The Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale predictions

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The main card of this event is not hugely dissimilar to a RFA main card where four of the five fights are filled with top prospects and the main event pits two UFC veterans looking to get in back top form. Nate Diaz and Gray Maynard are obviously better than any RFA headliner, but again, you get the point: they're not hugely dissimilar as the UFC is slowly moving (by choice) into the business of being both the place where the best fight and a developmental league.

This also appears to be the first UFC main card where there are more women fighting than men.

Will Maynard prove again he has what it takes to defeat Diaz? Who will win the 18th season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF)? I answer these questions and more with my predictions for Saturday's fights.

What: The Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale

Where: Mandalay Bay Events Center, Las Vegas, Nevada

When: Saturday, the one-fight Facebook card starts at 7:30 p.m. ET, the four-fight Fox Sports 1 card starts at 8 p.m. and the five-fight main card starts on Fox Sports 1 at 10 p.m.

Gray Maynard vs. Nate Diaz

One is beginning to wonder if the best work these two have done in the game is behind them. It may very well not be, but again, given the recent performances both have had - and in Maynard's case, even when he won - neither has been looking particularly tremendous.

What I don't know is how they'll look on Saturday night. I was there for their second fight in Fairfax. To call it lackluster would be to do it a favor. The stakes are entirely different now (a title shot doesn't hang in the balance), which gives me some hope. Both also badly need to make a statement. The issue is how their styles match up.

I still see a striking bout from the outside. Diaz can't take Maynard down and Maynard likely wants no part of Diaz's guard. This one will be contested on the outside. If Maynard wants to win, he's got to stay on the move, landing shots and getting out of the way. There's a real question if he can, but I'm going to bet he's going to cut angles, land shots and get out of the way as Diaz walks in straight lines.

Pick: Maynard

Juliana Pena vs. Jessica Rakoczy

Pena just seems like the more well-rounded of the two and is also a far better finisher, particularly as a submission threat. Rakoczy doesn't have much to offer in the way of a credible threat to that.

Pick: Pena

Chris Holdsworth vs. David Grant

I could be totally wrong about this, but I view Holdsworth as the much better submission threat than Grant. I mean that both in terms of executing the submission by securing position and with the wrestling or transition game. We'll see in the end how things play out on Saturday, but I'd be very surprised to see Grant beat Holdsworth at his own game.

Pick: Holdsworth

Jessamyn Duke vs. Peggy Morgan

This one is mild interesting given how these two measure up, literally speaking. Both are tall and lanky with tremendous reaches. Neither uses them as effectively as they could. In the end, though, I like Duke to overtake Morgan late. She's a bit more proactive on offense and prefers to define the complexion of the fight. All things being equal, that should be enough.

Pick: Duke

Roxanne Modafferi vs. Raquel Pennington

I'd like to pick Modafferi here. I really would, but I just don't see it happening for her. She won't be able to take Pennington down and will, in all likelihood, get knuckled up in the process.

Pick: Pennington

From the preliminary card:

Akira Corissani > Maximo Blanco
Rani Yahya > Tom Niinimaki
Jared Rosholt < Walt Harris
Sean Spencer > Drew Dober
Josh Sampo > Ryan Benoit

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