The best kind of matchmaking is the kind that leads to something tangible. That's not always possible, of course, because of the various career stages of the names on the card as well as the constantly shifting landscape of the sport, with injuries and suspensions, and on and on. But at least for those at the top, it's nice when there is something real at stake, something substantial to chase.
That's how things came together at the TUF 17 Finale, not for the main-eventers, or even the co-headliners. Instead, it was the women halfway down the main card who could see the future straight ahead.
The winner would not only receive the next title shot against Ronda Rousey, but a coaching job on the next season of The Ultimate Fighter, a gig that brings with it two of the things every fighter dreams of: publicity and opportunity.
It was Cat Zingano who won on Saturday, rebounding from a rough start to finish Miesha Tate in the third round. As a result, her life will change. A few weeks ago, Zingano was a veritable unknown, but sometime soon she will board a plane and fly to Las Vegas to film a series that will effectively function as a 12-week infomercial for her match with Rousey. Maybe she'll win and go on to become a star, or maybe she'll lose and fade away. But all athletes can ask for is that short window where everything comes together and offers them a chance to make their dreams come true. For Zingano, that moment is now.
On to the predictions ...
By virtue of his submission win over Scott Jorgensen, Faber finds himself knocking on the door for yet another title shot. There simply aren't any other wannabe-champions in the division with resumes that stand above his. No other contender has some win streak that can't be ignored, or the list of vanquished that Faber can boast. Personally, I'd like to see him have to fight one more time in order to gain a crack at the belt.
Prediction: He faces Brad Pickett
The parallels between Gastelum and former TUF winner Efrain Escudero are stunning. Both fighters are from Yuma, Arizona and trained at the Arizona Athletic Club. Both men were the youngest on their respective seasons of TUF. And both upset a highly favored opponent in the final to capture the crown. Now Gastelum will have to work to avoid Escudero's post-TUF fate as a journeyman. His first step seems likely to be a drop to the welterweight division, which seems the right match for his 5-foot-9 frame.
Prediction: A matchup against Papy Abedi
UFC president Dana White thinks Hall mentally broke in his fight with Gastelum, but I didn't see that at all. It's not like he gave up trying to get up to his feet when Gastelum took him down, which is a clear signal that a fighter is ready to surrender and move on. He always tried to get back to standing. To be fair, he did a lot of the same things he did during the show. But there were also two developments. One is that Gastelum didn't crumble in his presence, and the other is that Hall made a couple of correctable mistakes in backing up to the fence and closing off his own escape routes, allowing Gastelum to more easily close the distance for a takedown. Bottom line: I wouldn't write him off just yet.
Prediction: He fights Bristol Marunde
About eight years ago, Rich Franklin beat Evan Tanner in a middleweight championship match that also decided The Ultimate Fighter's season two coach. It was a turning point in the careers of both men. The show's exposure was a major factor in Franklin's popularity, and helped launch his career. Tanner, who openly hoped for the platform, would never again find his previous success. At 26 years old, Tate is still young enough to capitalize on other opportunities, but at least for the immediate future, it probably won't be easy to swallow the one that got away.
Prediction: She faces the loser of the UFC 161 matchup between Alexis Davis and Rosi Sexton
Browne's next booking will be quite interesting, because here's a guy who was steaming along towards contender status before losing in a knockout to Antonio Silva in a fight where he was compromised by a freak knee injury. After dominant wins in four of his last five fights, Browne is moving towards becoming an undeniable factor in the division.
Prediction: This is a tough one due to timing. I think if Roy Nelson beats Cheick Kongo, a Browne-Nelson matchup makes sense. If not, perhaps he gets the Fabricio Werdum vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira winner.
After an inconsistent run on TUF, McDaniel looked very strong in his win over Gilbert Smith, an improvement that could be credited to a full camp and a more conventional weight cut. For most TUF competitors I would recommend another inexperienced opponent next time out, but McDaniel already has nearly 30 pro fights, so his timeline should be a bit accelerated.
Prediction: He faces the winner of UFC on FUEL 10's Karlos Vemola vs. Caio Magalhaes fight
Due to his attempts to manipulate the TUF matchmaking process in his favor, Samman came across as the cast villain, but that aside -- and why wouldn't you try to make a clear path to the final, by the way -- you can't deny the guy has some talent. Is it long-term talent? He just turned 25, so there is still some potential waiting to be tapped.
Prediction: He faces Ultimate Fighter: Brazil winner Cezar "Mutante" Ferreira