An in-depth glance at the TUF 16 Finale preliminary card match ups.
Remember the days when it was not unusual to suffer a 3-4 month gap between premiere UFC pay-per-view events? Weird.
After this Friday's UFC on FX 6: Sotiropoulos vs. Pearson event, which houses 10 total fights, you'll be forced to endure a whole 20 hours or so until The Ultimate Fighter 16 Finale starts, which runs 12-fights deep. And it's all free.
Matt Mitrione has stepped up to replace an injured Shane Carwin against Roy Nelson in the headliner, and contestant finalists Mike Ricci and Colton Smith square off to crown the TUF 16 winner. 3 more main-card bouts will air on the FX channel at 9:00 p.m. ET, but the action gets underway on a 7-fight preliminary card that's shared between Facebook and Fuel TV that shapes up like this:
Head was a sleeper back when he was a middleweight, but now that he's amongst the tallest of UFC welterweights at 6'2", maintaining a considerable amount of muscle mass through the cut and still moving quick on his feet -- this guy might be a future contender.
While that might sound a little lofty for the 28-year-old, who dropped his debut as a middleweight to Nick Ring but reeled off definitive wins over welterweights Papy Abedi (1st-round sub) and a split decision over Brian Ebersole (Seriously? That was a split decision?), a win over crafty vet Mike Pyle (23-8) would put him in the contender conversation.
Head's an interesting combo of rangy, technical boxing and rock-solid submission grappling (Lovato purple belt). His wrestling seemed decent to average at 185 but his inflated size at 170 seems to have elevated him towards A-level, as indicated in his shut-out of a respected wrestler in Ebersole, who managed a single takedown in 15 attempts. Head has a striking style that's much more rooted in traditional boxing than the standard MMA handiwork; he's well polished in a wide range of fundamentals with excellent timing, precision, and head movement.
Pyle has always been touted as a standout "gym fighter" who couldn't always transfer the goods to the cage. His UFC tour started luke-warm (lost 2 of 3) but Pyle seems to have harnessed his streaky side with a single, respectable loss to Rory MacDonald in his last 6 outings.
The Xtreme Couture vet excels with fundamentally sound takedowns -- both with set-up doubles from outside or trips and throws in the clinch -- and has a high-level submission game. His striking was somewhere between fair and a potential weakness but his recent surge coincided with a marked improvement in his stand up, as the consecutive TKO wins he's coming off signify (Ricardo Funch, Josh Neer).
If you reviewed Pyle's key losses and tried to conjure up a Kryptonite opponent for him, it'd be a skilled, heavy-handed striker who could avert takedowns and force Pyle to trade on the feet -- and that M.O. fits James Head perfectly. Head is an exceptionally technical boxer who plies that trade with intelligence and efficiency; he won't over-commit on his combinations and patiently waits for tiny openings to plug his long, crisp punches into. I can't help but envision this match up unfolding with Pyle being relegated to out-striking Head, which is just unlikely, Even if he can work in a takedown or two, Head is quite capable on the mat and it won't be enough to balance out what should be a lopsided striking affair.
My Prediction: James Head by TKO.
TUF alum clash here as TUF 14's Bedford, a standout on the show who was blitzed by eventual winner John Dodson, meets finishing machine Vinicius from TUF Brazil. Vinicius, a former featherweight, has amazingly stopped all 20 of his wins (13 subs, 7 TKOs) and is making his bantamweight debut. There was a buzz around him for the reality show but he was out-hustled by Hugo Vianna (who meets Reuben Duran on the Facebook stream and would've been an interesting opponent for Bedford) and submitted by Godofredo Pepey when he filled in for Rodrigo Damm.
Bedford dished out a merciless "Gimme Your Lunch Money" beat-down on the under-sized Louis Gaudinot in his only post-TUF showing but has been sidelined for a year after visa issues prohibited a fight with Mitch Gagnon and a knee injury did the same in a proposed bout with Nick Denis.
I was initially leaning toward Bedford here, who's a monster-sized bantamweight at 5'10" with a laudable 3-dimensional skill-set of striking, wrestling and submissions. He's been somewhat susceptible to submissions in the past but I'm not sure Vinicius has the savvy to tap him out. The salient X-factor is how Vinicius looks at 135-pounds and, while he might pull out some surprises, I'll stick to my guns and take Bedford.
My Prediction: Johnny Bedford by decision.
The next iteration in the growing list of Russian Combat Sambo champions invading the Octagon is Jackson/Winklejohn rep Rustam "Tiger" Khabilov, who'll make his UFC debut against TUF: Live cast member Vinc Pichel. Pichel's adopted the endearing nickname "From Hell" -- which might come off as corny but is rather befitting considering that he's decapitated all 7 names by TKO on his official record.
Khabilov was groomed in the M-1 promotion but recently tacked on decision wins over (welterweight) Rodrigo Ribiero in OneFC and former UFCer Jason Dent in a smaller show. The beauty of Combat Sambo training is that Khabilov is wholly comfortable on the feet, in the clinch or on the mat, and can also transition seamlessly between those phases.
Obviously, Pichel is a malevolent marksman but he's also a capable submissionist (he submitted his first two TUF opponents in Cody Pfister and John Cofer). After earning a decision over Chris Saunders, Pichel threw hands with eventual finalist Al Iaquinta; the first frame was close but I thought Pichel's striking was the most momentous offense, but a clear 2nd round for Iaquinta resulted in a unanimous decision his way and Pichel was eliminated.
I'm torn on this one -- despite this being his first run in the major leagues, Khabilov's team association and the proven success of Combat Sambo newcomers make him more than the average debutante, but I think Pichel is a lurking marauder who didn't get the credit he deserved for his stint on TUF. Really, comparing their past experience is a wash. My logical side steers me toward the more well-rounded candidate though Pichel has the dynamite in his hands to wrap things up quickly.
My Prediction: Rustam Khabilov by clinch-heavy decision.
The welterweight division adds a scary new prospect in powerhouse Nick "The Jersey Devil" Catone, a former UFC middleweight, Ring of Combat middleweight champ, and a 3-time D1 national qualifier and 2-time D1 conference champion in collegiate wrestling. Catone is not your typical one-dimensional takedown artist either -- he holds a brown belt in BJJ under Bill Scott as well as a win over the surging Costa Philippou.
In addition to Philippou, Catone eked out a split decision over Jesse Forbes after suffering consecutive losses from the onset of his UFC career; a submission loss to Tim Credeur and an admirable split decision to Mark Munoz. In his last outing, Catone was opened up by Chris Camozzi and dropped a TKO via doctor stoppage.
24-year-old submission virtuoso T.J. Waldburger will secure a bright future for himself if he continues to improve so rapidly. He's 3-2 in the Octagon with a decision over David Mitchell (in which an Octagon record was set for the most submission attempts) and he brilliantly tapped out Mike Stumpf (triangle) and Jake Hecht (armbar), while wrestlers Johny Hendricks (TKO) and Brian Ebersole (decision) account for his losses.
I'm really intrigued by Catone at 170. Waldburger is typically taller and longer than his adversaries at 5'11" with a 75" reach, but Catone clocks in at a wide-bodied 6'0" with a 72.5" reach. Waldburger's striking is average and usually just a smoke-screen to set up his takedowns, which are fueled more by persistence and creativity than a stellar wrestling acumen. Catone is a decent striker himself who should have control of the fight's location with his wrestling, and no slouch on the mat either. If he can maintain top form after the cut, he should be a feisty match up for Waldburger.
Still, I'll take a chance on Waldburger just because his submissions are so electrifying. He's a unique talent in that he just finds a way to latch on and suffocate, and Catone is hefty enough to raise concerns about the weight cut.
My Prediction: T.J. Waldburger by submission.
Duran notched a gutsy 3rd-round submission win over the hard-nosed Francisco Rivera in his last turn, but that was way back in June in 2011. He made his Octagon debut with a competitive split-decision loss to the stalwart Takeya Mizugaki and has enforced a balancing finishing ratio to accrue stoppages in 7 of his 8 wins (4 subs, 3 TKOs).
"Wolverine" Vianna was a TUF Brazil contestant who both fights and looks the part of his moniker. The undefeated Brazilian (6 decisions) clubbed Alexandre Ramos to enter the house and clawed his way to a decision over Vinicius but lost a debatable decision to eventual winner Rony Jason, and is now making his bantamweight debut.
Wolverine's drop in weight is the X-factor again, and I'm not confident his hyperactive aggression can overcome the diversity and composure of Duran.
My Prediction: Reuben Duran by decision.
Elliott etched a durable showing in his debut against top contender John Dodson, which snapped an 8-fight win streak that included a TKO of Jens Pulver.Elliott is tough as nails and weak nowhere with 4 subs, 3 TKOs and a single decision win.
Papazian, a Hayastan Judoka, started well with an entertaining scrap against Mike Easton (decision loss) but looked flat in the 1st-round submission loss to Dustin Pague that followed.Overall, Papazian has been streaky and has a few suspect losses, so that combined with his unflattering sophomore effort tilts me toward the venerable Elliott.
My Prediction: Tim Elliott by decision.
TUF: Live contestants with comparable styles face off. Both Cofer and Rio are athletic wrestlers with serviceable submission skills. Rio, a Ju-Co and 2-time NAIA national champion wrestler, was mentioned often as an early favorite but succumbed to a rear-naked choke against Andy Ogle. Similarly, Cofer, who didn't earn any lustrous accolades but competed at the D1 level in wrestling, was tapped out by Pichel in his opening bout.
I'm leaning Rio but this is a virtual coin-flip.
My Prediction: Mike Rio by decision.
Head vs. Pyle, Catone vs. Waldburger
Head and Catone (8 votes)
Head and Waldburger (16 votes)
Pyle and Catone (9 votes)
Pyle and Waldburger (20 votes)
53 total votes