The Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale Predictions- Kamikaze Overdrive MMA

Scott Johnson

Unfortunately, I am currently experiencing the perfect storm of events. Due to a lack of time, an inopportune internet issue, and the TUF Finale format of not announcing all of the fights until after the final episode, I will be unable to put together a prediction video for the TUF 18 Finale.
It is the first UFC event since Johnny Jones fought Vladdy Matyushenko, for which I will not be posting a video. I will let you do the math on that one, but it is a fairly long time and a significant number of shows to say the least. Instead you will have to make due with the these brief, but hopefully still adequate predictions that I will be posting below for both the main card and the prelims.
Additionally, I won’t be posting a bet pack for this event. I had all intentions to do so, but making predictions is one thing, advising people on how to invest their money is entirely another. Without the proper research and preparation it just wouldn’t be appropriate for me to do so. Also, with the little slump I have been enduring over the last couple of shows a break might be just what the doctor ordered. Nonetheless I will do my best to come up with some winners here, lets get to them…

155lbs- #8 Nate Diaz (16-9-0) vs #5 Gray Maynard (12-2-1 1NC)

In a rematch from a January 2010 bout, which was a rematch from their TUF 5 clash, Diaz and Maynard will meet to settle the score which is unofficially tied at 1-1 (Diaz’s TUF win doesn’t count on their official records). Both men have come a long way since their first two encounters, and are potentially descending from the climax of their careers. Interestingly, they are both heading into this meeting off of similar scenarios. Both were soundly vanquished in championship competition and then knocked out in their follow up appearances by new title contenders, which has taken a little luster out of this contest.

Maynard is am NCAA D-1 wrestler and BJJ Blue belt training out of AKA. He averages 2.56 takedowns per fight at 48%. He knows how to dominate a fight with his wrestling. He overpowered Kenny Florian with a 5 takedown performance and completed 12 TDAs in the first 2 meetings with former Champion Frankie Edgar. Maynard has traditionally used 2 different approaches. Either dominate bell to bell with his wrestling, or if the fight is contested primarily on the feet and Maynard feels it is close, he will shoot and look to steal the round with a late completion.

Unfortunately, Gray has gotten away from his grappling attack in favour of a more striking centric approach that has render him far less effective in recent appearances. He has completed only 1 takedowns over the last 3 fights and 10 rounds of action, going 1-2-0 in that span.

If Gray continues this trend it would suit Diaz just fine.

Nate is a great striker. He doesn’t have one punch knockout power, but he is capable of taking out his adversary with a high volume striking assault. Nate averages 3.32 strikes per minute and will have a 6″ reach advantage to further aid him during the exchanges. His jab heavy approach will need to be spot on to keep Gray at bay and avoid letting the wrestler move forward to either look for a takedowns or land power shots from close range. If Nate can land continually, he could break the chin of his opponent later in the fight.

Nate is a BJJ Black belt with 11 wins by submission and he did tap out Gray in their Ultimate Fighter contest. He as a solid guard and can be very offensive from the position, but his struggles with strong wrestlers are well documented. After a 3 fight winning streak put some distance between him and these past issues, they returned with his one sided encounter against then champion Ben Henderson. Benson dominated the fight with 8 takedowns and a heavy top game that Nate had no answer for. Nate has to find an remedy for this shortcoming and quickly, to prevent Maynard from taking control of the fight early.

Both men are desperate for a win, Gray needs to make a return to his wrestling heavy attack to exploit Diaz’s greatest weakness. A loss for the 34 year old would be devastating and guarantees that his winless streaks stretches from early 2011 all the way into 2014, with his last victory coming in the summer of 2010. A third straight loss for Nate would be tough, but at 28 he has time to recover and make another climb up the ranks.

Both men are coming of knockouts, which could impact their approaches to this bout. Gray does have the power edge, but his chin could betray him if Nate can land continually. Nate is good off his back, but too many fighters have had success stifling his ground game with a heavy top attack and Maynard will look to add to those struggles, so my prediction is Gray Maynard to defeat Nate Diaz by decision.

135lbs- Julianna Pena (5-2-0) vs Jessica Rakoczy (1-3-0 1NC)

In the Women’s half of the TUF tournament final, Julianna Pena battles Canadian Jessica Rakoczy to become the first ever Women’s tough champion.  Rakoczy began her pro career with a trio of setbacks before turning her career around with a pair of wins. Unfortunately her first career triumph was overturned when she tested positive for an illegal pain killer, but she went into the house with a KO victory nonetheless. Pena dropped back to back fights heading into the show, but impressively rallied around to advance to the tournament finals and has built some considerable momentum.

Rakoczy is a world champion boxer. She has an excellent set hands and can really unload on her opponent when she finds her groove. Her speed is essential to her success as she will need to stick and move, peppering Pena with a high volume of shots while limiting the damage she endures. The biggest concern with Jessica is her defensive grappling and how it will impact her ability to strike.

Clearly, if Pena successfully puts her on her backside it takes the Canadian’s boxing chops out of the equation. But, if Julianna can simply establish the threat of a takedown and force Rakoczy to switch her focus on the feet to defending the potential of a takedown it will severely limit her striking ability. If that is the case, the simple but effective style of the American should be more then enough to get the better of the striking battle. Pena doesn’t do anything overly flashy, but her stiff and sometimes overwhelming sequence of punches can be a lot for a fighter to endure.

Rackoczy has shown some decent takedown defense on the show, most recently keeping vertical in her upset win in the semis. She will need to be equally as strong here, as Pena is the most dangerous ground fighter she has faced on the show. Pena is very heavy on top, dropping serious ground and pound while slicing through her opponent’s guard, looking to set up submission attempts.

Pena’s early upset submission win over a veteran BJJ Brown belt like Shayna Bazler who has earned 14 of her 15 wins by submission, is more then enough to suggest she will be a major threat to Rakoczy on the mat. Pena has 3 pro wins by tapout and 2 more to get through the quarter and semi-finals, her success will continue here so my prediction is Julianna Pena to defeat Jessica Rakoczy by submission.

135lbs- Chris Holdsworth (5-0-0) vs David Grant (8-1-0)

On the men’s side of the tourney, England’s own ‘Dangerous’ Davey Grant battles Miesha Tate’s second overall pick Chris Holdsworth. Both men come in with a submission heavy ledger in their respective pro careers and their tournament performances held true to their incoming successes with the pair combining for 5 more submission wins on the show. The only tournament round involving one of these two men that did not finish with a submission was Grant’s semi-final ‘victory’ that ended before it started when his opponent failed to make weight and was DQed.

Holdsworth has looked strong throughout the show and is penciled in as the betting favourite. He is a BJJ Black belt, but he should also have the edge, maybe only slightly, in the striking department. He has looked more then capable on the feet, despite no knockout wins. Often a battle of grapplers can result in a striking battle, but that might not be the case here. Chris’s tournament opponents have yet to find an answer to his aggressive grappling assault. The sequential attack he employs has proven incredibly effective; close the distance, drag the fight to the mat, advance his position, and start chaining submissions together until something sticks (or some slight variation on that).

Grant is going to be the toughest test that Holdsworth has faced to date. After getting submitted in his pro debut he has ran through 8 straight opponents all with submission finishes. He is an aggressive grappler that doesn’t mind operating off of his back. In his pre-TUF one round war with James Pennington, they went back and forth on the mat exchanging transitions and submissions. Grant found himself falling behind early against the promotion’s champion, fending off early submission attempts and positional disadvantages, but rallied to score the modified Guillotine submission win. He showed impressive skills and a significant amount of heart in picking up that win.

On paper, Grant should hold the experience advantage with more then twice as many pro fights. When you start figuring in the amateur contests for Holdsworth, the gap closes significantly. Additionally, Holdsworth’s semi-final victory under tremendous pressure bodes well for him compared to Grant who, through not fault of his own, was gifted a spot in the finals by a negligent opponent.

Holdsworth is a BJJ Black belt and Grant has been submitted twice in his career (his Pro debut and once as an amateur) and while those days are a few years behind him the edge should still lie with the American. This bout should be an intense grappling heavy affair, similar to Grant versus the aforementioned Pennington, which was just over a year ago. Grant was losing that contest early and Holdsworth should be a stronger grappler then Davey’s opponent on that night. It doesn’t hold as true as it did a few years ago, but in a battle between two grapplers, when one is a Brit it usually is to your advantage to bet against them based on the caliber of past opponents faced, training, and background. Grant will push Holdsworth early, but the American will eventually pull away, so my prediction is Chris Holdsworth to defeat Davey Grant by submission.

135lbs- Jessamyn Duke (2-0-0) vs Margaret Morgan (2-0-0)

With a combined 4 pro fights, Duke and Morgan are far from seasoned veterans, but their time on TUF can go a long with to elevating a fighter to the next stage of their careers without adding to their record.

Duke has a pair of wins, a knockout and a submission, under the Invicta banner, coupled with a knockout defeat turned no contest due to an illegal knee. She was 5-2 as an amateur with 3 more submissions and a knockout to her name. She’s a tall fighter with good long range weapons, but Rocky Pennington was able to bust her up with some heavy punches after getting on the inside.

Morgan has a pair of decision wins on the regional circuit, along with 2 stoppage wins as an amateur. Just like Duke, she is also an above average height Bantamweight at 6’1″. Her striking is her forte, but it isn’t as refined as Dukes and will most likely find her getting second best of the exchanges. More importantly her defensive grappling is a major concern. She was quickly submitted by Sarah Moras in the opening round of the tournament and showed little defensively on the mat.

Duke’s combined 4 submission wins (pro + amateur) and her triangle tapout victory to get into the house are more then enough proof to suggest she can handle herself offensively on the mat. The striking should favour Duke, but the talent gap isn’t nearly as significant as it is on the floor and Jessamyn should recognize this and exploit it. Training along side arm bar happy Ronda Rousey in her post TUF career should further develop her submissions skills, so my prediction is Jessamyn Duke to defeat Margaret Morgan by submission.

135lbs- Roxanne Modafferri (15-10-0) vs Raquel Pennington (3-3-0)

Modafferri is a veteran of the sport, with a long standing career, but she has dropped 5 consecutive bouts and finished 1-1 on the show. Rocky Pennington has just 6 pro fights with a 3-3 record, dropping her last contests against top ranked Cat Zingano and Leslie Smith.

Modaferri is a BJJ Purple belt and Judo Brown belt. Despite having a grappling heavy background, she has just 4 submission wins on her card out of a total of 15 triumphs. Her wrestling isn’t that strong, but she makes up for it with her aggressiveness and tenacity. Her clinch game is effective and if she can drag her opponent to the mat she should be able to win the majority of the exchanges.

Pennington is a strike first battler. She has some pop I her hands and isn’t afraid to stand and trade. She came up short against a more technically sound striker in the semi-finals of the show, struggling with the movement of her opponent in the final 2 frames. Modafferi’s striking is sub par and while she will attempt to mix in  a few high risk maneuvers, her ability to win a fight spent primarily on the feet is limited. She has only been KOed once as a pro, getting slammed in highlight reel fashion by Sarah Kaufman, but she was also stopped on the show and her chin could be fading after a near 10 year career of taking punishment.

If Pennington can keep this fight standing it is to her advantage. Where she has had trouble in the past is fending off opponent who’s primary focus is a grappling based attack. Cat Zingano had a lot of success controlling her in the clinch, leading to a submission. Additionally, Pennington’s limited experience and the impact of a UFC debut could result in a less then stellar performance under such a high pressure situation. She did well on the show, advancing to the second round, but if she can’t back Modafferri off with some early power shots, she is going to get out work and controlled along the cage and the mat. Modafferri is experience and her career has been building to this point, she isn’t the more fluid fighter, but she has the skills to grind this contest out, so my prediction is Roxanne Modafferri to defeat Raquel Pennington by decision.

145lbs- Akira Corassani (13-4-1) vs Maximo Blanco (9-4-1 1NC)

Corassani is fresh off an upset over Robbie Peralta where he showed excellent footwork and a nice variety of strikes. Despite the win, Corassani was out landed by Peralta 94-57. Striking defense has been an issue for Akira, averaging 3.1 SLpM against 3.97 SApM over  2 UFC bouts. That is not a good trade off, especially against an opponent like Blanco who has posted 2.67 SLpM and only 1.85 SApM, with 7 of 9 wins by knockout.

Corassani has been out struck in both of his fights, and has relied on his grappling to turn the tide in his favour, especially against Peralta. That won’t be easy and might not be possible at all against a very strong wrestler like Blanco. Blanco showed solid wrestling against Sam Sicilia, landing a pair of takedowns, while defending 6 of 7 TDAs.

If Akira can’t get this fight to the mat he will need to find a way to outwork Blanco on the feet, which will force him out of his comfort zone of countering and picking his spots. If this fight degenerates into a firefight that will heavily favour the one-time Strikeforce competitor.

Maxi showed a much more aggressive front in his second fight, after a dismal debut, and he should be even more settled in this time around. When Blanco opens up he is a handful in the exchanges and his ability to duck and dodge his opponent’s attempts is quite impressive. He will outwork Corassani on the feet and mix in some offensive wrestling to seal the deal, so my prediction is Maximo Blanco to defeat Akira Corassani by decision.  

145lbs- Rani Yahya (19-7-0) vs Tom Niinimaki (20-5-0)

Yahya is a world class grappler and while he doesn’t boasts overly impressive numbers (2.79 TDs @ 30%), he has finished 15 of 19 wins by submission. Potentially, his below 3 takedown numbers could be a product of his dominance on the mat. He is the type of fighter that either submits his opponent or controls the entire round after completing just a single takedown. He has a smothering top game and his ability to takedown and control a strong wrestler like Mike Brown is a testament to good he is on the floor.

Niinimaki is making his UFC debut, but he is a veteran with wins over a few notable opponents. He boasts a well rounded finishing record with 7 wins by some form of knockout and 8 more by submission. He has a creative grappling game and is solid on top once he establishes the position. His striking is decent, but not overwhelming. The biggest concern for the Fin is that the strongest aspect of his game, his ground attack, which will be second best in this bout.

Rani’s cardio nearly cost him against Mizuto Hirota in the third round, which is a concern against a fighter that is capable of finishing. That being said, that is hard scenario to back a fighter on; hoping they can endure 2 rounds before rallying back for a late stoppage.

The Brazilian’s striking is improving, and his dominant top game and aggressive 2.13 submission attempts per fight should be more then enough to overwhelm and grind out his UFC debutant adversary. Niinimaki has been subbed twice in his career, once at the hands of Hatsu Hioki, and Yahya should have plenty of opportunities to push that number to 3, so my prediction is Rani Yahya to defeat Tom Niinimaki by submission.

265lbs- Jared Rosholt (8-1-0) vs Walt Harris (4-1-0)

A battle of 2 big men both making their UFC debuts. Harris is the more inexperienced of the two with just 5 fights to Rosholt’s 9. While the names on Jared’s resume aren’t of overly significant caliber, he still holds the edge over Harris in quality of opponent faced.

Harris has ended all 4 of his wins inside the first 2 minutes, all by knockout, including a 15 second win a slightly longer 22 second stoppage. He throws hard and will mix in some decent kicks to the body and head. Again, as mention previously his quick stoppage wins while impressive, have to be weighed against the level of competition- which hasn’t been that strong. Rosholt’s striking is still green, but he is working to improve it and he makes up for it with his wrestling. He has been knocked out once, but for the most part he has a solid chin and can take a big shot.

The former Oklahoma State NCAA D-1 wrestler has a powerful double leg and heavy top game. He has a trio of wins by submission and has also picked up a couple of stoppage victories from top position. Against a relatively inexperienced opponent like Walt Harris, if Rosholt can line up his power double he should be more then capable of following through and landing it. There isn’t a lot of footage of Harris working off his back and he has never been forced to deal with an wrestler of this caliber grinding him into the ground. The odds are that his defensive grappling isn’t on a equal plain to what Rosholt can generate offensively, and once the fight hits the mat it may not return to the feet.

Ending fights early looks great on a resume, but raises major questions about a young fighter’s ability to deal with an opponent that doesn’t go away after the first few shots have landed. Additionally, cardio can be a major concern for a fighter with only 1 bout lasting longer then 120 seconds. Add in the potential of having a talented wrestler working from top position and it creates a troublesome scenario for Harris. If Walt can land early and keep landing he could take Rosholt’s wrestling out of the equation, but if Jared can either walk through the punches or avoid them all together on route to establishing his ground game, he will be in the driver’s seat. Rosholt’s wrestling will carry the day, so my prediction is Jared Rosholt to defeat Walt Harris by TKO.

170lbs- Sean Spencer (10-2-0) vs Drew Dober (13-4-0)

Dober is making his UFC debut, fighting at a weight class above where he traditionally competes. Spencer was in that same position at the start of the year, but now has a pair of Octagon appearances under his belt with a win in his last outing. Dober will be the smaller fighter, so he will need to make use of his speed to set up both his offensive and defensive techniques.

Dober does have the most significant win total, with 8 wins by submissions. He has decent takedowns and is coming of a RNC victory over former UFC competitor TJ O’Brien. Both of Spencer’s defeats have come via submission, and while he was dominated on the mat by Rafael Natal (4-6 on TDs and a sub), against a more physically comparable opponent in Yuri Villefort he stuffed 6 of 7 attempts. On the one occasion he was taken down he was able to quickly get back to his feet and re-establish his striking attack.

Double D has serviceable striking and the aforementioned speed of the smaller fighter could amplify those skills, but the edge should lie with Spencer. Sean has a primarily boxing based attack and while he will mix in some kicks, he does most of his damage with his hands. He has a solid 1-2 combinations and throws a solid uppercut. He has decent footwork and mixes up his angles to keep his opponent from picking up his timing and rhythm. He landed 100 of 282 strikes attempted against Villefort, and he should have the power edge here being the physically larger fighter.

The UFC rookie should focus on establishing his grappling early to put a scare into Spencer, but if he is unable to score on his early attempts it will do just the opposite and build SS’s confidence. During the exchanges, Spencer will land more frequently and with more impact, while looking the part of a now 3 fight UFC vet against a newcomer, so my prediction is Sean Spencer to defeat Drew Dober by decision. 

125lbs- Josh Sampo (10-2-0) vs Ryan Benoit (7-2-0)

Two debuting UFC Flyweights will kick this card off on the Facebook portion of the prelims. With this scenario there is a lot that can go on to upend a prediction based on their previous bodies of work.

Sampo has a solid ground game, with 5 of 10 wins coming by way of submission. He holds wins over notables in Alexis Villa and Antonio Banuelos, submitting Villa in the fifth round of their title fight. His striking is serviceable and he is capable of at the very least avoiding damage, while dishing out some of his own.

Benoit is a Muay Thai based fighter, with sharp striking and heavy clinch work. He has ended 6 of his 7 wins via knockout and the seventh by submission. All but one of his wins have ended inside the first half of the fight (his second career victory lasted to the 2:41 mark of the second frame). He is a proven finisher but he is 0-2 in bouts that have gone the distance and has displayed some serious conditioning issues.

At MFC 37 he dropped a decision to Anthony Birchak. After an exciting back and forth opening round, Benoit was clearly exhausted between rounds, so much so that he had to be implored by the official to turn around and face his opponent to begin the round. If he is unable to put away the savvy ground strategist, he will once against be faced with these troubling cardio concerns.

The combination of a UFC debut and a questionable gas tank, adding on to a fighter known for his quick finishes is a major concern against a talented ground fighter. If Benoit can stay vertical, he should have the striking edge, but that will quickly disappear as the fight progresses. Sampo is more then capable of surviving the early barrage and grounding Benoit, while chaining submissions together leading to either a finish or a dominant decision win. Benoit has decent grappling skills, but the Birchak fight showed that he can be beaten with an aggressive grappling centric attack, so my prediction is Josh Sampo to defeat Ryan Benoit by submission.