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TUF 8 Finale: Preview and Predictions

Saturday’s live season finale of The Ultimate Fighter (9 p.m. ET on Spike TV) will present two interesting clash of styles in the finals of the lightweight and light heavyweight tournaments held to determine two fighters that will become the next “Ultimate Fighter.”

The light heavyweight final will pit a former NCAA standout wrestler in Ryan Bader against a world class jiu-jitsu black belt in Vinicius Magalhaes. In the lightweight final, we’ll see another former NCAA standout in Efrain Escudero take on Phillipe Nover, who is a true mixed martial artist as he is a threat both on his feet and on the floor.

In addition to the two TUF tournament finals, viewers will also be treated to fights between fighters already on the UFC roster when Jason MacDonald takes on Wilson Gouveia and Anthony Johnson rematches Kevin Burns.

Below’s preview of the five fights scheduled to be televised.

TUF 8 Light Heavyweight Final: Ryan Bader vs. Vinny Magalhaes – Bader trains out of Arizona Combat Sports under Trevor and Todd Lally. ACS is one of the fastest rising fight gyms in the world and in addition to Bader, C.B. Dollaway, Aaron Simpson, Steve and Ray Steinbeiss, WEC lightweight champ Jamie Varner, and WEC welterweight champ Carlos Condit all work out of ACS. Needless to say, Bader isn’t at a loss for good training partners.

ACS specializes in taking standout NCAA wrestlers and turning them into well-rounded mixed martial artists. But that transformation takes time. Pundits were critical of Dollaway’s performance during the course of TUF 7 but overlooked the fact that he’s only been training for a couple of years. Bader is also still relatively new to the world of MMA and should be excused for still being a little green.

A tremendous athlete with a ton of potential, the question that needs to be answered Saturday is whether Bader is ready for the shark tank that is the UFC’s light heavyweight division. He will take his first test on Saturday against Magalhaes, a world renowned jiu-jitsu player who possesses a tremendous amount of danger to Bader on the ground.

Bader’s best weapon is his wrestling and he will need it to prevent Magalhaes from taking him down. The last place he wants to be against Magalhaes is on his back. It also remains to be seen whether Bader wants to be on the floor at all. During a recent interview conducted by contributing writer Cory Brady, Bader expressed little concern about being in Magalhaes’ guard. However, anytime a fighter talks strategy in public, it should be taken with a grain of salt. Even on his back, Magalhaes’ jiu-jitsu is still a threat that Bader might want to avoid.

Bader’s best bet is to keep this fight standing and try to utilize his tremendous strength to knock Magalhaes out standing. If this fight turns into a standup war — which I fully expect — Bader can test Magalhaes’ striking skills. From what I saw on the show, Magalhaes’ striking is a lot better than people are giving him credit for. However, standing and trading with Magalhaes is a better percentage play for Bader as opposed to getting involved in a jiu-jitsu match with him.

Prediction: Bader has a bright future but Magalhaes is just dangerous. I expect the fight to primarily be a standup war but I do think the fight will eventually go to the ground, where I envision Magalhaes winning via third round submission.

TUF 8 Lightweight Final: Phillipe Nover vs. Efrain Escudero - UFC President Dana White confirmed during a special Q&A session in Fort Bragg, North Carolina that the fighter he once referenced as “the lightweight Anderson Silva” was indeed Phillipe Nover.

Nover, who served as a blogger for during the course of the airing of TUF 8, may not yet be the lightweight version of Anderson Silva, but he’s one of the brightest prospects that the TUF franchise has ever produced.

In Nover, the UFC uncovered a hidden gem. I am just amazed how the Manhattan resident has come out of nowhere. Living in Philadelphia, I pay close attention to the East Coast MMA scene. While I wouldn’t call myself an “expert,” I would say that I am very familiar with fighters coming out of New England, New Jersey, Delaware, and Southeast Pennsylvania. I am also familiar with a lot of fighters that are based out of New York. However, in all my travels, I had not heard of Nover. The first time I was ever exposed to him was through TUF.

Possessing well-rounded skills, Nover is ready to come in and compete with the UFC’s top lightweights right now. His dynamic striking ability coupled with his impressive jiu-jitsu skills makes him the worst possible matchup for a fighter such as Efrain Escudero.

Escudero is a strong prospect in his own right, but coming from a wrestling background is still looking for his all-around game to evolve. While his striking looked better than expected during his semifinal matchup, the last thing he wants to do is test his standup against Nover.

Escudero needs to get the fight to the ground as soon as possible because exchanging strikes with Nover will be a losing proposition that could end his night early.

Prediction: Escudero will get it to the ground but fail to keep it there, setting up the chance for Nover to win via second round KO.

Kevin Burns vs. Anthony Johnson - Burns, a jiu-jitsu blue belt who submitted black belt Roan Carneiro in his UFC debut, won a controversial bout against Johnson at UFC Fight Night 14 in July. The official result was a TKO for Burns over Johnson but that TKO was caused by an illegal eye poke that referee Steve Mazzagatti missed.

Upon seeing the replays, Mazzagatti actually approached Johnson a week later at EliteXC’s “Unfinished Business” event in Stockton, California and apologized for missing the poke. Johnson graciously accepted the apology and seemed pretty poised for someone forced to the sidelines after undergoing surgery as a result of the injury sustained.

Burns has been professional through the ordeal as well, apologizing and taking the blame for the illegal strike. However, he attributed to his frequent eye poking during the course of the bout to having a broken hand that hasn’t healed properly. It begs the question that if Burns couldn’t throw a close handed jab in July, will he be able to do so on Saturday? Mazzagatti may have missed a few calls during their first encounter, but based on all the controversy, there will likely be zero tolerance for poking this time around.

Johnson is a tremendous athlete with a ton of upside, and as such, I was surprised that Burns was able to hang with him for much of the fight. Athletically, these two are on two completely different levels and Burns is the kind of opponent that Johnson needs to put away in order to realize his potential.

Look for Johnson to not only be more aggressive in this fight, but to also be more effective since he will be able to fight without impaired vision.

Prediction: As long as Johnson can see clearly, I expect him to enact a measure of revenge and knock Burns out in the first round.

Jason MacDonald vs. Wilson Gouveia - This should be an interesting fight in that it’s cutdown season in the UFC. Both MacDonald and Gouveia are talented fighters that certainly belong in the UFC but with both having moved up the pay scale, one has to wonder what might be in store for the loser of this encounter.

MacDonald recovered from a loss to blue chip prospect Demian Maia at UFC 87 in August to come back the next month at UFC 88 to submit Jason Lambert. The loss forced Lambert out of the UFC and MacDonald received a new contract soon after. However, as many fighters have learned the hard way, your UFC contract isn’t worth the paper it’s printet on if you’re not winning fights.

Gouveia, a former light heavyweight competitor, has won some fights and has lost some. A member of American Top Team, he possesses a lot of potential but hasn’t been able to win on a consistent basis. There’s a real opportunity for Gouveia at 185 but he’s going to need to be able to put together three to four straight wins if he hopes to be able to contend for a title.

Both fighters are strong on the ground and if it hits the floor, a stalemate is possible. The fighters would be wise not to expend too much energy fighting a game of inches on the ground. Instead, their best bet is to keep the fight standing and vie for “Fight of the Night” honors.

Prediction: MacDonald is nicknamed “The Athlete” but I think Gouveia actually might be better athletically. I am picking Gouveia via unanimous decision, as he has the better standup of the two.

Junie Browning vs. Dave Kaplan - I was really impressed by Junie Browning during the qualifying round but felt that he underachieved once he got into the house. It just seemed like Junie was at war with himself every time he had to fight and Dave Kaplan’s standup is good enough that he’ll put Junie down if he’s not mentally ready to fight. Maybe the switch finally clicked for Junie while he’s been training in Vegas these past few months, but I still think the safer pick is Kaplan.

Prediction: Kaplan via third round TKO.

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