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The Ultimate Fighter 21 Finale photos

This is the last free UFC card of the year, and the promotion has delivered, putting together one of the best non-pay-per-view cards in recent memory. This event has many notable fights as it features Urijah Faber’s retirement bout, a top contender fight between VanZant and Waterson, a heated rivalry pitting trash-talking gurus Northcutt and Gall, Mexico’s Irene Aldana’s promotional debut, and much more.

What: UFC on FOX 22

Where: Golden 1 Center, Sacramento, Calif.

When: Saturday, Dec. 17. The three-fight UFC Fight Pass prelims begin at 3:30 p.m. ET, the six-fight FOX Sports 1 prelims begin at 5 p.m. ET, and the four-fight main card begins at 8 p.m. ET on FOX.

Paige VanZant vs. Michelle Waterson

I think this could very well be a title eliminator bout. The UFC has gone away from labeling those kind of bouts, as you never know these days what money fight can come along to interrupt that. But anyways, both VanZant and Waterson are extremely marketable, they’re not coming off losses, they’re ranked, they’re familiar names, and the women’s strawweight division is very shallow right now, so we might be looking at a future title challenger here.

VanZant is the more athletic fighter here. She moves faster than Waterson, and I find her to be the tougher, more grittier fighter. But when it comes to technique Waterson is a bit more polished in both the grappling and stand up department. Waterson is also the more experienced fighter.

To me this is a coin toss, as both fighters are capable of winning with the right game plan. If VanZant pressures Waterson and makes this an ugly fight, like Angela Magana did in the first round of Waterson’s last fight, I see VanZant winning. But if she lays back like she did against Rawlings, or if Waterson finds a way to keep her space throughout the fight, I see ‘Karate Hottie’ winning. I’m going with the latter option.

Pick: Waterson

Sage Northcutt vs. Mickey Gall

Interesting fight here between two young prospects. I feel like I know enough about Sage Northcutt to tell what level of opposition he can get by against, but that’s not the case for Mikey Gall, and that’s where this fight gets tricky to predict.

There are still many questions when it comes to Gall’s skill set and what he can actually do inside the octagon. His performance against CM Punk didn’t really answer any of those questions as we saw no striking from his part. And on the ground, although he looked like a killer, submitting CM Punk doesn’t really say much. And against Michael Jackson, it was another quick fight against another non-UFC caliber opponent. Yet, there are still some things you can dissect from those performances. I see that Gall’s strength is in the grappling department, as he has quick movement of the ground, and is always on the attack, constantly looking for submissions.

Northcutt, on the other hand, has proven to be a solid fighter that can find success against decent opponents. He’s defeated Cody Pfister, Francisco Trevino, and Enrique Marin. Although none of those guys are still in the UFC, they all have winning records, and more than 10 fights each in experience. Any of those guys would easily defeat CM Punk and Jackson.

The fight that gives me the most insight on this upcoming bout was against Marin. The Spaniard, who was a runner-up of TUF: Latin America season 2, has very good jiu-jitsu, and I find he was unfairly cut from the promotion, as he had lost a close split decision in the finale of TUF, and a close and competitive bout against Northcutt. Anyways, Marin had issues with Northcutt on the ground and couldn’t finish a locked arm bar. That has me thinking that Northcutt can survive against Gall on the ground. And on the feet, Northcutt’s karate should give him an advantage.

Pick: Northcutt

Urijah Faber vs. Brad Pickett

A good ol’ WEC scrap right here. I find this to be the perfect match up for Faber’s retirement bout, as Pickett is an old school fighter that’s always down for an exciting fight. Pickett has solid power and good boxing. He also has good takedowns and grappling. Faber might not have the same power that Pickett carries, but he has a great chin capable of taking Pickett’s shots. Meanwhile, Pickett, who had one of the best chins in MMA, has been getting cracked as of late.

Regardless, Pickett has tons of experience brawling in the pocket, and if he can lure Faber into a brawl in close quarters, Pickett can hurt ‘The California Kid’. But I find Faber to be the quicker fighter, and I think he’s going to stay moving and picking his shots. I also see Faber’s grappling being a bit superior than Pickett’s, so Faber should have an advantage in most areas of the fight.

Pick: Faber

Alan Jouban vs. Mike Perry

Wild stuff here. We’re going to see both guys throwing bombs on each other, so I think this ones comes down to who is tougher, has better survival instincts, better cardio, and ultimately better defense on the feet.

Perry hits harder than Jouban, but tends to get more fatigued. Jouban is better defensively, but Perry might take a better shot. Tough fight to call. I this will be a war, and my gut tells me Jouban’s experience will come into play, and he’ll squeeze out a close win.

Pick: Jouban

Undercard:

Luis Henrique da Silva def. Paul Craig

Cole Miller def. Mizuto Hirota

Colby Covington def. Bryan Barberena

James Moontasri def. Alex Morono

Josh Emmett def. Scott Holtzman

Irene Aldana def. Leslie Smith

Eddie Wineland def. Takeya Mizugaki

Fredy Serrano def. Hector Sandoval

Bojan Velickovic def. Sultan Aliev