With only three episodes to go before the live finale, this season of UFC's The Ultimate Fighter is now in its final stages. Team Jones and Team Sonnen came out of the opening round tied at 4-4 - now it's time to find out who moves on to the semifinals. Tonight, we get the first two quarterfinal fights. Here, Bloody Elbow previews those fights, so even if you've missed some of the season (and honestly, it's been a very good season), you can join in the fun tonight and know what to expect. Let's take a look.
On paper, this is a bit of an underdog battle, as both of these fighters were expected to lose against their more highly regarded opening round opponents. But both pulled off solid win, and come into this fight with some unexpected momentum.
Kelvin Gastelum is a young fighter at only 20 years old. A pro since 2010, he's undefeated with all of his wins coming via stoppage, but is yet to face any particularly tough competition. Stylistically, Gastelum likes the ground and pound. His ground control is decent though a bit sloppy, as he tends to muscle his way into position more than apply technique. That said, he stays in the fight and keeps working for the opening. He didn't look fantastic against Bubba, but he got the job done. On the feet, he tends to leave his hands low and chin exposed.
Collin Hart trains under UFC veteran David Terrell. He also favors the ground game, though shows greater technique on the ground with a good submission game and nice control. When he doesn't get the submission, Hart is content to be more of a grinding, war of attrition type fighter, and that's how he defeated Casey. While his ground game is better, Hart is also comfortable on the feet, showing nice movement.
Head to head, I expect this to be a ground battle, with Gastelum looking to gain top position for the ground and pound. But I see Gastelum's ground control being too open to be effective against Hart, who should be able to keep getting himself to advantageous positions and wear the Team Sonnen fighter down.
Prediction: Collin Hart by decision
The overall #1 pick vs. the overall last pick. You couldn't get more of a mismatch on paper, and yet this is more of a competitive fight than you might think.
The 6'6" Barnatt has had two impressive performances on TUF, with his jumping knee KO of Smith being a memorable highlight. Barnatt's greatest natural strength is that height, and he uses it quite well in his striking game. His stand-up is all built around tools that use the height - jab, teep, knee, switch body kick. It's an impressive arsenal that is hard to get through. His biggest weakness is that when people do get through, he is vulnerable, as he keeps his hands rather loose, and has been rocked by hooks in multiple fights. Barnatt is a patient fighter who goes for the finish, but doesn't push for it before it's there, which I appreciate. On the ground, he has good submissions, plus nice trips to take the fight down.
Dylan Andrews is one of the season's most experienced fighters. A 7 year pro, he holds a win over Shonie Carter, plus has lost to the likes of Jesse Taylor and Brian Ebersole. As you would expect from a more veteran fighter, Andrews has a solid all around game. He's also very relaxed. He had a bit of early trouble against Cummings, but stayed calm and came back to dominate the fight with ground control. That fight showed another of his advantages - the fact that he has been in drawn out battles. That's a big plus over the far less experienced Barnatt. On the feet, Andrews likes to paw with his hands, though when he sits down on his shots, he does have power.
Barnatt is the obvious favorite here, and I think that's deserved, though it's not nearly a slam dunk win. Andrews has the veteran smarts to drag Barnatt into deeper waters. And if he can get inside and connect with a hook, he might surprise the taller Team Sonnen fighter. Still, I don't think Andrews has the finishing ability to stop Barnatt, and I like Barnatt's ability to stay dangerous as the fight progresses, while also picking apart his shorter opponent.
Prediction: Luke Barnatt by TKO
Join us tonight on Bloody Elbow for live discussion to see how the quarterfinals play out.