Preview of the ‘TUF’ finale

On Saturday in Las Vegas, the UFC will finally crown a winner of the 10th season of The Ultimate Fighter as confident veteran Roy Nelson meets Rashad Evans’ prized pupil Brendan Schaub in the finals.

In other action, light heavyweights Jon Jones and Matt Hamill are set to clash, while Kimbo Slice looks to prove his critics wrong and regain some momentum when he battles knockout artist Houston Alexander.

Let’s break down the main card.

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Roy Nelson (13-4) vs. Brendan Schaub (4-0)

Nelson, a former IFL heavyweight champion and this season’s most experienced cast member, is eager to be accepted by the UFC brass once and for all. A Brazilian jiujitsu black belt under Renzo Gracie, Nelson is the real deal on the ground.

Nicknamed “Big Country,” Nelson has the belly of a bar brawler and the technique of a BJJ ace, which has proven to be a dangerous combination in his victories over Schaub’s teammate James McSweeney, Justin Wren and fan favorite Kimbo Slice. Nelson has been subject to criticism throughout his stint on the show, yet he’s confident he did what he had to do to make it to the finals injury free. In his most recent win, Nelson finally got some words of motivation from his biggest critic, UFC President Dana White.

“Good job, Roy. You finally impressed me,” said White after Nelson’s victory over McSweeney in the semfinals.

With 17 pro fights under his belt and career victories over Brad Imes, Antoine Jaoude, Mario Rinaldi and Bo Cantrell, Nelson came into the “TUF” house with the mind-set that he was already an established mixed martial artist. Nelson felt he was above taking advice from Rashad Evans and training with the rest of the team even if he carried some extra baggage with him into the octagon. After all, Nelson had more pro fights than his coach and didn’t intend on being treated the same way as everyone else. His career defeats came against Jeff Monson, Andrei Arlovski, Ben Rothwell and Josh Curran. Given the fact that he’s fought former world champions, Nelson was not wrong to believe he was the most seasoned fighter on the show.

However, Schaub is unbeaten in his MMA campaign and could shut down Nelson’s aspirations to compete in the UFC. Schaub, a member of Team Jackson’s MMA in New Mexico, is Evans’ training partner. The former NFL prospect was touted as a favorite to win the six-figure contract from the get-go and he lived up to the hype by trouncing Demico Rogers, Jon Madsen and Marcus Jones to reach this stge.

Schaub has punching power and a decent ground game, which could make for a more difficult fight for Nelson. However, Nelson is too big, too seasoned and too dangerous on the ground.

Jon Jones (9-0) vs. Matt Hamill (6-2)

One of the light heavyweight division’s most promising prospects, Jones could inch his way closer to cracking the top-10 with a victory over Hamill, a freestyle wrestling gold medalist.

Jones is undefeated and has five wins by knockout. He’s coming off victories over Jake O’Brien and Stephan Bonnar and has stepped up his training by working with Tristar Gym in Montreal and Jackson’s MMA in New Mexico, the two camps that transformed Georges St-Pierre into a pound-for-pound fighting machine.

Jones’ unconventional style, punishing power and jaw-dropping throws are a threat to any 205-pounder who stands across from him in the octagon.

Hamill, meanwhile, is a pure wrestler who proved he had standup skills to be reckoned with after his highlight-reel head kick knockout of Mark Munoz.

Although Hamill is a solid fighter, he is likely to assume a gatekeeper role in the UFC. Expect Jones to steamroll through him with the same glimpses of greatness he displayed in his previous victories.

Kimbo Slice (3-1) vs. Houston Alexander (9-4)

In what promises to be a thrilling slugfest, Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson will face one of the sternest tests of his career when he takes on the returning UFC veteran Alexander in a 215-pound catchweight bout.

Coming from a streetfighting background, Slice had the most to prove when he stepped foot in “The Ultimate Fighter” house. Following an abysmal stint on the show, which included him turning down a potential fight against James McSweeney, he may now have more to prove than ever before.

Slice was heavily marketed by EliteXC as the ultimate streetfighter-turned-MMA fighter. After beating pro boxer Ray Mercer in his amateur MMA debut, Slice went on to vanquish Bo Cantrell, Tank Abbott and James Thompson before an upset TKO loss against Seth Petruzelli, a loss that legitimately led to the promotion’s demise.

His defeat at the hands of Roy Nelson on “TUF” came as no surprise to MMA pundits given Nelson’s legitimate mixed martial arts background and substantial edge in experience.

However, Slice definitely lost the respect of many people, including UFC President Dana White, when he turned down the fight against McSweeney. He must now redeem himself and prove he can hang in the UFC, even as a gatekeeper.

Alexander is a perfect opponent for Slice’s debut. His ground game has a ton of holes, similar to Slice, and he will likely stand and bang with the Bahamian brawler. Alexander is coming off a first-round stoppage of Sherman Pendergarst at Adrenaline MMA 4 after losing three consecutive fights in the UFC. Alexander showed promise in the octagon when he knocked out both Keith Jardine and Alessio Sakara in a total of less than two minutes, but he went on to drop fights against Thiago Silva, James Irvin and Eric Schafer.

To Slice’s credit, he set out to improve after the show finished taping and began training at American Top Team, one of the world’s premier MMA academies. Under the tutelage of Ricardo Liborio and top fighters like Thiago Alves, Antonio Silva, Thiago Silva and Wilson Gouveia, Slice has apparently bettered his ground game and improved on his boxing base.

Essentially, this battle could go either way and it’s fair to assume it will end with a first-round knockout.

Frankie Edgar (10-1) vs. Matt Veach (11-0)

In a lightweight battle, the highly ranked Edgar takes on Veach, an unbeaten prospect with only one UFC fight under his belt.

Edgar, a BJJ purple belt, standout wrestler and capable boxer, has beaten a who’s who of the UFC’s top lightweights. With only one loss, a unanimous decision setback versus Gray Maynard in April 2008, Edgar is coming off back-to-back wins over Sean Sherk and Hermes Franca.

Veach, a junior college All-American wrestler, trains at the HIT Squad in Illinois under Matt Hughes and Robbie Lawler. As such, his strength is wrestling, but he also excels on the ground having won six of his 11 fights by submission.

Veach will not be able to outwrestle Edgar, who trains with the likes of Mark Henry, Ricardo Almeida and Steve Rivera.

Edgar should dominate this fight standing and control the tempo before eventually dispatching his foe in the third round.

Marcus Jones (4-1) vs. Matt Mitrione (0-0)

In the last of five main card bouts, Jones, a former NFL defensive end and a slick submission stylist, looks to exact revenge on behalf of Scott Junk when he battles Mitrione in a grudge match.

The lovable 6-foot-6 giant nicknamed “Big Baby” impressively defeated Mike Wessel and Darrill Schoonover on the show before succumbing to the power and resilience of Brendan Schaub in the semifinals.

Mitrione displayed great power in his win over Junk before losing via submission against James McSweeney in the quarterfinals.

A member of the Integrated Fighting Academy alongside Chris Lytle, Mitrione looked susceptible to submissions in his loss to McSweeney, which will make him easy pickings for Jones.