And so ends another season. This Saturday night, the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada will play host to The Ultimate Fighter Season 18 finale with the winner of both the women’s and men’s bantamweight tournament securing a UFC fight contract and that glass block thingy that has now become customary to glare through at the camera and plant a big fat one on it in celebration. Contesting for the honour of being labelled this instalments champs are Julianna Pena and Jessica Rakoczy for the women; and Chris Holdsworth and David Grant for the men. The event is headlined by a battle of two lightweights as Gray Maynard and Nate Diaz go at it for the second (well, technically third) time.
Now as ever, I am here to walk you through the prelim portion of the night’s event so let’s get started.
Akira Corassani vs. Maximo Blanco – 145lbs.
Corassani introduced himself to UFC fans on the back of a stint on TUF himself, where he competed on the 14th season of the increasingly stale and irrelevant reality TV show back in 2011. That Corassani is competing on the prelims of a subsequent TUF season finale after two years of competing inside the Octagon, it’s safe to say that he has not been one of the franchise’s success stories. This however is not down to the Swede’s talent, as Corassani is a capable mixed martial artist who has an engaging and entertaining style, rather his luck with injuries. Saturday night will be the second time that Corassani has fought in 2013, having last competed in April, and this will be the first time that Corassani has fought more than once in a calendar year since 2010. Corassani will bring in to the Octagon a perfect UFC record of 2-0 when he faces of with Maximo Blanco.
There once was a time when Maximo Blanco was being talked of as a legitimate threat to the upper echelons of the lightweight division having secured the Lightweight King of Pancrase title and ran roughshod over the best that Sengoku had to offer. However that notion soon came crashing down once Blanco set foot in Strikeforce where he tapped out to Pat Healy on his American debut. Since that reality check, Blanco has migrated over to the UFC and dropped down to the featherweight ranks and has alternated a win and a loss in his previous two fights, with his most recent performance being a decision victory over Sam Sicilia back in April.
Corassani will look to drag Blanco to the canvas as soon as he can to work his superior grappling game, as on the feet Blanco will hold a significant power advantage as well as a technical advantage over Corassani. Unfortunately for Corassani, I do not feel he will be able to take Blanco down with enough regularity in order to either win over the judges or secure a submission, with Blanco showing significantly improved grappling defence.
Prediction – Blanco via KO/TKO in the 2nd round.
Rani Yahya vs. Tom Niinimäki – 145lbs.
After the absorption of the WEC in to the UFC back in 2010, Rani Yahya moved up in weight from bantam to featherweight in order to reinvigorate a stuttering career having exited the WEC with back-to-back defeats. This move has proved to be successful and save for a lone defeat to Chad Mendes, Yahya has compiled a 4-1 record during his time with the UFC. Yahya has registered victories over Mike Brown, Josh Grispi, Mizuto Hirota and most recently Josh Clopton back at UFC 163 in August, and will enter the Octagon full of the confidence that a three-fight win streak brings.
Tom Niinimäki is someone I know a lot about. Only kidding, much like the rest of you I have no idea who this cat is, but from what I can gather in my research for this preview is that he is no joke. Niinimäki will be debuting for the UFC this Saturday and will enter the Octagon on an 11-fight winning run and has competed almost exclusively on the European MMA circuit for the majority of his career, with notable victories coming over Chase Beebe and most recently Walel Watson back in September.
Niinimäki is a fairly well rounded fighter who, while capable on the feet, will hunt for submissions rather than KOs; however, in this one it’s not likely that Niinimäki will hold any kind of advantage over Yahya while on the mat. Yahya seems to be on a real tear at the moment and I expect him to be too powerful on the ground for Niinimäki and will be able to work for a sub of his one as this one progresses.
Predicition – Yahya via submission in the 2nd round.
Jared Rosholt vs. Walt Harris – 265lbs.
You may be familiar with the Rosholt family name, but this familiarisation will likely be attributed to Jake Rosholt, former UFC middleweight and Jared’s older brother, rather than this particular debuting heavyweight. Rosholt is still young in his career and has just the 9 fights behind him, with just the one loss coming against Derrick Lewis back in August of 2012. A 3x All-American at Oklahoma State University, Rosholt is a man that will have an advantage over most heavyweights in the grappling department and Saturday will be no different as he faces off with the powerful striker, Walt Harris.
Harris has had even less time in a cage than Rosholt, having competed on just the five occasions, but even that does not tell the whole story. Of Harris’ five fights only one has gone the distance, his only defeat, whilst the other four victories all came within 2 minutes of the first round. While a finishing record like that is more than enough for you to sit up and take note, it can also be misleading as we have no real lengthy footage on which to judge Harris. I guess the jury is out on this one until we see further evidence, starting Saturday.
An inexperienced striker versus an inexperienced, yet decorated collegiate wrestler? Hmmm, I think I’ve seen this before and it never pans out for the striker.
Prediction – Rosholt via KO/TKO in the 1st round.
Sean Spencer vs. Drew Dober – 170lbs.
After debuting with the UFC in the middleweight division back in January, Sean Spencer quickly took the decision to drop down a weightclass and reinvent himself as a welterweight. What prompted that change of weight was a conclusive defeat at the hands of Rafael Natal, as Spencer’s Brazilian opponent wrapped up an arm-triangle choke to finish him off midway through the final frame. Spencer was to bounce back from this defeat in his most recent performance against Yuri Villefort, taking home a split decision victory back in September.
Drew Dober can lay some claim to being one of the TUF alumnus on this Saturday’s card, but perhaps only the most eagle-eyed viewers with the memory of an elephant will remember Dober’s very short-lived TUF tenure. Dober took part in season 15 of the show but suffered an early exit, losing out in the preliminary stages. Dober clearly benefitted as much as he could from this setback, as since this disappointment Dober has gone on to compile a 5-1 record on the regional circuit with his most recent triumph coming over former UFC combatant, TJ O’Brien back in July.
While Dober will hold an advantage over Spencer in terms of agility, grappling and handspeed, I doubt that he has serviceable enough wrestling in order to drag Spencer to the mat with any significant frequency. I expect the fight to be played out primarily on the feet where Spencer will be able to fully utilise his superior striking and power.
Prediction – Spencer via KO/TKO in the 3rd round.
Tags: Akira Corassani, Gray Maynard, Jared Rosholt, Maximo Blanco, Mixed Martial Arts, MMA, Nate Diaz, Rani Yahya, Sean Spencer, UFC