Unfortunately, this weekend will not mark the end of an era.
The lurching, bloated monstrosity that once was The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 16 has limped across the finish line, regurgitating a single welterweight fight before slowly, agonizingly turning back for yet another painful go-around in 2013. Hopefully, next season's coaches, Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen, can begin to right the ship, but I'll have to see it to believe it.
Anyway, despite its broken-down promotional vehicle, TUF 16 Finale, which will emanate from "The Joint" inside the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, in Dec. 15, 2012, looks amazing. Heavyweight slugfests like the main event between Roy Nelson vs. Matt Mitrione, as well as high-octane battles with title implications abound.
Yesterday, we previewed the first three bouts that comprise the initial TUF 16 Finale Facebook/FUEL TV portion of the "Prelims" under card right here. Today, we share breakdowns of the remaining four that will air live -- and for free -- on FUEL TV before the FX event starts at 9 p.m. ET.
Let's get cracking:
170 lbs.: James Head vs. Mike Pyle
After a rather disappointing Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) debut that saw him get out-everythinged by Nick Ring at 185 pounds, James Head (9-2) made the drop to Welterweight and hasn't looked back, brutalizing Papy Abedi in his 170-pound debut and edging out Brian Ebersole at UFC 149.
Head, who earned his way into the organization by defeating UFC veteran Gerald Harris, has stopped seven of his opponents, four by knockout and three by submission.
Age 37 seems rather late to be making a resurgence, but Mike Pyle (23-8-1) is 5-1 since his 2010 knockout loss to Jake Ellenberger with his only defeat coming to uber-prospect Rory MacDonald. His last time out, "Quicksand" survived an ugly first round against Josh Neer to put him to sleep with one punch in the round's waning seconds.
Pyle has submitted 16 opponents in his 13-year career, including none other than Jon Fitch.
Pyle is one of the hardest guys at 170 to analyze because there's really no rhyme or reason to how well he fights. He looked absolutely on fire in his upset over John Hathaway and his stomping of Ricardo Funch, only to roll over and die against "Ares" and lose most of a round to "The Dentist."
Head will not let him get away with that.
Not only is he an enormous welterweight, he's got solid striking and some serious power. Plus, judging by how easily he avoided Ebersole and Abedi's ground games, I don't see Pyle having any luck dragging him down.
With his submission skills out of the equation, Pyle is too slow and awkward on his feet to last long. Head by hurt.
Prediction: Head by first-round technical knockout
After getting his brain blasted halfway across the United States by a John Dodson left hand on TUF 14, Johnny Bedford (18-9-1) entered the Octagon with a vengeance, beating the stuffing out of Louis Gaudinot on the finale en route to a third-round TKO victory. Unfortunately, Bedford has not fought since, as visa issues scrapped a January bout with Mitch Gagnon and a personal injury prevented a fight with Nick Denis in May.
Bedford has 14 finishes including eight submissions.
With 19 finishes in 19 wins, Marcos Vinicius (20-3-1) entered TUF: "Brazil" with some high expectations and lived up to them in the elimination rounds, blowing away Pedro Nobre in under a minute. Sadly, he could not replicate that success in the house proper, dropping a decision to Hugo Viana and getting submitted by Godofredo "Pepey" after replacing Rodrigo Damm. Two rounds down against Wagner Campos at UFC 147, however, "Vina" finally struck gold, battering "Galeta" for a standing technical knockout.
I was pretty high on Vinicius when he entered the show, but it’s become pretty clear at this point that he really isn’t that good. His wrestling is effectively nonexistent, his ground game is "meh," and his striking, while possessing some legitimate pop, is pretty awkward.
Bad news against a big, strong bantamweight like "Brutal."
While those eight submission losses on his record stand out, the last one came in 2009, and Vinicius isn’t a competent enough grappler to exploit that weakness off his back, where he will undoubtedly wind up before long. Further, he doesn’t have the speed or precision to find Bedford’s chin before he gets slammed with extreme prejudice.
Frankly, this is going to be a beating. Bedford will take down "Vina" early and pummel the absolute hell out of him for three deeply unpleasant rounds.
Prediction: Bedford by unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Vinc Pichel vs. Rustam Khabilov
Though he had previously ended all seven of his bouts via (technical) knockout, Vinc Pichel (7-0) demonstrated the diversity of his skillset on TUF 15, submitting Cody Pfister to get into the house and making his way to the semifinals before being outworked by Al Iaquinta. A showdown with teammate James Vick on the Finale was short-circuited by Vick’s knockout loss to Michael Chiesa in the semifinals, preventing him from being cleared to fight, making this his UFC debut.
A Dagestani wrestler fighting out of Jackson’s MMA, Rustam Khabilov (14-1) is a veteran of M-1 Global and ONE FC. In 2012, the 26-year-old Combat Sambo champion defeated Rodrigo Ribeiro and UFC veteran Jason Dent, both by decision.
"Tiger" owns five submission wins, four by armbar.
Picking someone making his UFC debut after a career overseas is always a gamble, but I like Khabilov here. He’s got cage experience against solid competition, fights out of a great camp, and while his striking is unpolished, his wrestling is the real deal.
Pichel is solid wherever the fight goes, particularly in the stand up, but his aggression is going to cost him in this fight. Khabilov has a great lateral drop that I expect him to put to good use when they inevitably wind up in the clinch.
Khabilov is not a great finisher and Pichel could certainly turn his lights out standing, but the more likely outcome is Khabilov wrangling him down, feeding a steady diet of ground-and-pound, and repeating for 15 somewhat dull minutes.
Prediction: Khabilov by unanimous decision
T.J. Waldburger (15-7) -- 3-2 in the UFC -- has established himself as one of the most dangerous submission artists in the division, tapping Mike Stumpf and Jake Hecht in incredibly slick fashion. Despite a steady onslaught of submission attempts, however, he could not overcome Brian Ebersole’s vaunted defensive grappling, dropping a decision to him this past June.
Twelve of his victories have come by tapout.
Sidelined by injuries for almost all of 2010, wrestling standout Nick Catone (9-3) made his UFC return a triumphant one, defeating current contender Costantinos Philippou by decision at UFC 128. The injury bug refused to let go, though, keeping "The Jersey Devil" out of action until June 2012, when an ugly cut over his eye ended a close scrap between him and Chris Camozzi in the latter’s favor.
Now even (3-3) in the UFC, this fight will mark Catone’s Welterweight debut.
While I’m always leery of Waldburger’s crap chin, I don’t expect it to come into play here because Catone isn’t that great of a striker and T.J. showed some solid stand up of his own against Ebersole. Rather, his Brazilian jiu-jitsu is going to be the story of the fight. And while Catone’s wrestling should be solid enough to prevent a definitive takedown, Waldburger has consistently proven himself lethal in scrambles, which he ought to be able to induce.
Catone’s best shot is to sprawl-and-brawl, but I expect Waldburger to be aggressive in his pursuit of the takedown right off the bat, and once Catone leaves something exposed while defending it, that’ll be it. Waldburger by "Submission of the Night" candidate.
Prediction: Waldburger by first-round submission
The show deserves all the derision it gets, but this is one mighty fine fight card.
See you Saturday, Maniacs.
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.