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The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 26 Finale preview and predictions

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) hits FOX Sports 1 (FS1) tonight (Fri., Dec. 1, 2017) with the finale of the latest Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season, which pits Nicco Montano against Roxanne Modafferi for the inaugural Women’s Flyweight Title in Las Vegas, Nevada.

In the televised co-feature, Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series (DWTNCS) standout Sean O’Malley takes on former RFA Champion Terrion Ware, while season villain Lauren Murphy replaces Modafferi against Barb Honchak.

Since we didn’t know the lineup until the last minute, we’ve also added some Prelim quick picks.

Nostradumbass hasn’t been seen since embarking on a journey into a mysterious chasm, providing only a mysterious transmission that warned of the imminent rise of “Earth’s rightful masters,” so I’ve got prediction duty this week.

Shall we?

125 lbs.: Nicco Montano (3-2) vs. Roxanne Modafferi (21-13)

I’m a major fan of Roxy’s and am delighted that she got this opportunity. That said, it’s hard to pick against Nicco considering how she’s looked recently.

They key here is the level of damage Montano can do on the inside. She’s adept at stuffing takedowns and steadily bashing away with elbows and knees when her opponents continue to drive. She pulled this off against strong wrestlers in Montana De La Rosa and Barb Honchak, the latter of whom is a legitimate top-tier flyweight, and ostensibly has the skills to do the same to Modafferi.

It’s also worth nothing that Montano has strong takedown offense as well, and Sijara Eubanks had considerable success putting Modafferi on her back in the semifinals. Modafferi just looks like she doesn’t have the physicality to impose her will on Montano without getting drubbed on the inside.

The UFC damn well better keep Roxy after this, but this isn’t her night. Montano shuts down her takedowns and batters her in the clinch for either a one-sided decision or late stoppage.

Prediction: Montano by unanimous decision

135 lbs.: Sean O’Malley (8-0) vs. Terrion Ware (17-6)

First off, I’d like to acknowledge the debt we owe O’Malley for styling on an Edmond Tarverdyan protege on the Tuesday Night Contender Series. Every time a Glendale Fight Club competitor gets wrecked, an angel gets her wings.

On the actual analysis side of things, O’Malley reminds me of a miniature Tony Ferguson. He doesn’t have “El Cucuy’s” powerhouse wrestling or preternatural ability to lock up front chokes, but his offbeat, high-octane striking brings to mind the interim lightweight champ’s creative offense.

Ware has crisp, effective boxing that could definitely ruin O’Malley’s night, but he’ll have to get past a three-inch height disadvantage to do it. The power also favors O’Malley, who isn’t hard to hit but seems capable of absorbing anything that comes his away. A Ware decision on the strength of his jab isn’t out of the question, but it’s likelier that O’Malley’s power and speed carry him to a finish midway through the fight.

Prediction: O’Malley by second-round TKO

125 lbs.: Lauren Murphy (9-3) vs. Barb Honchak (10-2)

Murphy was originally supposed to fight unbeaten Brazilian Priscila Cachoeira, but instead gets to “swoop in” without looking like a jerk after Cachoeira ran into visa issues and Roxanne Modafferi got called up to the main event. So, being careful not to let her shenanigans on the show color the analysis, how are her chances?

Not great.

Even though Nicco Montano’s continuing success casts Murphy’s loss in a better light, Murphy’s constant struggle to finish takedowns or land meaningful strikes at range doesn’t bode well for her UFC future, even in a division where she’ll have more of a strength advantage.

Honchak seems to just be flat-out superior in the areas that are supposedly Murphy’s strengths. Expect her to dictate the pace and positioning of the fight by stuffing Murphy’s takedowns and outworking her at range, in the clinch, and on the mat.

Prediction: Honchak by unanimous decision

185 lbs.: Eric Spicely (10-3) vs. Gerald Meerschaert (26-9)

I was pretty high on Meerschaert when he joined the UFC, but his last performance was not terribly inspiring. While Thiago Santos is a downright terrifying human being who should not be fought with anything short of a large-caliber handgun, Meerschaert looked incapable of setting up his takedowns or putting any mustard behind them.

Spicely can almost certainly keep up with Meerschaert on the mat, especially since he’s likely to be the one in top position more often than not. Hell, Ryan Janes managed to take Meerschaert down and his skillset doesn’t extend much past being really tall.

Though Meerschaert is dangerous enough off of his back to warrant caution and likely has the skills to scramble out of rough positions, his lack of positional control dooms him to an upset defeat.

Prediction: Spicely by unanimous decision

125 lbs.: DeAnna Bennett (8-3) vs. Melinda Fabian (4-3-1)

This looks like a showcase fight for Bennett, who despite her three-fight losing streak owns wins over current Invicta champ Jennifer Maia and former champ Katja Kankaanpaa. Plus, two of those three losses were split decisions against Jodie Esquiebel and Roxanne Modafferi.

Fabian, by contrast, has yet to beat an opponent with a win on her record, her sole career highlight a split decision loss to Lucie Pudilova. The way she folded beneath Rachael Ostovich’s onslaught on the show also doesn’t bode well for her.

Bennett looks like she still has the skills to be an elite flyweight and has been in there with much, much stronger fighters than Fabian. She scores an early takedown and gets the ground-and-pound finish soon after.

Prediction: Bennett by first-round TKO

135 lbs.: Joe Soto (18-5) vs. Brett Johns (14-0)

I’ll admit a soft spot for Joe Soto, who always looks for the submission and rarely fails to entertain. He just seems to lack size and physicality for bantamweight, while Johns has both in spades. The Welsh grinder looks perfectly suited to shutting Soto down on the mat and might have enough power to crack “One Bad MoFo’s” chin.

Johns isn’t likely to score the sort of eye-catching finishes that fellow prospects like Zabit Magomedsharipov and Aljamain Sterling do, but a strong takedown game with rock-solid submission defense is enough to carry him far. Soto’s three-fight winning streak comes to an end as Johns touches him up on the feet and does work from top position.

Prediction: Johns by unanimous decision

Prelim quick picks:

125 lbs.: Christina Marks (8-8) vs. Montana De La Rosa (7-4)

De La Rosa (née Stewart) isn’t anywhere near as dominant with her grappling as her background suggests she should be, but she’s got quality top control and is relentless with her takedown attempts. Marks has six submission losses and was taken down with ease by Emily Whitmire on the show before tapping. Seems pretty cut-and-dry.

Prediction: De La Rosa by first-round submission

185 lbs.: Andrew Sanchez (10-3) vs. Ryan Janes (9-2)

Atrocious defense and subpar wrestling cripple Janes’ game, which actually features some decent grappling. Sanchez is by far the stronger wrestler, the superior striker, and his top game is stronger than Janes’ bottom game. Unless Sanchez’s knockout loss to Anthony Smith knocked some load-bearing screws loose, he should dominate this.

Prediction: Sanchez by unanimous decision

125 lbs.: Karine Gevorgyan (3-2) vs. Rachael Ostovich (3-3)

Gevorgyan weighed in at 130 for this fight, which is never a good sign, and Ostovich honestly impressed me with her power and well-rounded game. Though Gevorgyan is a decent takedown artist, Ostovich looks like she has the edge in most areas and should comfortably control proceedings.

Prediction: Ostovich by unanimous decision

125 lbs.: Ariel Beck (4-4) vs. Shana Dobson (2-1)

Neither of these women looked UFC-worthy in their sole TUF bouts, getting summarily dominated on the mat by Montana De La Rosa and Roxanne Modafferi, respectively. Dobson’s two pro wins came over debuting fighters and Beck lost to a 6-9 fighter in her last bout before the show. I’ll go with Beck, who chewed up Rachael Ostovich on the feet in their Invicta fight before getting overpowered on the mat.

Prediction: Beck by unanimous decision

125 lbs.: Gillian Robertson (3-2) vs. Emily Whitmire (2-1)

Whitmire looked solid in the opening round and I expect her to look even better here without a nagging injury to hold her back, but Robertson has a deep amateur background and, though she was mostly dominated by Barb Honchak, showed some solid submission chops. Experience and BJJ carry the day for Robertson.

Prediction: Robertson by first-round submission will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire TUF 26 Finale fight card on fight night (click here), starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the FOX Sports 1 main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.

For much more on TUF 26, click here

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