This Saturday (March 1, 2014) Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to Asia for The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): "China" Finale, airing live online via Fight Pass digital network at 8 a.m. ET from Cotai Arena in Macau, China.
Zhang Lipeng and Wang Sai will square off for a welterweight contract in the evening's co-main event, while Shawn Jordan meets Matt Mitrione in a heavyweight affair pivotal to both fighters' careers.
The rest of the mixed martial arts (MMA) card features a featherweight showdown with Ivan Menjivar moving up a division to face Japanese fan favorite Hatsu Hioki. Slumping bantamweights Nam Phan and Vaughan Lee look to get off the snide in the night's (or morning's) opening main card bout.
Let's take a look at the rundown of the main card bouts -- sans the main event between Dong Hyun Kim vs. John Hathaway, which we will preview and predict tomorrow -- at The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): "China" Finale:
135 lbs.: Nam Phan (18-12 overall, 2-5 UFC) vs. Vaughan Lee (13-9-1 overall, 2-3 UFC)
Let's just say that neither of these fighters brings the most momentum into Macau. TUF veteran Phan has lost five out of his past seven bouts, all in UFC. He was last seen dropping a decision to Takeya Mizugaki at UFC Fight Night 33. Phan most likely needs a win here to keep his job, but the odds aren't in his favor. Despite possessing black belts in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, judo, and karate, Phan has struggled to win in the octagon.
Not to be outdone, Lee hasn't fared all that well as of late either. He tapped out to a Raphael Assuncao armbar in his last fight at UFC on Fuel TV 10, but at least that was against a highly ranked opponent. Lee has a solid ground game with seven submission victories, but he's also tapped out six times. Phan should be looking to take advantage of that, so Lee needs to bring a sharpened grappling game to the cage.
Both of these fighters could be cut with a loss, so the stakes couldn't be higher for Phan and Lee.
Prediction: Phan def. Lee via submission
145 lbs.: Ivan Menjivar (25-11 overall, 4-3 UFC) vs. Hatsu Hioki (26-7-2 overall, 2-3 UFC)
The battle of skidding fighters continues with Menjivar vs. Hioki. Experienced veteran Menjivar was last seen at UFC 165, losing a decision to dangerous Wilson Reis. Prior to that, he was on the wrong end of a Urijah Faber choke at UFC 157. Last year was far from Menjivar's finest as a fighter, so he badly needs a win to retain any degree of relevancy. Perhaps making his way up to featherweight will turn the tides for him.
In Hioki, he'll face an opponent who's reeling even worse than he is. Once thought to be a legitimate contender to Jose Aldo's 145-pound belt, Hioki turned down that fight and has paid the price ever since. After starting out 2-0 in UFC, he's since dropped three straight to talented contenders Ricardo Lamas, Clay Guida, and Darren Elkins. Hioki is a lethal submission artist who's only lost by decision throughout his whole career.
The former Shooto and Sengoku featherweight champ is going to be a handful for Menjivar in his new division.
Prediction: Hioki def. Menjivar via unanimous decision
265 lbs.: Shawn Jordan (15-5 overall, 3-2 UFC) vs. Matt Mitrione (6-3 overall, 6-3 UFC)
These two knockout artists have seen better days as well, but Jordan has the more momentum of the two. The former LSU Tiger was last seen getting destroyed by Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC 166. Prior to that, however, he scored finishes over Pat Barry and Mike Russow. Jordan is a hungry and dangerous competitor who will be more than motivated to put his loss to Gonzaga in the rearview mirror.
Mitrione, on the other hand, is on life support in UFC, most likely needing a win to stay employed. Last year he garnered more attention for his comments about controversial transgender fighter Fallon Fox than for his actual fighting ability. "Meathead" has lost three out of his last four bouts, the most recent being a technical submission to Brendan Schaub at UFC 165. He's failed to rise to the occasion against top-level opponents, and Jordan is near that level. Things aren't looking good for the polarizing Mitrione.
Prediction: Jordan def. Mitrione via technical knockout
170 lbs.: Wang Sai (6-4 overall, 0-0 UFC) vs. Zhang Lipeng (6-7-1 overall, 0-0 UFC)
Both Sai and Lipeng have advanced to the final stage of TUF: China, but their recent track records in MMA would suggest they're far from killers, at least in terms of UFC-level competition. Sai has split his last six official bouts. "Boss" has shown a preference for finishing his opponents with strikes, so he's going to be on the lookout for an impressive knockout from the opening bell.
Lipeng has submitted his opponent in three of his six wins. He's also tapped out five times, a statistic that can't continue if he wants to fight with any degree of consistency in the octagon. He brings a losing record into Macau; yet he has a fresh chance at success if he can somehow score the contract. The odds should be against him in a close bout.
The winner will be etched in history as the first victor of TUF: China, but they're going to be faced with a rude awakening upon their UFC debut. Still, with high stakes on the line and emotions running high, this could turn into an exciting back-and-forth affair.
Prediction: Sai def. Lipeng via knockout
Enjoy the card ... because it may be the last time you see several of these fighters.
Remember that MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire TUF: "China" Finale fight card, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 a.m. ET, right on through the main card bouts -- also on Fight Pass -- which are slated to begin at 8 a.m. ET.