Read on for results of the five prelim fights on the TUF 18 Finale card, held Saturday, November 30 at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, NV.
The intimate crowd inside Mandalay Bay saw a crop of promising new prospects on the Ultimate Fighter: Team Rousey vs. Team Tate Finale undercard, most notably Finland's Tom Niinimaki.
Akira Corassani vs. Maximo Blanco
The featherweight bout between TUF 14's Akira Corassani and Maximo Blanco came to a disappointing and early end, as an illegal knee 25 seconds in forced a DQ call.
Blanco came forward immediately with a leaping kick and charged Corassani to the fence. Both men got off hard shots, but as things got to the mat, Blanco lobbed a devastating knee and followup uppercuts to the downed Swede. Corassani appeared dazed and in pain, and after a checkup from the doctor, referee Mario Yamasaki waved things off. Blanco celebrated with a backflip before being declared the loser by disqualification.
The NYC-trained Corassani is now 14-4 overall and 3-0 in the UFC, though surely not in the fashion he’d have preferred. Blanco, who apologized to Corassani after, saying he thought the knee was legal, falls to 9-5-1 (1NC).
Rani Yahya vs. Tom Niinimaki
European grappling champion Tom Niinimaki surprised many by outworking Brazilian black belt and UFC/WEC veteran Rani Yahya in his UFC debut. The ground-fluent featherweights put on a three-round exhibition before “Stoneface” was awarded the split decision.
Yahya opened by chasing Niinimaki with a flurry and then getting a single-leg. The Finn reversed and though Yahya threatened mightily with a kneebar from several positions, Niinimaki rolled with it and managed to get things back to the feet. He immediately got his own takedown and passed to side control, his elbows from top position marking the primary difference in the fighters’ ground styles.
Again Yahya came forward with short punches in bunches, and after a brief struggle against the links, again the action hit the mat. Yahya tried for a guillotine, but the Finn somersaulted out of danger and landed in side control. He held position and threw more elbows for most of the round, until referee Kim Winslow stood up the action with 75 seconds left. Niinimaki immediately launched a kick that pushed Yahya back and went for a single leg. Yahya defended with a guillotine on the fence and then pulled guard, but Niinimaki managed to escape before the bell.
Niinimaki wasted no time getting a takedown in the third, then stayed heavy on top with short punches and knees to the body. This referee standup came with three minutes left, and though Niinimaki soon got another takedown, this time it was Yahya who rolled over top, threatening a guillotine and then paying back some elbows of his own.
Judges’ scores for Niinimaki were 29-28, 30-27 and 28-29. The 31-year-old from Finland improves to 21-5-1 overall; Yahya slips to 19-8.
Jared Rosholt vs. Walt Harris
Heavyweights Jared “The Big Show” Rosholt and Walt “The Big Ticket” Harris made big impressions in their UFC debuts, with Rosholt weathering Harris’ power early en route to a unanimous 29-28 win.
The six-foot-five Harris staked out the center of the cage for the entire first round, as Rosholt lobbed low kicks to try and figure out a way to get inside. The action was measured, but when it did finally emerge, it exploded, with a furious exchange in which knockout artist Harris dropped Rosholt twice, once with each hand, only to have the wrestler bounce back up. For the rest of the round, Rosholt was cautious but not timid, as southpaw Harris picked his shots, landing a left multiple times but also throwing himself off balance on misses.
Roles reversed in the second, with Rosholt being the aggressor and Harris content to counter. Once Harris visibly showed, Rosholt finally shot for a takedown, but Harris easily defended. Both men looked more tired, pawing at one another with their jab hands when not firing shots. Rosholt connected far more often – and also used knees to – but Harris’ left still had ammo.
After some more of the same, Rosholt got his dramatic single-leg takedown early in the third. He settled into half-guard, threw enough ground-and-pound and sub attempts to stay busy, and wore out the clock.
“I knew I’d come back and win after that first round,” said Rosholt. “He got me just good enough that I blacked out for a split second but came to and popped to my feet. A lot of people might not realize but I love to stand and throw.” Rosholt, an NCAA Div. 1 standout from Oklahoma State, is now 9-1, with six finishes in fights prior. Harris finds his five-fight winning streak snapped as his record slips to 6-2.
Sean Spencer vs. Drew Dober
In the night’s first televised prelim, welterweight Sean Spencer shut down Drew Dober over three increasingly lopsided rounds.
Spencer’s five-inch reach advantage paid off right away, as southpaw Dober ate multiple right hands from the mixed martial artist formerly known as “Black Magic.” In addition to winning the stand-up exchanges – most dramatically with a high kick that landed loudly in Dober’s armpit -- Spencer also stuffed all three of the kickboxer’s takedown attempts.
Round two was more of the same; Dober ever coming forward with shots and takedown attempts, but Spencer shucking him off. Spencer rocked Dober with a right hand, and pointed impressively with a full arsenal including elbows, a body kick, head hick and a left hook.
Dober finally started to find his range with his left hand in the third round, but Spencer still struck back, frustrating Dober into more takedown attempts. As Dober’s head movement started to wane, he left himself open to even more attacks from Spencer, whose foot movement remained sharp. Dober emerged from a tie-up on the fence with two black eyes and a bloodied face. Spencer answered that sight with a flying knee, elbows from the clinch and more pressure that Dober only survived through sheer will. As the horn mercifully sounded, both men raised their arms, though the fight was clearly Spencer’s.
All three judges gave it to Spencer 30-27, who improves to 11-2. “I threw everything I had at him and he didn’t go down,” he said. “I knew he was a good wrestler but I had been training for a black belt in jiu-jitsu; I felt prepared.” Dober – who tried out for TUF Live as a lightweight but took the UFC’s call for a welterweight gig when Sergio Moraes was injured earlier in the month – falls to 14-5.
Josh Sampo vs. Ryan Benoit
Flyweight debutant Josh Sampo picked apart fellow newcomer Ryan “Babyface” Benoit before submitting him in the second round in the Finale’s web prelim.
Both men landed some hard shots in the opening seconds, but a crisp right from Sampo wobbled his opponent enough to let him get the takedown. From there, it was an entertaining scramble with both men earning points until Benoit used an omoplata to try and take Sampo’s back, tangling them up in a standstill on the ground that required a referee standup. Despite his two-inch reach disadvantage, Sampo found his range with far more success than the power-punching Benoit, whose face was bloodied by round’s end.
Early in the second, Sampo surged with a takedown and immediately passed to half guard, stepped over Benoit’s head and triangle his head while cranking a kimura with his arms. But Benoit again escaped and worked for a rear-naked. But Sampo reversed and threatened with a variety of submissions and strikes from top position, before explosively taking Benoit’s back and securing a tight rear-naked at 4:31.
The Missouri-based Sampo didn’t make weight for the fight, which was added to the card only 11 days ago. “The Gremlin’s” victory moves his record to 11-2, with all wins coming by submission. Benoit, who said he hurt his hand early, drops to 7-3.