Before the main card of the UFC Ultimate Fighter Live Finale, Fuel TV will air 4 preliminary fights featuring the fighters from this season of TUF Live. The Fuel TV prelims begin at 7:00 p.m. ET. There's also one additional fight airing before the Fuel prelims, as John Albert faces Erik Perez on the Facebook stream. The live main card on FX is headlined by Jake Ellenberger vs. Martin Kampmann in a clutch Welterweight fight, plus Al Iaquinta vs. Michael Chiesa in the TUF finals. The lineup for the Fuel TV preliminary card is as follows:
Here's a breakdown of each fight, plus my predictions on how the fight will go. Check back for the rest of the card as I will handle preview duties for the TUF portions, with Dallas providing his always great Dissections for the rest.
Myles "The Fury" Jury (9-0) vs. "The So-Cal Kid" Chris Saunders (9-2)
These are two of the more well-rounded fighters on the show and should provide an interesting match-up. Jury was eliminated by a unanimous decision loss in the opening round to finalist Iaquinta, while Saunders went down in the quarter-finals to Vinc Pichel.
Jury has an impressive record, but has not faced the toughest level of competition. He's a fast finisher who, prior to TUF, had won all his fights via 1st round stoppage in less than 3 minutes. On TUF, he was pushed a bit more, winning a one round decision in the qualifiers, then going a tough 3 rounds with Iaquinta. Those experiences should only help him, as he needs more time being pushed.
Saunders was the last pick of the season, but proved his worth with a close, and somewhat controversial, win over Sam Sicilia. Based out of California, Saunders has some of the best experience of anyone this season, including a loss to Chris Horodecki at Bellator 47 last summer. He has a very nice striking game that really mixes things together well, using a lot of kicks, punches and knees together in combos. He also does well with feints and a lot of movement. Add in solid technique on all his strikes and decent power and you have a good striking game. He also supplements that stand-up with an ability to smoothly transition to wrestling when needed.
His biggest issue is conditioning. In his TUF qualifying fight he was extremely tired, losing all his snap and defense. Again, against Sicilia, he tired out, losing the ability to really push the pace as the fight progressed.
Both have good overall games, but it's the striking where each man shines and where I expect this will be decided. Both have very complete striking games that mix it up well. Jury likes to come forward and go for the finish, but he's not overly aggressive. He also showed on the show that, if pushed, he can take it to the ground and show some solid ground and pound. Saunders also will start strong, and also will take it down if needed. In some ways, these are almost mirror images.
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This is a tough fight to pick since both men are so even. But the big question for me here is Saunders' cardio. In both of his TUF fights, and in fights before the show, he looked to fade down the stretch, while Jury did manage to keep going hard in his lone 3 round fight. I think that will be the difference maker here, as they start off close, but Jury keeps it technical and pulls away down the stretch.
My Prediction: Myles Jury by decision
Daron Cruickshank (10-2) vs. Chris "Bad Boy" Tickle (7-4)
Let me start off by saying I love this fight. Two dynamic strikers here, who should provide a nice foil for each other. Cruickshank was highly regarded after his qualifying fight on the show, but got sloppy in the first fight of the season and lost to James Vick in a huge upset. Tickle established himself early as the Chris Leben of the season with his combination of annoying antics and heart on his sleeve passion. He lost to Joe Proctor via first round submission in the opening round.
Cruickshank is a solid Tae Kwon Do style fighter. Though his record lists college wrestling experience, Tae Kwon Do forms his base, as he has been studying it since a very young age with his family. A pro since 2009, he's been very busy in his short career, putting together a 10-2 record that includes a loss to Bellator veteran Luis Palomino. He was dominant in his qualifying fight, showing off a beautiful display of stand-up in his win over Drew Dober. Against Vick, he began to get too casual, and when he switched from stand-up to wrestling with a double-leg takedown attempt, Vick knocked him cold with a knee.
Tickle is a largely self-taught fighter. He trains out of Onestep Fitness in Illinois, where he essentially is his own coach. It's amazing he has come this far without more formal training, and it will be very interesting to see how he moves forward with his career. In the cage, he's a very aggressive striker who throws everything into all his shots. Not a lot of set up from Tickle - just power shot, power shot, power shot. That said, he does exhibit good technique, and is not just winging things wildly. On the mat, he has a decent submission game, though his aggression gets the better of him on the ground as he is prone to committing himself to the submission before he has secured the position. His flaw against Proctor was coming out heavy, but then slowing his pace midway through round 1. Once he slowed down, Proctor jumped on him, took him down, and almost effortlessly finished him with a rear naked choke.
When these two meet on Friday it should be a good one. Styles make fights, and these two have very complimentary styles, with aggressive but technical stand-up on display from each. Vick fight aside, I think Cruickshank has more to offer. He has a more diverse striking game, a better ability to take the fight to the ground if needed, and better mental and physical conditioning as the fight progresses. Like the Proctor fight, I see Tickle coming out hard here, but expect Cruickshank will be able to stay with him and ride out that opening salvo. As the fight progresses, Cruickshank can use his kicks to begin outpointing Tickle, eventually taking home the win.
My Prediction: Daron Cruickshank by KO, round 2.
Cristiano Marcello (12-3) vs. Sam Sicilia (10-1)
This fight is a classic stylistic match-up - striker vs. grappler. You've also got experience vs. youth at play here as, despite their similar records, Marcello has a decade's worth of experience over Sicilia.
Cristiano Marcello has been around the MMA game since the early days. He's most famous for being the main jiu jitsu trainer at Chute Boxe Academy during that famed gym's glory days. There, he taught his style of jiu jitsu to men like Wanderlei Silva, Shogun Rua, Anderson Silva, and many more. His own MMA career has typically played a backseat role to his training as he has fought off and on since 1997, competing in Pride among other organizations. He was also famously involved in a backstage brawl with Charles "Krazy Horse" Bennett in Pride where he choked Krazy Horse unconscious.
Marcello is a black belt under Royler Gracie, and that Gracie style of jiu jitsu shows. On the mat, he's a patient fighter who likes to work from the takedown to the mount to the back and secure the rear naked choke for the win. Gracie 101 stuff, but super effective when executed by a master. And make no mistake, Marcello is a master on the mat. He's also great at getting it down, as he is willing to sacrifice positioning in the name of fighting on the ground.
On the feet, his Chute Boxe experience comes through as he is somewhat reckless. He likes to get the clinch, but doesn't defend himself when going for it. In fact, that's Marcello's big issue - striking defense. He doesn't keep his hands tight, and is prone to keeping his chin straight up. That cost him against Justin Lawrence, who outstruck him and eventually found that exposed chin for the KO.
Sam Sicilia is a fighter from the Pacific Northwest who turned heads on the first episode of TUF with his lightning quick one punch KO of Erin Beach. That fight showed Sicilia at his best. He has a huge right hand KO that he has used to score a lot of fast KO's in his career. He likes to throw that overhand right from far outside, stepping in, ducking his head, and coming over the top with the right. It's a simple, effective punch, and Sicilia uses it well.
Against Saunders, that punch didn't connect, and Sicilia struggled. He's very reliant on that KO shot, and without it, his game is a bit more limited, though he did stay in the fight and, in the eyes of many (myself included) had fought to a draw after 2 rounds. Unfortunately the judges didn't see it that way, and he lost a decision.
Predicting this one comes entirely down to where the fight takes place. On the feet, the advantage is Sicilia's. He's a superior striker, he has dynamite power in that right, and Marcello has that horrible habit of keeping his chin exposed. On the mat, there's no question that Marcello is superior, and should make short work of Sicilia. Sicilia does have wrestling experience he can use to keep it standing, but Marcello should have the ability to take him down. The question is will he try? On the show, Marcello lost to Justin Lawrence because he engaged the striker in a stand-up battle. If he makes the same mistake here, he'll be knocked out once again. But I'd like to think he'll be wise enough to employ the proper strategy - take Sicilia down and tap him out.
My Prediction: Cristiano Marcello by submission, round 1.
Joe Proctor (7-1) vs. Jeremy Larsen (8-2)
Joe Proctor is a trainee of Joe Lauzon fighting out of the Boston area. He made it to the quarter-finals on TUF, defeating Chris Tickle via rear naked choke before being upset by James Vick. Proctor started his career as more of a wild stand-up fighter, but under Lauzon's tutelage, he's really adapted his game to more reflect his trainer's style. Like Lauzon, Proctor uses his strikes to set up his submission game. And like Lauzon, he's deadly with those submissions. Make one mistake, and Proctor will slap on a submission and tap you out, preferably with the guillotine, which seems to be his submission of choice.
On the feet, Proctor's best attribute is his ability to quickly transition from the striking game to submissions. He also has a good chin, though his defense is a little wide and so that chin gets tested a lot. He has a heavy emphasis on his hands rather than his overall striking game.
With his seemingly quieter personality and his early exit, Jeremy Larsen did not make much of an impression on the regular season. He defeated Jeff Smith by decision to get into the house, then lost a 2 round decision to Chiesa in the opening round. He's trained in the past with his TUF coach Dominick Cruz. Cruz described him as both comfortable grappling, but also someone who struggles against wrestlers, and that struggle was on display against the wrestler Chiesa. He's faced some good competition in his career, including a 2011 loss to Efrain Escudero.
Larsen describes himself as a striker who looks for the KO, and that's a pretty fair assessment. He's from the Leben school of striking, where he uses a brawling punch-centric style with little regard for defense. On the mat, he shows better defense as he is tough to submit.
At first glance, this is an easy fight to pick. Proctor has the better camp, he's the more technical fighter, and he seems all around superior to the more average Larsen. But Larsen has two key things going for him. 1) He likes to swing with those hands, and Proctor can get hit. I expect Larsen will find that chin, but he may not have the power to take Proctor out. 2) His submission defense. Proctor is going to struggle to finish Larsen, who is tough as nails. Against Vick, Proctor seemed to have a submission locked in, but Vick escaped. After that escape, Proctor seemed mentally defeated and somewhat gave up on the fight. If he does that here, he could be in trouble.
In the end, I'm willing to chalk that mental slip up to being in the TUF setting for so long and away from his normal camp. With his team back in his corner, I expect Proctor to survive an early Larsen flurry, then take over. Will he get the submission? I kind of doubt it, as (again, like Lauzon) he has great first round finishing ability, but not so much down the road. This will be a struggle, but Proctor should be active enough to take it.
My Prediction: Joe Proctor by decision.