With the weekly episodes behind us, the finalists are set to determine the 145 and 135-pound winners at The Ultimate Fighter 14 Finale on Saturday night. Diego Brandao will meet Dennis Bermudez in the featherweight category and John Dodson faces T.J. Dillashaw in the bantamweight class.
This duo of bouts will complement the battle between opposing coaches Jason Miller and Michael Bisping, the event's headliner, as well as a feature match pitting TUF 13 winner Anthony Ferguson versus longtime lightweight Yves Edwards. The preliminary lineup consists of the following:
With so much hype swelling around Brandao, it's ironic to recall that Bermudez was absolutely handled in the first round of his elimination match with Jimmie Rivera. Rivera (8-1), a Tiger Schulmann product who landed the third spot on the BloodyElbow World MMA Bantamweight Scouting Report, is no joke. He entered the competition on a seven-fight win streak that included snaring the King of the Cage championship from Abel Cullum. Rivera landed strikes at will, floored Bermudez with a punch and took his back in a thoroughly dominant first round.
Bermudez showed admirable heart by mounting a comeback and finishing by TKO in the second, and I remember appreciating his spirit and determination but thinking his chances would be slim on the show. Now, the fighter who had the most trouble getting into the house emerges to face Brandao in the finals, the fuming and fiery Brazilian that most have pegged as a lock to win it all.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
Brandao has been an enraged, fight-finishing madman since we first laid eyes on him.
On the show, he crumbled all three opponents in the first round with some of the most violent TKOs in TUF history. The massacre started with Jesse Newell (right) in the elimination match, then Steven Siler was dropped in less than a minute and Bryan Caraway was battered mercilessly but lasted the longest.
Brandao is boiling over with unadulterated aggression and transmits his fury through a wide-ranging kickboxing arsenal.
He wields a wicked medley of low and high kicks, flying knees and wide-sailing hooks swung with malicious intentions. Though we saw little to none of it on the show, Brandao holds a black belt in BJJ and has three wins by submission and eight by TKO. He's been training at Jackson's MMA for about three years now.
Brandao has encountered three UFC-level fighters throughout his career: Ronys Torres, a Nova Uniao black belt and overall mauler, and Matt Veach, both of whom defeated Brandao by second round TKO; welterweight Brian Foster, who submitted Matt Brown at UFC 123, was knocked out by Brandao in the first.
Another noteworthy win on his resumé is grappling whiz Fernando Vieira.
I don't think there's any question as to what Brandao intends to do offensively. The key aspect will be whether he can replicate the sturdy takedown defense he showed against Caraway (right), as Bermudez will mirror that style.
Brandao didn't just lay out a successful sprawl, but was caught trading, with his feet planted, and still had the balance and poise to shake off the takedown attempt.
Bermudez was ranked twenty-second in the nation as a D1 wrestler and earned All American status as a freestyle wrestler.
There's no question that his unwavering resolve and heart are the foundation of his fighting prowess. He was laid out flat from a punch and absorbed ungodly punishment in the first round of his elimination match, but came out even stronger in the second and just willed his way to an inspiring comeback (left).
Though not a bad striker offensively, his standing defense offers quit a few holes for Brandao to exploit.
To the right is the sequence where Rivera tagged him. You can see that Bermudez keeps his guard up well in the initial flurry, but then resets, drops his hands completely when looking to unload a one-two in the pocket and keeps his head still and upright.
While Brandao is clearly the faster and superior striker, the dogged resilience of Bermudez matched with his wrestling might enable him to survive the early onslaught and make headway in later rounds.
Bermudez shared this outlook in his pre-fight Q&A on UFC.com:
"Diego is a tough fighter who is always looking to finish the fight. I am looking to expose his aggressive and emotional fighting style. He doesn’t have the endurance that I have, and that will end up catching up to him in our fight."
Brandao's record indicates that he's far from invincible. If Bermudez has tightened up his striking defense and is fanatically judicious about the distance and timing of his takedowns, I do feel his heart and endurance could carry him to an upset in rounds two and three.
Also, wrestling is the best tool to defuse a wildly (perhaps overly) aggressive striker. The easiest takedowns to hit are the ones where your opponent is charging forward and winging punches because he does most of the work for you. Brandao might want to ratchet his pace back just a notch to keep his feet underneath him and his hands free to defend.
If it were not for Brandao's black belt in BJJ, I might give Bermudez a shot here. That aspect leads me to believe that, even if he can force a ground fight, he'll still have his hands full. While I do detect the makings of an inspiring comeback upset ...
My Prediction: Diego Brandao by TKO
John Dodson (11-5) vs. T.J. Dillashaw (4-0)
Like fellow cast mate Louis Gaudinot, John Dodson is not only a natural 125-pounder, but holds a spot on the bottom end of the world flyweight rankings.
He's also set up shop in Albuquerque with Greg Jackson's MMA and will have one of the sport's best teams backing him up Saturday night. Despite his wee stature, Dodson is an athletic freak with jaw-dropping quickness, agility, strength and balance. His footwork and timing complement his fluid striking brilliantly.
Dodson is a southpaw who somehow makes his smaller size work for him: he keeps a boat-anchor base underneath him and surrounds himself with a perimeter of very precise and crisp punches while constantly cutting angles.
To set up the key left hand versus Bedford to the right, notice how Dodson moves forward into striking range, but then slices a hard 3 o'clock angle. This causes Bedford to hesitate and readjust for the new position while centering him in the cross-hairs of Dodson's left hand.
Dodson professed to be impervious to takedowns but that didn't hold true. John Albert and Bedford were able to complete the task, albeit briefly and to no advantage in the grand scheme of things. Dodson was quickly back to his feet and plugging away.
Dillashaw will be a better wrestler than both, bigger and with a much further polished overall game. Though not a bad striker himself, I think Dillashaw will really struggle with the blinding quickness of Dodson's feet and hands. Dodson reacted keenly in the sparse situations he was taken down should be a slippery foe to keep there.
T.J. Dillashaw is a Team Alpha Male rep and fits the mold well. He's wisely aggressive with good striking, takedowns and control, and maintains a composed but frenetic pace with high pressure offense.
Despite having only four professional fights, Dillashaw fought with a veteran mentality and seemed solid across the board in every phase of combat.
It is worth noting that he had -- by far -- the easiest pathway through the brackets out of any of the finalists. Dustin Pague, who turned out to be surprisingly adept on his feet and off his back, was his stiffest test.
Dillashaw fought with extreme intelligence and always maintained control of the pace or a dominant position with his dual-pronged attack of striking and takedowns.
He was hunting for any submission opportunities that came up while muffling his opponent's attempts to scramble out from underneath. Dillashaw's ground and pound was active and precise but with a priority on maintaining position over inflicting major damage.
He did noticeably revert back to his wrestling roots when encountering a dangerous striker in Pague.
Dodson will not be able to match Pague's size but should have an equally effective striking arsenal, only it will actualize with much more quickness. Pague was able to score a little on the feet with punches and flying knees and Dodson's takedown defense is also on another level.
I was a little surprised to see Dillashaw elevated as a huge favorite (-240) on the betting lines over a top-ten flyweight with much more experience who also trains with an elite camp.
Barring the size disparity, I see Dodson as a horrible match up for Dillashaw, who won most of his fights by capitalizing on his wrestling advantage. I don't see him having that same edge against Dodson, whose unparalleled athleticism and agility should keep him on the feet where his technical stand up will be too fast and furious.
My Prediction: John Dodson by TKO
All gifs via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com