Two very exciting young combatants will meet this Friday night (June 1, 2012) as Team Cruz number one pick Justin Lawrence battles wrestler John Cofer on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) Live Finale in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Lawrence was hailed as the favorite to win this season, but was upset in the quarterfinals by current finalist Mike Chiesa. He is young at just 22 years old and incredibly talented in the striking department, having his way with both James Krause and Cristiano Marcello during his stint on the show. Now he's got a shot to showcase his skills at a real UFC event.
John Cofer didn't get as much hype or exposure as Lawrence, but he had one of the most entertaining fights of the entire season, losing a very back-and-forth battle against Vinc Pichel in the round of 16. He is a sturdy southpaw wrestler who has been grappling since he was five years old and is hoping that will help him against the highly-touted opponent.
Will Lawrence's flashy kickboxing score him another fantastic finish? Can Cofer's wrestling neutralize the prospect's striking skills? What's the key to victory for both men on Friday night?
Let's find out:
Note: I am not including "Key Wins" or "Key Losses" as neither fighter has had experience at the top level thus far in their careers.
Record: 3-0 overall, 0-0 in the UFC
How he got here: Justin Lawrence got a very early start in the world of combat sports. He was a very talented kickboxer, winning multiple national titles at a young age and supposedly having over 150 amateur kickboxing fights.
Lawrence transitioned to mixed martial arts in 2007, winning all five of his amateur fights before turning pro in 2010 at just 20 years old. He made his professional debut on the Strikeforce: St. Louis undercard, winning via technical decision after soccer kicking his opponent late in the third round.
He would fight at Ultimate Cage Battles just four months later and after winning his bout, he made some connections with Blackhouse fighter Eduardo Pamplona, who had also been competing at the event. Lawrence began training at Blackhouse in California and after winning his third bout, he would be invited onto the 15th season of The Ultimate Fighter.
To get on the show, Lawrence took on WEC veteran James Krause and streamrolled him, winning via first round knockout to the surprise of many. He followed that up by obliterating cagey grappler Cristiano Marcello with a brutal second round knockout as well. He was a favorite to win the whole thing, but was upset in the third round against current finalist Mike Chiesa.
He'll have an opportunity to live up to the hype with a bout on national television this Friday night.
How he gets it done: Lawrence needs to keep it simple against Cofer, and that means keep the fight standing. He's not a horrible ground fighter by any means, having been a wrestler in his youth, but if there is any weakness to his game, it's against strong grapplers.
Look for Lawrence to circle left, away from Cofer's southpaw style and try to land his crisp punches. I don't expect him to throw many kicks due to the threat of the takedown, but if he does, he'll have to snap his legs back quickly to avoid giving Cofer an opportunity to catch a leg and shoot on him.
Controlling distance and frustrating Cofer will be incredibly important for Lawrence. He's got to keep this fight as technical as possible in the stand-up and avoid brawling exchanges. The sharper his striking is from a distance, the better chance he has of winning.
Record: 7-1 overall, 0-0 in the UFC
How he got here: John Cofer has a long history of wrestling, from a child all the way through to college at Tennessee-Chattanooga, accumulating 22 years of wrestling experience thus far.
He transitioned to mixed martial arts professionally in 2008, winning his first three fights before suffering his lone pro loss to Joe Elmore in 2010. He won his next four bouts, earning stoppages in two of them before earning a shot on The Ultimate Fighter.
Cofer decisioned Mark Glover in his single round fight to make it onto the show and in his first fight, was matched up against Vinc Pichel in a fight that his coach Urijah Faber assumed he had a major wrestling advantage in.
The fight was a back and forth barnburner, one of the most entertaining of the whole season, but after going to the 'sudden victory' third round, Pichel locked on an arm triangle and finished Cofer to advance.
Now, Cofer will have an opportunity to redeem himself on the national stage.
How he gets it done: Cofer needs to do one thing and one thing only in this fight, and that's utilize his wrestling advantage. He has been grappling his entire life and it's second nature to him so that shouldn't be a problem. They key for him is to stick to his gameplan this time and not get suckered into a stand-up fight.
Lawrence looked mortal against Chiesa on the ground, getting swept by a hurt opponent and pounded out in the third round. If Cofer just sticks to his guns, he could put Lawrence in the exact same situation without having to fight for a sweep first.
The key for Cofer is the set-up. He can't blindly rush in for a takedown or he could find himself on the receiving end of a highlight reel knee to the chin from the decorated kickboxer so I expect him to try to duck a Lawrence straight punch or perhaps catch a kick to set up his takedown.
Once on the ground, Cofer should utilize the "punch to pass" method, as Lawrence has already shown he can be distracted by ground strikes pretty easily. If he can pull this off, I can definitely see him attaining full mount and then finishing with ground and pound.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight might be Cofer's southpaw wrestling style. Left-handed fighters are traditionally more difficult to deal with simply to their awkwardness, but a left-handed wrestler could be even worse, especially for someone who doesn't like being stuck on their back and punched like Lawrence.
It could be very difficult for Lawrence to deal with shots coming in from a different angle, possibly getting his guard passed from the opposite side and more. If Cofer plays up his left-handedness on the ground, it could be a huge advantage for him.
Bottom Line: This is a very intriguing "striker vs. grappler" match-up. Lawrence is a devastating striker capable of finishing a fight at any instant while Cofer is a more patient ground fighter, although he's certainly not afraid to push the pace. Whoever is able to impose their will, I still expect the bout to be entertaining as both fighters are capable of really throwing down.
Who will come out on top at The Ultimate Fighter Live Finale? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!