It started six years ago, heated up three years ago, and ends tonight (Sat., Nov. 30, 2013) at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
After splitting their unofficial and official bouts, Gray Maynard and Nate Diaz will finally settle the score, headlining The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 18 Finale in Las Vegas, Nevada. Joining them are the Finale bouts of the men's and women's brackets as Chris Holdsworth and Julianna Pena of Team Miesha Tate face David Grant and Jessica Rakoczy of Team Ronda Rousey.
We examined the first three of five scheduled TUF 18 Finale "Prelims" under card bouts yesterday right here. Let's see what else is on the FOX Sports 1 docket:
145 lbs.: Akira Corassani vs. Maximo Blanco
Since his turn as TUF 14’s heel, Akira Corassani (11-3) has picked up two victories in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) proper, controversially edging Andy Ogle in England and upsetting Robbie Peralta in Sweden. Unfortunately, his brief career inside the Octagon has been plagued by illness and injury, having pulled out or delayed four separate fights since Dec. 2011.
His professional debut actually came against current Heavyweight Dion Staring in a fight Corassani lost by corner stoppage.
After his disappointing debut against Marcus Brimage, former Sengoku king Maximo Blanco (9-4) showed flashes of his usual psychotic self in his sophomore effort, outslugging Sam Sicilia in April. The victory was just Blanco’s second by decision, all others having come by form of knockout.
He nearly medaled in the 2007 Pan-Am Games in freestyle wrestling for his native Venezuela.
Despite his lackluster UFC efforts, I still believe Blanco has the tools to be truly elite. His wrestling pedigree is excellent, he has terrific power in his hands and he is an absolute animal when he’s gunning for the finish. It’s all about whether he can put it all together.
Whether he does or not, he should be too much for Corassani.
Blanco’s submission defense is his Achilles’ heel, true, but one of those tapouts was in his second pro fight and the other was due to getting overpowered by Pat Healy, who is about 30 pounds bigger than Corassani. The fight goes where Blanco wants it to, which is likely on the feet, and as scrappy as Corassani is, he can’t match the firepower that Blanco brings to the table.
Whether we ever see "The Max Murderer" again or if that was just a product of inferior competition, I feel that Blanco’s superior wrestling and power will earn him his first knockout since 2010.
Prediction: Blanco by first-round technical knockout
145 lbs.: Rani Yahya vs. Tom Niinimaki
Since entering the UFC on a winless (0-2) run and splitting his first two bouts in the Octagon, Rani Yahya (19-7) has experienced a resurgence of sorts, winning his last three fights. After submitting Josh Grispi two Augusts ago, Yahya survived late rallies from Mizuto Hirota and Josh Clopton to earn just the third and fourth decision wins of his career.
The other 15 victories have come by submission, every one a form of choke.
After going winless in 2005 and 2006, Tom Niinimaki (20-5-1) went on a tear, winning his last ten fights. His last two wins, which both came this year, are arguably the most significant of his career, as he defeated former World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) champion Chase Beebe and former UFC fighter Walel Watson.
"Stoneface" has proven a solid finisher on both the feet and the mat, with 15 of his victories coming inside the distance with an almost even split between knockout and submission.
While Niinimaki has very good hands and offensive wrestling, this fight boils down entirely to one factor: His takedown defense. If he stays on the feet, he wins; if he gets taken down, he loses.
That facet has yet to be properly tested and this is his UFC debut. Not a good combination.
In the last few years, Yahya has developed a very solid wrestling game to back up his crazy-good submission skills; though his striking is still hovering around "decent," it’s a non-factor so long as he can drag Niinimaki into his world. So long as he can steer clear of anything too devastating in the opening minutes of the bout, I see Yahya scoring a quick takedown and getting the tap soon after.
Prediction: Yahya via first-round submission
It may only be three rounds, but TUF 18 Finale main event between Gray Maynard vs. Nate Diaz is a fine fight that features two men's last shots at being contenders.
See you later, Maniacs.
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of TUF 18 Finale main card action on fight night (Sat., Nov. 30, 2013), which is slated to begin promptly at 10 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1. The latest fight-by-fight updates of all the live action will begin to flow around 7:30 p.m. ET with the "Prelims" bout on Facebook.