Another season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) has come to close, but this one seems to hold more promise for producing relevant talent. An all-middleweight season, one standout - Uriah Hall - helped reinvigorate interest along with an increased effort by the folks at FX to present the show in a newer, more impactful way.
Whatever one made of the coaching rivalry between Chael Sonnen and Jon Jones or the improved ratings on FX, Saturday is where the rubber meets the road for the show's contestants. Can Kevin Gastelum continue his upset streak? Is Uriah Hall capable of delivering on all the promise and hype around him? I answer these questions and more with my predictions for Saturday's event.
Where: The Mandalay Bay Events Center, Las Vegas, Nevada
When: Saturday, the three-fight Facebook card starts at 5:30 p.m. ET, the four-fight FUEL card starts at 7 p.m. and the five-fight main card starts on FX at 9 p.m.
Many times when two fighters who know each other compete the contest can be a bit of stalled, staring match. Fortunately, I don't expect that here. It's just not in either fighter's DNA and neither wins being tentative. These are go-forward competitors.
Stylistically, I see Faber using his speed as the ultimate advantage both in launching striking attacks and winning scrambles. That's saying something since Jorgensen is a fairly superb scrambler himself. But whatever Jorgensen does well, Faber does just a bit better (albeit differently and Faber has his own unique strengths, too).
Uriah Hall vs. Kelvin Gastelum
I feel like if I don't pick Hall, they'll be some sort of lynch mob after me. The people have spoken and the people love them some Hall. And I admit, on the feet the guy is just sensational to watch. He's light in movement, punches are crisp, his arsenal is diverse. You name it. He's got it.
But I'll be honest. I'm not convinced about his ground, wrestling or striking-to-wrestling transition games at all. I'm not saying he has no skills or that anyone can take him down. Far from it. But I am saying this idea he's ready for top 10 opposition win or lose on Saturday is fairly ludicrous. He's got some serious holes he needs to shore up before that happens.
Credit to him and everything he's accomplished. He's so dynamic and fun to watch, but let's manage our expectations a little more, yes?
Miesha Tate vs. Cat Zingano
Zingano is a physical bruiser. Despite actually being someone who can compete and arguably beat all of the best at flyweight, she's still strong enough for basically anyone at bantamweight. Her style is all attack and pressure. It's a big reason why she's undefeated. Competitors simply cannot handle the constant offense and physicality. She's also slightly favored to win this bout, but I'm going to go with Tate. I see her having to weather an early storm, but Tate has earned my respect as a fighter who can persevere. Julie Kedzie took Tate to the woodshed with all manner of in-your-face attacks and 'Cupcake' hung on long enough to still take the victory. I expect Tate to be pushed here, but ultimately her attention to detail in the small spaces as Zingano gets over aggressive will win her the day.
Travis Browne vs. Gabriel Gonzaga
I'm going to side with Browne. I suspect he'll able to eventually land something on Gonzaga that will stop whatever attack or momentum the Brazilian will have amassed at that point. And I won't say I don't believe in Browne's defensive wrestling or ability to get up from the bottom, but I would like to see how he responds to what I'm fairly certain will be Gonzaga's method of attack. Either way, though, I have a hard time seeing Gonzaga control Browne for three rounds.
Bubba McDaniel vs. Gilbert Smith
Anyone who follows my live chats knows I haven't followed this season of TUF at all. I've kept up with footage of Hall and Gastelum's bouts, certainly, but not the show itself. I looked at McDaniel and Smith just for the purposes of making this prediction. If nothing else, McDaniel is experienced. His losses on the show were to the two finalists. This is basically his fight to lose.
From the preliminary card:
Josh Samman > Kevin Casey
Luke Barnatt > Collin Hart
Dylan Andrews < Jimmy Quinlan
Clint Hester < Bristol Marunde
Cole Miller < Bart Palaszewski
Sam Sicilia < Maximo Blanco
Justin Lawrence < Daniel Pineda