UFC Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 16 Finale 'Prelims' preview and predictions for 'Nelson vs Mitrione' fights on FUEL TV/FX (Pt. 1)

UFC bantamweight Jared Papazian before a fight against Mike Easton during a bout in the UFC on FX 1 event. Easton defeated Papazian. - Mandatory Credit: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

More free UFC fights are coming to Facebook/FUEL TV this weekend (Sat., Dec. 15, 2012) when The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 16 Finale: "Nelson vs. Mitrione" event kicks off from "The Joint" inside Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. MMAmania.com's Patrick Stumberg gets the "Prelims" party started with part one of a two-part under card preview series.

At least it's over.

I'm not going to say anything flowery this time because the latest season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) was difficult to watch. The good news is that Mike Ricci and Colton Smith advanced to the Welterweight tournament final, which will be featured in the TUF 16 Finale main card at "The Joint" inside the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, in Dec. 15, 2012.

Remaining positive, we've got one hell of a mixed martial arts (MMA) card to enjoy this weekend. In addition to the main event between Roy Nelson and late replacement Matt Mitrione, TUF 16 Finale will also feature a Heavyweight tilt between Pat Barry and Shane del Rosario, as well as sweet showdowns such as Melvin Guillard vs. Jamie Varner and Jonathan Brookins vs. Dustin Poirier.

And that's not even mentioning the "Prelims" under card matches, the first three (of seven) of which we preview below:

135 lbs.: Reuben Duran vs. Hugo Viana

While Reuben Duran (8-3-1) has been out of action since June of last year, what we’ve seen so far out of him in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has been impressive. In his debut, he dropped an extremely close fight to gritty veteran Takeya Mizugaki before submitting hard-hitting Francisco Rivera in his sophomore effort.

Seven of Duran's eight victories have come inside the distance, four of them via submission.

Despite being severely undersized, Hugo Viana (6-0) impressed mightily on TUF: "Brazil," blasting Alexandre Ramos into oblivion with ground-and-pound to get on the show before decisioning Marcos Vinicius and losing a debatable decision to eventual winner Rony "Jason." Though once again outsized in the show's Finale, taking on hot prospect John Teixeira, Viana’s aggression brought him a close victory.

Viana, 5’6," will take his kickass sideburns down to his proper weight class as he makes his UFC bantamweight debut.

As fond as I am of "Wolverine," I just don’t see him going far in the UFC. His ground-and-pound is lethal and he throws with authority, but he doesn’t have the wrestling to bring the former to bear nor the technical striking to land consistently. Duran may have been out of the cage for longer than I’d like, but he’s the cleaner striker by a fair margin and quite solid in both wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

Whether he decides to outstrike Viana or try his luck on the mat, Duran should have the advantage wherever the fight goes. "Wolverine’s" durability should prevent a finish, but Duran will make it very clear who the superior fighter is when the dust settles.

Prediction: Duran by unanimous decision

155 lbs.: Mike Rio vs. John Cofer

Mike Rio (8-1), a wrestling standout at the high school and collegiate levels, looked an early favorite on TUF 15, submitting Ali Maclean with ease to join Team Cruz. Surprisingly, "The Wolverine" would end up losing in the first round to one of the last picks on the show as Andy Ogle choked him out in the second round.

Rio, suffering from a knee injury incurred on the show and two broken ribs courtesy of Ogle, did not compete on the Finale and as such will be making his Octagon debut opposite John Cofer (7-2).

A fellow wrestling specialist, Cofer was unable to implement his wrestling on Team Cruz’s Vinc Pinchel in the first round, succumbing to an arm-triangle in the third round. While he still got a place on the TUF 15 Finale, Justin Lawrence made sure he would regret it as his right shin and Cofer’s skull had a brief altercation that the latter wound up losing.

Cofer, who has three submission wins, fights out of Hardcore Gym alongside former World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) champion Brian Bowles.

I see this the same way I saw last week’s Ramsey Nijem vs. John Proctor match: a wrestling/grappling specialist against a better wrestling/grappling specialist. Rio should be able to control the wrestling and his top game, I would assume, is superior to Cofer’s bottom game.

There really isn’t much else I can say -- both guys do pretty much the same thing, but one does it better than the other.

Prediction: Rio by unanimous decision

125 lbs.: Tim Elliott vs. Jared Papazian

Replacing Darren Uyenoyama on short notice against John Dodson at UFC on FOX 3, few gave Tim Elliott (8-3-1) much of a chance against the surging TUF veteran. Impressively, he gave Dodson his toughest UFC test to date, even taking a dominant third round.

Elliott, 25, has only gone the distance once in victory, knocking out three.

Jared Papazian (14-8-1) entered the UFC on an 8-1 run, which included a decision victory over Abel Cullum for the King of the Cage (KotC) bantamweight title. A heavy underdog in his debut, "The Jackhammer" battled tooth-and-nail with Mike Easton, losing a close majority decision, only to get tossed and submitted by Dustin Pague his second time out.

Officially winless (0-2) in the UFC, Papazian could need a win in his Flyweight debut to stay employed.

Elliott sort of confuses me -- I know he’s a good fighter and I know he wins fights, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why either of those things are true. He’s a decent wrestler, but he’s awkward and slow on the feet, sufficiently so that even with my longstanding mistrust of fighters making a desperation weight cut, I’m leaning toward Papazian.

The Pague fight has me somewhat worried, but Papazian’s defensive wrestling has generally been sound, leading me to assume this will mostly take place on the feet. There, I favor Papazian’s phone booth slugging to Elliott’s wild punches.

This is probably the pick in which I’m least confident, but I see the former KotC champ outstriking the smaller Elliott for his first UFC victory.

Prediction: Papazian by unanimous decision

Stop by tomorrow for the remaining four "Prelims" in store for "Sin City" this upcoming Saturday night.

See you then.

Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will provide LIVE blow-by-blow, round-by-round coverage of TUF 16 Finale: "Nelson vs. Mitrione," beginning with the "Prelims" bouts on Facebook scheduled for around 5:45 p.m. ET. In addition, we will also provide LIVE, real-time results of the main card action as it happens throughout the evening this upcoming Saturday, starting promptly at 9 p.m. ET on FX Network.

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