The Ultimate Fighter 13 Finale airs this Saturday night, June 4th, on Spike TV from the Palms in Las Vegas, NV.
After the semifinal matches aired on the last taped episode, the details of the full card have been released. This season's finalists are Tony Ferguson from Team Lesnar and Ramsey Nijem from Team dos Santos, and the evening will be headlined by the salivating match-up between the gravity defying WEC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis, making his Octagon debut, against perennial UFC contender Clay Guida.
Former TUF alums will also make appearances on the main, as Season Three runner up Ed Herman faces Season Seven participant Tim Credeur in a middleweight tilt, and Season Eight cast member Kyle Kingsbury meets Black House striker Fabio Maldonado. There are also some compelling pairings on the preliminary card, so I'll make a quick pass of all of the scheduled match-ups excluding the main event and the Kingsbury vs. Maldonado fight, which Leland Roling will be previewing separately.
Tony Ferguson (10-2) vs. Ramsey Nijem (4-1)
A walk through Ferguson's record shows some encouraging aspects. In his wins, he's finished every opponent by TKO (6) or submission (3) except one. He has an impressive win over Dave "Hello Japan" Gardner, who, despite the less than favorable rep from his nickname, is actually a decent fighter with wins over Ryan Schultz and Rich Clementi.
Ferguson also defeated James Fanshier, who is a former King of the Cage welterweight champion and Gladiator Challenge welter- and middleweight champion. Fanshier is a gifted striker who represented Team USA in Sanshou at the 7th World Games in China and was also the national light-heavyweight IKF Sanshou champion in 2000. Former WEC fighter Karen Darabedyan and Jorge Gurgel submissionist Jamie Toney account for Ferguson's two losses.
Ramsey Nijem bypassed amateur MMA and started off in 2008 at the pro-level, winning his debut, but then disappearing for a year and a half. His return bout after the layoff was lost by submission, but Nijem tallied three wins a row leading up to the show.
The Palestinian-American trains with Josh Burkman and Court McGee, and was an accomplished wrestler in high school, moving on to the D1 University of Utah Valley to wrestle there as well. Ferguson was also a three-time All State wrestler in high school and later joined Grand Valley State University's wrestling team, a D2 school known for their strong athletics program. Both fighters have one loss by submission, though Ferguson has an additional loss by decision.
Based on what they've shown thus far, Nijem is much more takedown oriented, where Ferguson uses his frightening reach (76") to find his striking rhythm from afar. Nijem's strategy has basically been to distract with a flurry of strikes to veil his takedown attempts, and even though Justin Edwards was able to take Ferguson down, Nijem's intentions should be more expected.
The lines have Nijem as the favorite, but in the brief moments Ferguson was on his back, he spiked a vicious barrage of elbows to his head, and ended up finishing the fight with an up-kick knockout. In fact, Ferguson finished everyone they put in front of him with sharp punches.
Chris Cope was able to fend off Nijem's takedown attempts, and though Ferguson commits to his strikes much more and might succumb to one or two of Nijem's advances, his precise and powerful striking mixed with his well rounded skill set should propel him to a TKO or decision.
My Prediction: Ferguson by TKO
After a submission loss to Kazuo Misaki in 2004, Ed Herman, mostly unknown at the time, kept going after bigger names. In his next seven fights, he was able to score wins over Brian Ebersole, Glover Texeira, Dave Menne, and Nick Thompson, falling only to ground specialist Joe Doerksen. This initiated the call to compete on TUF.
Despite isolating himself as one of Season Three's best fighters, Herman dropped a close decision to Kendall Grove in the finals and then succumbed to a Jason MacDonald triangle. Two submissions in a row over Chris Price and Scott Smith got him back on track, followed by revenge over Doerksen by TKO in the rematch. He would win only one in his next four, which isn't as bad as it sounds: he was subbed by Demian Maia, he lost a hard-fought split-decision to Alan Belcher, spoiled David Loiseau's UFC return, then wrenched his knee versus Aaron Simpson.
If anything, Herman's pure grit and determination to battle through what turned out to be a torn ACL against Simpson showed his true fighting spirit.
"Crazy" Tim Credeur gained a following on Season Seven of TUF for holding a black belt in BJJ and Judo, but fighting like an all out brawler. On the reality show, he submitted three foes to get to the semifinals, where he lost to Jesse Taylor, then replaced Taylor in the finals and lost to C.B. Dollaway.
Since the show, Credeur notched three-straight stoppages leading up to his 2009 battle with Nate Quarry; a losing effort that earned Fight of the Night honors. Also taking a two-year hiatus, Credeur had a scare after a pre-fight medical scan showed a brain anomaly, and is now returning to action a proud father.
The Herman and Credeur duel should make for an interesting clash of styles. Herman is a southpaw with tight and decent boxing, strong takedowns, and solid submission defense. Credeur is long and tall with wildly aggressive stand-up and a dangerous guard game. Both fighters hold a high pace and should tear into each other for as long as they're humanly able.
The betting lines have the contest dead-even. I'd give a slight edge to Herman for being more judicious on the feet and technical with takedowns, and he should be able to avoid the perils of Credeur's gangly guard with a little caution in his ground-and-pound.
My Prediction: Herman by decision
Chuck O'Neil and Chris Cope both lost in the TUF 13 semifinals to Ferguson and Nijem, and will engage in a de facto third-place match on Saturday's card.
Chris Cope spent the season frustrating grapplers with an effective sprawl and brawl routine, using technical clinch-work to stay standing and methodically pick away on the feet. Cope was a bit hesitant to unload on the feet, which allowed him to stay standing but prevented him from being highly offensive.
Chuck O'Neil was harder to get a read on. He split fights with Zach Davis, first losing by triangle, then winning the rematch by decision. O'Neil was thoroughly out-pointed on the feet by Ferguson and showed some questionable defensive and tactical tendencies, but appeared to have good composure and a complete arsenal.
Cope was finally dropped by a Ramsey Nijem flurry, and while he may have the slight advantage standing, O'Neil should be able to capitalize on his broader game overall. Both fighters played the counter-punching role in their standing efforts, and I expect O'Neil to go on the attack and force Cope to spend his time defending.
My Prediction: O'Neil by submission
It's a little odd to see lightweight banger Jeremy Stephens on the preliminary card, but considering how he matches up with Duke Roufus product Daniel Downes, there's a good chance we'll end up seeing a highlight-reel outcome replayed on the broadcast. Both fighters prefer to throw hands until someone takes a nap.
After Din Thomas hit a gorgeous duck-under takedown and wrenched an armbar in his UFC debut, Jeremy Stephens scored a quick TKO elsewhere and returned for two strong wins over Diego Saraiva and Cole Miller. "Lil Heathen" would then alternate streaks: winning only one (Rafael Dos Anjos) out of four (losing to Spencer Fisher, Joe Lauzon, Gleison Tibau), then rebounding by winning three (Justin Buchholz, Sam Stout, Marcus Davis) of his next four (losing only a controversial split-decision to Melvin Guillard).
"Danny Boy" Downes stepped in to face Chris Horodecki on extremely short notice at WEC 49, hanging strong but eventually tapping to the mata leao in the third. Downes has since handed Chinese prospect Tiequan Zhang his only loss at WEC 53 and scored his first submission in a fight outside the UFC. Five of his wins have come by strike-stoppages.
Even though there's a buzz surrounding Downes and anyone hailing from the Roufusport camp can never be overlooked, the hard slant on the betting lines toward Stephens is understandable. Both fighters like to stand and trade, and from everything we've seen so far, Stephens should have the power, technique, and quickness advantage.
My Prediction: Stephens by TKO
In an unfortunate turn of events, Josh Grispi was slated to face Jose Aldo for the featherweight title, but instead met Dustin Poirier when the champ was injured. In a fairly shocking upset, Poirier snapped Grispi's ten-fight stretch with a unanimous decision at UFC 125.
Earning the nickname "The Fluke" for continually defying the odds, Grispi had four first-round finishes over Mark Hominick, Micah Miller, Jens Pulver, and L.C. Davis leading up to UFC 125 where Poirier tagged him with his second career loss.
George Roop first appeared as a lightweight on Season Eight of TUF, where he lost to eventual finalist Phillipe Nover on the show and Shane Nelson in the Spike TV finale. Roop went on to split fights with Dave Kaplan (decision win) and George Sotiropoulos (submission loss), then reappeared on the WEC platform two full weight classes below in a bantamweight match versus Eddie Wineland.
The decision loss inspired him to settle in between at featherweight, where he fought the leather-slinging Leonard Garcia to a draw, then accomplished the impossible by becoming the first fighter to ever knock out or finish fan-fave Chan Sung Jung with a brutal high kick. Most recently, Roop fell to Mark Hominick on the UFC: Fight for the Troops 2 card by TKO.
Grispi is a demonstrative favorite, as high as -550, making George Roop at +350 worth a small wager. There's no doubt Grispi should have the advantage to ground the fight and snake a submission, but Roop is tremendously tall and long for the weight class, with razor-sharp kickboxing. Grispi has been far from flawless in the stand-up department, often leaving his chin exposed while back-pedaling and countering.
Grispi by submission is the most likely outcome, but I would not be surprised to see Roop score the upset. His left high-kick is lightning fast and has a good chance to penetrate Grispi's defense. Keep your eye on Roop in this one.
My Prediction: Grispi by submission
Ken Stone made his WEC debut versus Eddie Wineland having only one defeat on his record, but quickly incurred his second with a ruthless TKO via monster slam. Stone was a collegiate wrestler who hooked up with American Top Team and showed promising results, earning a shot at the AFO featherweight belt, where he was edged out by AMA Fight Club's Jason McLean by split-decision.
Scott Jorgensen made it to the WEC in only his sixth pro-fight, and has been a staple in the organization ever since. A three-time PAC-10 champion wrestler in college, Jorgensen's tenacious game has propelled him past everyone in the WEC except for bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz and Antonio Banuelos, the latter of which he avenged in the rematch.
Jorgensen's top-ten status is reflected in the -600 odds favoring him. The only aspect Stone hasn't had a chance to show that may deflate those expectation is his guard game. He's finished every fight he's won -- four by TKO, five by sub, and three of those catches were by guillotine -- so Stone may unfurl a scrambling or submission threat we've yet to witness. The best equalizer for a better wrestler is a comparable wrestler with better submission knowledge. I'll be interested to see what Stone can throw at Jorgensen in another huge test for the relative newcomer.
My Prediction: Jorgensen by decision
Both of these bantamweights lost their big show debuts, as Reuben Duran impressed in a split-decision to Takeya Mizugaki on the UFC's "Sanchez vs. Kampmann" card and Francisco Rivera ate a cleaving head-kick from Erik Koch at at WEC 52.
Duran is a multiple-time Grappler's Quest champion with strong stand-up, and his ballsy performance against Mizugaki and well rounded acumen make him a bantamweight to watch out for. We haven't seen much of Rivera, and there's no shame in catching the blindingly fast left foot of a striker like Koch, but Duran should be handful to deal with everywhere the fight ends up.
My Prediction: Duran by submission
Even though they may not make waves in the division, the scrap between Clay Harvison and Justin Edwards will probably be a good one. Clay was a stand-up gamer and "mini-Couture" Edwards looked pretty solid before being caught by Ferguson's up-kick.
Harvison might be able to use his reach and out-point Edwards, or the latter's pace and wrestling might enable a stoppage on the ground. Though I have no strong feelings on the outcome, I'd give the edge to Edwards to hit a takedown and finish with strikes or a sub.
Let's not forget that there's usually a few surprises that emerge in the UFC even if they don't leave a strong impression on the show.