So, another TUF season is wrapping up. It would probably feel more special if there weren't two others currently still in production and several more shows on the horizon, but that's hardly a consideration of the here and now. What lies before us is a finale between two fresh welterweight talents. Chad Laprise and Olivier Aubin-Mercier. The two men will face of on April 16th at the TUF Nations Finale, headlined by Michael Bisping and Tim Kennedy. What better time to take a look at what each fighter should bring to the table.
Who is Olivier Aubin-Mercier?
A former Candian National Judo team member and junior national champion, Aubin-Mericer is almost certainly the most decorated athlete of the TUF Nations finalists. Apart from his Judo black belt (and other credentials) he's also a brown belt in BJJ. The 25-year old trains out of H2O MMA, where he is also an instructor. Aubin-Mercier brings a 4-0 record with him to the UFC. He has no notable wins or opponents to date (which is to be expected this early in his career), but has finished every fight by rear naked choke in the first round.
What you should expect:
Aubin-Mercier is a fairly cautious, defensive fighter at range, darting in with a reasonably quick jab and one-off strikes. When he does generate his own striking offense, he tends to try and swarm opponents and overwhelm them, causing them to give up dominant grappling position. It's not a particularly strong tactic, but is helped by his judo base once he's in the clinch. Once he has the fight on the ground (usually through trips and drags) Aubin-Mercier has very solid ground and pound, standing over his opponent and using the full weight of his body to deliver strikes. Eventually, Aubin-Mercier looks monstrously strong in the clinch, both offensively and defensively and appears to put his talents to good use.
Who is Chad Laprise?
Hailing from the Adrenaline Training Center, home of UFC lightweight Jesse Ronson, the 27-year old Chad Laprise is yet another relative newcomer to martial arts and MMA. To his credit, he claims to have been training in mixed martial arts for the past decade, and I don't doubt him, but his professional experience only stretches back to 2010 and a 7-0 unbeaten record. That record has been very solidly earned with a couple of wins in Bellator over good competition, and another couple of strong regional wins. Of the four finalists, Laprise is probably the most seasoned in terms of decent competition on a big stage.
What you should expect:
The big first impressions of Laprise are handspeed and footwork. In some ways he reminds me a lot of Rashad Evans as a striker. It's clear that most of the athletic tools are there, and it looks good, but there are some underlying flaws still present. The biggest one is that, despite all his movement and footwork and level changes as a striker, Laprise doesn't take his head off line as he throws. He also doesn't do a lot of combination striking from the outside. So, while his technique with his hands and feet is fast and crisp he still gets dinged up a bit because he keeps his head and torso fairly stationary as the throws and tends to wait on opponents to generate offense.
He does kick well in combination, both to the legs and head, but at times the results of his offense feels like a bit less than the sum of its parts. His speed and accuracy make him fairly powerful as well, as shown by his fight with Kajan Johnson. All told, his flaws aren't huge, but some of the better welterweight strikers may be able to expose holes in his game.
What this means for their fight:
Because Laprise doesn't tend to throw a lot of wild combinations, and because he has very active footwork, this is going to be a tough challenge for Aubin-Mercier. Laprise has the clear striking advantage from the outside, and Aubin-Mercier's distance closing tools are not stellar. If he gets this fight into the clinch, he'll have a big advantage with his strength and Judo base. He could easily make this fight hell on Laprise by forcing a lot of scrambles and a lot of grappling exchanges. Likewise Laprise could make be a big challenge for Aubin-Mercier, if he can stay outside and pepper away with clean straight punches. I'd give the edge to Aubin-Mercier, because most fights tend to end up in the clinch and he just seems like a whole different animal there, but Laprise has the tools he needs to win if he fights smart.
To get better acquainted, here's footage of Laprise against Kajan Johnson from this season of TUF:
And Aubin-Mercier vs. Jake Matthews: