With the newest season of The Ultimate Fighter winding down, the finale is just around the corner on July 7 from Las Vegas, with a main event featuring lightweight standout Michael Johnson taking on highly-rated newcomer Justin Gaethje.
Johnson has faced a laundry list of top opponents over the years but he'll definitely have his hands full when he steps into the Octagon next week.
As an undefeated lightweight, Gaethje brings a ton of hype into his debut, not to mention serious knockout power and a tendency to always put on exciting fights.
Also on the card, highly-touted lightweight prospect Marc Diakiese is back in action, as he takes on Drakkar Klose in a featured bout at 155 pounds, while light heavyweight sluggers Jared Cannonier and Steve Bosse look to throw down on the main card.
In today's fantasy preview, we'll examine these fights and several more to see who has the edge in the closest matchups as well as who might be primed to score an upset during The Ultimate Fighter: Redemption Finale.
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.
Michael Johnson vs. Justin Gaethje
Michael Johnson has taken on some of the best lightweights in the world since joining the UFC roster and he'll look to put that experience to good use while going up against a real stick of dynamite in newcomer Justin Gaethje.
Gaethje comes from a wrestling background, but he definitely loves to throw his hands while typically connecting with serious knockout power. Through his 17 professional fights, Gaethje has an incredible 88 percent finishing rate, with most of those coming by way of knockout. He hits like a truck, so Johnson has to be careful when getting into exchanges with him on the feet. If there's one knock on Gaethje's game, it's his tendency to get into brawls with his opponents and it can create some defensive liabilities.
Johnson will have to take advantage of those openings, which is definitely something he's capable of doing thanks to a long reach and accurate striking. Johnson produces good volume while standing and he'll definitely have a speed advantage, which will serve him well as he looks to hit Gaethje and then move out of the way before getting caught with return fire.
Gaethje rarely makes it a secret what he's doing, but the key for him in this fight is not only to get past the initial Octagon jitters, but also to cut off the cage and keep Johnson from moving around him too much. Gaethje is a monster if anybody stands in front of him, but Johnson has typically shown good footwork, so he's going to have to find a way to cut off those angles to close the distance. Gaethje absolutely has fight finishing power, so if he can pin Johnson against the fence and start unloading punches, he could get the knockout.
That being said, Johnson has the experience of facing the best of the best in the UFC and he has plenty of ways to win this fight as well, whether it's on the feet or on the ground. Add in his speed and quickness and Johnson should be able to avoid the big barrage from Gaethje while constantly popping him with punches from the outside to earn the win.
Prediction: Michael Johnson by unanimous decision
Jared Cannonier vs. Steve Bosse
Expect serious fireworks in this light heavyweight matchup between Jared Cannonier and Steve Bosse. One of the reasons this is such a hard fight to predict comes down to each fighter packing serious knockout power and the fact that it only takes one shot from either of them to bring an end to this contest.
Cannonier looked solid in his light heavyweight debut, and while he came up short in his last fight against Glover Teixeira, make no mistake that he's still a very tough out for anybody at 205 pounds. Cannonier lands with good volume and incredible accuracy at over 60 percent, while also possessing very solid defense while standing with his opponents. He'll definitely need to keep his hands up in this fight because Bosse is well known for slinging serious leather from the opening moments until the final horn sounds.
Bosse is a go big or go home kind of fighter who swings for the fences and always seems to look for the knockout. He has a ridiculous 83 percent finishing rate while landing nearly six significant strikes per minute, which is just further evidence of his striking prowess. Bosse will absolutely go head hunting in this fight, so Cannonier has to be careful not to get caught up in a slugfest or he'll risk an early knockout.
Assuming Cannonier can weather that storm, he's very proficient at accumulating his strikes while punishing an opponent round after round. Cannonier knows how to fight smart rather than reckless, and that should be a major factor in why he should walk away with a victory in this matchup.
Prediction: Jared Cannonier by TKO, Round 2
The middleweight matchup between Brad Tavares and Elias Theodorou might just be the toughest fight to pick on the entire card considering how evenly matched these two fighters are.
Tavares is primarily a striker who lands with solid accuracy at just under 42 percent while also using his range to keep opponents on the end of his punches. Tavares isn't known for having big knockout power, but he lands with good volume and also showcases solid defense.
As for Theodorou, he's similar with his striking skills, including an almost exact statistic when it comes to significant strikes landed per minute, with slightly lower accuracy on the feet. Where Theodorou throws a wrinkle into his game is when he looks to out wrestle his opponents, as he's currently averaging just under two takedowns per fight. Theodorou is a massive middleweight, so getting Tavares down and keeping him locked down on the mat could be a huge advantage for him as the fight wears on.
The key for Tavares is not getting stuck in those positions while trying to use his speed and footwork to stay on the outside. Theodorou will enjoy a slight one-inch reach advantage, but he'll more likely look to close the distance to either strike from the clinch or look for the takedown. Because Tavares is not as fearsome with his knockout power, it might allow Theodorou to take more chances swimming to the inside without worrying about retribution from a big counter punch.
If Theodorou can control this fight in the clinch along with his takedowns, he should be able to find a way to victory over three rounds.
Prediction: Elias Theodorou by unanimous 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.
Marc Diakiese vs. Drakkar Klose
Through his first three fights in the UFC, Marc Diakiese has quickly become must-see TV every time he steps into the Octagon.
A highly dynamic striker, Diakiese seems to create new ways to knock his opponents out while also showing off a very technical striking attack at the same time. Diakiese lands with 40 percent accuracy, but it's the angles he takes when striking with an opponent that seem nearly impossible to figure out. Diakiese also possesses a strong grappling game that he can turn to at any moment during the fight if he wants to switch things up.
Now Drakkar Klose is no slouch, and he actually has better accuracy and volume on the feet than Diakiese, but playing that game will be very dangerous in this fight. Klose has a lot of knockouts on his record, so there's a chance he might try to play with fire in this fight and chances are it's going to get him burned.
Diakiese seems like a fighter destined for the top 15 in the world and this could be another showcase as he looks for a knockout and a highlight reel finish to add to his resume.
Prediction: Marc Diakiese by knockout, Round 1
Angela Hill will look to get back in the win column when she faces fellow Ultimate Fighter alum Ashley Yoder in a strawweight showdown. Hill returned to the UFC earlier this year and put on an outstanding performance against Jessica Andrade although she came up short on the scorecards. Now Hill will look to use her dynamic striking attack to punish Yoder over three rounds.
Hill is definitely one of the most dangerous fighters on the feet at 115 pounds. Hill hits with speed, accuracy and great volume as well. Hill averages just under five significant strikes landed per minute with over 51 percent accuracy. Hill has also showcased great takedown defense, which will be a big weapon for her going against a grappler like Yoder.
Yoder's nickname is “SpiderMonkey” for good reason because with a long, lanky body she's very well suited to wrap up an opponent to look for submissions any time she takes a fight to the ground. Yoder is a very slick grappler who trains under recently retired title contender Dan Henderson, so she's got a pedigree built on the ground. The problem she might face is that Hill's takedown defense has gotten rather good in her past few fights, and if this fight doesn't hit the ground, Yoder could be in trouble.
That's why Hill is the pick here due to her fast, rapid-fire striking on the feet, as well as good takedown defense to stop Yoder from ever getting this one to the mat.
Prediction: Angela Hill by unanimous decision
Jessica Eye will look to rebound after four straight losses in the UFC when she takes on newcomer Aspen Ladd in this bantamweight matchup.
Now Eye's losses don't really tell the whole story because she's faced a long list of top contenders and former champions since joining the UFC roster, but there's no doubt that she needs an impressive performance in this fight. Eye is a very dangerous striker with extremely fast hands and good head movement defensively. Eye is at her best when she's an aggressive striker who looks to stalk her opponents around the Octagon with superior speed and footwork. The key for Eye in this fight is to hit quick, hit often and then get out of the way. Eye's biggest problem in recent fights has been her inability to avoid an opponent's counter strikes, so she has to be careful when exchanging punches with Ladd.
Now there's no doubt Ladd is a very solid prospect with a perfect 5-0 record, including a win over current UFC fighter Amanda Cooper. Ladd has shown ferocious finishing power as well, but she might have a harder time exhibiting that skill while going up against a veteran like Eye in this matchup. Combine that with a few jitters that Ladd might be feeling for her first fight in the UFC and this one seems to really favor Eye to win by decision.
With Eye's back against the wall, she'll look to impress with a volume striking performance to outgun Ladd over three rounds.
Prediction: Jessica Eye by unanimous decision
Gray Maynard was not happy after his last loss when the former title challenger fell in a less than spectacular outing against former Ultimate Fighter winner Ryan Hall. This time around, Maynard will face off with another tough opponent, as Team Alpha Male's Teruto Ishihara also looks to get back on track following a loss in his last fight to Artem Lobov.
Now on paper, Ishihara seems like a solid pick to be able to connect with a lot of punches while averaging just under five significant strikes per minute. Ishihara also lands with over 48 percent accuracy, so he's very active on the feet while not wasting many of the punches he's throwing. Ishihara will certainly look to use that striking attack against Maynard while searching for another knockout to add to his record.
Maynard certainly isn't the same fighter who engaged in a pair of epic battles with Frankie Edgar once upon a time, but he's still a very crafty veteran who knows his way around the Octagon. Maynard will enjoy a very slight reach advantage and he also possesses a very dominant wrestling game whenever he looks to take a fight to the mat. Given the frustration from his last fight, Maynard will certainly need to keep his emotions in check, but if he can switch from striking to wrestling while keeping Ishihara guessing round after round, he could pull off the upset in this one.
Maynard is a tough customer, so he'll need to avoid those big, wild exchanges with Ishihara, but if he can do that, there's a great chance he'll walk out with a unanimous decision win.
Prediction: Gray Maynard by unanimous decision