Tonight's episode of UFC's The Ultimate Fighter Live features what could be one of the marquee match-ups of the show. Team Cruz #1 pick Justin Lawrence will be going against longtime Chute Boxe trainer and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu master Cristiano Marcello from Team Faber. Here, we'll break down tonight's match-up and include some video footage of each contestant to get you ready. The Ultimate Fighter airs live on FX Friday night at 10 p.m. ET / 8 p.m. PT.
This fight came about in a very interesting and unexpected manner. Last week, Team Cruz's James Vick pulled off an impressive upset over Daron Cruickshank, giving control to Dominick Cruz. Cruz selected his top dog Justin Lawrence for the fight, then gave up control of his opponent to coach Urijah Faber. For my money, it was a gorgeous psychological move, as Faber was caught totally off guard and did not know who to pick. After asking Dana White "Should we do the finals now?" (and I still want to know who he was thinking about with that comment) he turned to his team and asked who wanted the fight. The silence was deafening. With Team Faber all struck mute, Cruz retook control and selected Marcello, a tough opponent and Faber's 2nd pick in the draft. The end result is a clash I had seen as a possible finale, and I am very excited to see how it plays out. Let's break down each fighter.
JUSTIN LAWRENCE (3-0)
5'8" | 21 years old
TUF record: def. James Krause (KO, R1)
Despite his young age and small record, Lawrence has a lot of experience on the amateur circuit, with an alleged 150 fights to his credit. While that number is uncertain, you can say that this kid has a lot of confidence in the cage. His destruction of Krause was impressive, and the footage available on him consistently shows more of the same. Prior to The Ultimate Fighter, he has trained at Black House, and at 21st Century Self Defense.
Lawrence is an extremely aggressive fighter who comes out heavy. Though he is comfortable in all areas, striking seems to be his preferred style. On the feet, he tends to use a side stance to throw kicks styled after more traditional martial arts. He's also excellent at transitioning to the ground. But his greatest strength is that he is a finisher. When he has an opponent hurt, he goes for the kill. But against a veteran like Marcello, will that go for broke style work against him?
CRISTIANO MARCELLO (12-3)
5' 9.5" | 34 years old
TUF record: def. Jared Carlsten (Sub, R1)
Marcello is the definite veteran of the cast. A pro since 1998, Marcello has fought all over the world, including Pride. From 1998-2007 he fought only sporadically, instead focusing his time on his work as the jiu jitsu trainer at Brazil's famed Chute Boxe Academy. There, he trained Wanderlei Silva, Shogun Rua, Anderson Silva, and many more. He has since left Chute Boxe to start his own CM System. Since 2010 he has been more focused on his own MMA career, with a 4-1 record in the past 2 years.
Marcello is a Gracie black belt, and that defines his style. He's definitely a throwback to the old Gracie days where the gameplan was clear - get your opponent down by any means, secure control, and tap him out. It's a strong style, and Marcello is quite good at it. Still, Gracie Jiu Jitsu has faded in prominence over the years, and you can see some of the faults in Marcello. Though he has some decent offensive striking (no doubt thanks to his time at Chute Boxe), his striking defense is not very tight. He uses movement to avoid being hit instead of keeping his hands tight and chin tucked. He also has a tendency to rush in to grab the clinch, which can lead to him getting tagged. That said, if he gets the clinch, he almost certainly will get you to the ground, where he has an advantage over many, many opponents.
Prediction: Justin Lawrence by TKO
I like Marcello and his style quite a bit. But I think those striking defensive holes are going to be his undoing. Lawrence is too skilled a striker and will be able to find the chin, stun him, and get the stoppage. But he needs to be wary - a wild rush in will fead him into the submission master's game, which makes this quite the fight.
Videos from both men in the full entry.
Marcello vs. Hector Munoz
Sept. 1, 2007 - Art of War 3
Great fight here that shows off Marcello's resiliency.
Marcello vs. Emiliano Cobra
Feb. 25, 2010
Bitetti Combat 6
Lawrence vs. Justin Smith
Not on Lawrence's record, so I believe this is an amateur fight.
Lawrence vs. Nick Pope
One more amateur fight