We're getting near the end of round 1 on this season of The Ultimate Fighter Live, and I have to admit, I'm ready for the quarter-finals. There's been a very interesting mix of fighters who have qualified so far, and I am intrigued to see how they all match up. But that's still two weeks and two fights away. For now, we have our 7th opening round fight, and it's another good one as Dominick Cruz #2 pick Sam Sicilia faces Urijah Faber #8 pick (and last overall pick) Chris Saunders. The Ultimate Fighter airs live on FX Friday night at 10 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. PT.
At a quick glance, this looks like a pretty major mismatch. Sicilia was a killer in his preliminary TUF fight, winning via KO after throwing just one punch. He's been silently waiting in the wings as an early favorite for a number of weeks. Saunders meanwhile was the last pick who didn't impress in his prelim fight. Seems like an easy win for Team Cruz to give them a 4-3 advantage, right? But digging deeper reveals that not only are we likely underrating Saunders, we may also be seriously overrating Sicilia. Let's take a closer look at each man, including fight footage.
Breakdown of Sicilia and Saunders, plus fight video and prediction in the full entry.
SAM SICILIA (10-0)
5'7" | 25 years old | 66" reach
TUF record: def. Erin Beach (KO, R1)
Sam Sicilia comes from the regional scene up in Washington, also home to his "Team Purple" pal Mike Chiesa. He's a perfect 10-0 (though some places list his record as 9-0), with a lot of those fights ending via quick KO, much as we saw in the premiere. He's also an incredibly busy fighter. He had one fight in 2007, and then a staggering 9 fights in 2011. That's a huge number of fights in a year and shows you that, despite being 10-0, Sicilia is essentially just 1 year into his pro career. Like a lot of up-and-coming fighters, that 10-0 record looks impressive, but may not be as great as it seems. He hasn't faced any opponents of note, with most of his opposition holding a losing record. He just hasn't been competing in an overly tough regional circuit, and has yet to be really challenged.
Unfortunately, because he's been limited to the regional scene, there's not much footage of Sicilia available, just one amateur fight and his quick KO of Beach. But what we see there is a strong reliance on that big overhand right. Against Beach he throws it beautifully, ducking under and whipping it over the top with big velocity. When it lands, as we saw, it's a lights-out punch. He also can use the punch to set up a takedown. Those fast KO's on his record and the way we approached the Beach fight tell me he's a headhunter, and a successful one at that.
Against Saunders, I expect we'll see that overhand right come fast out of the gates, with Sicilia looking to get another massive KO early.
CHRIS SAUNDERS (9-2)
5'8" | 25 years old | 67" reach
TUF record: def. Chase Hackett (UD)
The So-Cal Kid Chris Saunders is, as you might guess, a fighter out of the California scene. There he trains at All In MMA, a smaller facility where Saunders seems to be the top dog. He's 9-2, mainly in the California area, though he does have one very interesting fight on his resume. His last fight pre-TUF was last summer when he lost a unanimous decision to Chris Horodecki at Bellator 47. Though it was a loss, that's a huge fight, and you have to think the experience of both fighting on TV for Bellator and against a tough opponent like Horodecki was a valuable experience for Saunders.
Rewatching the fight against Hackett, you can see why he was picked last. Saunders went all-in on a guillotine attempt early in that fight, and when it didn't pan out (largely due to incorrect form by Saunders), his arms were gassed and he was mostly ineffective for the rest of the round. But you can also see that he has more to offer. He lost his snap in his strikes and his defense against Hackett, but he stuck in there, gutting it out and getting the win. Looking at other fights, you see that Saunders is a very good stand-up fighter. He strings things together nicely in combos, and does an excellent job mixing up his striking arsenal. He's a very solid technical striker, the kind of fighter who consistently executes properly, and has clearly emphasized technique in his training. But my favorite aspect of his striking is, as I said, the way he flows things together, using knees, kicks, punches... it all comes together nicely so that he can keep the pressure up. And if it goes to the ground, he is comfortable there as well.
For the Sicilia fight, I suspect he will look to use striking technique to outpoint Sicilia at first, then turn up the pressure and if he can, finish him on the ground.
Prediction: Chris Saunders, submission round 2
I'm going against the obvious choice here, but I think Saunders has this. Sicilia absolutely could catch him and put him out, but I believe Saunders has the standing skills to avoid that one punch KO. From there, he seems to be a superior technical striker who will outpoint Sicilia and stay on him until he gets the upset.
Sam Sicilia vs. Dean Brim
I believe this is an amateur fight from Sicilia. Note how he uses the same overhand right he used on TUF to get inside for the takedown, but then makes the classic wrestler mistake of leaving his head exposed, and pays for it.
Chris Saunders vs. Nick Reale
April 18, 2010
Here's the same guillotine used against Hackett, with better results
Chris Saunders vs. Cleber Luciano
April 10, 2011
Good combos here and an impressive KO finish