While the UFC bills the evening's Stephan Bonnar vs. Igor Pokrajac fight as its main event, it's likely just as many, if not more, people are invested in Johnson and Brookins after watching them over the last three months on TUF.
According to oddsmakers, Brookins is a heavy favorite to win, getting odds in his favor of nearly 3-to-1.
From their time in the house, that number seems quite high. But of course, oddsmakers don't pull their numbers out of thin air. A closer look at Johnson and Brookins reveal some clues as to why the latter is expected to emerge victorious.
During the season, Johnson defeated Pablo Garza, Aaron Wilkinson, Alex Caceres and Nam Phan to advance. All of those matchups gave him one built-in advantage: his wrestling, which he used very well in advancing to the finals.
One thing Johnson (8-4) seemed to improve on during the course of the season was his transitions into takedowns. Working with Georges St. Pierre -- perhaps the best ever to do it -- Johnson seemed to get more comfortable flowing his striking game into wrestling. That paid dividends against the men he was matched against.
In Brookins, though, he is facing someone who is at worst his wrestling equal, and possibly his superior. On TUF, Johnson's wrestling was often highlighted and his background was frequently mentioned, while Brookins' was essentially ignored.
Yet Brookins (11-3) may have the better pedigree. He was a high school wrestling champion in Oregon, and earned a scholarship to Lindenwood University, an NAIA powerhouse that won five national championship during the decade of the '00s. While Brookins didn't stick around long enough to graduate, his wrestling experience is substantial.
While Johnson's mentor St. Pierre has proven that wrestling pedigrees can be overrated, as a general rule they hold true, so Brookins' skills have to count for something. His wrestling also plays very well into his jiu-jitsu game, which he's used to earn eight submissions in his 11 wins. During TUF, Brookins subbed both Sevak Magakian and Sako Chivitchian.
Brookins' ground game is aggressive and he goes for the finish. During the season, he showed how overwhelming he could be on top when he smothered Kyle Watson with his top game, completely nullifying the attack of Watson, a jiu-jitsu black belt. Given that all four of Johnson's losses have come by submission, the ground has to be considered a danger zone for him.
So Brookins gets a slight edge in the wrestling department, and a bigger edge on the ground.
On the feet, that's probably where Johnson has his best chance to pull the upset. Brookins does not always show great head movement, though it certainly must be said he has a chin. Just ask current UFC featherweight champ Jose Aldo, who needed to go into the third to beat Brookins, and that stoppage was largely as a result of damage to Brookins' legs.
Johnson throws his strikes with a lot of power, and puts combinations together well. In addition, it's worth noting that Johnson recently took some time to travel to Albuquerque, New Mexico to train with Greg Jackson's camp, where he spent time sparring with guys like Diego Sanchez, Carlos Condit and Donald Cerrone. Experience like that can be invaluable for a young fighter, and at 24, Johnson seems to be quite open to seeking out the best teachers.
All this of course is complicated by the fact that Johnson and Brookins were main training partners for each other during their six weeks together on the show. They know each other, they understand each other's strengths, weaknesses and go-to moves.
Johnson may well have the better long-term potential when you look at the entirety of his tools, but Brookins is no slouch, and just appears to be a little further along than Johnson at this point. Both men have strong futures ahead, even if they have to drop to 145, a possibility for both.
Given his advantage on the ground, I think Brookins will find a way to get it there sometime in the second round, and he finds a way to close via submission.