3-1 run in the indies got him back to the UFC where he grabbed the opportunity with both hands, knocking out the previously unbeaten Edson Barboza before falling prey to Joe Lauzon’s triangle choke in a Fight of the Night effort.
A few years ago, I’d have favoured Guillard here, but his confidence has taken a knock recently and Varner’s more rounded game may be able to take advantage of Melvin’s much noted susceptibility to choke holds. That said, if these guys come out swinging, they both have steel in their hands and anything can happen.
The opening match of the main card sees Dustin Poirer (12-2) looking to get back in the win column, following his Match of the Year candidate loss to Chang Sung Jung against former TUF winner Jonathan Brookins (13-5) who is also looking to rebound from a loss to Charles Oliveira.
Both of these guys have fantastic ground games, but I’d give Poirer the advantage standing and in all around quality, so I’ll back him to take the win.
As usual the prelims feature a mix of former TUF alums, UFC regulars and newcomers looking to make an impact and move up the card. There’s not really a prelim match that jumps out at me, but it’s usually the unheralded ones that provide the most entertainment so they’re well worth checking out.
The main card airs in the UK on ESPN at 2am on Sunday morning and folks elsewhere can check http://www.ufc.com for local listings.
THE ULTIMATE FIGHTER 16 FINALE
December 15, 2012
Las Vegas, Nevada
MAIN (FX, 9 p.m. ET)
Matt Mitrione vs. Roy Nelson
Mike Ricci vs. Colton Smith – “TUF 16” tournament final
Patrick Barry vs. Shane del Rosario
Melvin Guillard vs. Jamie Varner
Jonathan Brookins vs. Dustin Poirier
PRELIMINARY (Facebook, 5:30 p.m. ET)
Reuben Duran vs. Hugo Viana
John Cofer vs. Mike Rio
Tim Elliott vs. Jared Papazian
PRELIMINARY (FUEL TV, 7 p.m. ET)
James Head vs. Mike Pyle
Johnny Bedford vs. Marcos Vinicius
Rustam Khabilov vs. Vinc Pichel
Nick Catone vs. Anthony “T.J.” Waldburger