By Jaime C. Feal
As the title of the season indicates, the two coaches Shane Carwin and Roy Nelson were scheduled to meet on Saturday night’s card in a heavyweight clash. An unfortunate knee injury sidelined Carwin late in the season, and had the UFC scrambling for a replacement to fight Roy Nelson. Ultimately they settled on 5-1 Matt Mitrione, a competitor on the same TUF season that Roy “Big Country” Nelson ended up winning. That fight headlines the free card on FX Saturday night, the second consecutive night the UFC will present a free show: On Friday night, The Ultimate Fighter UK vs. Australia Finale takes center stage with George Sotiropoulos and Ross Pearson headlining the card, also on FX.
Featherweight Division (145 lbs.):
Dustin “The Diamond” Poirier (12-2, 4-1 UFC) vs. Jonathan Brookins (13-5, 2-2 UFC)
A matchup of purple belts in jiu jitsu who perform way above their belt level, this fight will show you how the rank of the belt matter less than the class and prestige of the school. Poirier trains with American Top Team, and Brookins with Gracie Barra Orlando. Both fighters still have tons of potential and room to grow in the standup, with Poirier being only 23 years old, and Brookins 27. Poirier is perhaps best known for his incredible triangle-armbar submission over Max Holloway.
This fight boils down to who can get their opponent down and get top position. Both these fighters have shown awesome finishing ability with their submissions, but not the best defense against them. That makes for a highly entertaining grappling match where the fighters are mainly thinking offense. With the jiu jitsu being roughly equal, as is the stand-up, the difference in this fight should be who the better wrestler is. Brookins comes from a wrestling background and has slightly more experience, so he gets the nod as the featherweight more likely to get the win.
Prediction: Jonathan Brookins wins by Submission (rear-naked choke), Round 2.
Lightweight Division (155 lbs.):
Melvin “The Young Assassin” Guillard (30-11, 11-7 UFC) vs. Jamie “C4” Varner (20-7, 2-2 UFC)
Melvin Guillard, the longtime UFC vet, absolutely hates going to the ground, and for good reason: His jiu-jitsu is terrible, but his stand-up is as explosive and dynamic as they come. When he is allowed to stand, Guillard can produce some of the most sensational and exciting knockouts in MMA. Jamie Varner, a well-rounded fighter with a wrestling background, would be very wise to take Melvin down early and often. Varner has shown a propensity to stand and trade in the past, but in this fight his coaches have to be screaming at him to look for the takedown.
The fight will be the most entertaining in the opening minutes, as Guillard comes out looking to land a huge punch that knocks Varner out. Should Varner survive this early onslaught, he will likely be able to take Guillard down with his superior wrestling and grappling ability. From there, he would be unlikely to submit Melvin, instead opting to simply smash him with ground-and-pound.
Prediction: Jamie “C4” Varner wins by unanimous decision.
Heavyweight Division (265 lbs.):
Pat “HD” Barry (7-5, 4-5 UFC) vs. Shane Del Rosario (11-1, 0-1 UFC)
What an awesome matchup Joe Silva gave us with this one. Two former standout American kickboxers, now full-time mixed martial artists, square off in a Heavyweight rumble. Both men will be looking to land there powerful leg kicks and technical punches. Pat Barry always comes forward and tries to put on exciting fights for the fans. In the memorable Cheick Kongo fight, Barry had Kongo badly hurt, but then came forward too aggressively and got caught with a counter that put him out cold. It’s this style of fighting that has kept “HD” in the UFC, as fans love his kill or be killed attitude.
Del Rosario opts to be much more technical with his kickboxing, but he is still a specimen with tons of talent and potential. He has been working on his wrestling, so it’s remotely possible he will look for a takedown, but everyone wants and expects these two men to stand and bang. The question is: Who will land the knockout shot first?
Prediction: Shane Del Rosario wins by KO, Round 2.
The Ultimate Fighter Season 16 Finale:
Lightweight Division (155 lbs.)
Colton Smith (3-1, 0-0 UFC) vs. Mike Ricci (7-2, 0-0 UFC)
Smith, an active US Army Ranger, faces off against Canadian pretty boy Mike Ricci. If you’ve never seen him fight, don’t be fooled by the baby face: Ricci trains with the renowned Tristar Gym in Montreal, and the kid can flat out fight. Colton Smith has grinded out win after win on this season of TUF by out-wrestling all his opponents. Smith has used a combination of takedowns, top control, ground and pound, and ocassional forward pressure with his striking on the feet, to advance to the finale of TUF 16.
Ricci has got it done a completely different way. The southpaw is very technical with his standup, throwing powerful leg kicks to the body, and showing good speed with his hands. His knockout of Neil Magny in the semifinals with a standing elbow was spectacular, easily the best KO of the season. Ricci really showed his killer instinct in that fight, something Colton Smith never showed. Smith opted to grind out wins, once being the beneficiary of the judges, whereas Ricci clearly was the best and most talented fighter in the house, despite his pompous attitude.
The fight will be a huge battle of wills, as both lightweights desperately try to implement their gameplan and capture The Ultimate Fighter title and the six figure contract that accompanies it. Ricci, who is best friends with Rory MacDonald, gets to train with the absolute best wrestlers at Tristar, GSP included. They are no doubt prepping him to sprawl and brawl, and on the feet he holds a clear advantage over Smith, a striking advantage that even the toughness of an Army Ranger cannot nullify.
Prediction: Mike Ricci wins by TKO, Round 2.
Heavyweight Division (265 lbs.):
Roy “Big Country” Nelson (17-7, 4-3 UFC) vs. Matt Mitrione (5-1, 5-1 UFC)
Roy Nelson, the rotund one and veteran of the sport takes on a fighter in Matt Mitrione whose entire professional career has been inside the UFC. Coming straight from the gridiron to the cage, the ex-football player Mitrione is now a kickboxer trained under the tutelage of Duke Roufus. Mitrione prefers to stand upright and backpedal while looking to counter, using leg kicks and unorthodox boxing. Nelson is a slugger who happens to be a world-class black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu.
If Nelson gives the fans what they want, he will stand and trade with Mitrione in an exciting slugfest. Nelson is virtually unfinishable, as evidenced by the three round unanimous decision beating he took from current heavyweight champ Junior Dos Santos. Nelson could stand and bang with Mitrione, or he could try to use the same strategy he used against Kimbo Slice on TUF: Score an inside leg trip takedown, smother his belly on his opponent, and look to finish with ground and pound from the mounted crucifix position.
Mitrione, having competed with Nelson on TUF, is aware of Big Country’s prowess on the ground. While Nelson may want to take it to the mat, Mitrione is much larger than Kimbo, and has much better takedown defense. These days Nelson knows it’s virtually impossible for him to get knocked out, and he is essentially an out of shape middleweight fighting two weight classes above his potential. He is used to having every opponent be physically larger and more muscular than him, and will rely on his big overhand right and tremendous chin. This big overhand right put Brendan Schaub to sleep, winning Nelson the Ultimate Fighter, and has also put Stefan Struve and Dave Herman away in the first round. The version of Mitrione that fought on TUF would get knocked out in the first round against Nelson, this fight will be a test of how far Mitrione has or has not progressed since his time in the house.
Prediction: Roy “Big Country” Nelson wins by TKO, Round 2.
What are your thoughts?