The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 9 Finale is set to go down from "The Pearl" at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Saturday, June 20. The television event airs LIVE on Spike TV at 9 p.m. ET.
Remember: MMAmania.com will provide LIVE updates and blow-by-blow, round-by-round commentary of the main card action throughout the three-hour telecast. As usual, it promises to be a great discussion during an exciting line up of fights.
To get us pumped for the festivities, MMAmania.com Editor and Senior Writer Jesse Holland (that’s me) will break down the main event matches and take a closer look at the intricacies of each contest.
This event touts one of the best main events to hit free TV in recent memory with Diego Sanchez vs. Clay Guida. And it's not just the talent that makes this fight great, it's the title implications within the UFC lightweight division as well.
How crazy would it be to see Diego Sanchez (if he wins) rematch Kenny Florian (if he wins at UFC 101) for the 155-pound title more than four years after they first met at the TUF 1 finale?
And let's not forget Joe Stevenson. A loss to Nate Diaz would be his third straight and likely send him tumbling down the rankings -- and perhaps onto the undercard of future shows.
Of course with so many great match ups it's easy to forget that this event is built around the quest of four up-and-coming fighters each vying for the title of "Ultimate Fighter." Who gets a contract and who goes home?
It’s going to be a great night of fights so make sure you cancel your plans or set your DVR's.
Now, enough with the formalities … let’s get cracking:
155 lbs.: Diego "Nightmare" Sanchez (20-2) vs. Clay "The Carpenter" Guida (25-9)
Backgrounds: Sanchez recently made his highly anticipated 155-pound debut against Joe Stevenson in the UFC 95 main event this past February, scoring a convincing unanimous decision from the judges sitting ringside. Prior to the move south, "Nightmare" was knocking on the door of a potential 170-pound title shot with a win over Thiago Alves at UFC 90: "Silva vs. Cote" back in October before making the surprise move to lightweight. Before back-to-back losses to Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch in 2007 — the only two blemishes on his professional mixed martial arts record — the inaugural TUF middleweight champion was on the cusp of a title shot that never came. He rebounded with impressive consecutive wins and had Thiago Alves on his radar before a rib injury forced him off the card at the last minute. Guida — the former Strikeforce lightweight champion –- is fresh off perhaps the biggest win of his career in years, edging TUF 5 winner Nate Diaz via split decision at UFC 94: "St. Pierre vs. Penn 2" on Jan. 31. It was "karma" as he put it – "The Carpenter" had two close fights against Din Thomas and Tyson Griffin go the other way earlier in his UFC career. He is now on a three-fight win streak, which includes a unanimous decision win over TUF 6 winner Mac Danzig at UFC Fight Night 15 and a technical knockout over Samy Schiavo at UFC Fight Night 13, after dropping a sensational bout against Roger Huerta back in Dec. 2007.
Dumbass predicts: Wow. This is on free TV? Despite what your opinion is on each fighter regarding their "star" status, you cannot deny that each one comes to fight -- and fight hard. Guida takes a lot of heat in the comments section about his style but when you keep winning it's hard to want to make a change. Anyone else remember Rashad Evans taking similar criticisms for his wrestling attack? This is Guida's coming out party, a chance to prove he is more than just a gatekeeper with good wrestling. I think he's going to come close, but in the end Sanchez will just be the better fighter. It's nothing scientific and it's not about "getting caught." Sanchez is too fast and too explosive to be trapped under the Guida blanket and his jiu-jitsu will make Clay think twice about wanting to put him there. They're on an even playing field in terms of cardio so "The Carpenter's" ability to wear guys down will be of no consequence. In this bout I favor "Nightmare's" striking, especially in the later rounds where Guida can sometimes get a little sloppy. Guida will take it to him, no question, but Sanchez will give it right back -- and then some.
Prediction: Sanchez via split decision
155 lbs.: Joe "Daddy" Stevenson (29-10) vs. Nate Diaz (10-3)
Backgrounds: Stevenson — who was the TUF 2 welterweight winner — is in a rare slump, losing back-to-back bouts. However, those two losses have come to current division number one contender Kenny "KenFlo" Florian as well as the new-look Diego "Nightmare" Sanchez in a close unanimous decision scrap. The newly-minted Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt will begin his climb back to the top and look to put together a win streak like he had during his welterweight run. Diaz has been nothing short of brilliant inside the cage since winning it all on TUF 5, stopping four out of five opponents before a razor-thin split decision loss to the lightweight cardio machine known as Clay Guida that earned both him and "The Carpenter" a $65,000 "Fight of the Night" bonus. It was his first loss inside the Octagon in six attempts since his debut at the June 2007 TUF 5 Finale and temporarily derailed his chances at a division title shot, which could have possibly been within reach with a few more impressive wins.
Dumbass predicts: Diaz is going to give Joe the fits. I usually try to make a case for both fighters in my predictions but the more I look at this the harder it is for me to imagine "Daddy" having much success. The trademark Diaz style that involves unorthodox, rat-tat-tat punches that come from all angles will make it very difficult for Stevenson to get inside. Nate is going to rack up points with every second it stays upright and that's unfortunate because Joe's strengths are on the ground with his control and deadly ground and pound. I say unfortunate because Diaz is captain of that ship as well. His triangle choke over Kurt Pellegrino should speak volumes of what danger lies ahead for Daddy -- who has a tendency to fade as time goes on. If he does manage to avoid the submission, Nate has a very active -- and punishing guard. No doubt Stevenson learned a little something from his last fight, but Diaz learned even more. This one's going to be a clinic.
Prediction: Diaz via submission
170 lbs.: Chris "Lights Out" Lytle (26-17) vs. Kevin Burns (7-2)
Backgrounds: Lytle is coming off yet another "Fight of the Night" performance in his most recent outing, slugging it out with Marcus Davis for three rounds at UFC 93: "Franklin vs. Henderson" on Jan. 17. As usual, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 4 runner up turned in a sparkling performance; however, he was once again on the wrong end of a split decision. Lytle has now dropped three of his last five fights and five of his last nine. But that hasn’t stopped the organization from extending the contract of the father of four and inviting him back because of his electric performances — he always leaves it inside the cage. Burns is also coming off a tough loss to Anthony Johnson at TUF 8 Finale in Dec. 2008, absorbing a wicked head kick that had him out before he hit the canvas in the third round. It was a solid fight up until that point and it looked like it was headed for the judges scorecards. The Des Moines, Iowa-based fighter had previously scored a controversial technical knockout win over "Rumble" in their first encounter at UFC Fight Night 14 in July 2008. Burns dropped Johnson with an illegal eye poke, which later required surgery to repair. Unfortunately, the referee didn’t see exactly what happened and called a halt to the bout prematurely. Burns has shown that he is comfortable on his feet and does not shy away from going toe-to-toe. We all know what Lytle can do.
Dumbass predicts: This will be Lytle's 15th appearance inside the Octagon -- and he's earned every one of them. The great thing about "Lights Out" is you always know what to expect from him in each fight. Then again that may be his downfall, as he seems more preoccupied with winning "Fight of the Night" than he does with winning. And who can blame him? If I had a chance to earn 30 G's for lighting it up I would too. Still, that's got to work in Burns favor as he needs to worry about one thing only: Lytle's striking, which does follow a certain pattern. Aside from having great hands and a solid boxing background, Lytle hasn't been submitted or knocked out in 48 fights (two TKO losses were a result of cuts) so it's do or die for Burns on his feet. I think he'll be able to hold his own against the aging Lytle and may even have a few big moments, but in the end I expect the more experienced Lytle to be the busier (and more accurate) of the two and take it by unanimous decision.
Prediction: Lytle via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: DeMarques Johnson (9-6) vs. James "Lightning" Wilks (5-2)
Backgrounds: Johnson's been around the block and after serving eight years in the military, took his passion for jiu-jitsu and turned it into a career when he joined Elite MMA after meeting Jeremy Horn at a bar in Utah. He's a good grappler with serviceable boxing skills and defeated Ray Elbe via TKO to make the cut for TUF 9. During the show he overcame Dean Amasinger via submission and Nick Osipczak by unanimous decision to get his shot in the live finale. Wilks on the other hand is the faux-Brit who fights out of California but "represents" the UK. His main weapon is his jiu-jitsu but he's not afraid to brawl and first defeated Che Mills to come (back) to America. Once on the show he beat Frank Lester (and his teeth) on two occasions to make it to the finale.
Dumbass predicts: Johnson probably got a lot of attention this season for his abilities when in actuality a lot of it should be credited to his personality. Johnson can sell himself and more importantly can sell a fight -- which for my money masks the fact that he's a good fighter, but not great. Sporting a 9-6 record before coming onto the show, he had his share of close calls but will likely have a relatively easy time against Wilks. Getting two chances to advance at the hands (and teeth) of Frank Lester was a gift, and whatever skill set Wilks has just isn't enough to overcome the show's only surviving American. Johnson is the better fighter and as long as he doesn't get too anxious in front of the crowd, he can lock this up early. Look for Johnson to best him on the feet, forcing Wilks to clinch and get taken down and submitted. It may come as early as the first round.
Prediction: Johnson via submission
155 lbs.: Ross "The Real Deal" Pearson (8-3) vs. Andre Winner (9-2-1)
Backgrounds: Pearson is a self-proclaimed "gym-rat" who trains out of the Sunderland Jiu-Jitsu & MMA Club in Sunderland, England. He is fairly well-rounded and has a primary style of jiu-jitsu but can pack a punch when he needs to. "The Real Deal" defeated A.J. Wenn (KO) to make the show, Richie Whitson (submission) to advance to the semifinals and Jason Dent (unanimous decision) to reach the live finale. Winner fights out of Leicester, England and got his start in MMA courtesy of his friend Dan "The Outlaw" Hardy. Winner uses boxing as his preferred method of combat and defeated Gary Kelly via KO to make it to Las Vegas. From there he beat Santino Defranco (TKO) and Cameron Dollar (submission) to advance to the finale.
Dumbass predicts: The UK team has sort of grown on me since the early days of the show and Pearson has that English charm that can be endearing -- even if I don't think he's really that good. Like Winner, there is talent here, but I don't necessarily think he (or anyone from this season) is a potential superstar, at least not yet. A lot of TUF guys have the "it" factor but for one reason or another it's absent here. That said, we should be in for a fairly routine scrap between the two, and I think Pearson will do a bit more damage with his power. Winner has the advantage in both skill and athleticism, but he also came into the show with six of his eight fights going to a decision, which could make him a bit tentative. Pearson's going into pitbull mode and while it may not be pretty, his stunted but relentless attack will keep Winner on the defensive for rounds one and two. It wouldn't surprise me to see Winner starting to tee off on a gassed Pearson in the third frame, scoring a come-from-behind TKO.
Prediction: Winner via TKO
That’s a wrap, folks.
Remember to come check us out after the show for all the latest results, recaps and our coverage of the TUF 9 Finale.
What do you think? Now it’s your turn … let us have it in the comments section and share your thoughts and picks for Saturday’s event.