TUF 18 Finale: Previews and prognostications for the preliminary card

An analytic look at the matchups between Ryan Benoit vs Joshua Samp, Jared Rosholt vs. Walter Harris, Akira Corassani vs. Maximo Blanco, Rani Yahya vs. Tom Niinimaki, and Drew Dober vs. Sean Spencer for the TUF 18 Finale.

Ryan Benoit (7-2) vs. Joshua Sampo (10-2) Flyweight

When we last left our heroes...Both guys will be making their UFC debut in the Flyweight division this weekend, and both men enter the octagon with solid records.

Whether that translates into solid UFC careers is anyone's guess in the relatively small FW pool, but that's what signings like these do for the division; enriches them.

It's "Baby Face" vs. "The Gremlin". Good thing for Benoit this fight isn't scheduled for midnight with Sampo allowed chicken drumstick in between rounds.

What both men can do: Benoit is the one coming in with decent hype. He only has two losses, and his last bout with ‘should have UFC contract' Anthony Birchak was an absolutely thriller with RNC attempts being exchanged like candy at Halloween.

Six of his seven wins are by TKO/KO. With his Muay Thai background, he displays a vicious right hand, knees, and solid clinchwork. He's also incredibly quick in the scrambles, looking for guillotines and back control in every transition. He looks like a contender. For the first round at least. But more on that later.

Sampo is on a 4 fight winning streak, his last loss coming to Will Campuzano last year. He's a solid fighter who does the little things well. His striking is just decent enough to keep him away from taking heavy damage, but where he excels is in getting fights to the ground. He has an excellent trip takedown and solid ground control from the top where he likes to either split his opponent's guard, or inflict damage.

What both men can't do: The problem with Sampo is the problem with all nonspecialists. They'll always lose to the more dynamic fighter. In this case Benoit is more dynamic. He's gonna be the much quicker fighter with the better finishing ability.

However, Benoit has to answer questions on his cardio before being talked about so highly. Both of his losses have been in fights that went the distance, and against Birchak, it was just plain amateur. Granted, that fight was an all out war on the ground, but it's something Sampo can highlight in his strategy.

X-Factor: See above. I don't like Benoit in this fight. He'll likely get taken down a lot by Sampo, who is pretty slick and hasn't lost by submission. I know the sexy pick is Benoit for his entertaining style but Sampo is crafty enough to exploit Benoit's major flaw.

Prediction: Joshua Sampo by Decision.

Jared Rosholt (8-1) vs. Walter Harris (4-1) Heavyweight

When we last left our heroes...I feel like it's been forever since we had a HW fight that involved a potential prospect. This bout sort of represents that, as Rosholt, brother of Jake Rosholt, has a solid wrestling pedigree with a 125-27 record at Oklahoma State University.

Rosholt won't be confused with Cain Velasquez, but that isn't to deny he has chops to compete in the division that perpetually needs new blood. He only owns one loss in a brutal display of being able to take a punch, and is on a four fight winning streak.

Walter Harris will also be making his UFC debut. At 4-1 all of his wins are by TKO/KO in the first round. Granted, three were against losing fighters (one over Cedric James who is 0-6), but Anthony Hamilton is 11-2 who is decent.

What both men can do: Rosholt is similar to his brother for obvious reasons. Given their wrestling backgrounds, they're wise to utilize it. Jared isn't your typical HW wrestler however. With his experience in grappling tournaments, he does an excellent job of looking to cut up his opponent's guard. His striking still needs work, but he has a quick left hook, and nice raw power. His double leg won't miss if you commit too hard to your strikes.

As for Harris, watching him you get why the KO's have come easy. Yes, some of the competition has been laughable, including this ridiculous display of braindead refereeing, but being a southpaw with speed, power, and nasty persistence with his left leg makes for a handful.

What both men can't do: Harris bears a slight resemblance to the man who beat Jared in Derrick Lewis, but not enough in my opinion. For one, Harris hasn't been in the cage with anyone even close to Rosholt's pedigree. In addition, Rosholt has shown he can take a punch. Yea he got finished, but it required a shotgun blast to do so. I'm not banking on Harris to last to the 2nd.

X-Factor: Harris' takedown defense.

Prediction: Jared Rosholt by Decision.

Akira Corassani (11-3) vs. Maximo Blanco (9-4-1) Featherweight

When we last left our heroes...I've exhausted all of my distaste of Corassani's over the top machismo, so no more TUF references I promise. When it comes down to it, he's a solid competitor who is now 2-0 in the UFC with wins over Robbie Peralta (who I really thought would beat him) and Andy Ogle.

Blanco's hype has all but detonated, but he's quietly regaining the momentum he had coming into the UFC that seemed lost forever after his post-fight gymnastics contest with Marcus Brimage.

His last bout was a win over Sam Sicilia by unanimous decision.

What both men can do: Akira does a good job of really sitting down on his punches. From his traditional stance he often digs hard to the body, which you still simply don't see enough of from fighters. His left hook especially either comes high and wide, or inside and close which is why it lands with regularity. He only owns one win by KO/TKO, but his power is pretty good and on the ground he does sturdy work from top control. With good ground and pound, and solid positional awareness, you can see why his record is so decent even against decent competition. Even his last official loss to Paul Reed was interesting insofar as he had Reed hurt on multiple occasions.

Blanco meanwhile, is sort of still the guy fans fell in love with in Sengoku. From his southpaw stance, he's a blistering cocktail of wheel kicks, left hands, front kicks, and well...everything. All of his wild, erratic, but efficient striking is enabled by a very strong wrestling background.

What both men can't do: That seems like a great stylistic matchup where Akira will be forced to stand (since he won't get Blanco to the floor), and Blanco left to work his magic. The question is, however, what ‘magic'?
Blanco seems less erratic, and more patient. Patience can be a virtue in this sport, but it also easily quickly turns into a vice when there are so many different ways to lose. The Blanco that fought Brimage could potentially lose this bout, but I doubt it.

Despite Akira's decent power, he paws with the jab too much. For whatever reason, MMA fighters are attracted to jab pawing, which won't threaten Maximo's go for broke style. I think this fight is pretty competitive, and I could see some strange scores coming out of this one, but I like Blanco to be aggressive enough to earn a decision.

X-Factor: We're in Nevada, which according to Dana White, means the grassy knolls aren't safe, nevermind a punch in the face contest.

Prediction: Maximo Blanco by Decision.

Rani Yahya (19-7) vs. Tom Niinimaki (20-5-1) Featherweight

When we last left our heroes...This is a strange fight for Yahya, who is on a 3-fight winning streak which includes wins over Josh Grispi, Mizuto Hirota, and Josh Clopton. And yet here he is against a UFC newcomer.
Tom, coming all the way from Finland, will be making his UFC debut. He's an intriguing veteran - after a lengthy break from MMA from 2007 to 2010 he is now on an 11 fight win streak that includes names like Walel Watson, and Chase Beebe. It's a tough bout for Niinimaki to say the least, so it'll be interesting to see how he responds to Rani's world class jiu jitsu.

What both men can do: We already know Rani's secrets. The dude can grapple. Unlike other grappling wizards who have found their identity against the best on the mat, Yahya seems to instinctually get that it's useful to just blizzard your opponent with submission attempts. I feel like a lot of grapplers who are clearly well beyond their opponent can be too timid with their talent. They think getting from point A to point D requires the B and C, and all the set up that goes with it, when all you need is a blitzkrieg.

Despite that, I feel like his striking has improved a lot. His technique is good, and he has moderate power to go along with solid speed. I know I'm making him sound so much better than he actually is, but he's a solid fighter all around fighter who has only stumbled against the elite.

Tom is an intriguing fighter. When you watch him he seems unassuming. There's nothing really intimidating about him. His way of winning is evenly distributed, with some knockouts, some submissions, and some decisions. But he dominates and always looks in control. As for where this comes from? Awareness, top control, and brilliant, improvised takedowns. His nickname, Stoneface, feels incredibly appropriate.

What both men can't do: With that said, the lack of power and fact that he excels on the ground doesn't bode well for the pure talent Yahya poses on the ground either from his back, or on top. While I'm not picking this one with confidence, I do feel like Yahya is still getting better. He's a legitimately well rounded fighter who happens to have one of the more brilliant submission games in the sport.

X-Factor: Tom's striking. He throws a searing one-two, but isn't always active with it, so if it turns into a boxing match, this fight becomes one of those "judges couldn't figure out what they were watching" matches.

Prediction: Rani Yahya by Decision.

Drew Dober (13-4) vs. Sean Spencer (10-2) Welterweight

When we last left our heroes...Both men enter this bout with wins after dabbling in different weight classes. Sean is the fighter with actual UFC experience, going 1-1 with a win over Yuri Villefort at WW, and a loss to Rafael Natal at MW.

Dober is on a four fight winning streak that includes a victory over T.J. O'Brien, who once fought briefly in the UFC.

What both men can do: Both guys are pretty similar in terms of style. They both seem to favor striking despite not having many TKO finishes (a total of four between the two). Dober throws a good straight left from his southpaw stance and does a good job of mixing in his striking with takedowns.

Spencer throws from a traditional stance, and is able to penetrate with combination punching. He has a pretty solid right uppercut in particular that I'd like to see him throw more often. The uppercut isn't thrown enough, and Spencer throws them fluidly.

What both men can't do: Both guys are pretty hittable. Dober in particular seems prone to getting cracked with a right hand. This flaw was evident in his bout against Tony Sims who Dober just barely got by. In addition, he throws a pretty predictable combination. While both guys seem to enjoy keeping the bout on the feet neither are technicians. I favor Spencer because I think he'll b able to land the harder punches.

X-Factor: N/A

Prediction: Sean Spencer by Decision.

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