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Hindsight - TUF 27 Finale: Tavares vs. Adesanya in retrospect

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Look back on the first event of the weekend, featuring Gerald Meerschaert’s upset victory in the curtain jerker to Israel Adesanya’s thrashing of Brad Tavares.

I get it. UFC 226 is what everyone was talking about after this weekend, with good reason. For only second time in history, a fighter is simultaneously holding onto two belts after Daniel Cormier wrested the heavyweight title from Stipe Miocic. But we also had the TUF 27 Finale go down, which had some stuff happen. I’ll get to UFC 226 as soon as I can, but I had to take a quick look at the Finale as well as there were some interesting developments in addition to some contests that aren’t worth mentioning. And yet, I mention them anyway….

Here’s a breakdown of every contest on TUF 27 FInale. I’ll cover the important parts of the fight, some of the techniques I noticed that were either effective or ineffective, and where the fighters appear to be going.

Gerald Meerschaert defeated Oskar Piechota via submission at 4:55 of RD2

Meerschaert may be better than we all thought. Or maybe he’s just super resilient and Piechota blew his wad after the first round. Piechota went for the kill in the first and came out for the next round looking especially lethargic, some speculated he was concussed. Whatever it was, Meerschaert capitalized and unloaded on the Pole… just like a savvy vet with as much experience as he has would.

I’m still high on Piechota. Maybe not as high as I was, but he should still end up breaking into the UFC rankings some day. He looks like he suffered from a major adrenaline dump and was on shaky legs the next round. That’s the type of thing you don’t learn to deal with until you experience it. Piechota has now experienced it. As for the concussion, I couldn’t see where that may have happened in the first, so I’d speculate he was on the downslope before that happened… if it happened. Expect him to come back stronger.

Meerschaert wasn’t expected to do much when he was signed as an injury replacement in the winter of 2016, but he now sits at 4-1 in the UFC. Granted, Piechota qualifies as his best win, but it isn’t like Piechota is a scrub. Nonetheless, Meerschaert has proven to be an ideal gatekeeper, separating those who are ready to make an ascent up the ladder from those who either need more seasoning or never had what it took in the first place.

Steven Peterson defeated Matt Bessette via split decision

Anyone who knows anything about these two knew they’d throw down and leave it all in the cage. It may not have been as exciting as some of the performances they’ve put on in the past, but it was a quality slugfest that Bessette could have just as easily been awarded the decision.

The commentary team talked about Peterson saying he wanted to fight a smart fight this time around. That didn’t happen. He went for broke off the bat, burning himself out on a guillotine within about two minutes. I’m not saying he had nothing left in the tank after that, but he was visibly affected by it. Nonetheless, Peterson kept pressing forward and wore down Bessette in the process. It was just enough to win and maintain his reputation as an action fighter.

Bessette can sleep well knowing he put on a good performance, something that couldn’t be said in his UFC debut. He sharp on his counters the first half of the contest, but couldn’t keep up with the insane pace Peterson pushes. To be fair, not many can. What sucks about this is Bessette needs to win now as he doesn’t make a great prospect at the age of 33. He’ll probably get one more shot, but time is dangerously short.

Bryce Mitchell defeated Tyler Diamond via majority decision

There was nothing special about this contest, but there wasn’t anything bad about it either. Both had their moments of control with neither having a major advantage in the striking department. What seemed to swing the fight in favor of Mitchell was his triangle choke attempt from the guard in the second round as that was the closest the fight came to being ended prematurely. Though I would have favored Diamond, there was no reason to be upset with Mitchell taking the decision.

I get the feeling this contest would have benefitted from being on the Contender Series. On the weekly Fight Pass show, fighters are attempting to impress with brutal KO’s and slick submissions. Here, there were times Mitchell and Diamond were fighting not to lose, making for few impressive moments. Nonetheless, both showed they have what it takes to hang in the UFC for at least a few years. Diamond may not get a second chance as the UFC has been reluctant to give second fights to TUF fighters who lose their debut, but I can see them making an exception here.

John Gunther defeated Allan Zuniga via majority decision

Let’s get this out of the way right away: this was not a good fight. Gunther pressed Zuniga against the fight for the first two rounds. Zuniga began to show urgency in the final two rounds, but it was too late by then. Gunther earned the decision, but it’s a fight no one wants to go back and watch again.

He may have won, but Gunther didn’t look like a modern UFC fighter. The strategy he implemented may have worked in the early Zuffa days, but those are long gone… by well over a decade. He’ll either need a long absence to improve his game or a softball as what he’s currently equipped with is sorely lacking in comparison to the roster mainstays. Zuniga may have more skills than Gunther, but his lack of athleticism and height will prevent him from hanging on at lightweight. Then again, it’s unlikely the UFC keeps him around anyway.

Luis Pena defeated Richie Smullen via submission at 3:32 of RD1

There was disappointment when Pena went down with an injury prior to the completion of the TUF tournament as Pena emerged as the early favorite. The UFC was smart enough to recognize this and booked him to face another fighter who didn’t lose in the tournament. Then again, Smullen didn’t even fight. Pena picked apart the SBG representative with his lanky frame, hurting him on the feet before submitting him.

Pena not only lived up to the hype, he exceeded it. He looked sharper on the feet than he ever has and wasted little time finding the guillotine choke on the ground. So long as he can continue to make 155 – no easy task given his 6’3” frame – he’s going to be something special. The biggest worry I have at this time would be his takedown defense, but he does get back to his feet quickly and has plenty of time to shore that up.

Smullen look like a fish out of water. He did score a couple of takedowns, but couldn’t do anything with them. He may be able to develop into a quality fighter if given more time – he is only 27-years old – though that is hardly a guarantee. My guess would be that he doesn’t.

Montana de la Rosa defeated Rachael Ostovich via submission at 4:21 of RD3

Neither de la Rosa nor Ostovich is a finished product. However, many tend to forget that given they’ve been familiar names in women’s MMA for a few years, leading to very few looking at them as title contenders in the future. Though both showed they still possess plenty of holes, they also displayed reason for big hopes for their future.

De la Rosa jumped to an early lead on the strength of an improved jab, Ostovich not finding an answer until coming out of her corner in the second round, slipping under de la Rosa’s attack and responding with combinations. De la Rosa countered by closing the distance in hopes of getting the fight to the ground, finally doing so in the final frame, unleashing some brutal GnP before taking Ostovich’s back and finding the choke.

Though it’s only natural to be more excited by de la Rosa’s future – she did win after all – Ostovich’s ability to adjust and ability to scramble with de la Rosa offers a lot of promise too. Her win-loss record is unimpressive at 4-4, but she packs a hell of a punch and is improving in her punching. She was a bit too reckless early on with her striking, but she’s on the right track. De la Rosa displayed a vicious side to her many didn’t know existed when she laid into Ostovich on the ground. If she can regularly tap into that killer instinct while continuing to improve on the feet, she could be looking at a title shot in a year or two.

Alessio Di Chirico defeated Julian Marquez via split decision

Though it proved to be a competitive and entertaining contest, many were upset at the outcome between Di Chirico and Marquez. I was in the minority, believing Di Chirico barely edged out Marquez, though I wouldn’t have argued had the decision gone to Marquez. The striking was pretty even. According to Fight Metric, Di Chirico landed 50 significant strikes to 47 for Marquez. Yes, Marquez landed some big shots that visibly hurt Di Chirico, but Di Chirico did the same to Marquez. In my eyes, Di Chirico did just a bit more in rounds 1 and 3. Again though, close fight with no reason for anyone to get hot. It’s not like there was a title involved or anything.

In fact, it’s likely Marquez will no longer be fighting in this weight class. He BADLY missed weight, coming in at 190. There was always concern about how long he’d be able to stay at 185 in the first place, so this wasn’t necessarily a surprise. He may find more success in the shallow light heavyweight division anyway.

Di Chirico put his toughness on display in this one, something no one was sure he possessed. Turns out he has plenty of it. He showed plenty of fight IQ as well, taking Marquez down at opportune times and avoiding most of Marquez’s kill shots. Given he’s been fighting for about 7 years, it could still be argued his upside is very limited. Regardless, he’s earned the right to be more than just a name on the roster… for now.

Roxanne Modafferi defeated Barb Honchak via TKO at 3:32 of RD2

Who remembers Modafferi’s UFC debut? It came almost five years ago after the TUF season with Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate. She didn’t have the physicality to hang with Raquel Pennington, looking slow, unathletic, weak, and old. Fast forward to now and the story is totally different. Granted, she still looks unathletic, but she has a spring in her step that was missing and is always active. Plus, she got Honchak where she wanted on the ground by being the more physical fighter. There is no way in hell that version of Modafferi from 2013 would have delivered the brutal GnP that ended the contest.

It isn’t common for a fighter to still be improving 15 years into their career, yet Modafferi has found a way to be doing just that. Her enthusiasm for the sport – and life and general – has to be the driving force as she is perpetually positive about everything. I wouldn’t know anyone else who can compare to her. She may need just one more victory to earn another title shot as she’s an incredibly loved figure in the MMA community.

Honchak doesn’t have the same adoration from the community as Modafferi as she doesn’t have the quirky personality of Modafferi in addition to a style that is considered to be dull. She turns 39 next month and didn’t appear to possess the athletic advantage we all thought she would have against Modafferi. Is she near the end of the road? My guess is yes.

Alex Caceres defeated Martin Bravo via split decision

Caceres has been around the UFC for a long time now. You’d think he’d be a savvy veteran who knows how to easily dispose of an enthusiastic youngster like Bravo. He started out struggling to stop Bravo’s takedowns. When he started stuffing them, he then got sucked into a brawl. Granted, Caceres did deserve the win, but you’d think someone as skilled and experienced as him would be able to avoid Bravo… but that wasn’t the case.

While it’s easy to be impressed with the toughness of both competitors, Caceres’ inability to effectively use his reach – or any sort of head movement – explains why he never became a consistent top ten fighter. There is little doubt he has the ability – and toughness – but Caceres hasn’t made the necessary steps to improve himself, flatlining as a fighter. After 8 years in the UFC, I can’t believe he’s on the verge of making a leap.

Bravo displayed a level of toughness no one was sure he possessed following his early KO loss to Humberto Bandenay last fall. He also showed a better takedown game than anyone was aware that he possessed. However, he’s also going to be limited in his growth so long as he is dependent on dragging his opponent into a brawl. However, Bravo should be applauded for his improvement from his last contest. He may not have emerged as the victor, but he certainly improved his stock.

Brad Katona defeated Jay Cucciniello via unanimous decision

Usually, it’s hard to predict how a contest between TUF finalists is going to go as they can improve by leaps and bounds from the time they were in the house until the finale. This contest couldn’t have played out any more according to plan. Cucciniello was a surprise finalist, relying on his uber toughness to get there as he didn’t have much else of note. Katona did whatever he wanted to Cucciniello, beating him in every stage of the contest.

Katona reminds me a lot of Cody Stamann. He’s a well-built bantamweight with a well-rounded skill set. However, he lacks the flash that typically marks a top prospect. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing as opponents tend to underestimate those type of fighters. I won’t be surprised if he’s able to break into the top ten within a year the way Stamann did, but I’m also not counting on it happening as Katona doesn’t have the same amount of experience Stamann had upon his entry.

Cucciniello may end up getting another shot, but he’s not expected to hang around for very long. At 31, he’s probably past his physical prime. He never appeared to have many physical skills in the first place either. Expect him to be used as seasoning for an opponent needing more experience.

Mike Trizano defeated Joe Giannetti via split decision

The less said about this fight, the better. Though it appeared Giannetti was a special talent over the course of the show, that Giannetti was nowhere to be found come time for the finals. Giannetti’s body language screamed that he felt it was academic that he was going to walk away with the title of Ultimate Fighter. Trizano wanted it more than Giannetti and completely deserved to take the decision.

While I don’t want to rip on Trizano, he’s nothing special as a prospect. He can wrestle a little bit and does just enough to survive on his feet, but that’s about it. His submission skills don’t wow anyone and there isn’t sufficient power to put a scare into anyone. His toughness and tenacity will make him difficult to put away, but I don’t’ have much hope for his long-term prospects.

Giannetti’s salvation is his youth. Fighters usually learn more from their losses than they do their victories and there is plenty Giannetti can learn from this. First of all, nothing is guaranteed in the fight game. You have to take what you want, it is never given to you. Giannetti felt all he had to do was toss out a couple of jabs and he’d be awarded a decision given Trizano’s lack of reach in comparison to his. Given his promise, he’ll get another opportunity in the Octagon. Provided he fights like he actually cares, he’ll probably get back on track.

Israel Adesanya defeated Brad Tavares via unanimous decision

Tavares is no wuss. He’s been in the cage with some of the best in the division and has proven he can hang in there with them, even if he isn’t going to beat them. Adesanya made him look silly, dodging punches while delivering he own unique brand of offense in the process. Whether it was brutal kicks to the body, stiff jabs, or vicious punching combinations, Adesanya did whatever the hell he wanted to the Hawaiian to announce the world that he is for real.

The biggest concern with Adesanya heading into the contest was his takedown defense. After all, he struggled to stay upright against Rob Wilkinson just this past February. Tavares tried plenty of times to get the Nigerian to the ground, succeeding only a single time. If Adesanya can continue to find similar success against the likes of more noted wrestlers like Jacare Souza and Chris Weidman, he could find himself ruling over the division in a similar manner to the man whom he receives comparisons to: Anderson Silva.

Even though Tavares took a brutal beating, he upped his stock in the process as he refused to back down to Adesanya. It takes a special kind of person to continue going for the win the way he did. He would probably have been well-served to make a greater effort for takedowns earlier in the fight as he was severely compromised in the final round, where he made half of his takedown attempts. Nonetheless, Tavares appears to have reached his ceiling as a fringe top ten fighter. Well… if we’re counting fighters outside of the UFC, fringe top twenty… maybe fifteen.