It’s that time of year again; “The Ultimate Fighter” has run its course and now we’re down to the final pairing of fighters angling to win what has amounted to a sixteen man tournament to crown the next best prospect in the UFC. Along the way the main card is going to have some top notch fights, as well, and as such it’s time to break down the main card.
Welterweight bout: Jake Ellenberger vs. Martin Kampmann
Fight Breakdown: You know how stacked the welterweight division is right now? You have a fight right here between two guys that would normally determine a #1 contender … and the winner of this fight has to get in line behind Carlos Condit and Jonny Hendricks for GSP once he arrives. Both men aren’t strangers to headlining cards on FX or Fuel, though, and now we have a chance to see them fight for what should amount to a delayed title shot. And it’s quite a matchup as Ellenberger and Kampmann are fun fighters to watch.
Both guys are adept grappling and striking, but expect much more of a standup affair. Ellenberger has strong takedowns but has a brawler’s mentality at times. His takedowns are effective, as he has one of the better takedown percentages in the UFC, but he’s not the Jon Fitch type of fighter that would seem to make you think he would be. Ellenberger has no problem trading hands but his wrestling is good enough to get most fights to the ground. He also has some devastating power in his strikes on occasion; he stopped Jake Shields, no easy feat. Ellenberger has some choice wins and is on an impressive win streak, too.
Kampmann has an underrated ground game that he doesn’t engage in nearly as much because of just how good he can be when it comes to his standup. It was interesting to see him against Thiago Alves where he was losing definitively losing the fight until getting a miracle submission at the end. He kept that fight standing and does that often; Kampmann’s ground game is good enough it’s kind of surprising why he doesn’t use it as often as he could. He’s like Chris Lytle in that regard, much more willing to keep a fight a standup affair than use the ground.
The key to the fight is going to be Ellenberger’s gas tank. He’s a great fighter in the first, a very good one in the second and solid in the third. Sometimes he’s managed to pull off the win by decision by getting the first two and surviving the third; it’s how he beat Carlos Condit many moons ago and Diego Sanchez most recently. The problem now is that he’s going to be going five rounds; how his cardio holds up is going to be what’ll decide the fight. Historically he fades as the fight goes longer and that doesn’t bode well for a five round affair; if he doesn’t gas going into the championship rounds then he can take this fight.
Why it matters: A potential title shot, for starters, is on the line here. The winner would be right up there with Hendricks as a choice to face Condit if GSP can’t fight in November. If GSP is able to fight Condit in November, look for the winner of this fight vs. Hendricks to determine who gets the next shot. If GSP is unable to go then the winner of this fight will most likely be in line right after Hendricks for the winner of that fight.
Essentially the future for the winner of this is largely dependent on whether or not GSP is ready to go in the next 2-3 months; a training camp for the champion usually lasts three months and thus he has to be cleared by his doctor in roughly six to eight weeks for a November return to the cage.
The Prediction: Kampmann via TKO, round 4
TUF: Live Lightweight Tournament Championship bout:
Mike Chiesa vs. Al Iaquinta
Fight Breakdown: Chiesa and Iaquinta are two of the more talented lightweight prospects to hit TUF in a while, mainly because the UFC has done a good job at bringing in new talent in the division directly to the organization as opposed to the show itself. But they’re just that at this point: prospects. Neither has a complete game but the fight is intriguing because both are going to try to do the same thing: get the fight to the ground.
Both fighters have fairly extensive amateur wrestling backgrounds and like to take the fight to the ground. When they get there, though, they both do different things. Iaquinta reflects his training under Matt Serra in that he uses top control to effectively strikes. He has some power in his striking on the ground and on his feet; so far he’s used good power strikes to set up his takedowns but can stop a fight with his power. He’s still arguably fairly raw in that aspect of his game, too, which gives him a wilder approach to striking when he goes for the knockout or knockdown.
One thing is clear, though, from a fighting evolution standpoint: Chiesa has clearly benefited from being amongst much higher level coaching. Iaquinta comes from a great camp and has had very high level coaching up to this point whereas Chiesa hasn’t. Serra-Longo has a number of first rate fighters in the UFC already and Iaquinta is another guy who has progressed rapidly as a fighter under their tutelage. And it shows in their striking.
Chiesa is much more of a submission artist on the ground than Iaquinta; he uses his striking to get inside and go for takedowns. He’s nowhere near polished with his striking but has improved noticeably on the show than from his fights beforehand. He’s still not great at it but the time spent on the show has clearly had a positive effect on him; watch his fight to get into the finals and the fight to get on the show and you’ll see a much improved fighter. He’s crisper and cleaner with his technique.
Iaquinta has gotten better on the show but throughout the show has clearly looked the most polished and ready to step into the UFC. Matt Serra’s fighters might not be 100% ready to test the deep waters of the division but they are ready to jump in and show they belong there. If it wasn’t for the show it would have probably only been a matter of time before he was another great prospect in the division making his debut.
The key will be in the takedown. If Iaquinta can keep Chiesa from taking him down he can win a standup battle more effectively than Chiesa, who needs to get the fight to the ground more than Iaquinta.
Why it matters: The TUF winner is the only fighter on the show guaranteed another fight and a sport in the UFC. Most likely both will end up in the UFC, as even TUF losers get one or two more fights in the UFC to prove they belong, but being a TUF winner generally gets you more slack when it comes to keeping your spot. Being a winner of the show gives you a certain amount of leeway at times, an amount that’s both beneficial and detrimental early in your career that most prospects don’t get. More is expected out of you if you win the show, and you’re generally thrown the wolves faster in that regard, but you’re also given a better chance and a higher spot on the card with that win.
The Prediction: Iaquinta via UD
Featherweight bout: Max Holloway vs. Pat Schilling
Fight Breakdown: The classic striker vs. grappler matchup, this is a matchup of two prospects coming off a loss in the UFC. Holloway is the youngest fighter in the UFC and a striker who reminds many of a smaller Anthony Pettis. His first bout in the UFC was a tough one against Dustin Poirier and he gets a second that’s not nearly as high up on the food chain.
Pat Schilling also lost in his UFC debut, his against Daniel Pineda via choke. Schilling has a solid amateur wrestling background and has a career log filled with submission victories. Ideally he’ll want to get this fight to the ground, where he has the advantage, as opposed to standing and trading with Holloway.
If Schilling can get the fight to the ground, he can win the fight. While he might be able to get a flash KO, Holloway’s striking is good enough to get him the win.
Why it matters: When you have a prospect that has lost their first fight in the UFC, a second loss generally spells trouble long term. A win here puts them back to where they started; a loss can mean a cut from the roster if you look bad enough.
The Prediction: Holloway by KO, 3rd
Featherweight bout: Jonathan Brookins vs. Charles Oliveira
Fight Breakdown: Brookins has been around for long enough to have faced Jose Aldo when both were burgeoning prospects in the featherweight division of the WEC. Aldo would go to rise to the top of that company while Brookins would continue to have a journeyman’s path through MMA until winning a lightweight Ultimate Fighter (Season 12). Dropping to featherweight with the introduction of that weight class into the UFC, Brookins has had a tough path even for a TUF winner so far. And now he gets Charles Oliveira, who has looked like a killer so far at featherweight after nearly washing out as a lightweight prospect.
Oliveira was a lightweight prospect who faced some tough guys early in his UFC career. Losing to Donald Cerrone and Jim Miller, he dropped to featherweight and looked remarkably impressive in submitting Eric Wisely at UFC on Fox 3.
Oliveira is known as a submission specialist and that’s where he’ll want the fight to go: the ground. It’s odd that he’s known for being good with submissions because he’s been tapped before, notably by kneebar to Jim Miller, and he didn’t defend it well. It was odd and Oliveira is a really strange fighter in that regard; he can look like a killer on the ground and he can also make a strange mistake and lose a fight that way. If he can get the fight to the ground he can get the submission but that’ll be a tough feat because Brookins is good enough on the ground to stop him from doing so.
Brookins is comfortable there and has a developed all around game. It’s not that remarkably impressive on its own but collectively Brookins does enough good things to be a good all around fighter without being particularly brilliant in one aspect. He has nice takedowns and finds interesting angles to throw guys. He has enough power to have a number of KO finishes in his career but doesn’t have that one shot fight ending power on a regular basis.
Why it matters: A win here for either fighter, in a shallow division, gets one a fight or two away from a title shot at this point.
The Prediction: Brookins via UD
Tags: Al Iaquinta, Charles Oliveira, Jake Ellenberger, Jonathan Brookins, Martin Kampmann, Mixed Martial Arts, The Ultimate Fighter, TUF 15