It may not involve either of this season's coaches, but it's a damn good fight.
The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 22 Finale hits your screens this evening (Fri., Dec. 11, 2015) with two of the best featherweights not competing on tomorrow's card in the main event. Chad Mendes will look to bounce back from his devastating loss to Conor McGregor at the expense of Frankie Edgar, who has won four straight since falling to Jose Aldo in 2013.
Elsewhere on the card, which goes down on FOX Sports 1 from inside "Chelsea" in Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, Nevada, Artem Lobov takes on Ryan Hall in the tournament final while Edson Barboza steps in to replace Khabib Nurmagomedov against the surging Tony Ferguson.
But before all that, we've got "Prelims." Here's what's in store.
265 lbs.: Gabriel Gonzaga (16-10) vs. Konstantin Erokhin (9-2)
Now over a decade removed from his UFC debut, Gonzaga finds himself on a three-fight losing streak for the first time. After a 4-1 start to his second UFC run, Gonzaga dropped consecutive fights to Stipe Miocic, Matt Mitrione, and Mirko Filipovic, the latter two via brutal knockout. All sixteen of his wins are by stoppage, nine of them via submission.
Erokhin left a path of destruction on his way to becoming the world’s top heavyweight prospect, scoring eight first-round knockouts in nine wins since a loss in his debut. His first appearance in the UFC didn’t go as planned, however, as he gassed out early against Viktor Pesta en route to an upset decision loss. He will give up three inches of height to the 6’2" "Napao."
Erokhin looked awful in his UFC debut, but I can’t discount the success he had beforehand against solid heavyweights. He went three rounds successfully against Brett Rogers and his takedown defense had never looked that poor before. I’m willing to attribute some of his struggles to UFC jitters.
Of course, I may just be trying to make excuses for one of my favorite prospects.
Erokhin’s punches are on a whole other level of hard compared to most other heavyweights. Gonzaga, who even at his best never could take a shot, is pretty much screwed. Erokhin blasts him out in the first couple of minutes.
Prediction: Erokhin by first-round knockout
170 lbs.: Mike Pierce (17-6) vs. Ryan LaFlare (11-1)
Though Pierce came up just short against Johny Hendricks and Josh Koscheck, he soldiered on afterwards and put together four straight wins. That streak, along with his career-long run of never being finished, came to an end at the hands of Rousimar Palhares, who hit his signature heel hook to force the tap. Due to injuries, this will be his first fight since October of 2013.
LaFlare opened his UFC career with four straight wins and, thanks to some fortuitous injuries, earned himself a main event spot opposite Demian Maia in Brazil. Maia proved too much for LaFlare, winning a five-round decision despite fading badly in the fifth. He has stopped seven pro opponents, though none since joining the UFC.
Pierce is now 35 and coming off of two years away, but I'm still picking him. He's just a flat-out difficult guy to fight; for the most part, even if you beat him, you're not going to look good doing so. LaFlare's likely strategy of wrestling with him also plays into Pierce's hands, as the latter has effectively shut down numerous capable grinders in the past.
That said, Pierce's wins are usually as narrow as his losses. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see a split decision here, and I think Pierce is just about due for one to go his way.
Prediction: Pierce by unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Joby Sanchez (7-1) vs. Geane Herrera (8-1)
Despite nearly knocking Wilson Reis out with a head kick and punches in his UFC debut, Sanchez ultimately came up short against the Brazilian veteran for his first career loss. He returned in January against Tateki Matsuda, whom he edged via split decision. He has stopped six professional opponents
There would be no easing into the UFC for Herrera, who squared off with top prospect Ray Borg in his promotional debut. Though he ultimately lost, he did force Borg to settle for a decision victory. He replaces Justin Scoggins on short notice.
In all likelihood, this will boil down to Sanchez’s power striking against Herrera’s excellent grappling. Both of these men are young, rapidly improving, and have quite a bit of potential.
I’m leaning towards Sanchez.
While Herrera managed to survive Borg and did a very good job of guard retention, he never really managed to offer anything in return besides a brow-splitting elbow from his back. Sure, Borg is a beast, but that doesn’t give me a lot of confidence against a decent wrestler in Sanchez who is also the better striker at range. Sanchez lands enough quality punches to take the decision in a competitive fight.
Prediction: Sanchez by unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Chris Gruetzemacher (12-1) vs. Abner Lloveras (19-6-1)
Despite a win in the elimination round, Gruetzemacher was removed from the show due to his unimpressive performance, only to get a second chance when Martin Svensson withdrew due to injury. His comeback story was not to be, however, thanks to the punching power of Artem Lobov. "Gritz" will give up four inches of height to his 5’11" foe.
Coming into the show, Lloveras had won seven of eight since a 2010 loss to Russian standout Shamil Zavurov. On the show itself, he reached the quarterfinals before dropping a split decision to Julian Erosa. "Skullman" has stopped eleven opponents, six via submission.
Unfortunately, the episodes currently on Fight Pass run out before Lloveras’ fight in the quarters, meaning I’m not as informed here as I would like to be. Gruetzemacher fights out of the better camp (MMA Lab), but Lloveras should have the size edge, being a natural lightweight.
I think I’ll go with Lloveras.
The Spaniard will have a considerable length advantage and Gruetzemacher took a nasty amount of punishment from Lobov despite "The Russian Hammer’s" rather rudimentary offense. Lloveras potshots his way to a unanimous decision victory.
Prediction: Lloveras by unanimous decision
This is just a really, really good card, and all for free. Have fun, Maniacs.
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire TUF 22 Finale fight card on fight night (click here), starting with the FOX Sports "Prelims" matches, which are scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. ET, before the FOX Sports 1 main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.