The flurry of MMA action continues this week as the most prominent mixed martial arts promotion in the world, the UFC, puts on a show from the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada this Saturday night. The Ultimate Fighter 11 Finale will air live on Spike at 9:00 PM EST and will feature a main event showdown between Matt "The Hammer" Hamill and Keith Jardine in light heavyweight action. Before the night's main card, five fights will take place on an event undercard full of talented prospects and UFC newcomers.
Lightweight: John Gunderson (22-8, 0-1 UFC) vs. Mark Holst (8-1, 0-0 UFC): Mark Holst is an interesting newcomer as he is a two-time Grappler's Quest BJJ champion, won the Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic once, and he's fought in professional Muay Thai competition while also delving into amateur kickboxing as well. He possesses both high-level Muay Thai and solid grappling skills as offensive weapons in his arsenal, and that makes him a very dangerous opponent for John Gunderson.
Tough fight to call without really seeing what Holst has to offer on the ground. Oliveira absolutely dominated Gunderson in their battle at UFC 108, and it was mostly Gunderson's inability to land in top position that doomed him in that bout. Oliveira was much more adept at taking Gunderson's back, and Gunderson had to fight him off in every round from that position.
From watching the battle with Corey Hill, there are some glaring weaknesses, but big advantages for Holst. His stand-up isn't as solid in the MMA cage, simply due to the fact that he has to look out for takedowns. Corey Hill dominated him for almost every minute of the fight, but Holst was able to work a reversal to an armbar and later to a kimura from top control. Against Hill, it was rather tough due to his size and frame, but Gunderson will be a tad smaller than Holst.
I'm not a huge fan of Holst leaving his stand-up defense rather loose, and Hill did land a nice overhand in the second through that defense. A shorter Gunderson will more than likely use the same method to gain a top position. Holst, however, will be the lengthier fighter on the ground, and where his high guard didn't work against Hill could put Gunderson in immense danger against a triangle choke.
Shawn Tompkins should have Gunderson prepared to know what Holst offers in the striking department. For bettors however, Holst will likely have some good value. His Muay Thai plum and knees in the clinch are devastating, and a shorter guy like Gunderson could be in huge danger in that capacity. Tough call, but I like Holst's well-roundedness. Gunderson has an opportunity to blanket him, and Hill's performance gives a good idea how to gameplan here. Gunderson should win, but I'd give it a 60/40 shot. Holst has the opportunity to upset here.
Middleweight: Brad Tavares (4-0, 0-0 UFC) vs. Seth Baczynski (11-5, 0-0 UFC): In a rematch of one of the TUF season 11 quarterfinal match-ups, friends Brad Tavares and Seth Baczynski will battle it out once again in the Octagon with the exhibition tag on the outcome of this middleweight tilt. As you may or may not know, Baczynski and Tavares were pitted against each other in the quarterfinals, but Tavares came out on top after Baczynski soccer kicked Tavares at the end of the first round, earning himself a disqualification. Tavares moved on to the semifinals where he lost to Court McGee in a third and final round.
I'm a little bit hesitant to make a pick here. Tavares doesn't have overwhelming experience by any means, and he fought a close battle with James Hammortree in the house while demolishing Jordan Smith to get into the house. That leads me to believe he can dish out punishment to lesser competition, but he'll probably have problems against the more experienced Seth Baczynski.
Tavares' striking will be his means to an end, but I like Baczynski's diversity in ways he can finish. He's a submission threat, but he's shown knockout power in the past as well. He's also been rather successful in professional competition as of late with a 8-2 record in his last 10 bouts. I'll go with Baczynski, but I think it's a toss-up.
Middleweight: Josh Bryant (10-0, 0-0 UFC) vs. Kyle Noke (16-4-1, 0-0 UFC): In one of the more interesting match-ups on the TUF 11 Finale undercard, Australian-born fighter Kyle Noke will battle TUF 11 semi-finalist Josh Bryant. Bryant defeated Greg Rebello, Kris McCray, and Jamie Yager on his way to a semi-final berth, but dropped a decision to Kris McCray in a rematch to lose his shot at winning this season's title as champion. Noke defeated Warren Thompson to step into the house, and then submitted Clayton McKinney with relative ease. Kris McCray surprisingly defeated Noke in the quarterfinals as he constantly took him down and wore him out on his way to a decision victory.
I think Noke has the edge in this fight. While Bryant showed tremendous heart and determination in his run to the semifinals, I think Noke is going to be way too well-rounded and experienced to allow Bryant to simply stalk him and strike while occasionally looking for a takedown. Bryant will more than likely want to make this a striking battle as Noke has been on the floor with some of the better grapplers in the world. After all, we're talking about a guy who drew with Bellator champion Hector Lombard and defeated George Sotiropoulos at one point in his career.
Bryant's opportunity comes in his hands, but I think Noke has the overall better skill-set. I'll take Noke via TKO as Bryant gets sloppy and gives up a takedown that turns into a positional advantage for Noke.
Middleweight: Chris Camozzi (12-3, 0-0 UFC) vs. James Hammortree (5-1, 0-0 UFC): Camozzi defeated Victor O'Donnell to gain entrance into The Ultimate Fighter house, but a broken jaw during the fight allowed Seth Baczynski to take his place. It was unfortunate considering Camozzi's experience on the ground. Hammortree defeated Norman Paraisy, but dropped a decision to Brad Tavares and was submitted by Court McGee when Nick Ring had to withdraw from the competition.
We didn't see much from Camozzi, but his record gives some strength to the argument that he can beat Hammortree. He has some solid ground techniques and proven submission ability, and Hammortree showed that he lacks the ground acumen during the show to stop controlling grapplers. Hammortree's offensive tactics will more than likely come from his stand-up game as all five of his wins have come via knockout. The problem, however, is that Camozzi will probably be actively seeking out the takedown, and Hammortree hasn't proven he can stop it. I'll take Chris Camozzi via decision.
Heavyweight: James McSweeney (4-4, 1-0 UFC) vs. Travis Browne (9-0, 0-0 UFC): James McSweeney returns following his drubbing of Darrill Schoonover at The Ultimate Fighter 10 Finale back in December against undefeated newcomer Travis Browne in heavyweight action. Browne has proven knockout power as he finished Aaron Brink, TUF alum Abe Wagner, and Brian Campbell in first round knockouts in his last three fights. He's knocked out seven of his ten opponents with only two of his wins ending in other ways.
McSweeney, for as hyped as he is from his camp, isn't an overly-skilled fighter. He's actually gained some decent ground tactics, but his striking, while heavily based in kickboxing, is lacking. Browne's power is going to be a real threat in this fight, and his 6'7", 250 pound frame will be problematic as well. I was actually watching the Abe Wagner fight, and it was surprising how easily Browne immediately went after Wagner and bombed him while also slipping Wagner's counters, all 8 seconds worth.
I'm going with the upset here. Browne's knockout power is undeniable, and Sweeney will more than likely try to strike from range with leg kicks or go for the takedown. I'd go with the latter, but I think Browne's size will be the deciding factor as to whether Sweeney can work him to the floor. Browne via KO.