Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Featherweight prospects Jay Cucciniello and Brad Katona will square off this Friday (July 6, 2018) at The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 27 Finale inside Pearl Theatre in Paradise, Nevada.
The whole concept of this season was to run undefeated prospects through a tournament until an undefeated champion emerged: It was hammered into viewers heads repeatedly. Cucciniello threw a wrench into that idea by losing in the opening round before returning when injuries created an opportunity for him to jump back into the competition. He promptly upset the No. 1 seed in an amazing brawl and earned his spot at the Finale. Katona’s story is less Hollywood, but he at least won both of his bouts that showed some impressive skill as well.
Let’s take a look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Tyler Diamond (TUF 27), Daniel Requeijo (AFL 11)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: Cucciniello is an aggressive man. All eight of his victories come via stoppage in a healthy mix of submissions and knockouts. His conditioning was a major weapon on the show — he came up short in his first two-round “Prelims” fight and likely would’ve done the same against Diamond if the bout ended after 10 minutes, but the extra round gave him the time needed to rally.
Opposite Diamond, Cucciniello did an amazing job attacking the body. It slowed down his opponent considerably and really opened up his path to victory. Against another foe looking to take him down, there’s absolutely no reason Cucciniello shouldn’t be working the same plan here.In addition, Katona is somewhat willing to work from his back. That’s an easy way to lose rounds inside the Octagon, and Cucciniello has plenty of grappling experience himself. Should an opportunity to take top position arise, Cucciniello should definitely take it.
Key Wins: Bryce Mitchell (TUF 27), Kyler Phillips (TUF 27)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: Katona is a well-rounded fighter with a strong conditioning. On the show, Katona pushed the pace and tended to come on strong late, generally showcasing a better submission game than his opponents.
This bout is likely to be a brawl. Both men are comfortable everywhere, but Cucciniello showed a bit more of a preference to strike in the house, whereas Katona did his best work on the mat.
With that in mind, Katona’s general strategy should be to draw Cucciniello into a wild kickboxing match. There’s no easier time to take down an opponent than when he’s swinging for your jawline. Another important factor for Katona is actually controlling after landing the takedown, as Cucciniello showed good scrambling ability in his upset win over Division 1 wrestler Tyler Diamond. Luckily, Katona is more of a Brazilian jiu-jitsu guy, which is an entirely different type of control, and Cucciniello’s scrambling could create back-taking opportunities.
Bottom Line: Only one man (sorta) can leave the show undefeated champion.
For either man, victory means the TUF trophy, a healthy contract and extra eyes moving forward. TUF winners are generally hit-or-miss, but it’s never a bad accomplishment to tack onto the resume. Plus, the undefeated gimmick may have been a bit overstated, but the level of competition did genuinely seem much higher on average in this season.
Featherweight is a talent-rich division, but the winner of the show should definitely be looked at as a serious prospect moving forward.
The silver lining is that even a loss isn’t the end of the road. TUF runner up is not the goal, but it’s still an accomplishment. Furthermore, runner ups like T.J. Dillashaw, Kenny Florian and others have built upon that defeat to have highly successful careers.
At The Ultimate Fighter 27 Finale, Jay Cucciniello and Brad Katona will compete for the title of TUF champion. Which man will hold the trophy?