UFC/WEC veteran Dan Downes talks strategy and predictions for the TUF 16 Finale, taking place Saturday, December 15
That’s right boys and girls, it’s time for a (Judeo-Christian) holiday edition of the Downes Side! Last Christmas I gave you my predictions. But the very next day, you tore me a new A. This year, to save me from tears, I think I’ll just avoid the comments.
This weekend the UFC returns to Las Vegas for The Ultimate Fighter 16 Finale inside The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. The TUF 16 winner will be decided between Army vet Colton Smith and Tobey Maguire-lookalike vet Mike Ricci. The main event of the evening showcases two high-profile heavyweights:Roy “Big Country” Nelson is out to prove he’s a better fighter than coach as he takes on his TUF 10 castmate (and injured Shane Carwin’s replacement) Matt Mitrione.
Dustin Poirier (12-2) vs Jonathan Brookins (13-5)
The main card kicks off in the featherweight division as Dustin “The Diamond” Poirier takes on TUF 12 winner Jonathan "The Guy With the Blonde Dreadlocks" Brookins. Once the next big threat to Jose Aldo’s title reign, Poirier looks to rebound from his first UFC loss at the hands of Chan Sung Jung, aka The Korean Zombie, in May. A wrestling standout with eight career submissions, Brookins also wants to bounce back from a submission loss of at the hands of Charles Oliveira at the TUF 15 finale.
Brookins' grinding wrestling ability was solid at lightweight and is second to none at 145 pounds. Even though he lost to Erik Koch, he was still able to stifle the explosive striker with his grappling. In those moments where he didn’t have Koch against the fence, however, his strike defense was the same as the Greyhound bus senior discount -- 5%. Expect Poirier to use his explosiveness and footwork to tag Brookins at will. Brookins will close the distance, but Poirier will retake the center of the cage and continue his stand-up assault. Jose Aldo is the only person to ever KO Brookins. Poirier will become the second man on that list and get one step closer to that title shot.
Melvin Guillard (30-11-2) vs Jamie Varner (20-7-1)
We move to the lightweight division for the Fight of the Night favorite as Jamier Varner battles Melvin “Young Assassin” Guillard. With a comeback that could rival Ben Affleck’s, Varner hunts to recapture some of the magic he found in his underdog victory over Brazilian next-big-thing Edson Barboza. Meanwhile, Melvin tries to find any type of momentum at all since losing three of his last four fights.
Melvin has been pretty much the same guy throughout the course of his career. His overly aggressive style has done wonders with KOs over guys like Shane Roller and Evan Dunham. Conversely, it has also shown its weakness in recent losses to Joe Lauzon, Jim Miller and Donald Cerrone. Melvin uses his athleticism to avoid taking a lot of damage on the feet, but when he leaves an opening, he pays. In the Barboza fight, Varner showed that he has the power to change the course of a fight with one punch. Melvin will rush in for the finish, get clipped and fall victim to his old nemesis, the rear-naked choke, in the second.
Pat Barry (7-5) vs Shane Del Rosario (11-1)
We jump up to the heavyweight division for another fight that won’t go the distance as Pat “HD” Barry and Shane del Rosario square off. With a 4-5 record in his UFC career, the always-entertaining Barry has struggled to put together a solid win streak and searches for redemption after a 1st-round TKO loss to Lavar Johnson in May. The first-ever American WBC heavyweight kickboxing champion, del Rosario suffered his first career defeat to Stipe Miocic in his UFC debut at UFC 146. Known for his knockouts, SDR also holds three career submission victories, including one over Lavar Johnson.
Some might be tempted to see the common opponent and draw conclusions. Don’t. MMA math is like the Potty Patch -- it just doesn’t work. This fight will be a stand-up battle. Del Rosario does possess those aforementioned kickboxing accolades, but his game revolves mostly on punching while Barry has a much more well-rounded striking game. Furthermore, Barry’s grappling has improved leaps and bounds from what we saw against Tim Hague. “HD” will win this fight in his usual style: He’ll chop Shane del Rosario down with low kicks and by the time the second round rolls around, it’ll be all over with a head kick. Pat will then give an emotional speech that’ll be a bigger mess than the one in my living room... thanks for nothing, Potty Patch
Colton Smith (3-1) vs Mike Ricci (7-2)
That brings us to the co-main event of the evening which will decide the TUF 16 champion. Smothering his opponents with wrestling, Colton Smith earned himself four decision victories to make his way into the finals. Forgot that Colton was in the military? Don’t worry, he’ll remind you every 30 seconds. The most well-rounded fighter in the house, Mike Ricci punctuated his TUF experience with a brutal elbow KO of Neil Magny in the semi-finals. Forgot Mike Ricci trains with GSP and Tristar? Don’t worry, he’ll remind you every 30 seconds.
The big question here is, “Can Mike Ricci defend Colton’s takedowns?” Based on what I’ve seen this season, there’s no reason to think he can’t. Previously fighting at lightweight, Ricci had the most difficult path to the finals and never struggled once against the season's field of welterweights. While dominating the wrestling aspect, Colton’s striking leaves much to be desired and his chin has never been tested. Look for southpaw Ricci to control Smith with his jab and circle away from the takedown. Colton will become anxious, run in for the takedown, eat a cross and that will be all she wrote. Ricci wins in the first. Be prepared for his acceptance speech.
Roy Nelson (17-7) vs Matt Mitrione (5-1)
Time for the main event! After what some might call a less-than-stellar coaching stint on this season of The Ultimate Fighter, Roy Nelson looks to run his career UFC record to 5-3. Known more more his globular physique (and being a thorn in Dana White’s side) than anything else, Nelson has a jiu- jitsu black belt and solid knockout power. A former NFL veteran, Mitrione's athleticism and power have lead him to four career knockout victories.
Firstly, odds are that Mitrione has shaken off the sting of defeat since his last fight was 413 days ago. Secondly, despite his lack of experience, he’ll also shake off the “cage corrosion” that comes with such a long layoff. This fight comes down to conditioning. Roy will come out strong in the first, earn a takedown and put his opponent in some bad positions. As the fight progresses, Roy will fade and "Meathead" will start to catch him on the feet. As the third round winds down, Mitrione will catch Roy with a left uppercut that will end the fight. Mitrione will be all smiles, but his will pale in comparison to the one on Dana White’s face.
That wraps up another merry edition of the Downes Side. Follow me on Twitter @dannyboydownes and be sure to leave your thoughts, predictions and letters to Santa (or Yehuda Hamakabi) here on the page. As for me, I’ll give my thoughts to someone special.