The “UFC: TUF 21 Finale” is an eleven fight card that promises good action and intriguing fights. It is the third of four Zuffa cards to take place within a week, and considering it takes place only a day after what is arguably still the biggest event of the year, UFC 189, this card has some real chops. Despite the somewhat overshadowed position in this week of fights, the event this Sunday has an exciting, robust lineup. Besides the fights associated with this hotly contested season of The Ultimate Fighter, there are several noteworthy bouts scheduled for the evening.
In the Main Event, a Welterweight contest, the #9 ranked veteran Jake “The Juggernaut” Ellenberger (30-9-0, 1-Fight Win Streak) takes on the surging Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson (10-1-0, 4-Fight Win Streak). The decade long career of Ellenberger has taken a downslide recently, having lost in three of his last four outings. However,“The Juggernaut” still has fight-ending, single punch knockout power. The orthodox Ellenberger is a crafty veteran who can win in a variety of ways, and there is no question that he will be the more experienced fighter in the Octagon that night. Stephen Thompson is the taller, longer fighter, and the Southpaw will have a 3” height and 2” reach advantage. “Wonderboy” is a true Mixed Martial Artist; he is a highly decorated American Kickboxing Champion, a fifth degree Black Belt in Kempo Karate, a Black Belt in Jiu-Jitsu and a Purple Belt in Machado BJJ. He has skill in all areas of the game, but he shines brightest on the feet. He is an accurate, highly innovative, dangerous striker with power in both sets of limbs. So far only Matt Brown has been able to beat him (which is no real knock against anyone these days), but Thompson still has work to do and improvements to make in his wrestling and takedown defense before he can be considered elite in the Welterweight division. I think Thompson’s ability to dictate range and pace will shine in this fight, and I predict StephenThompson R4 TKO Jake Ellenberger.
-8 Knockdowns tied for 2nd All-Time; 2nd Active at Welterweight
-65.3 Significant Strike Defense 8th All-Time; 5th Active at Welterweight
-57.9 Takedown Accuracy 7th All-Time; 3rd Active at Welterweight
-87.5 Takedown Defense 4th All-Time; 4th Active at Welterweight
-5 Knockdowns tied for 8th Active at Welterweight
-50% Significant Strike Accuracy 5th Active at Welterweight
-4.70 Strikes Landed per Minute 5th All-Time; 4th Active at Welterweight
-1.52 Strike Differential tied for 8th All-Time; 5th Active at Welterweight
-77.3 Takedown Defense tied for 6th Active at Welterweight
The Co-Main Event of the evening is the “TUF:21” Welterweight Finale between Team Blackzilians representative Kamaru “The Nigerian Nightmare” Usman (5-1-0 Pro Record, 4-Fight Win Streak) and Team ATT selection Hayder “Hulk” Hassan (6-1-0 Pro Record, 4-Fight Win Streak). This is not just a fight between competitors from rival teams, as there is more on the line here than bragging rights. The TUF Trophy will be awarded to the winning fighter’s team, as well as three hundred thousand dollars in prize money. Kamaru Usman will bring a 2” height and 6” reach into the Octagon, and even before his 2-0 run on the show (defeating Michael Graves and Steve Carl) he was one of the most highly regarded Welterweight prospects in the world. He is a wrestler by background and he tirelessly pursues takedowns, but he is also a talented striker, as all five of his professional wins have come by TKO. Hayder Hassan is an altogether different animal. He fought three times in 16 days on the show, defeating Andrew Nakahara by KO, and netting Decision victories over Felipe Portela and Vicente Luque. “Hulk” is a muscularly built, athletic boxer, and he is obviously as tough as they come. He has a great jab and ferocious power behind his punches, winning five of his seven professional fights by T/KO. Although he carried his team to victory on the show, none of his wins were more important than the last one, against Luque. Despite visible fatigue, Hassan muscled through a relatively close decision, awarding not only eternal bragging rights to ATT and completing a marvelous comeback, but also earning a three hundred thousand dollar reward. What followed was an unexpected but wonderful moment, as ATT Head Coach Dan Lambert announced the team would be donating the reward money to The Wounded Warrior Project. Despite his big success on the show, I think Hassan is in some trouble with Usman. Usman’s ability to control the fight will be too much even for the undeniable talent, heart and power the “Hulk” brings to the table. I predict Kamaru Usman UD Hayder Hassan.
In another Welterweight matchup birthed from the tv show, ATT’s Michael Graves (4-0-0 Pro Record, 4-Fight Stoppage Streak) faces off against Team Blackzilians’ Vicente Luque (7-4-1 Pro Record, Won 5 of last 7 fights) in a matchup between two of the more talented fighters featured this season. Graves is the larger fighter here, and likely the stronger as well. If nothing else, he has proven he can take a big beating and still be very dangerous. He is well-rounded and aggressive, although at times too aggressive and occasionally undisciplined. He was previously undefeated in both his professional and amateur careers until he lost to Kamaru Usman on the show. However, he had one of the most pivotal moments of the entire competition, notching a comeback submission win over the talented Jason Jackson in the first round after weathering a vicious onslaught. Vicente Luque has been a lifelong martial artist, training Karate from the age of 3 and later Muay Thai. He has fought professionally since he was 17, and is so highly thought of among his Blackzilians coaches that many of them advocated for Luque to represent the team in the Finale this Sunday. He is tough, has good cardio, and is a skilled submission artist. He is not the most active standup fighter, but he uses a diverse arsenal. For me, this fight is going to come down to who has more heart that night, and when it comes to matters of heart, I do not know if I will ever pick against Graves again. I predict Michael Graves UD Vicente Luque.
Next up, #14 (at Lightweight) Jorge “Gamebred” Masvidal (28-9-0, Won 3 of last 5) moves up to Welterweight to take on Lefty Cezar “Mutante” Ferreira (9-4-0, 4-3 over last 7), who is moving down from Middleweight. Masvidal, who usually fights at Lightweight, has literally never had another line of work. Being a veteran of nearly forty fights in his 12 year career, the orthodox style boxer has seen it all, and his patience and seemingly unflappable nerves are well-known. He is aggressive, and does not allow his foes much room with which to work. A cerebral fighter, he uses all the tools in his kit, and he can finish a fight anywhere. “Mutante” will be the larger, more muscular man in the cage on Sunday, and he will be on the plus side of a 4” reach difference. The “TUF Brazil: 1” winner is a complete, diverse fighter, and a terrific athlete; he even practices high-level Capoeira. He has great BJJ, and scores with timely, explosive takedowns, but he seems to prefer utilizing his range on the feet and actively smashing his opponent with power shots and multiple styles of thudding left kicks. Despite the huge edge in experience, I think the size discrepancy will be too much for Masvidal to overcome. Although “Gamebred” is as tough as they come, “Mutante” is a beast and I think he will be able to neutralize his opponent with size and athleticism. He will deliver Masvidal’s first TKO loss since 2008, and get back in the Win column. I predict Ferreira R2 TKO Masvidal.
-14:17 Longest Average Fight Time 8th All-Time; 4th Active at Lightweight
-49.4% Significant Strike Accuracy 6th All-Time; 2nd Active at Lightweight
-1.21 Strike Differential 9th All-Time; 5th Active at Lightweight
-83% Takedown Defense 9th All-Time; 8th Active at Lightweight
-1.82 Strikes Attempted per Minute 10th All-Time; 4th Active at Middleweight
In a Women’s Strawweight clash, the debuting Michelle “The Karate Hottie” Waterson (12-4-0, Won 6 of last 7) faces off against Angela “Your Majesty” Magana (11-7-0, Lost last 3). All the pressure is on Waterson, the former Invicta FC Atomweight Champion, who hopes to make a serious run at Strawweight Gold. She is a skilled Karate, Muay Thai, and BJJ practitioner who excels everywhere offensively. However, she truly shines on the ground, as more than half her wins came via submission. Magana is stronger offensively than defensively, and she likes to fight at range to counteract this. She may be 3” shorter, but she has a 3” reach advantage, and is the generally thicker fighter. Magana is vulnerable to higher-level standup, which is a challenge she will certainly be facing against Waterson. “The Karate Hottie” has displayed crisp standup and a strong ground game throughout her career, and I think she will have the advantage in all phases of this fight. “Your Majesty” is a tough, gritty competitor, so I think she will survive to the final bell. I predict Waterson UD Magana.
A Bantamweight bout is next, between Russell Doane (14-4-0, Won 3 of last 5) and Jerrod “J-Reazy” Sanders (14-3-0, Lost 2 in a row). Doane has been active since 2008, and while striking is not his strongest attribute, he is more than happy to stand in the pocket and trade. His submission game is solid, and in general he has a high finishing rate, with 11 stoppages of is 14 career wins. Though we have seen little of Sanders in the UFC (less than six minutes of cagetime in his two fights with the promotion, both losses), he is a nearly 15 year veteran of the cage. Sanders is a low-stanced, heavily muscled wrestler. He was a Divison 1 All-American at Oklahoma State University, and he has fought as heavy as 155 pounds. His offensive skillset is somewhat limited to a grinding wrestling style with potent, if not terribly accurate, ground and pound. “J-Reazy” has a real smothering style, and as dangerous as he is, I think Doane is going to be smothered. I predict Sanders UD Doane.
Next on the schedule is a Flyweight tilt between Willie “Whoop Ass” Gates (11-5-0, Won 5 of last 7) and Darrell “The Mongoose” Montague (13-4-0, Lost 2 in a row). Gates is big and long for the 125 pound division; in this fight he is the taller fighter by 2” and he has a 5” reach advantage. He is a good striker with some power for a Flyweight, and at one point earlier in his career he won five fights in a row, all in under two minutes. Already not the most skilled fighter defensively, his length can prove to be a further weakness, as he has trouble negotiating his long limbs when opponents crowd him. The Southpaw Montague has a background in boxing and wrestling, and he mentored under MMA stalwart Manny Tapia. Over the years, he has evolved into a complete cagefighter, and he is a fast, accurate and active striker who closes distance well and loves to scrap. Those qualities, above all else, are why I think he will have the upper hand here. “Whoop Ass” does not work well in close spaces, and “The Mongoose” will not give him any to work with. I predict Montague R3 TKO Gates.
The lone Featherweight fight on the card features Maximo “Maxi” Blanco (11-6-1, 1 NC, Won 2 in a row) and Mike “El Cucuy” De La Torre (13-4-0, 1 NC, Won 3 of Last 5). De La Torre is 3” taller than his opponent, and he has a negligible 1” reach advantage. Of his 13 wins, he has nine 1st round finishes, five of those coming in under a minute. He is a tall 145er with crisp boxing and an exciting style, prompting Play-By-Play Announcer Jon Anik to refer to him as “Must-See Television”. “El Cucuy” is a well-rounded fighter with few holes, but if he has one glaring weakness, it is his ground/submission defense, as three of his four career losses came by submission. Blanco is a superb athlete who comes from a collegiate wrestling and Pancrase background. Despite this, he utilizes an off-the-wall, creative striking array, and he absolutely loves to knock his opponents out, resulting in nearly 70% of his wins coming by T/KO. “Maxi” struggles against aggressive, longer fighters, but that should not pose him any issues here, though he also has a tendency to over-extend and expose himself. He is a fast starter, but sometimes he starts too fast, as he has visibly gassed before. This is a tough one to call, but I think “El Cucuy” will not have to worry about this turning into a ground battle. This should allow him to settle into his offense and work “Maxi” over, waiting for and then seizing the moment to go for the finish. I predict De La Torre R2 TKO Blanco.
Next, Josh “Anqa” Samman (11-2-0, 3-Fight Win Streak) takes on Caio “Hellboy” Magalhaes (9-1-0, 4-Fight Win Streak) in a Middleweight bout. Samman, who has six career 1st round finishes, will enjoy a 2” height and a big 6” reach advantage. He is a tough, durable fighter who maintains his poise and calmness even when in bad situations. “Anqa” has power in both his arms and legs, and he delivers potentially devastating knees from the clinch. His only obvious weakness is in the defensive position on the ground, where his own long limbs work against him. Magalhaes is a powerful, explosive athlete with a muscular build. He is a former Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu National Champion, and as a result his ground game is utterly lethal. “Hellboy” is not the most polished striker, but his raw power can compensate plenty when he lands the big shots he throws with all four appendages. This fight could go several ways, but the scenarios that I see all involve Samman having the edge everywhere except the ground. If it goes to the ground, he probably loses, and if not, then he likely wins. I predict Samman R1 TKO Magalhaes.
In another Middleweight battle, Dan Miller (14-7-0, Lost 3 of last 4) faces Trevor “Hot Sauce” Smith (12-6-0, Lost 2 of last 3). Miller, the older brother of fellow UFC veteran Jim Miller, is 2” shorter than his opponent, with a 1” reach deficit as well. Usually appearing at Welterweight, he is a strong fighter for that division. He has decent and ever-evolving standup, but he is more of a submission specialist, with nine of his fourteen career wins earned that way. Miller is certainly tough, as he has only been stopped once in his career, by a Jordan Mein TKO. Smith is also a submission artist, with nine submission wins himself. He also has nine 1st round finishes, with only one via TKO, and that was a corner stoppage. A Division 1 All-American wrestler for the Iowa State Cyclones, that ability has translated to his current occupation, and he has great MMA wrestling and a heavy ground and pound attack. “Hot Sauce” is not much of a standup fighter, he is more of a grinder, able to hold his foes down and score a lot of points while in ground control. I admit to having a soft spot for the Brothers Miller, but I think Smith may overwhelm the older Miller and pound his way to victory. I predict Smith UD Miller.
The final bout, another at Welterweight, George “The Silencer” Sullivan (16-4-0, 1 NC, Won 8 of Last 9) takes on Dominic “Sho Nuff” Waters (9-2-0, 3 Fight Win Streak). Waters comes to the cage on Sunday as the 1” taller man, with a walloping 6” reach advantage. A naturally gifted athlete, “Sho Nuff” wrestled on the minor college cicuit, and he is still a young Mixed Martial Artist. His standup is still in the evolutionary stages, but his length helps him in this division. Defensively he is also still growing, although he has never been stopped to this point. Sullivan is a heavy-handed kickboxer-wrestler who loves to stand and bang, with 11 KO wins thus far in his career. He has good cardio and a grinding style, but he has proven he can be submitted by quality BJJ practitioners. “The Silencer” is a jack of all trades, but a master of none. Styles make fights, and I think Sullivan’s pulverizing style will overcome the rangy Waters. I predict Sullivan UD Waters.
By: Evan Alworth