When we last left our heroes...For as much as observers and fans like to rag on TUF, I'm enjoying how wrong I (and others) can be with respect to what TUF is churning out. No, this isn't an endorsement of awful programming. Rather, it's an endorsement of the monkey's on a typewriter scouting going on behind closed doors.
I'm glad I've been wrong about Tavares. He didn't seem like the kind of fighter who could be a mainstay, gatekeeper or otherwise. Especially since he lost to Court McGee, whose future seemed just as if not more questionable.
Like many TUF "rejects" who end up having more than 4 fights, he's leading a quietly solid career. In fact, he only has one blemish on his UFC dance card: 7-1 in the UFC, only losing to Aaron Simpson in 2011 at UFC 132.
Opposite Tavares is a man who will prove to be his absolute stiffest test. Yoel Romero continues his run of TKO/KO finishes. With 8 professional fights, his 7 wins are all by pugilistic finish.
The Cuban freestyle wrestling phenom will look to win impressively, this time free of any bowel-related controversy.
What both men can do: Brad proved early on that he was more than capable of threatening on the feet despite getting stung by Court McGee, who doesn't exactly have the reputation of a power puncher. He's only scored on KO win, against Phil Baroni, but he has decent pop in the overhand right he loves so much, and when he's in tight, he can unleash more than punches but heavy knees as well.
Tavares is just a decent fighter who knows how to use his size and strength in the places he knows size and strength become most significant: on the ground. Tavares isn't a great wrestler, but he's an attrition based fighter who get get takedowns through sheer force of will.
As for Romero, the guy is just a stud on the ground. He does what a lot of the really good wrestlers turned mixed martial artists do: when you get a guy on the ground, don't use your strength to pin a guy and expect will to take over skill. Instead move around, use your legs, and keep raining down punches until the color of his belt is meaningless.
Obviously, Romero's punching power goes without saying so instead of talking about his power, let's focus on his technique. This will require a switching of sections...
What both men can't do: I think Romero still does many things well on the feet, but all of his flaws can't even be well hidden behind his unreal power. I don't think Brunson is too bad of a fighter, but that head kick nearly ended Romero's hype.
In addition, Romero just hasn't figured out how to stay active enough. He's a streaky puncher, which means he'll throw in spurts, but away from that is just a pylon. Tavares doesn't have big power, but he's strong enough to pounce on the opportunity to finish Romero if he clips him at any point.
Picking Tavares is pretty tempting. He's gotten much better defensively, and I was impressed by how he dealt with Larkin's presence with leg kicks. In addition, he got a little "tricksy" in the cage that night doing the tried and true "I'm hurt! Just kidding" routine. The caveat there is that Larkin was unusually timid, and just seemed unwilling to engage all night.
Still, Romero has to be the favorite. He'll put Tavares on his back when he wants, and how. Romero has had decent competition in my opinion, so even though it looks like he's underachieving despite the wins in the eyes of some critics, it will prove a factor given that Tavares has been feasting on lesser competition.
A competitive fight regardless. Romero is anything but perfect, and Tavares is more technical than he's given credit for. But I like Yoel to win the same way he beat Brunson.
Odds and Ends: Pretty awful. One would hope oddsmakers would just look at how violent Romero's finishes are and conclude that along with an Olympic pedigree that a guy who could barely cut it on TUF would be toast but alas...Romero at +129 in some places just won't cut it in your wallet.
Prediction: Yoel Romero by Decision.