The Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale Crystal Ball Predictions
NOV 29, 2013 2:07p ET
This weekend's Ultimate Fighter: Team Rousey vs. Team Tate finale marks the first of four events in five weeks to close out the 2013 fight calendar for the UFC.
While the line-up has undergone a couple changes, it still carries a handful of intriguing match-ups that should deliver.
Headlined by a third meeting between former Ultimate Fighter contestants (and lightweight title challengers) Gray Maynard and Nate Diaz, tonight's TUF 18 Finale will also be an historical affair, as for the first time, a female fighter will earn the distinction of being crowned The Ultimate Fighter.
It should be a fun night of fights - now let's try to predict some winners.
Gray Maynard (11-2-1) vs. Nate Diaz (16-9)
These two have split a pair of previous meetings - Diaz winning when they fought on Season 5 of The Ultimate Fighter, and Maynard getting the nod a little less than three years ago - and both are in dire need of a win in this one, as victories in the cage have been hard to come by for each as of late.
Everything about this fight comes down to which version of Maynard shows up on fight night - if he's the guy that sticks to a game plan built around his power and wrestling, he should emerge victorious, but if he gets caught up in the pitter-patter punching game Diaz will surely look to employ, all bets are off.
Bank on seeing the focused version of 'The Bully' in this one. The team at AKA will have him back to his fundamentals and looking to play to his strengths in the wrestling department here, rather than hunting right hands and trading with Diaz. Pacing himself will be critical as Diaz is tough to put away, but expect Maynard to grind out rounds early and often in this one.
Prediction: Gray Maynard by Unanimous Decision
Julianna Pena (4-2) vs. Jessica Rakoczy (1-2)
In this historic match-up between Team Tate's first pick and Team Rousey's last selection, it all comes down to who can implement their game plan to the fullest.
Rakoczy showed promise working her way to the finale with wins over Roxanne Modafferi and Raquel Pennington, but Pena should emerge victorious here. The 'Venezuelan Vixen' displayed a solid all-around skill set during her time in the house, and the kind of power and ability inside and on the ground that will limit Rakoczy's technical boxing.
Look for this one to be similar to Pena's semifinal match-up with Sarah Moras, where she closed the distance and dominated the action with her superior power. She's shown an ability to take a good shot, and should find a way to put Rakoczy on the mat, where she'll secure the finish.
Prediction: Julianna Pena by Submission, Round 2
Chris Holdsworth (4-0) vs. Davey Grant (8-1)
The men kind of took a backseat to the women this season, and the main story from their side of the competition ended up being Cody Bollinger and Anthony Gutierrez missing weight, but both Holdsworth and Grant were impressive in the cage, and deserving of their place in the finals.
With that said, Holdsworth has looked like a fighter destined to win this competition from Day One, and should be able to secure the Team Tate double here.
Holdsworth is the more technical and methodical of the two, and showed all season that he's able to find ways to implement his game plan and fight his fight. Grant seems to have more power, so look for the unbeaten Team Tate representative to work inside and turn this into a grappling match, eventually sinking in another submission to join the fraternity of Ultimate Fighter winners.
Prediction: Chris Holdsworth by Submission, Round 1
Jessamyn Duke (2-0) vs. Peggy Morgan (2-0)
These two Team Rousey representatives will kick off the main card in what feels like a showcase opportunity for Duke.
Morgan was quickly taken down and submitted in her quarterfinal fight by Sarah Moras, and while she was doing a good job of using her length early in that contest, she won't have the same advantage against the equally long Duke here.
Though she too came up short in her quarterfinal fight, Duke went toe-to-toe with Raquel Pennington in the best fight of the season, and has a pair of finishes to her credit thus far. She's been training with her Team Rousey coaches since taping wrapped, and has the potential to be a contender in the women's bantamweight division in the future.
Duke has shown more power than Morgan to date, and that will be the difference maker here.
Prediction: Jessamyn Duke by TKO, Round 2
Drew Dober (13-4) vs. Sean Spencer (10-2)
Dober is stepping up on two weeks notice to make his UFC debut up a weight class from where he usually competes. While the move to get your foot in the door and earn at least a second look from the UFC is admirable, it's a recipe for ending up on the wrong side of the results.
Spencer did the same in his debut, losing to Rafael 'Sapo' Natal, and has since rebounded with a victory over Yuri Villefort back down at welterweight, where this fight will be contested. He too is stepping up on short notice here, replacing Zak Cummings, but 'Black Magic' had a longer time to prepare and has already gotten his case of the Octagon jitters out of the way.
Prediction: Sean Spencer by Unanimous Decision
Rani Yahya (19-7) vs. Tom Niinimaki (20-5-1)
Debuting Finnish fighter Niinimaki has won 11 straight heading into this one, including victories over former UFC competitor Walel Watson and ex-WEC champ Chase Beebe in his last two, but he's facing a tough match-up for his maiden trip into the Octagon.
Yahya has won three straight and four of five in the UFC, and is the superior grappler of the two. While Niinimaki is good on the ground, Yahya is great - beyond great even - and has shown improved wrestling of late, which has helped make his ground game even more effective.
The Brazilian will show his elite grappling skills in this one, controlling Niinimaki on the canvas, searching for submissions, and generally getting the better of things on the mat from start to finish.
Prediction: Rani Yahya by Unanimous Decision
Akira Corassani (11-3) vs. Maximo Blanco (9-4-1)
Blanco was a bona fide star in Japan, but has yet to show any of the explosive punching power that made his arrival in North America something to pay attention to, and that was more than two years ago.
Meanwhile, Corassani has gone 2-0 since emerging from Season 14 of The Ultimate Fighter, and has shown refined technique and footwork in the cage since hooking up with Frankie Edgar and company.
As much as Blanco has the power to turn this fight with a single punch, look for Corassani to use his movement and more technical approach to stick-and-move his way to a third consecutive victory inside the Octagon.
Prediction: Akira Corassani by Unanimous Decision
Roxanne Modafferi (15-10) vs. Raquel Pennington (3-3)
As much as it's nice to see the veteran Modafferi get a chance to compete on the biggest stage in the sport, this is likely to end badly for her.
Pennington looked tremendous in her 'Fight of the Season' battle with Duke before laying an egg against Rakoczy in the semifinal round, but has the punching power and takedown defense to force Modafferi to fight on her terms.
'The Happy Warrior' has lost five straight heading into this one, and appears to be at the end of her pioneering career. Throughout this season we've seen veterans turned aside by younger, more talented fighters - including Modafferi once already - and there is a very strong likelihood we see the same again here.
Prediction: Raquel Pennington by TKO, Round 1
Ryan Benoit (7-2) vs. Joshua Sampo (10-2)
Benoit has shown some power on the regional circuit and is built like a fire hydrant, but Sampo is the more experienced of the two, both in terms of quality and quantity of fights. While there is certainly the potential for Benoit connecting on a big swing that ends things, Sampo should close the distance on the Muay Thai practitioner, bring it to the canvas, and grind out a victory.
Prediction: Joshua Sampo by Unanimous Decision
Jared Rosholt (8-1) vs. Walt Harris (4-1)
These two debuting heavyweights will kick off the action, and it shouldn't last too long, as they have a combined 10 finishes from their 12 career wins so far.
With neither fighter having faced much real competition on their way to the Octagon, the smart choice is siding with Rosholt, who has more time in the cage and solid collegiate wrestling pedigree.
They'll likely look to trade early, but if Rosholt is smart, he puts Harris on the canvas and works from top position, where he should be able to dominate and pound out a victory.
Prediction: Jared Rosholt by TKO, Round 1