With Shane Carwin wrecking his knee in the weeks before the season finale of “The Ultimate Fighter” it makes three straight, and four of the last five, coaches’ fights that haven’t occurred because of injuries. Shane Carwin joins Vitor Belfort, Dominick Cruz and Brock Lesnar in pulling out of a card with a last minute injury. Thus the sizzle of Carwin vs. Nelson has been replaced with a more workmanlike Matt Mitrione stepping into the main event. For a TUF Finale it’s not a bad card, crazy enough, because most of the awful fighters on TUF who only will ever fight in the organization once have been excised from it. The only TUF fighters on the card are the ones who made it to the finals, which is a first.
Roy Nelson vs. Matt Mitrione
Fight Breakdown: Mitrione is a solid but unspectacular talent who’s good at throwing strikes and is durable enough in a brawl. Nelson is the heavyweight division’s resident fat guy who happens to have an iron chin, a powerful boxing game and a shockingly slick BJJ game.
Look for this to be a sloppy, heavyweight brawl. Mitrione isn’t known for his wrestling or ground game and Nelson isn’t known for pressuring fights to the ground, either. Expect this to be a slightly less athletic version of Nelson’s fight with Dave Herman.
Why It Matters: Both fighters are right in that category of being fringe top 10 fighters, needing another win or two to cement that status.
Colton Smith vs. Mike Ricci
Fight Breakdown: In what was certainly one of the worst casts in TUF history, if not the worst, there come two men vying for the right to be crowned king of the toilet bowl of TUF seasons. The crazy thing is that both fighters aren’t that bad, all things considered. But then again it reminds me of the scene in “Ted” where Mark Wahlberg and the teddy bear discuss Boston women. They aren’t bad fighters but they’re the cream of a crop that isn’t very good this season.
Smith is a grappling based fighter who is one of the best in the U.S Army in their combative program based off MMA principles. He’s also the first active duty soldier to be on the show and qualified to be an Airborne Ranger. His fight style is simple: takedown, smother, work for a submission. He’s a poor man’s Jon Fitch circa 2009 except without the NCAA pedigree.
Ricci is a lightweight fighting up a division who comes from Tri-Star with GSP, Rory MacDonald and the like. Rory and he are best friends and Ricci has a pedigree that hasn’t been displayed in his fights so far. He’s a smaller version of Rory without the progression in ability; he could be a phenomenal talent he just hasn’t shown it yet.
Why It Matters: The winner gets a UFC contract and joins the long line of winners from the show. The loser might not stick around for another fight, especially in an unimpressive fight.
Pat Barry vs. Shane del Rosario
Fight Breakdown: Pat Barry and Shane del Rosario are never going to contend for a UFC heavyweight title. Both are also a bit too big and not nearly athletic enough to make 205. What’s the solution to their identical woes? Hit harder than anyone in the division and make a living as a scrappy brawler. This is exactly what this fight is going to be: a couple of heavyweights throwing bombs until someone gets knocked unconscious in a most unhealthy manner.
Both men are converted kickboxers with somewhat limited ground games; del Rosario’s is a bit better if only because he has a couple of submission wins on his record. Both men butter their bread in the same way; throwing punches and kicks harder than anyone. It’ll be surprising to see this fight go the ground unless someone’s hurt because both guys throw everything with bad intentions.
Why It Matters: For Barry it’s a chance to continue his reputation as the heavyweight division’s more eclectic personalities in victory. For del Rosario it’s a chance to show he’s good enough to be in the company as he’s coming off a big loss to Stipe Miocic. Pat Barry is the Mendoza line of the division; if you can beat him you’re a UFC heavyweight. If not … it’s only a matter of time before you’re facing Sean McCorkle in a bar somewhere.
Prediction: Barry by KO
Melvin Guillard vs. Jamie Varner
Fight Breakdown: Melvin Guillard is one of the most explosive strikers in MMA. But when it comes to the ground for some reason he keeps getting choked out; as long as it’s standing he has one of the most definitive edges in the game. He’s almost a smaller, extremely athletic version of Chael Sonnen in that regard; for some reason on the ground he always gives up an arm or his neck. And that’s how he can win Saturday night against Jamie Varner; by keeping the fight standing.
Varner is no slouch himself, a first rate boxer and wrestler, who has somehow reinvented himself after being called up on short notice for a fight he was expected to lose. He’s the fight who’s come in and destroyed one of the better LW prospects and hung tough with a Top 10 caliber opponent in Joe Lauzon; the Varner that was thought to be the best lightweight in the world is starting to show himself once more after spectacularly struggling at the end of his WEC run. Varner’s game is simple: use his boxing game to set up takedowns. He’s versatile to finish the fight anywhere and his biggest strength will be on the ground; look for him to use jabs and movement to stay away from Guillard until he goes for a takedown.
The key will be Guillard’s mindset. When he is on he earns his nickname of the “Young Assassin.” He has a finisher’s instincts; when he smells blood he goes for it with a ruthlessness rarely seen. He came into the Lauzon fight overlooking him and got caught; if he shows up focused and ready he’ll be a tough out for anyone.
Why It Matters: Guillard was on the cusp to a title shot when Joe Lauzon defied the odds against him. He’s had a sporadic record since, losing in spectacular fashion to contenders Donald Cerrone and Jim Miller with an unfulfilled win over Fabricio Camoes the only bright spot since he destroyed Shane Roller 18 months ago. Guillard has always had the potential to be the best lightweight in the world; he just hasn’t had that trigger pull to get there.
Varner is a guy making good on a second chance many thought he hadn’t earned. A devastating win against Edson Barboza, a fight he was seemingly brought in to be highlight reel fodder for, earned him a shot against Joe Lauzon. Taking that fight into deep waters, he lost a tough fight when Lauzon pulled off what might be the submission of the year. Varner looks like he finally belongs in the same breath as his WEC lightweight peers in terms of quality and Guillard is another in a series of tough tests for him.
Dustin Poirier vs. Jonathan Brookins
Fight Breakdown: Brookins is a first rate grappler with good enough hands to not get embarrassed most times on his feet. Poirier is fairly similar but at a higher level in both regards,
Why It Matters: Poirier was on the cusp of a title shot when he got finished by the Korean Zombie. With Jose Aldo’s time in the division looking shorter and shorter the road to the title is also going to be just that. A big win here and Poirier can vault back into the title picture just as easily.
Brookins is a mercurial talent who’s being given one of the craziest TUF winner fight schedules in recent memory. In four fights he’s drawn Poirier, Eric Koch, Charles Oliveira and Vagner Rocha. Outside of Rocha his other three opponents have all been Top 10 caliber fighters; it’s a tough draw and Brookins has fought everyone tough. He’s still a tough out and beating him isn’t an easy thing.