The UFC's first season of TUF Live on FX concludes this Friday, June 1st, with The Ultimate Fighter Live Finale from The Pearl in Las Vegas. The event is headlined by a welterweight clash between top contenders Jake Ellenberger and Martin Kampmann along with the traditional battle to crown the next TUF champion. The lightweight class was featured this season and the pack has been whittled down to finalists Mike Chiesa and Al Iaquinta of Team Faber.
TUF competitors Justin Lawrence and John Cofer have secured a slot on the 5-piece main card on FX, along with a pair of non-TUF match ups in Jonathan Brookins vs. Charles Oliveira and Max Holloway vs. Pat Schilling. Before the main card on FX begins at 9:00 p.m. ET, Fuel TV will air 4 preliminary fights at 7:00 p.m. ET.
Jonathan Brookins (13-4) defeated Michael Johnson in December of 2010 to win TUF 12 as a lightweight, then dropped back down to his natural fighting weight of 145-pounds. After pulling out of intended bouts with John Makdessi (reasons unknown) and Jeremy Stephens (eye injury), Brookins didn't return to the Octagon until February of 2011 where he met once-beaten Erik Koch and lost a unanimous decision. The defeat was Brookins' first since a 2008 TKO loss to current UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo back at WEC 36.
Charles Oliveira (15-2) made his Octagon debut with a 41-second armbar of Darren Elkins and followed up with a 3rd-round submission of Efrain Escudero. His high-velocity pace and propensity for finishing quickly made "Do Bronx" a fan favorite. Also starting off his UFC career as a lightweight, Oliveira lost momentum in his next 3 encounters: he was kneebarred by Jim Miller, he was disqualified for an illegal knee against Nik Lentz (despite an electric performance) and Donald Cerrone crunched him by 1st-round TKO. The sequence prompted a drop to featherweight, where Oliveira added some luster to his rep with a modified Calf Slicer submission over Eric Wisely in the 1st.
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Brookins (6'0", 74" reach) and Oliveira (5'10", 73" reach) are tall, thin and long for the featherweight class with a distinct dual-pronged attack. Brookins excels at wrestling and submission grappling while Oliveira has a scintillating combination of Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
The pivotal factors in this match up are Oliveira's kickboxing and takedown defense. There's no question he's a monster on the feet and should have his way with Brookins, but fending off Brookins' takedowns or submitting him should present a serious challenge. Brookins is tenacious in pursing the clinch, where his trips, throws and his trusty lateral drop are all phenomenal. He's never been submitted and his technical grasp of position and submission grappling is top-notch.
The danger-zone is the way he closes distance to tie up. His gangly frame generates huge leverage in the clinch and on the mat but gives him trouble in striking defense, mostly with head movement and keeping a tight stance with his hands up. In the 1st-round, Michael Johnson sliced punches through his guard at will before Brookins revved up his wrestling game to mount the comeback.
In addition to his striking advantage, Oliveira will be quicker and more agile. Before Brookins' last fight, I would've given Oliveira an absurd edge standing, but Brookins lit up Vagner Rocha with ground-and-pound and became the first fighter to finish the durable Brazilian. While that was not in the Free-Movement Phase, it shows he has some power if he can learn to harness it and his defense looked a tad cleaner. Brookins threw a chambered side kick on Rocha, which could be a creative distance weapon for him, or at least an effective way to mix things up -- he's eaten some shots while closing range and dropping levels and his hunched-over attack can be somewhat predictable.
"Do Bronx" has human highlight reel characteristics in the standing department, flicking out sharp high and low kicks, launching for flying knees and maintaining steady pressuring with stiff punches. His takedown defense was surprisingly feisty against Escudero, as was his offensive wrestling, but Miller and Elkins put him on his back fairly easily -- though Oliveira may have been willing to duel from guard against them.
Even though the betting lines have Oliveira by a slim margin, I like Brookins here. Oliveira has only been to the 3rd-round twice in his career and Brookins is a tenacious animal who doesn't slow down. Additionally, the fact that Brookins has never been knocked out or submitted leads me to believe he can endure a violent 1st-round from Oliveira before imposing his takedown game. Oliveira's ho-hum defense of Miller's kneebar leaves some questions about his Fight I.Q. and he's yet to experience a grueling dog fight at the top level, so I think Brookins is a stable pick as long as he defends himself well in exchanges and when closing the distance. I do have a sneaking suspicion that Oliveira could reveal an otherworldly sub-game, but Brookins is heavy and clever on the mat.
My Prediction: Jonathan Brookins by decision.