The Ultimate Fighter Finale is always one of the most anticipated events of the year. After watching fighters compete inside the Octagon and act like idiots in the house for twelve weeks, you become invested in them. TUF Finales have produced such memorable fights as Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar 1, Clay Guida vs. Roger Huerta, and Diego Sanchez vs. Clay Guida. This particular event may not have produced a “Fight of the Year” candidate but it did deliver the first televised featherweight fight in UFC history, a bunch of decisions, and another Ultimate Fighter champ. Better than nothing, right?
Jonathan Brookins defeated Michael Johnson by Unanimous Decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-27) to win The Ultimate Fighter 12
After months of television, the finals came down to top picks on Team GSP, Michael Johnson and Jonathan Brookins. And after 15 minutes of action, one man was left standing and crowned The Ultimate Fighter.
The first round of this fight was all Johnson. He came out and swarmed on Brookins with heavy haymakers and it looked like Johnson was on his way to victory but Brookins managed to survive into the second round. That’s when Johnson started to fade and Brookins took over. Brookins was able to secure a couple of takedowns and land some good ground and pound on Johnson in order to come back and win round two. It came down to the final round and much like the second, Brookins put Johnson on his back and beat him up. It was an action packed back and fourth fight and in the end Brookins pulled out the decision victory. He was the best fighter on the show and he was the best fighter this past Saturday night.
Johnson seems to have a lot of potential but he has to fix his cardio problem. He’s a solid striker with good power and a very good wrestler. Unfortunately he gasses out in the second round of most of his fights and that allows his opponents to take over. If he keeps training at Team Greg Jackson then he should be able to correct this problem as well as improving his overall game.
Brookins has a bright future but I don’t think it’s at 155. His body is better suited for 145 and I suspect that’s where he’ll make his home in the UFC. He’s a good fighter but he really needs to correct his striking defense. Low hands and a straight chin won’t do him any favors against top competition. He was fortunate to get through the show with this problem and he was fortunate to beat Johnson but sooner or late he’s going to run into a powerful striker who can put his lights out.
Predicted Next Fights: Brookins vs. Yves Jabouin – Johnson vs. Friere/Lowe loser
Stephan Bonnar defeated Igor Pokrajac by Unanimous Decision (29-26, 29-26, 29-26)
When it was announced that Stephan Bonnar would face Igor Pokrajac, many wondered, “Who the heck is Igor Pokrajac?” Well in this fight we found out that he’s a solid fighter who really shouldn’t have been in this position.
Much to my surprise, Pokrajac was the aggressor in this fight. He came out and put punches in Bonnar’s face and had Bonnar backing up whenever they were on the feet. Bonnar hung in there and fired back but Pokrajac was getting the better of things standing. Unfortunately for Pokrajac, he couldn’t stop Bonnar from getting him to the ground. Bonnar got a takedown in every round and on the ground he pounded away on Pokrajac but it was never enough damage to make you believe that the fight was in danger of being stopped. Each man was docked a point in this fight with Pokrajac losing a point for kneeing Bonnar in the back of the head as Bonnar had side control and Bonnar lost a point for hitting Pokrajac in the back of the head a number of times while he had a mounted crucifix. Luckily it had no effect on the scoring as the right man still won the fight.
Pokrajac tried but realistically he never should have been in this position. He’s now 1-3 in the UFC and even though he was in the co-main event on this show, he’s likely in danger of being released. He needs to work on his takedown defense or at least be more active off his back with submission attempts. I hope he improves while on the local scene and gets another shot in UFC and if he does, maybe Joe Silva won’t set him up to fail next time around.
Bonnar looked good in this fight but not great. I won’t hold his stand up game against him because he was probably just as surprised as me at Pokrajac aggressiveness. His wrestling looked good and his grappling was solid but this was a fight where he needed to finish his opponent in impressive fashion and he failed to do so. He picked up the victory though and that’s all that matters. Now with two straight wins UFC can put him back in big fights. I have a feeling that he’ll end up fighting Matt Hamill or Lyoto Machida but I hope they don’t move him up that far just because he beat Pokrajac.
Predicted Next Fights: Bonnar vs. Vera/Silva winner – Pokrajac vs. Unemployment
Demian Maia defeated Kendall Grove by Unanimous Decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Coming into this fight Kendall Grove said that he could survive on the ground and win standing against Demian Maia. Well he won standing, survived on the ground, but still lost the fight.
Maia seemed willing to test his stand up early, until Grove started tagging him with straight right hands that Maia had no answer for. That’s when Maia did what he does best and that’s drag his opponents to the ground and work his outstanding ground game. Maia ended up with a number of dominant positions and landed some really good ground and pound but he wasn’t able to finish Grove, which is a credit to Grove and his submission defense. The second round was more of the same as Maia continued to have his way with Grove on the ground and Grove couldn’t do anything to get to his feet, where he was once again winning the striking battle. Up two rounds to none, Maia seemed to put it in cruise control in the third. He spent most the round standing, where he ended up losing the striking battle, but managed not to get knocked out. The end result was Maia coming away with another decisive decision victory.
Grove just seemed destined to be a middle of the pack middleweight. He’s not a bad fighter, he’s relatively well-rounded, but he just doesn’t have that marquee win to put him over the top. He needs to improve his takedown defense if he hopes to ever get that marquee win. Until then he’s just going to be a serviceable fighter who can fill out a card and have some entertaining fights but not someone who will challenge for the title.
A lot of people seem to be knocking Maia for his past few victories and I’m not sure why. He’s not submitting people like he was when he first came into the UFC but there could be a number of reasons for that. First off, people not have plenty of footage to look at so he’s not sneaking up on guys any more. Secondly, people are fighting more defensive on the ground against him so they don’t get submitted. Finally, he’s working a lot more on his striking and less on his grappling, so maybe his grappling skills have deteriorated a bit. And even though he’s not finishing people, he’s still dominating them on the ground. He’s right in the middleweight mix and could be another couple of victories away from another crack at the belt.
Predicted Next Fights: Grove vs. Maiquel Falcao – Maia vs. Mark Munoz
Rick Story defeated Johny Hendricks by Unanimous Decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
In a battle of two powerful wrestlers looking to climb the welterweight ladder, Rick Story and Johny Hendricks engaged in an interesting chess match that saw the less credentialed wrestler come out on top.
The key to this fight was the aggressiveness of Story. He was constantly putting pressure on Hendricks and when Hendricks tried to combat that pressure with takedowns, Story was able to stuff the takedowns. The strike that really swung things in Story’s favor was the body shot. He battered the body of Hendricks with ripping hooks and knees anytime they were clinched or in close proximity. Hendricks lands some good shots on the feet but Story handled things well and always fired back. Possibly the biggest shocker of this fight was the wrestling of Story. On paper, Hendricks is the more skilled wrestler but Story was the one who ended up controlling things on the ground. Hendricks, who is usually very good at scrambling and getting up off his back, had trouble getting to his feet once Story got him down. Hendricks came back strong in the third round and won on all the scorecards but it was too little too late as Story had already secured the victory. After the scoring in the first fight, I really thought Hendricks was going to walk away with the decision but the judges got this one right. And thank God for Joe Rogan, who has the freedom to say what everyone else is thinking when it comes to judging in MMA.
Hendricks might consider dropping down to 155 after this fight. He wasn’t blown out or anything but he was beat in the wrestling department by a guy who was just simply bigger and stronger. Hendricks wrestled in college at 160 so he’s used to cutting the weight and it would be smart to make the move now, rather than trying to continue to compete in a division where he’s undersized. And if Hendricks does decide to drop to lightweight, he’s going to be a force in that division.
This was a big win for Story. He’s a big guy for 170 and has tremendous power given his short and stocky build. His only UFC loss was a decision loss to John Hathaway and since that fight he’s improved a lot since that fight. He’s entering the prime of his career and another couple of victories will put him right in contention for a welterweight title shot.
Predicted Next Fights: Story vs. Alves/Howard winner – Hendricks vs. Nik Lentz
Leonard Garcia defeated Nam Phan by Split Decision (29-28, 27-30, 29-28)
The first television featherweight fight in UFC history was expected to deliver fireworks given the styles of Leonard Garcia and Nam Phan. Expectations were met but a lot of fans walked away feeling that they only got to see sparklers.
Garcia did exactly what everyone expected him to do in this fight. He came out throwing heavy looping haymakers, connected with some of them, and then slowly started to fade. Phan kept his composure, landed great counter strikes, and worked the body with hooks. Garcia was aggressive in the first round but Phan did more damage with his countering strikes. The second round was all Phan. He unloaded on Garcia with crisp one-two combinations and ended up dropping him with a side kick to the body. On the ground, with Phan on his back, it looked like Garcia tapped out but there was no submission applied by Phan and Garcia doesn’t strike me as the type of guy who is going to tap from control like fighters did during the early days of UFC. The third round looked a lot like the first with Garcia pressing forward but throwing his punches even slower and getting tagged with counter strikes. It should be noted that, much to the dismay of Dana White, Garcia landed a couple of takedowns in this fight but he did nothing with them and they meant nothing to the overall picture of the fight. It looked like Phan would walk away with a decision but Garcia proved once again why his nickname should be “The Decision Thief” because he somehow convinced two judges that he won rounds one and three, which gave him a split decision victory. Again, I’m not going to harp on MMA judging, others will do that for me. If they’re not going to fix the obvious problem (better judges) then at least change the system. I still think scoring the fight as a whole is the best way to do things but I’m not opposed to the half-point system. Or how about this: at the end of the fight, if one fighter looks disappointed like he just lost the fight, then he probably lost the fight.
Even though he lost, Phan came out a winner in this fight. He turned in a very good performance and did nothing wrong in the fight. He was just a victim of stupidity. At featherweight there are nothing but exciting fighters and Phan fits right in with them. He’s a very good striker and while he didn’t get to show off his ground game in this bout, he’s solid on the ground. I hope he doesn’t rematch Garcia because that would be a disservice to him.
Garcia has an exciting style but that doesn’t mean he’s a great fighter. He hits hard and has a hell of a chin but beyond that he doesn’t offer much. I give credit to the guy, despite his limitations he’s been rather successful in MMA even if he has benefited from good match making and bad judging. As long as he’s facing a striker, he’s going to deliver great fights so if I’m Joe Silva, I just keep pairing him up with strikers and guarantee a fight of the night candidate on every card he’s on.
Predicted Next Fights: Garcia vs. Pablo Garza – Phan vs. Brown/Nunes Winner
PHOTO CREDIT – UFC