The best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport returns this weekend, as Demetrious Johnson takes on Ultimate Fighter season 24 winner Tim Elliott in the main event from Las Vegas.
Johnson will be inching closer towards history with a victory as he looks for his ninth consecutive successful title defense, which would put him just one win away from tying Anderson Silva's all-time record of 10.
Elliott will look to put a stop to the streak while making his return to action after a dominant run through this past season of The Ultimate Fighter. Elliott was known as an incredibly tough out during his previous run with the UFC, and now he knows he has the biggest opportunity of his career with a title fight against Johnson.
Also on the card, Ultimate Fighter coaches Joseph Benavidez and Henry Cejudo will do battle after a tumultuous season spent opposite each other on the reality show. Welterweights Jake Ellenberger and Jorge Masvidal are also scheduled to meet, with both fighters look to establish themselves in the top 15 with a win.
In today's fantasy preview, we'll examine some of the key fights on this card to see who comes out on top in some of these ultra competitive matchups and if there might be an upset brewing at The Ultimate Fighter Finale: A Tournament of Champions.
These are the fights that are just too close to call, but a few minor differences between favorite and underdog could lead one fighter to victory and the other to defeat.
Demetrious Johnson vs. Tim Elliott
Considering the streak he's on, it's nearly impossible to pick against Demetrious Johnson in any fight he takes at 125 pounds. There's a good reason why Johnson is considered the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport, and it goes beyond his long winning streak with multiple title defenses.
Johnson is quite possible the most versatile fighter on the UFC roster, with lightning quick hands, technical boxing, incredible wrestling, stifling submissions and conditioning that could carry him for an hour straight with no breaks. Johnson's ability to beat an opponent anywhere and everywhere is what has made him such a dominant champion because there's no way to predict exactly where he's going to attack next.
If unpredictability is Johnson's greatest weapon, then Elliott might be the perfect fighter to figure him out considering the UFC veteran rarely goes into any bout with a specific game plan. Of course, Elliott is a monster on the ground, where he almost always enjoys a size advantage over his opponents at flyweight while also employing a nasty submission arsenal that serves him well. Elliott is no slouch on the feet either, with long range and a lot of power behind his punches.
The key for Elliott is keeping Johnson in front of him and cutting off the cage. Johnson is so incredibly adept at moving around the cage that his opponents have an awfully hard time catching up to him at any given moment during a fight. If Elliott can trap Johnson in the clinch or force him to the ground, he's got a chance to do some damage to the flyweight champion. Add to that, Elliott's size advantage could come in huge if he's able to wrestle Johnson to the mat and stay on top for several minutes. It's not likely he'll drain Johnson's gas tank, but he can at least slow him down and that's the entire point.
Still, for all those factors combined, Johnson didn't get here by accident and he certainly hasn't shown many holes in his game since rising to the top of the flyweight division. Johnson will have his hands full considering Elliott is a veteran with real fight finishing power, but in the end, it's tough to see the title switching hands on Saturday night. Johnson just has more ways to win and he's got 25 minutes to do it. At some point during the fight, Elliott will make a mistake, Johnson will pounce on it and that's all she wrote.
Prediction: Demetrious Johnson by submission, Round 4
Joseph Benavidez vs. Henry Cejudo
The bad blood between former Ultimate Fighter coaches Joseph Benavidez and Henry Cejudo will finally come to a head when they meet at the finale on Saturday night.
Ever since the flyweight division was created in the UFC, Benavidez has been the second best fighter at 125 pounds, just behind champion Demetrious Johnson. Benavidez is the picture of consistency, with good striking on the feet, solid wrestling and a very creative submission attack that has caught more than a few fighters off guard in the past. Benavidez is the kind of fighter who will change up his offense at a moment's notice to make the necessary adjustments to keep his opponents guessing.
Meanwhile, Cejudo is still largely developing despite the fact that he just competed for the flyweight title one fight ago. Cejudo is a world-class wrestler, but that hasn't always been his go to weapon in the UFC. Cejudo has worked tirelessly on his kickboxing to complement his ground game to ensure that he's able to handle the opposition no matter where the fight lands. Ultimately, Cejudo's best weapon remains his ground game, but he might have some struggles keeping Benavidez on the mat for three rounds.
Benavidez's ability to mix things up while also landing with serious power could give Cejudo headaches early and often in this one. Benavidez clearly has more ways to win, but he has to be careful not to get stuck under Cejudo for very long if the former gold medalist looks to out wrestle him. Over three rounds, it's going to be tough to stave off Benavidez's offense and it's impossible to deny that right now he just has more weapons than Cejudo.
Prediction: Joseph Benavidez by unanimous decision
RELATED: By the Numbers | Elliott talks matchup with Johnson | Cejudo learned from loss to 'Mighty Mouse' | Preview The Ultimate Fighter Finale
Jake Ellenberger vs. Jorge Masvidal
Jake Ellenberger bounced back in a big way in his last fight, as he earned a knockout over Matt Brown, but now to stay on track he needs to get a win over ultra tough veteran Jorge Masvidal.
Since moving to welterweight, Masvidal has faced some ups and downs while suffering through a couple heartbreaking losses. Throughout his career, Masvidal has been involved in more than a few nail biters, and that's what makes him such an incredibly difficult matchup for anybody facing him in the Octagon. Masvidal won't typically overwhelm anybody with his striking or wrestling, but he does both well enough that he's rarely outclassed in either area.
Ellenberger comes from a grappling background, but in recent years he's largely abandoned his wrestling in favor of throwing knockout punches on the feet. Ellenberger has solid boxing, but his best weapon remains his fists, as he unleashes huge power from both hands. Ellenberger has the ability to stop anybody at 170 pounds if he connects flush with a punch but that also might be his undoing against someone like Masvidal.
Masvidal not only operates with great defense - stopping nearly 70 percent of his opponents' output - but he's also got a rock solid chin. When you combine that with Masvidal's ability to eke out rounds, the longer this fight goes, the more it favors him in a decision.
Prediction: Jorge Masvidal by unanimous decision
Kailin Curran has endured a rough start to her UFC career, going just 1-3 through her first four fights, so getting a win on Saturday night is paramount if she wants to continue competing in the Octagon. She faces off with former Ultimate Fighter season 23 competitor Jamie Moyle, who trains with the Syndicate MMA fight team in Las Vegas.
While Curran has suffered several losses in the UFC, she's shown flashes of brilliance in almost all of them. She went to war with Paige VanZant when they both debuted in the UFC and Curran was up on Alex Chambers after two rounds before losing by submission in the third. It seems like Curran has just always been her own worst enemy thanks to mistakes that have cost her time and time again.
Moyle will look to capitalize on those tendencies with a tenacious offensive attack that has crafted her into a very well rounded fighter in the strawweight division. Moyle is definitely going to be giving up some size to many of the competitors at 115 pounds as she stands just 5'1" tall, but she's got an innate ability to get inside on her opponents and do damage before circling away again. Moyle is also quite skilled on the ground and that could be an issue for Curran, who has struggled mightily with her submission defense in the UFC.
Still, Curran has the Octagon experience that should give her a slight edge over Moyle, who is making her debut. Add to that, Curran knows the stakes for this fight and she seems like the kind of fighter who could one day challenge for a spot in the top 15, but if she ever intends to get there, she has to beat Moyle on Saturday night.
Prediction: Kailin Curran by split decision
These are the fights that appear to be a little more one-sided, but remember that this is MMA, where anything can - and usually does - happen.
Former Ultimate Fighter winner Ryan Hall will make his return to action against two-time title challenger Gray Maynard in an interesting matchup at 145 pounds.
Hall made quite the impression through his run on the reality show, and now he enters the UFC with one of the best ground games in the entire sport. Hall is a master grappler with a submission arsenal that's only matched by fighters like Demian Maia or Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza - both of which are legitimate title contenders at the top of their respective divisions. Hall was definitely a little one dimensional in the early part of his career, but he's worked with coaches like Firas Zahabi at the Tristar gym to get his striking up to par. Hall will probably never be confused with featherweight strikers like Jose Aldo or Max Holloway, but he's getting good enough on the feet that he can survive until he drags the fight to the mat.
On the other side stands Maynard, who suffered through the worst stretch of his career before finally bouncing back with a big win in his featherweight debut against Fernando Bruno in July. This will be Maynard's second trip down to 145 pounds and he definitely has the weapons to give Hall trouble if he sticks to a certain game plan.
Maynard is a very strong wrestler with a good clinch game, so he could certainly pressure Hall against the cage and try to grind him out for a win. Maynard also possesses huge knockout power in his hands if he can connect with a big shot on the feet.
That being said, Hall only needs to find a way to get Maynard down on the ground early in the first before he can start attacking with submissions. Hall is an offensive machine when he's on the ground and it doesn't matter if he's on top or on the bottom. Maynard could end up spending the better part of 15 minutes just trying to survive on the ground and that won't look good when it comes time to render a decision.
Maynard has never been submitted as a professional but he did get tapped out by Nate Diaz on The Ultimate Fighter. Still, Maynard seems savvy enough to avoid the submissions but that might ultimately be all he can do against Hall on the ground - just survive.
Prediction: Ryan Hall by unanimous decision
Josh Stansbury vs. Devin Clark
Former Ultimate Fighter competitor Josh Stansbury will make his UFC debut this weekend against Devin Clark, who is looking for his first win in the Octagon after suffering a tough loss back in July against Alex Nicholson. For this fight, Clark is also moving up to 205 pounds after debuting at middleweight, and that could play a factor while going up against a strong light heavyweight prospect like Stansbury.
Stansbury has a lot of weapons to use in this fight, including a very slick submission game and fight changing power on the feet. Stansbury is a volume striker on the feet, where he lands over four significant strikes per minute with over 57 percent accuracy. Those numbers could come back to haunt Clark, who had a woeful time stopping Nicholson's striking attack in his first trip to the Octagon.
If Stansbury can establish his dominance early with a couple hard, stinging combinations, Clark could struggle to find his footing once again. Stansbury has finished most of his fights with submissions, but look for him to set it up with a versatile striking attack on the feet before going for the finish against Clark on the ground.
Prediction: Josh Stansbury by submission, Round 2
It's always tough to gamble on a fighter after a year and a half out of action, but Alexis Davis has earned that respect with her veteran experience as she gets back into the Octagon following the birth of her first child. Before making an exit in 2015, Davis was coming off an impressive submission victory over former Strikeforce champion Sarah Kaufman, which moved her to 4-1 in the UFC, with her only loss coming to Ronda Rousey.
Davis has one of the best submission arsenals in the women's division and she's also known for being one of the toughest competitors on the entire roster. Davis has suffered through some punishment being dished out by her opponents, but she's rarely ever counted out because she always seems to find a way to fight back.
McMann is a world-class wrestler who will probably look to either put Davis on her back or keep this fight standing to avoid her opponent's huge arsenal of submission attacks. McMann isn't exactly a prolific striker, whereas Davis has shown solid kickboxing throughout her career. Add to that, Davis will welcome any attempt McMann might make to take this to the ground because that's just entering her world. McMann has struggled in the past with top submission fighters, and Davis is definitely at the top of her game when it comes to out grappling opponents on the mat.
Prediction: Alexis Davis by submission, Round 2