This match up in particular has really drawn my interest, mostly because the general consensus from the fan-base and the betting lines point strongly toward Brazilian newcomer Daniel Sarafian (7-2). Look -- I'm an honest guy and an open book, so I have no problem revealing that I wasn't able to catch most of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): Brazil, which served as Sarafian's launchpad to the Octagon. But, now, having finally taken in his performances on the show, I'm starting to understand the appeal.
The 30-year-old scored a decision in the elimination round to secure a spot in the house, then finished Team Nogueira's Renee Forte with a 2nd-round rear-naked choke and thwacked Sergio Moraes with a leaping knee to advance to the finals by 1st-round TKO. Unfortunately, an injury prevented Sarafian from competing in the TUF: Brazil finals at UFC 147, and he was replaced by Moraes, who ended up dropping a lopsided decision to Cezar Ferreira.
The 7 wins on Sarafian's official record are comprised of 6 subs and a decision, though it'd be 7 subs and a TKO if you factor in his unofficial TUF wins. However, he bears much more potential than his catch-heavy win ratio indicates: his boxing is solid and powerful, his leg kicks are sharp, the flying-knee KO of Moraes showed fight-ending diversity, he has a noticeable physical presence in the cage and he's intelligently aggressive.
According to his UFC.com bio, Sarafian started training in BJJ in 1998, then gradually worked in boxing and Muay Thai. He picked up a semifinal finish at the Pan-Ams as a purple belt and also claims an amateur boxing title.The result seems to be a well-bred, multidimensional talent with capabilities on the feet, in the clinch and on the mat.
Sarafian will dive right into the deep end of the pool against TUF 7 finalist C.B. Dollaway (12-4). Dollaway has been wrestling since age 5 and went on to become a JUCO national champion and a D1 All-American at Arizona State University. Like most Arizona-based wrestlers turned MMAers, Dollaway joined the Arizona Combat Sports fight team but later joined TUF 8 winner Ryan Bader at the Power MMA squad, which houses additional UFC talent in Seth Baczynski and Aaron Simpson.
"The Doberman" was considered a one-dimensional wrestler after Amir Sadollah armbarred him twice, but that unflattering reputation changed when Dollaway finished Jesse Taylor with a Peruvian necktie, which requires much more than elementary submission knowledge. His star burned brighter after a raucous 1st-round KO over Mike Massenzio, but the old demons resurfaced when Tom Lawlor tapped him with a guillotine. Dollaway rebounded with 3-straight wins, the last, a modified guillotine on sub-expert Joe Doerksen, again indicated improvement with submission grappling.
The momentum of that streak has been overshadowed by Dollaway falling in 2 of his last 3: he was shellacked by Mark Munoz on the feet for a 1st-round KO, oddly sputtered out just a few minutes in against Jared Hamman before suffering the same fate in the 2nd round, but notched a reputable and much-needed win over Jason "Mayhem" Miller in his last.
By UFC standards, Dollaway's striking is average at best. Just as with his strides in submission grappling, Dollaway's pretty decent offensively but his defensive flaws drastically lower the grading curve. From a big-picture standpoint, Dollaway is distinctly vulnerable to counter-attacks on the feet and on the mat: standing, his hands regularly stray too far from his chin, and he leaves his neck and limbs similarly exposed in grappling exchanges.
Overall, the biggest concern with Dollaway is his tangible inconsistency. He's shown striking improvement only to be left asleep on the canvas, and submission improvement that's clouded by 4 unofficial submission losses (including Sadollah). And, personally, his loss to Hamman was conspicuously disappointing, as he was red-faced and sucking wind after the opening sequence of grappling encounters.
However, it's hard to compare the pros and cons of an experienced UFC competitor, whose trials are dictated by the world's best fighters, to those of Sarafian. If we're going needle Dollaway's weaknesses, it's only fair to mention that Sarafian was defeated by the only A-level opponent on his record (Mike Whitehead) and clubbed in the 1st-round by Gary Padilla (12-6) in Bellator's inaugural event circa 2009. It remains to be seen whether Sarafian's TUF opposition can rightfully be considered top-shelf or not.
On the feet, Sarafian seems more polished, powerful and diverse than Dollaway. He has a natural grasp of basics like stance, balance, footwork, timing and, most importantly, defense, whereas Dollaway still exudes the awkward aura of a wrestler who's still uncomfortable with striking mechanics. Despite the gap in past experience, Sarafian gets my nod for the edge in striking.
While, in the realm of wrestling, clinching and the ability to impose control, Sarafian performed well on TUF, he'd have to outrageously dominate for me to put him on equal terms with a D1 All-American. And he didn't. Moraes was able to take him down; he wasn't weak or inept by any means, but not jaw-dropping spectacular enough to indicate he can hang with Dollaway.
That leaves the submission grappling aspect as the pivotal X-factor. The challenges for Dollaway are: to close distance wisely, using unpredictable angles and timing, being careful to protect his chin and avoid telegraphing his shots in the process, and maintain top control without getting caught in a sub. For Sarafian: catching Dollaway with strikes in open space or while he's dropping levels to shoot is a no-brainer; using footwork and movement to prevent being trapped in a corner or underhooks and sprawling to deter takedowns will be imperative if the latter route fails. Other than that, Sarafian will have to sweep, escape or submit if he finds himself underneath Dollaway.
Though I have a better grasp of the buzz surrounding Sarafian, my instinct defaults to the partially flawed candidate who's been plying his trade in the Octagon against elite competition over the slightly less flawed and inexperienced prospect.
My Prediction: C.B. Dollaway by decision.