After 12 weeks of reality television that included a lot of bad trash talking from Josh Koscheck, a lot of great coaching from Georges St. Pierre, and a lot terrible pranks in the house; it’s time to crown another Ultimate Fighter. Along with the finals of The Ultimate Fighter, this card features one of the most entertaining fighters in UFC history, two middleweights looking to position themselves for a title shot, and a welterweight showdown that could determine the future of the division. And if that wasn’t enough for MMA fans, well, you could always flip over to Strikeforce on Saturday night.
The Ultimate Fighter 12 Lightweight Finals Fight: Michael Johnson vs. Jonathan Brookins
28 fighters entered the UFC gym in Las Vegas, 14 fighters made it into the Ultimate Fighter house, only Jonathan Brookins and Michael Johnson made it to the finals. They both defeated four fighters to get to the finals, they were both coached by Georges St. Pierre on the show, and now they both have a chance to take their first major step towards UFC stardom.
Johnson was the consensus top pick on the show. He’s an explosive wrestler who seemed to pick up things quickly during his time on the show. He’s not a great striker but he hits really hard and throws a nasty left hook. He really likes to double up on his left hook and at times that’s the only strike he feels comfortable throwing. He has a good double leg takedown but he’s not great on top. He doesn’t seem to have great control and he’s not all that active on top. Johnson has been training with Team Greg Jackson since the show ended so I have no doubt that he’s improved significantly since the show has ended. Don’t be shocked if Johnson wants to keep things on the feet early. Brookins is a better overall striker but he does get hit a lot and Johnson seems to have power. Johnson’s wrestling and submission defense will be tested in this fight. He’ll likely be able to takedown Brookins early but Brookins is active off his back and good at creating scrambles. If gasses like he did so often on the show, Brookins could start to take over the fight. If Johnson connects with one of his big left hooks, he could end Brookins’ night but chances are he’ll look to put on a takedown clinic and win a decision.
As the show progressed, it was clear that Brookins was the best fighter in the house. He made short work of his first two house opponents and then looked impressive in dominating Kyle Watson in the semifinals. He’s a decent striker who pumps a nice jab but has a tendency to keep his chin up, making it an easy target. His main strength is his wrestling and jiu-jitsu. Johnson is a better credentialed wrestler but Brookins might be a better MMA wrestler. Brookins is easily the better grappler. Most of his victories are by submission and all four of Johnson’s losses are by submission. So even if he’s on his back, Brookins will welcome a ground battle against Johnson. Brookins is very quick in the scrambles and always seems to end up on top. One thing he constantly does is always look to take back control in the scrambles and once he’s on the back, he’s quick to try and lock up a rear naked choke. Brookins will want to turn this into a grappling match. Anything can happen on the feet so even if Brookins is more polished in his striking, he can get caught. On the ground though, he’s just flat out better. He’s active on top and on bottom, he’s a good scrambler, and he’s quick to look for chokes. Brookins could win a decision by being more active on the ground and going for finishes but you know he’s going to try very hard to finish with a submission.
I don’t think you get a good read of the fighters and how good they truly are based on the show for a number of reasons. They’re not getting proper training, there are a bunch of distractions, the guys have to fight four times in six weeks, ect…. What you see on the show is almost like an appetizer to what we’ll see on Saturday. All that said, Brookins looked the best on the show. He’s a tough fight for Johnson style-wise and I think he’s less likely to crack under the pressure given the fact that he’s fought Jose Aldo in WEC and fought in Bellator. Johnson will get his takedowns but after that Brookins will create a scramble, end up in a better position, and eventually lock on a submission.
Prediction: Jonathan Brookins to defeat Michael Johnson by Submission in Round One
Light Heavyweight Fight: Igor Pokrajac vs. Stephan Bonnar
After battling through a rough period in his UFC career, Stephan Bonnar finally reminded fans of why he was so highly touted after making it to the Ultimate Fighter 1 Finale by finishing Krzysztof Soszynski in his last fight. Igor Pokrajac finally picked up a UFC victory in his last fight against James Irvin after starting his UFC career 0-2. Now he’s looking to make a name for himself against Bonnar.
Pokrajac might not be a household name but he is a relatively well-rounded fighter. He’s been training with Mirko “Cro Cop” for over 10 years so you know his striking is crisp, he’s a decent wrestler, and he has a solid ground game. He’s a little wild with his striking, which won’t do him many favors against Bonnar. He’s relentless on his takedowns and when he gets fights to the ground, he likes to stand in guard and punch down rather than stay postured in the guard. His top control is decent but Bonnar is good at getting up off his back or creating scrambles. He likes to go for armbars off his back but doesn’t really set up his attempts all that well. Pokrajac needs to get Bonnar to the ground in this fight. He’s not going to win a wild brawl with him, he’s going to have a hard time keep things technical, and he doesn’t offer much of a submission game off his back. If he can get Bonnar down though or turn this into a clinch fight, he could win a decision based on control.
With Bonnar, we know exactly what we’re getting. He’s going to put his head down, move forward, and he’s going to keep throwing until his opponent goes down or the bell rings. He’s not the most technical striker in the world but he mixes things up well and his tolerance for getting hit is second to none. I don’t want to say Bonnar likes getting hit but he reacts as if he does. He’s not a very good wrestler but his takedown defense looked much improved against Soszynski. His ground game is solid and he’s very active on the ground but I don’t see him submitting Pokrajac off his back and he won’t go for a submission on top unless he’s in a very dominant position and feels Pokrajac is hurt. Bonnar is going to make this fight a brawl. He’s going to come out aggressive, put the pressure on, and force Pokrajac to react. He could push a strong enough pace to where Pokrajac wilts and gets finished late or he may just be active enough in all positions to win a comfortable decision.
This almost feels like UFC is throwing Bonnar a bone but larger upsets have happened. Pokrajac has the skills to upset Bonnar and Bonnar has never climbed past the middle of the ladder and isn’t a world beater by any means. But this just seems like a fight Bonnar wins. He makes it a dog fight and he sees if Pokrajac can scrap. I don’t think he can handle Bonnar’s pace and “scrapability” and that will be his downfall.
Prediction: Stephan Bonnar to defeat Igor Pokrajac by TKO in Round Three
Middleweight Fight: Kendall Grove vs. Demian Maia
Despite getting yelled at and embarrassed by UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva at UFC 112, Demian Maia bounced back with a solid performance over Mario Miranda at UFC 118. Kendall Grove has had an up and down UFC career that has seen him win The Ultimate Fighter 3, get KO’d in two consecutive fights, and trade wins and losses in his last four fights.
Grove is like a box of chocolate, you never know what you’re going to get. Sometimes he looks very impressive and other times he looks like he shouldn’t be in the UFC. He’s a relatively well-rounded striker who mixes things up well but has a very suspect chin. He’s not a great wrestler but he’s one of the rare fighters who throws an uppercut when his opponent shoots in for a takedown. He’s solid on the ground and his long limbs help him out but submitting Maia is about as easy as making sense of all this WikiLeaks nonsense so the best Grove can hope for is either being on top or just being able to survive off his back. Even if he’s on top though, I doubt Grove wants to be on the ground too long with Maia. Expect Grove to try his best to keep things on the feet and keep a distance. Even though he’s good in the clinch and throws wicked knees and elbows, being in the clinch allows Maia easier access to get him to the ground. Grove has the power to knock Maia down and out but don’t be shocked if he also fights a safe fight and just tries to outpoint Maia on the feet.
Maia used to strictly be a grappler but ever since Nate Marquardt knocked him out with one punch over a year ago, he’s turned into a relatively well-rounded fighter. His striking is still the weakest point of his game but he no longer looks extremely uncomfortable on his feet and he does a good job using his hands to set up his takedowns. His wrestling is a very underrated aspect of his game. This is the same guy who was able to takedown Dan Miller and hit a beautiful clinch throw on Chael Sonnen. He’s also one of the few fighters who is willing to pull guard and be on his back, knowing he has the grappling skills handle himself. Like every fight, Maia wants this fight on the ground. Grove doesn’t have great takedown defense and he leaves himself open for takedowns by throwing so many kicks. If Maia can get this fight to the ground, at the very least he should be able to control him en route to a decision. And given that Maia is the best submission grappler in MMA, I don’t think anyone would be shocked if he submitted Grove.
This is a very interesting fight because when Grove decides to show up, he has the potential to beat a lot of fighters. I just don’t know which Grove will show up. With Maia, I always know he’s going to be a handful on the ground and that he’s willing to put himself in bad positions just to get the fight to the ground. Maia will have a tough time submitting Grove but he should be able to control him for the majority of the fight.
Prediction: Demian Maia to defeat Kendall Grove by Decision
Welterweight Fight: Rick Story vs. Johny Hendricks
Rick Story and Johny Hendricks are two highly touted welterweights who are currently on a roll in the UFC. Story is 4-1 and coming off a complete destruction of Dustin Hazelett while Hendricks is 4-0 and coming off a victory over Charlie Brenneman.
Story is a very good wrestler with a lot of power and he’s very aggressive. He’s actually very similar to his opponent although Hendricks is the better wrestler while Story is more aggressive. Story’s aggressiveness could get him in trouble in this fight given Hendricks’ great wrestling. On the other hand, his aggressiveness could catch Hendricks off guard and he definitely has the power to put Hendricks. Don’t be shocked to see Story put Hendricks on his back. Even though Hendricks is an outstanding wrestler, he’s been taken down by lesser wrestlers just because MMA wrestling and collegiate wrestling are two different things. Story will likely want to keep things standing because getting into a wrestling match with Hendricks is a quick way to lose a fight. Look for Story to try and work a lot in the clinch as well because Hendricks is a bit undersized at 170 and Story is strong in close range. Story has the power to put anyone to sleep, including Hendricks, and he might be able to do just enough to win a decision.
As mentioned, Hendricks is a lot like Story. He’s a tad bit better in the technical striking department although just like Story, he’s likely to just get into a brawl rather than use a lot of movement and straight punches. He does have the wrestling advantage though and there is no doubt that he’ll look to use that in this fight. If Story comes out aggressive like he’s done in most of his fights, Hendricks will look to counter with a quick takedown. Hendricks will have a speed advantage and he’ll need to use that on the feet and on the ground. Hendricks is a very controlling wrestler who stays active on top and has some heavy ground and pound. He likes to stand over opponents and swing down with punches, a lot like a welterweight version of Mark Munoz. Hendricks has the power to finish Story on the ground or at worst grind out a decision.
This is a big fight for the welterweight division because the winner breaks through to the next level. If you think that puts extra pressure on them, just know that Hendricks is more likely to be able to deal with the pressure given how many big wrestling matches he had in college. It really could go either way but Hendrick’s superior wrestling wins out in the end. Story is very difficult to finish but Hendricks has the wrestling and top game to frustrate Story en route to a decision.
Prediction: Johny Hendricks to defeat Rick Story by Decision
Featherweight Fight: Nam Phan vs. Leonard Garcia
Nam Phan may have failed to reach the Ultimate Fighter finals but he still finds himself on the main card and in a new division as he takes on fellow striker and former featherweight title contender, Leonard Garcia.
Coming into TUF 12, a lot of people favored Phan to win given his experience. He’d previousy fought for WEC, Strikeforce, and Sengoku before ending up in the TUF house. He was undersized as a lightweight but still managed to be competitive and make it to the semifinals. He’s a very active striker who loves to attack the body, especially with the left hook, and throw a head kick that is more of a “keep you honest” kick rather than a knockout strike. He gets hit a lot but he has a solid chin. What Phan doesn’t want to do in this fight is turn things into a brawl. He’s a better technical striker than Garcia and he’ll need to use his speed to avoid the bombs known Garcia’s fists in this fight. Expect to see a lot of kicks from Phan and his trademark body shots to take away some of the conditioning and power of Garcia. Garcia is very tough to finish but Phan could easily outstrike him on his way to a decision.
Garcia is one of those fighters where you know he’s going to deliver an exciting fight. I guess that’s not hard to do when your entire style involves you getting hit a lot and then swinging back with wild haymakers in hopes of the big knockout. It’s an exciting style but when you’re trying to compete against the best featherweights in the world, it’s not always effective. Against Phan, Garcia will do what he always does and that’s try and make this fight an ugly scrap. He has an excellent chin and every single punch he throws, he’s trying to knock his opponents head off. Phan doesn’t have the greatest striking defense in the world and Garcia could easily catch him given his aggressive style. If Garcia isn’t about to knockout Phan, he might be able to do enough damage in order to win a decision. Plus we’ve learned that one judge, no matter how much of a beating he takes, always gives the fight to Garcia. So all he has to do is sway one other judge.
This is a tough fight to call and it should be a great fight to watch. Even if Phan is more skilled, which I believe that he is, Garcia always has that power in his hands. I’ll go with Phan though. I think he’ll be able to avoid the power of Garcia, wear him down with body shots, and end up doing enough to win the decision.
Prediction: Nam Phan to defeat Leonard Garcia by Decision
Quick Preliminary Predictions
*Aaron Wilkinson to defeat Cody McKenzie by TKO in Round Two
*Tyler Toner to defeat Ian Loveland by Decision
*Kyle Watson to defeat Sako Chivitchian by Submission in Round Two
*Will Campuzano to defeat Nick Pace by Decision
*Fredson Paixao to defeat Pablo Garza by Submission in Round One
*Rich Attonito to defeat Dave Branch by Decision