The TUF Nations Finale prelim card will feature several top names, including former Strikeforce champion Sarah Kaufman, who tries to get her first UFC win after a no contest in her debut fight inside the Octagon while facing a familiar face on Wednesday night in Canada.
Sam Stout and KJ Noons will also meet in a showdown between two of the premier strikers at 155 pounds, while several former cast members from TUF Nations: Team Canada vs. Team Australia will also square off at the show.
In today's fantasy preview, we're going to take a look at some of the matchups that highlight the preliminary card to see who will score you the most points and which matchups might yield the best finishes of the night.
SAM STOUT VS. KJ NOONS
Sam Stout and KJ Noons are both very accomplished and dynamic strikers, but they also share a trait lately that might predict just how this fight will end - by decision. Both Stout and Noons are known for having knockout power, but while they've found ways to win, finishing their opponents has not been either man's strong suit lately.
It's been just under three years since Stout finished a fight by knockout, and prior to his finish of Yves Edwards at UFC 131 in 2011, it had been almost four years since he had a KO to win a fight. Noons is a former professional boxer, but it's been almost four years since he put away an opponent by knockout as well. Now don't take their combined finishing rates as an indication this can't be an exciting standup war because it can absolutely go that route, but just don't bet on a knockout.
That said, Stout shows a little more variety in his striking, where he puts together combinations and mixes in a bit more kickboxing, versus Noons, who has a more classical boxing background but tends to get wild with his punches whenever his fights start. Noons has a nasty jab and he can also rip an opponent apart with some of his body shots and quick fire combinations, but once he takes a hit or two, game plans seem to go out the window and he starts swinging for the fences. If that happens again in this fight, look for Stout to hit and move away.
Rinse, wash and repeat that for three rounds and Stout ends up with the victory.
SARAH KAUFMAN VS. LESLIE SMITH
If you were unlucky enough to miss the first fight between Sarah Kaufman and Leslie Smith, do yourself a favor and look it up, because it's definitely one of the best women's matches of the last year, and now they will do it all over again. In their first fight, Kaufman used her boxing and footwork to push combinations with her hands, while Smith fired back with a nasty barrage of kicks while also working in the Muay Thai clinch to get the upper hand on the former Strikeforce champion. When it was over, the judges gave the split decision nod to Kaufman, but many believed it was Smith who should have gotten the win.
This time around, it's going to be more difficult than ever for Smith to pull off the victory. As talented as she is as a fighter, Smith is dealing with the fact that she took this fight on a week's notice and there are always going to be questions about how much preparation she actually had for the bout. Granted, Smith fought Kaufman before, but it's still a tall order with only a week to get ready.
Kaufman, on the other hand, has been chomping at the bit to return to action ever since a no contest against Jessica Eye in her debut last October. Kaufman remains one of the most dangerous strikers in the women's division, and there is the chance that fighting Smith the last time with the knowledge that she was headed to the UFC after the match was over got her distracted or had her looking past her opponent. Don't expect Kaufman to do that a second time. The Canadian should use her hands and power to keep Smith at bay while staying wary of her dangerous head kicks. If Kaufman sticks to a grounded boxing game plan and doesn't get into any wild exchanges, she should get the win by decision.
RICHARD WALSH VS. CHRIS INDICH
After teaming up with each other during the season of TUF Nations, two Australians will face off when Richard Walsh meets Chris Indich on the preliminary portion of the finale card. Walsh won his first round matchup using superior power and grappling, while Indich came up short against eventual show finalist Chad Laprise, but he gave a good showing for himself and was praised for a strong performance in defeat.
For this fight, Walsh holds the upper hand in a couple of areas if he fights the right way. First of all, Walsh is a big welterweight, so he should have a slight size and reach advantage going into this bout. Second, Walsh has a good long-range jab and lands solid, straight punches that could give Indich nightmares as if he's reliving the fight with Laprise all over again. If things get dicey, Walsh can also rely on his Greco-Roman clinch wrestling game to pressure Indich against the cage and wear him down, round after round. Walsh still has some growth to do as a fighter, but this should be a good chance for him to make Australia proud and pick up his first UFC win by decision over his former teammate from the reality show.
MITCH GAGNON VS. TIM GORMAN
The UFC is definitely giving former Ultimate Fighter season 18 alum Tim Gorman a tough test for his first fight in the Octagon, because Mitch Gagnon is no joke. The Canadian fighter is 2-1 in the UFC thus far, with his one loss coming in a Fight of the Night performance against Bryan Caraway in his debut.
Gagnon is a submission specialist with a devastating guillotine choke and a slick rear naked choke as well. He's a finisher, so don't expect him to sit back and try to hand this one over to the judges, and given Gorman's tendency to rush forward and press the pace, he could be playing right into Gagnon's hand.
Look for Gagnon to play counter fighter ever so briefly until Gorman gives up enough space to open his legs for the takedown. Once on the ground, Gagnon should waste no time to start locking up submission attempt after submission attempt until one catches, and he puts Gorman away within the first two rounds.