The 2nd of 4 UFC events this month comes live from Las Vegas, Nevada at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Season 17 of The Ultimate Fighter will be in the books after tonight, and we'll not only find out the next TUF champion (Uriah Hall/Kelvin Gastelum), but we'll also know who will coach opposite Ronda Rousey in TUF 18 in the fall (Miesha Tate/Cat Zingano). Urijah Faber and Scott Jorgensen headline the card, but before all of those fights occur, we have ourselves a seven fight preliminary card.
Tonight's TUF 17 Finale preliminary card is divided into two completely separate groups. The Fuel TV broadcast will focus on the TUF 17 cast, while the Facebook fights all pertain to likely "loser gets the pink slip" matchups outside of TUF 17 itself. Let's have a look at all of them, shall we?
Facebook (5:30 PM ET/2:30 PM PT)
Blanco had plenty of hype surrounding him as he made his US fighting debut in 2011. The Venezuelan had competed in both Sengoku and Pancrase, winning the latter promotion's lightweight championship in 2009. His violent punching power led to finishes over the likes of Katsuya Inoue and Rodrigo Damm, but his Strikeforce debut against Pat Healy saw him lose by rear-naked choke. Nevertheless he made his UFC debut at UFC 145 against Marcus Brimage, a fight so bad that the impromptu post-fight somersault competition was more exciting than any of the actual action. Blanco's back is very much against the wall after two disappointing performances.
Sicilia controversially lost to Chris Saunders by unanimous decision in the opening round of TUF 15, but made the most of his official UFC debut by KOing Cristiano Marcello. The Washingtonian then dropped to FW to face TUF Brazil winner Rony Jason at UFC 153. While the bout was entertaining, Sicilia ultimately lost by TKO in the 2nd round. Sicilia has not gone the distance since his first pro bout in 2007. Against someone like Blanco, that streak will likely remain intact win or lose.
Pineda impressed in his first two UFC appearances, submitting both Pat Schilling and Mackens Sermerzier in a combined 3 minutes and 42 seconds. He experienced a major step up in competition when he fought former #1 featherweight Mike Brown at UFC 146, and while he put forth a good effort, he lost a 29-28 unanimous decision. At UFC 149 last July, Pineda replaced an injured George Roop against Antonio Carvalho, losing by KO inside 75 seconds. One more loss all but assures his UFC release after such a promising start.
Lawrence advanced to the TUF 15 quarterfinals, losing to eventual season winner Michael Chiesa by TKO. His exciting kickboxing background warranted a main card slot on the TUF 15 finale, and he justified his placement with a head kick KO of John Cofer. Lawrence then dropped to featherweight to face Max Holloway at UFC 150, but Holloway was able to finish Justin with strikes in the 2nd round.
Miller is from the talented cast of TUF 5, and stamped his place as one of the premier crowd-pleasing fighters at 155 lbs. His slick grappling skills have earned him 3 SOTN bonuses, including one against Ross Pearson. That said, he's yet to win 3 straight UFC fights, and has lost his last two fights, which have both taken place at featherweight. It's a must-win for Miller, who has looked nothing like the fighter he was at lightweight.
Palaszewski was a WEC favorite at lightweight, and is one of just two fighters to ever defeat Anthony Pettis. He lost to Kamal Shalorus in his final WEC fight, and dropped to featherweight when he made his UFC debut against Tyson Griffin. In a moderate upset, Bart dominated Griffin on the feet and knocked him out in the opening round. Unfortunately for him, that's the peak of his success in the UFC, as he's lost his last two to Diego Nunes and Hatsu Hioki, and faces a likely UFC release with a defeat tonight.
Fuel TV (7 PM ET/4 PM PT)
Hester was Jon Jones' first pick on TUF, and fought Jimmy Quinlan in the opening round of 16. In an upset, Team Sonnen's 5th pick was able to submit Hester in the 2nd round and send him out early. The majority of Hester's professional victories have come by KO or TKO, and even his one submission win was a strikes stoppage. However, two of his three defeats have come against notable competition Cale Yarbrough and Bellator's Douglas Lima.
Marunde is filling in for the injured Zak Cummings, the sole TUF 17 member not to receive a fight this month. Bristol is returning to his natural weight class of 185 lbs after moving to 170 lbs for the dreadful TUF 16 season. Marunde has fought some damn good competition over the years, most recently a 3rd round submission loss against Ronaldo Souza. Notable victories for Marunde include Jay Silva, Shane Primm, and Rich Attonito. He holds a significant grappling advantage over Hester, but the question is whether or not he'll need it or if he can get it to the ground at all.
Barnatt was Team Sonnen's first pick following his impressive decision win over Nicolas Kohring to get into the TUF house. He knocked out Gilbert Smith with a knee as Gilbert was shooting in for a takedown. In the quarterfinal matchup against Dylan Andrews he was taken to a sudden victory 3rd round. From there it was all Dylan Andrews, as his heavy pressure and hard punches sent the Brit to the canvas and out of the tournament. He still holds an unbeaten professional record, and is the favorite against Collin Hart.
Hart's early win over Kevin Casey set him up against Kelvin Gastelum in the quarterfinals. Unfortunately for Collin, the fight wasn't remotely competitive and Gastelum put him to sleep very early in the 1st round. Hart, who has the incredibly humorous nickname of "The Dick", fights out of Santa Rosa up in Northern California. Collin comes into this fight with a four inch height disadvantage against Barnatt, which is amazing considering Hart himself is 6'2"!
Dylan Andrews (15-4, 1 NC MMA, 0-0 UFC) vs. Jimmy Quinlan (3-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC)
Andrews was one of the best stories to come out of this season. The New Zealander admitted to being a frequent bully victim in school, and while on TUF he was Team Jones' last pick. Not much was expected out of Dylan, but he managed to defeat veteran Zak Cummings in the opening round before knocking out top pick Luke Barnatt in the quarterfinals. His surprise run ended at the powerful hands of Uriah Hall, but he's definitely earned his spot in the UFC, now the question is whether or not he can keep it.
Quinlan choked out Clint Hester in his opening TUF fight, and was pitted against Josh Samman in the quarterfinals. While Jimmy was able to take Samman down he never really established any offense from top position, and late in the 1st he was badly hurt by a knee and ultimately tapped out to Samman's double punches when back-mounted. Quinlan lacks the fight experience that Andrews has, but that does not necessarily make him the inferior fighter.
Josh Samman (9-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC) vs. Kevin Casey (5-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC)
Samman was one of the early favorites to advance to the TUF 17 finals, and leading up to the semifinals there was every reason to believe the hype. His 1st round KO of Tor Troeng probably would've won Knockout of the Season if not for Uriah Hall's spinning heel kick against Adam Cella. Samman's favored "double punch" forced Jimmy Quinlan to tap in their quarterfinal, setting up a semifinal meeting against Kelvin Gastelum. Samman had no answer for Gastelum's wrestling and late in the first round he was forced to tap to a rear-naked choke.
Casey lost his first TUF fight against Collin Hart, but was granted a second chance through the wild card spot. He took the first round against Bubba McDaniel, but noticeably faded in the second, and quit on his stool before sudden victory. It was revealed that recurring kidney problems prevented Casey from answering the bell. The former Strikeforce fighter is a BJJ black belt under Rickson Gracie, and realistically it might be his only path to victory against Samman.