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Diggin' Deep on the TUF 23 Finale: Jedrzejczyk vs Gadelha 2 main card

Get the rundown on the main card for the TUF 23 Finale: Jedrzejczyk vs Gadelha 2 out of Las Vegas, featuring former Bellator lightweight champion Will Brooks in his UFC debut against Ross Pearson and the return of super prospect Doo Ho Choi.

Matt Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

First and foremost, I want to thank Jon Jones for once again stealing the spotlight and taking the focus off of the fights on the weekend of the biggest history of the sport. Moving on.

Aside from the TUF finals fights which nobody cares about -€” and if you do perchance actually care, I've got you covered -€” there is definitely some good fights on the main card. Recent Bellator lightweight champion Will Brooks makes his UFC debut hoping to instantly jump into the contenders circle by disposing of gatekeeper and action fighter Ross Pearson. Uber-prospect Doo Ho Choi gets a big step up in competition against Thiago Tavares. And Andrew Holbrook... wait. Andrew Holbrook? Why did I bring him up? Disregard anything that I just said after Thiago Tavares.

The main card starts at 10:00 ET/7:00 PT on Friday, July 8.

Andrew Sanchez (7-2) vs. Khalil Rountree (4-0), TUF Light Heavyweight Final

Two natural middleweights meet in the light heavyweight final of the Ultimate Fighter finals. Hard to make these TUF fights interesting anymore, right?

Rountree is the one the brass favors as he possess a hard hitting striking style that would produce a hell of a highlight reel in a hurry. It isn't like he snuck up on the MMA world with the tournament as he has been on many top prospect watch lists for a while now with some believing he can become a title contender in the future. The fear is that he is being thrown to the wolves too quickly as he only turned pro two years ago.

There isn't that same fear with Sanchez as he has been a pro for twice the amount of time Rountree has been with four years as an amateur to go along with his professional experience. Having only lost to current or former UFC veterans, there is no doubt that the two-time NAIA national champion wrestler is ready for the big stage.

Sanchez has unfairly developed a reputation as a grappler. I say unfairly not because he is a poor grappler -€” he is quite good -€” but because his striking has caught up to his ground game to make him a complete fighter. He has the striking basics down such as a jab, leg kicks, and elbows in the clinch while largely plying his trade as a counter striker. He isn't an athletic marvel, so I worry that his spinning strikes (backfists, kicks, etc.) won't be nearly as effective at the higher level as he doesn't throw them with a great amount of speed. He has good head movement and improving footwork to make him a difficult target to hit.

Despite his general rawness, no one denies that Rountree is already a special striker. He throws a lot of round kicks with an ungodly amount of power and ferocity to all areas of the body. He mixes in front kicks as well and has shown excellent power in his fists. But those kicks... wow. There are still some big holes that can be exposed as his boxing technique is still wild and he tends to throw everything he has into every strike. That nearly cost him in his fight with Josh Stansbury, becoming much more selective with his strikes as he didn't have the tank to go as hard as he did earlier in the round. Fortunately he landed a kill shot before the fight went much further.

Sanchez will undoubtedly look to take the fight to the ground and look to expose Rountree's weak grappling. Rountree has a bad habit of giving up his back and has almost no offensive grappling of note. Sanchez is a beast with his shots as he times them well and will have a size advantage over Rountree. Sanchez has developed a preference for brutalizing his opponent with elbows from the mount looking for the finish, but don't be surprised to see him looking for the submission here as he has developed good guard passing skills.

Rountree probably has the brighter future long term. What he doesn't have is a fully developed all-around game that Sanchez possesses... yet. He very well could get there in a couple of years but we're not taking about a couple of years from now. We're talking about right now. Though Rountree producing a flash KO isn't out of the realm of possibility, Sanchez should be able to handle the raw and inexperienced Rountree without too much of a hassle. Sanchez via submission of the first round

Tatiana Suarez (3-0) vs. Amanda Cooper (1-1), TUF Women's Strawweight Final

Don't let the lack of professional fights fool you as both of these ladies have plenty of combat experience between them. Whether they are ready for the UFC is another story, but ready or not....

Suarez was the favorite to get to this point right from the beginning. A talented wrestler in high school who was primed to make the US Olympic squad, those dreams were derailed when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Once she beat cancer and made a full recovery, she went into the sport of MMA and has yet to fall whether it be a professional, exhibition or amateur fight.

The same can't be said of Cooper who fell to Aspen Ladd at an Invicta show in her last pro bout. What she does have on Suarez is she has been competing in the sport of MMA for five years now as opposed to strictly wrestling or BJJ tournaments as Suarez has competed in prior to her MMA conversion. She does have her own specialized background as she was a professional boxer before deciding to give MMA a go.

Knowing their backgrounds, it's pretty clear where each woman will want the fight with Suarez wanting to take the fight to the ground while Cooper will look to keep the fight standing. Suarez has a very shallow striking game at this point in her development, relying almost solely on side and leg kicks. I can only recall one punch landing of hers while standing outside of the clinch in any of her contests that I watched. There may have been more, I don't recall them. She appeared to be developing some oomph to her kicks as she landed a good one to the body of Kate Jackson in their semifinal bout, but there is a strong argument she is the worst striker in the division now that she is in the UFC.

While it wouldn't be fair to label Cooper amongst the best upon her UFC inception, she is pretty damned polished in all areas on the feet. She uses good lateral movement around the cage while avoiding the fence and throwing a good amount of volume. She throws good combinations while mixing in the occasional kick here and there too with a good amount of pop in her punches. Cooper will be able to put a beating on Suarez for sure... if she can avoid being taken to the ground.

That's been a bit of an issue for Cooper as Suarez really only needs just to get in on her opponent's hips for the takedown. Big and strong for the division, Suarez doesn't quit on her takedowns and more often than not gets the fight to the ground. Ground positioning has been an issue for Suarez as she struggles to keep her opponent grounded, though she's typically stuck to them like glue and simply taken them back to the ground once they're on their feet. She'll need to be wary of Cooper's submissions as Cooper's BJJ doesn't get the credit it deserves. Active off of her back, Cooper snagged an armbar from that position to gain entry into the house. Her sweeps aren't bad either and her ground and pound is absolutely vicious if she can get top control.

I've gone back and forth in my head on this one. Cooper has so many more ways to win the fight than Suarez, but the one definitive way Suarez knows how to win is the most likely scenario to play out. And that one scenario is by far more likely to play out. I usually pick the fighter with the most ways to win, but I'm going with my gut on this one since it just seems to be such a stronger likelihood that Suarez ragdolls the striker. Suarez via decision

Ross Pearson (19-10) vs. Will Brooks (17-1), Lightweight

After trashing his former employer for months while under their employ, former Bellator champion Brooks finally gets his wish to compete in the UFC against longtime veteran Ross Pearson. Can Brooks make a good impression?

No one doubts whether or not Brooks is talented enough to find success in the UFC. The question is whether or not he can find success against the elite of the UFC. His entertainment value is cause for concern too as he has developed a reputation as a wet blanket with six of his last seven fights (all victories) going to decision, including three going 25 minutes. Whether he can be a title contender is something only time will tell, but Eddie Alvarez's title shot provides reasonable hope.

It's reasonable to deduce the UFC decided to match Pearson up with Brooks due to his reputation as a sound action fighter as the UFC will be pleased with him if he can drag an entertaining bout out of Brooks. Few believe Pearson can become a title contender this far into his UFC career, but there is no doubt that he sees this bout as his opportunity to jumpstart a late career run at title glory in addition to breaking his recent win-one, lose-one streak.

Pearson is almost purely a striker, only looking for level changes in a reactionary way or the occasional change of pace. Takedowns have really only worked out for him against opponent's with a less than stellar wrestling background and that hardly describes Brooks. Remember that wet blanket quip? Pearson usually has solid takedown defense on the first attempt, but the second and third attempts usually get him. Brooks is one of the best pure wrestlers with a deep back of takedowns from your classic single and double-leg takedowns to body lock trips.

What makes Brooks an elite fighter at this stage is he has evolved into a fantastic BJJ practitioner. Smooth guard passes have become a staple of his arsenal and has a particularly lethal arm triangle choke. Though his ground and pound isn't particularly heavy, he stays pretty busy with it and it plays a big part in his ability to pass his opponents guard. Brooks doesn't make it easy for his opponent to get to their feet either, maintaining a very heavy top position. Pearson's grappling is mostly used for defensive purposes -€” submission victories dried up for him once he started facing top competition -€” and he'll need to make good use of it here. He's pretty good about getting back to his feet, though Brooks is a hell of a scrambler himself.

Pearson's best chance to win the fight will be on the feet. Seen as a brawler by many, Pearson is a much more versatile striker than that. While it is true he relied much more on his hands in his early UFC days, he's developed some hard kicks that he mainly throws to the legs. Usually looking to counter, he has above average power in his hands and his head movement has long been lauded as some of the best in the business. He's gotten himself into trouble when he abandons his countering attack as his movement isn't nearly as efficient when he is moving forward.

Brooks doesn't get enough credit as a striker due to his vaunted wrestling, but he isn't a slouch in that area by any means. He tends to throw a lot of jabs and kicks to the body while occasionally bursting forward with incredibly fast punching combinations. The clinch may be Brooks' most underrated aspect as his Thai plum has proven difficult to escape from with some killer knees. Brooks' athleticism really shines through in his defense as his head movement is -€” like Pearson -€” amongst the best in the business.

No doubt that Pearson is a more than respectable fighter and a tough test for anyone debuting in the UFC, but Brooks is on another level than he is. What has impressed me most with Brooks is his confidence as he is never rattled, even when in a bad situation. That mental toughness combined with his physical skills should make him an instant threat in the UFC lightweight title picture. Pearson should drag as entertaining a fight as we've seen out of the former Bellator champion in a while, but the decision should pretty clearly go to the UFC newcomer. Brooks via decision

Doo Ho Choi (13-1) vs. Thiago Tavares (20-6-1), Featherweight

It's amazing how many MMA fans don't know who Choi is. He is only one of the best and most entertaining prospects in the world! He gets a real test in the veteran Tavares.

The reason fans are unfamiliar with Choi has been inactivity -€-- two fights over a two year period since joining the UFC --€” and being doomed to Fight Pass for each of those bouts. Those fights have lasted a total of 111 seconds combined, ending in violent fashion as he has lived up to every bit of the hype he has received thus far.

Despite having been around the UFC for almost a decade, Tavares is only 31 which means he is still young enough to make a run up the divisional rankings. This might be the last realistic chance for him to make an extended run, so don't expect him to take this fight lightly. Otherwise he'll likely serve out the rest of his career as a mid-tier gatekeeper. Not a bad fate, but a bit disappointing considering the hype around him when he first entered the UFC... if you can remember that far back.

Choi's game is completely centered around staying on his feet and letting his fists fly. At first glance it would be easy to call him a brawler, but there is a lot more skill to his boxing than that. He prefers countering and is an expert at luring his opponent into throwing the first strike with subtle movements and feints. From there he puts together vicious punching combinations that have put opponents out of their misery quickly as he packs an incredible amount of pop in his punches for someone his size. He has improved his head movement as well which has allowed him to enter into the pocket with more confidence of coming out of the fray intact.

Tavares will likely be Choi's most able challenge on the feet, but that doesn't mean that he'll look to trade with the Korean Superboy. On the contrary, the well-rounded Tavares is the best grappler that Choi has faced as well. Choi is largely untested on the ground outside of his powerful ground strikes as his fantastic takedown defense has prevented him from facing much adversity in that department. Tavares is as cagey as they come and has a variety of ways to get the fight to the ground with single legs, trips and throws. Though his recent submissions have come by way of scrambles and transitions, Tavares is still a sharp guard passer.

The biggest key of the fight is if Tavares can avoid Choi's power as that has been a frequent problem for him in the past. He isn't bad at using angles to get into the pocket and land a single punch or short combination, it's avoiding the return shots that have plagued him. It isn't unfair to question the durability of his chin either. He'll need to find a way to get Choi to throw first to initiate a reactive takedown. Otherwise, look for him to throw a steady diet of leg kicks.

I wish this fight was getting more attention. Choi really is that damn good and Tavares has seemingly flown under the radar for most fans for the last few years now. His only two losses in the last five years were to Khabib Nurmagomedov and Brian Ortega, both undefeated fighters. Still, I don't trust his ability to get Choi to the ground consistently much less avoid Choi's power for the duration of 15 minutes. Another highlight reel win for Choi. Choi via KO of the first round

Joaquim Silva (8-0) vs. Andrew Holbrook (11-0), Lightweight

There are a lot of similarities between these two. Both are undefeated. Both won their UFC debuts via controversial split decision. Both were forced to pull out of their last scheduled fights due to injury. But what most people are asking: How did this fight make the main card when no one cares about it?

Silva beat up on a bunch of cans at welterweight on the Brazilian circuit before making his way onto TUF Brazil 4 as one of the more unheralded prospects. He has the physical skills, though he is still a long ways from being a genuine UFC talent despite the progress that he has made since his first appearance on TUF.

Holbrook was supposed to be a sacrificial lamb to Sage Northcutt before getting hurt, making way for Bryan Barberena earn his 15 minutes of fame. That he was in position to fight Super Sage should tell you all you need to know about how the UFC views hm. He isn't much of an athlete nor is he particularly young at 30, but he can steal a fight or two he has no business winning.

Silva generally spends too much time on his heels looking for the right opening to take off his opponents head which leads to him eating a lot of damage. When he does open up, he throws head-hunting hooks with bad intentions and has serious preference for knees of the step-in and flying variety. He has been working on a jab and occasionally throws leg kicks to help fill up his volume, though he'll need to up the ante on those to start winning decisions consistently. He has shown very little in terms of wrestling or grappling, being average at best at stopping the takedown and worse than that in terms of grappling. Ironic given his nickname of Netto BJJ.

Holbrook will assuredly look to exploit Silva's grappling as he won his first nine fights via submission. Granted that a few of those were due to opponents tapping to punches, but you get where I'm coming from. His takedowns have become less effective as he has stepped up the quality of competition as there isn't much explosion in his shots. Even worse is he was unable to stop a single takedown attempt from Ramsey Nijem in his debut. Fortunately his grappling is slick enough that he can sweep or threaten off of his back with a submission, so he may still be able to execute his grapple-heavy strategy by pulling guard or luring Silva into taking him down.

The best skill Holbrook has shown on his feet is a good chin as his striking would best be described as unwieldy. Like Silva, he throws a lot of hooks. Unlike Silva, they are anything but smooth and they don't have the same KO threat. His most effective strikes against Nijem came on the ground as he offered almost nothing efficient on his feet.

This seems like a two-true outcome scenario: Silva by KO or Holbrook by submission. Silva is the better athlete which inclines me pick him. However, I haven't been impressed with his fight IQ while Holbrook seems to have a better understanding of what he needs to do to win. I think he'll figure out what he needs to do to nab a sub. Holbrook via submission of the second round

Odds (by Odds Shark)

Andrew Sanchez (-160) / Khalil Rountree (+120)

Tatiana Suarez (-405) / Amanda Cooper (+285)

Ross Pearson (+300) / Will Brooks (-400)

Doo Ho Choi (-164) / Thiago Tavares (+136)

Joaquim Silva (+116) / Andrew Holbrook (-144)