When we last left our heroes...It's a difficult thing to be The Ultimate Fighter reality show, and expect hardcore fans to get what they want. I accepted a long time ago that TUF is no longer a place to groom prospects. The prospects are the ones being signed out the gate to UFC contracts. It's not that TUF is producing less talented fighters: it's that TUF is just an alternate way of grooming potential ones. Just look at fighters like Kelvin Gastelum. It's not all bad.
Most of what we're getting are the Luke Barnatt's of the world; ok fighters who can be so much better with the right training.
Whether or not Laprise and Mercier represent either of the aforementioned remains to be seen. Both men are relative neophytes. Laprise turned pro in 2010, and fights out of Adrenaline Training Center while Olivier turned pro in 2011, and fights out of H20 MMA. Olivier won all of his four pro fights by rear naked choke, so already you can tall what his gameplan is.
Laprise has the less flashy resume on paper: there are actually decisions on his docket. Which means nothing, basically. What's interesting about this fight is the classic clash of styles at play.
It's nice that fighters are more well rounded than they used to be, but there's a nostalgic zest to watching one guy desperately fight one way while his opponent desperately fights the opposite way.
I don't know that this implies excitement (my prediction: it won't), but it does imply intrigue.
What both men can do: Laprise is a technician on the feet through and through. His striking is pretty high level for the UFC. It's not that it's dynamic or intimidating; just that he does a lot of things right. For example, instead of just arbitrarily throwing his jab, he actively tracks with it, which allows him to land the jab in the middle of an exchange or even as his opponent retreats.
He keeps a tight high guard, and even swivels his head during exchanges to avoid punishment. He's not a big puncher, but he's accurate, and accuracy is a damn fine stand-in for power. See Stout vs. Edwards for proof.
In addition to active footwork, he's got strong balance. He'll need that balance against Mercier whose Judo background served him well on the show (he was a member of the Canadian National Judo team). Like many with Judo backgrounds, he's highly effective in the clinch, possessing an excellent body lock, and swift trip takedowns.
On the ground he stands out in his own way by switching between ground and pound, and submission hounding. Alternating between both has proven effective thus far but given his opposition, it's difficult to say how well it'll translate.
What both men can't do: The thing that worries me about Olivier is his striking. A lot of specialists have learned how to hide their flaws by either being good at it, or not sucking at it. I don't know if Olivier has the striking aspect figured out. He does this dreadful zoom in with a right uppercut from his southpaw stance that is begging for a counter. While he's obviously strong in the clinch, he isn't terribly quick at closing the distance.
I feel like this fight favors Laprise because he doesn't swing his punches wildly, or overcommit. This means Olivier will have to work that much harder to get the fight to the ground, and the longer the bout goes, the more it favors Chad.
This fight is the most straightforward bout to ever unpack. Chad needs to keep it standing, and will win if he does. Aubin-Mercier needs to keep the fight on the ground, and will win if he does. My suspicion based on the available footage is that Aubin-Mercier will compete longer in Chad's realm than Chad will have to compete in Aubin-Mercier's realm, therefore...
Prediction: Chad Laprise by Decision.