From conflict rises a challenger ...
The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 24’s pool of champions has been winnowed down to one. The 125-pound conqueror, who will be revealed this Wednesday night (Nov. 30, 2016) on FOX Sports 1, will take on Flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson in the main event of the Finale event, which will emanate live from "The Pearl" inside Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada, this weekend (Sat., Dec. 3, 2016).
In addition, TUF 24 coaches -- and top-ranked 125-pound contenders Joseph Benavidez (No. 1) and Henry Cejudo (No. 2) will do battle in the co-main event, while Jorge Masvidal attempts to halt the resurgence of Jake Ellenberger in a fun Welterweight scrap.
Before all that, though, we’ve got half-dozen "Prelims" undercard matches, split 2:4 between Fight Pass and Fox Sports 1, to get through. Therefore, let’s start from the bottom up:
185 lbs.: Elvis Mutapcic vs. Anthony Smith
Elvis Mutapcic (15-4-1) earned and defended the MFC Middleweight title during the 7-1 stretch that led him to the Octagon, where he stepped up to Light Heavyweight in his short-notice debut and suffered a decision loss to Francimar Barroso. "The King" returned to 185 pounds in June, battling Kevin Casey to a split draw at UFC 199.
He will give up four inches of height to the 6'4" Anthony Smith (25-12).
"Lionheart" scored seven consecutive victories to punch his return ticket to the world's largest fighting organization nearly three years after his exit. Since rejoining, he has outstruck late replacement Leonardo "Leleco" and dropped a decision to Cezar "Mutante."
He has just two decision victories among his 25 professional wins.
It's always interesting when two uniquely flawed fighters lock horns. Mutapcic has power, but his takedown defense and volume consistently leave a lot to be desired. Smith is an all-action finisher who's as vulnerable as he is aggressive. Based on their recent efforts, I'm going to have to go with Mutapcic. Smith faded badly against "Leleco" despite the Brazilian sleepwalking through the first two rounds and his wrestling is insufficient to crack even Mutapcic's lackluster defense. Add that to the fact that Mutapcic has never been stopped and you've got a win for "The King," who survives Smith's early attack and polishes him off late.
Prediction: Mutapcic via third-round technical knockout
155 lbs.: Dong Hyun Kim vs. Brendan O’Reilly
The UFC career for Dong Hyun Kim (13-8-3) has not been a successful one, but it’s certainly been an entertaining one. His debut loss to Dominique Steele featured a slam knockout and his subsequent fight with Polo Reyes remains one of 2016’s best brawls.
"The Maestro" has submitted six professional opponents and knocked out another five.
Brendan O'Reilly (6-0), representing Australia on TUF: "Nations," succumbed to Kajan Johnson’s grappling in the opening round and -- while he lasted the distance this time -- had a similar result against Zhang Lipeng in his Octagon debut. He went on to defeat castmate Vik Grujic and fall to Alan Jouban, both in Australia.
Even though he is coming down from welterweight, he will give up two inches of height.
Kim’s never going to be elite, but he’s a load of fun and I wish him the best. Against someone who is neither way bigger, (as Steele was) or way more powerful (as Reyes was) I believe I’ll get my wish. O’Reilly’s fairly inactive and really just not that good; in fact, his only UFC win came over the crushingly mediocre Vik Grujic and the win before that was against a 1-4 guy.
Without the physicality to muscle around Kim nor the power to put him away in the inevitable firefight, O’Reilly’s in for a long night. Kim’s volume carries him to his first UFC victory.
Prediction: Kim via unanimous decision
Three more TUF 24 Finale: "Tournament of Champions" undercard "Prelims" matches to preview and predict tomorrow, including what ought to be a great Middleweight scrap. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs!
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire TUF 24 Finale fight card, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, and then the remaining under card balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the FOX Sports 1 main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.