Though I think the UFC is doing the right thing by keeping the TUF fights off of the main card, I was kind of hoping that they would have the finals on the main card so I wouldn’t have to do much homework on them. That sounds harsh to say, but I’m not impressed by the quality in this class, and have discovered that the fights in TUF tournaments aren’t all that telling due to the extenuating circumstances of their living conditions (being stuck in a house with your opponents, cutting weight multiple times in a short time period).
Aside from that, there are a few fights that offer some potential fireworks, as Erik Perez makes his return from a long layoff due to injury, while Andre Fili and Valmir Lazaro don’t seem to know how to be in a boring fight (although Lazaro is sure to be tested in that with his opponent). Even with that said, I’m not going to pretend there isn’t a steep decline in quality of fights between what the main card has to offer and what is found here.
Erik Perez vs. Taylor Lapilus (Bantamweight)
What’s at Stake: This is a squash match. Perez hasn’t fought for 17 months and the UFC wants to get him on the right track against youngster Lapilus.
The Fighters: Perez was once the UFC’s greatest hope to establish a connection in Mexico (aside from Cain Velasquez of course), but injury problems have severely limited his formerly rising star. His exciting style makes it easy to see why the UFC bet on him. An exciting striker with a preference for standing in the pocket and trading punches, his solid chin and movement have allowed him to do so without paying the price… yet. Aside from his sound boxing, Perez likes to throw flashy strikes as well such as a high amount of flying knees. He has become efficient in his takedown attempts as he has been trying to mix in more wrestling into his arsenal. What he does need work on is his top control as he struggles to keep his opponent on the ground once he gets him there.
Lapilus is even younger than Perez at 23, and it is a bit of a surprise that he received the chance to fight Perez as he is still a very raw prospect. Coming out of France were ground strikes were illegal, Lapilus is an outstanding athlete with an excellent striking base, where he has continually improved his arsenal in addition to putting together excellent combinations. Lapilus has also been working on his weaknesses too, improving his takedown defense and clinch work to the point that they are now acceptable. Then again, he hasn’t faced much of a wrestler or grappler yet. Despite his reputation as a striker, only one of Lapilus’ ten wins came from strikes while six were via submission. Successfully applying submissions in the UFC as opposed to the French regional scene is a completely different story.
The Expectation: Lapilus isn’t a blue-chipper by any means, though I like what I’ve seen out of him thus far. But this is biting off far more than he can chew. Unless Perez’s injury woes have turned him into a shell of himself, this will be an easy win for Perez in his home country. Perez via TKO in the first round
Hector Urbina vs. Bartosz Fabinski (Welterweight)
What’s at Stake: While their jobs should be safe even with a loss, there is little at stake in this bout as both hover near the bottom of the division.
The Fighters: If I were to tell you that Urbina has been able to carve out a solid career on the basis of being a tough SOB, what would you think of his actual skill set? If you were to say that it’s lacking, you’d be right. Urbina has a little bit of everything in his arsenal, but you’d be hard-pressed to find him owning a massive advantage in any one category over any fighter in the UFC’s welterweight division. Being aware of his own limitations, Urbina has developed into more of a brawler than anything else as his sturdy chin more often than not will keep him in the fight. His wrestling and grappling is just good enough to keep him alive against most opponents, though he is an opportunistic choke artist… meaning he has a sound arsenal of chokes.
Fabinski is the type of fighter that the UFC looks to cut loose as soon as they can. I don’t mean he sucks, I just mean that he is a boring fighter to watch; a grinder extraordinaire. Having made his debut at middleweight, he easily manhandled a larger Garreth McLellan as he stayed right up in his face, clinching up, and getting underneath his hips for a number of double-leg takedowns. If he offered any sort of submission threat or some serious power in his GNP, than he might offer a bit more value to the UFC. Sorry, but a positionally sound grappler who hopes to outlast his opponent with a deeper gas tank doesn’t sell. Most of his striking offense comes in the clinch as he offers almost nothing from a distance. He has a solid chin too which he needs if forced to trade outside as he doesn’t possess good movement.
The Expectation: Urbina doesn’t possess the wrestling to prevent Fabinski from instituting his grinding strategy, meaning we should all expect a boring affair to take place unless Urbina lands a punch out of nowhere. Don’t count on it. Fabinski via decision
Scott Jorgensen vs. Alejandro Perez (Bantamweight)
What’s at Stake: Jorgensen may finally be on his last legs, as the UFC looks to get TUF Latin America winner Perez back on track.
The Fighters: Jorgensen has somehow survived a 2-7 skid to remain employed in the world’s largest MMA organization when 99% of other fighters would have been cut long before. Discovering he didn’t have the quickness to compete with the speedy flyweights, Jorgensen has returned to bantamweight where he had challenged for the WEC title in 2010. Jorgensen has never been a great boxer, but his tough chin and occasional power has allowed him to stand in the pocket with most and do so efficiently when he remembered to mix in takedowns to keep his opposition guessing. The problem is that he has largely abandoned his wrestling base despite his two wins in that stretch featuring a heavy grappling/wrestling approach. Can he turn it around?
Perez is looking to turn things around as well, as he got steamrolled in his first fight after the TUF tournament by an unheralded Patrick Williams in 23 seconds. What is scary about Perez’s potential is that despite being only 26 years old, he has already been fighting professionally for 10 years. How much more can he improve after being around for so long? Perez is reasonably well-rounded with sound boxing (with a heavy kicking emphasis) and grappling, but will rarely possess a significant advantage against UFC caliber competition in either field. What he struggles with most is stopping takedowns. When that is apparent on the Mexican regional scene, it should tell you something about how big of a hole that truly is for him.
The Expectation: Perez’s experience more than his potential or talent got him the TUF tournament victory. He has the look of a UFC washout. If Jorgensen forgets his wrestling roots again, Perez stands a chance, but don’t expect that. Jorgensen via decision
Gabriel Benitez vs. Andre Fili (Featherweight)
Whats at Stake: An overachieving prospect in Benitez meets an underachieving prospect in Fili, with Fili in danger of losing his job.
The Fighters: Maybe it is inaccurate for me to call Benitez a prospect; he’s an experienced 27-year-old with a fairly low ceiling. If he keeps performing like he has though he might force pundits to take a second look at him. Benitez isn’t an exceptional athlete, isn’t a great striker, or a submission wiz. But he is a more than competent boxer with power in his left hand and an extremely aggressive looking for submissions to the point that it feels like an inevitability that one of them will stick. What gets him in trouble is common for most fighters of Mexican descent: horrible takedown defense and wrestling in general. His aggressive submissions help counter once he hits the ground, but that does little to prevent going to the ground.
Fili had a debut to remember against Jeremy Larsen, but has been less than impressive since then despite flashes of what excited everyone about him in every bout. His fight IQ has been coming into question, and he looks to prove he is well-rounded, taking the fight to the ground when he has a clear advantage on the feet. Fili also has a tendency to rely on his tough chin as there is little head movement or thought for defense when he stands and trades. Fortunately for him his aggression usually leads him to hit his opponent before they hit him, but that is usually a poor strategy to employ. If he can correct these flaws, Fili’s athleticism, power, takedowns, and submissions in transition will have him fighting ranked opponents in no time.
The Expectation: The UFC wants to get Fili on track and is giving him a favorable fight here. Fili’s Achilles heel is stopping takedowns… something Benitez rarely looks to do. Look for Fili to get a finish before the full 15 pass. Fili via TKO in the second round
Valmir Lazaro vs. Michel Prazeres (Lightweight)
What’s at Stake: Both of these guys are likely to be trapped in the middle of the crowded lightweight division for their UFC career, but a win will offer hope for advancement.
The Fighters: If Lazaro were to fight with more discipline, he would probably be able to find greater success and make a run into the top of the division, as he is a talented striker with fantastic takedown defense. The problem is that he is more than content to stay in the pocket and trade shots with his opposition rather than try to avoid the punishment that might come his way. There is more to Lazaro than just trading in the pocket, as he puts together great combinations mixing in kicks with his punches efficiently. The kicks might be the best part of his arsenal, which shouldn’t be a surprise from a Nova Uniao product. Lazaro has shown a willingness to take the fight to the ground, but hasn’t shown much submission prowess or ability to keep the fight on the ground.
Prazeres is almost the polar opposite of Lazaro: limited ability on the feet with great positional abilities and some submission ability. You could call him a poor man’s Francisco Trinaldo (who himself is a poor man’s Gleison Tibau). Get the picture? Prazeres is more compact than either Trinaldo or Tibau with a similar boxing game dependent on looping punches with occasional pop. His size gives him less range, and he isn’t as competent a wrestler either. Prazeres does make up for his lack of wrestling with excellent body lock trips and throws and an extremely top heavy grappling game. He struggles to create submissions, but is more than capable to seize them when they present themselves.
The Expectation: This is a very closely contested fight that will be dependent upon who can instill their strategy. Lazaro’s takedown defense probably won’t be impenetrable against Prazeres, but it should prove effective enough for him to land enough volume to get the decision. Lazaro via decision
Vernon Ramos vs. Alvaro Herrera (Welterweight)
What’s at Stake: Early losers in the tournament get their cup of tea in the UFC with the loser to be sent packing.
The Fighters: Ramos certainly has the physical tools to become a UFC fixture, but at 23 with three professional fights under his belt (taking place in Panama and Argentina), he is incredibly raw. An aggressive striker who is constantly moving forward, Ramos uses a single strike approach whether it be with his punches or kicks, rarely if ever throwing in combination. Adequate at moving in and out of range to avoid being hit, his lack of head movement negates much of his foot movement. He has the natural explosion to be a takedown artist, but doesn’t use the best technique in his takedown attempts as he struggles to get under his opponent’s hips. Ramos’ aggression cost him the opportunity to win the tournament and it should be expected to cost him more yet.
Herrera doesn’t possess the same explosion of his opponent, but he does fight a much more disciplined style. That doesn’t mean he is necessarily the better fighter as his discipline has also resulted in timidity at times as well, even in his grappling as he’ll find himself in a position in which he isn’t sure how to advance and will do nothing in hopes of his opponent making a mistake when it is him who has the advantage. The same thing will happen when trading punches on the feet too. When he opens up he has some really good kicks with fight-ending potential, but he rarely opens up. As soon as Herrera realizes he is his own worst enemy, he’ll start to realize his potential.
The Expectation: Herrera has a pretty significant experience advantage that makes me reluctant to pick against him, but he is too content to let his opponent bring the fight to him. If he was a counter striker that might be okay, but that isn’t him. Ramos via decision
Cesar Arzamendia vs. Polo Reyes (Lightweight)
What’s at Stake: Like Ramos and Herrera, these lightweights already fell short in the tournament and are now fighting one another for a UFC job.
The Fighters: Arzamendia was the first pick at lightweight and for good reason. A talented striker with the ability to light things up from a distance or in the clinch, he was in control of his semifinal fight until giving up a takedown and letting things slip out of his grasp from there. In space he flicks a nice jab complemented with kicks to the all parts of the body. As he begins to find holes in oppositions defenses, his aggression picks up and he’ll move into the clinch with reckless punches and knees that lose technique while wearing himself out in the process. His wrestling is sub-par, but he does offer some solid submission skills off of his back to help make up for that. When he possesses the advantage on the ground, he looks to ground out his opponent before hunting for a sub.
Reyes’ style requires a bit of explanation, as he is a brawling counter puncher. See what I mean? Reyes will sit back and wait for his opponent to make the first move while sneaking in the occasional leg kick in the meantime. Once his opponent does engage, he’ll swing back and once Reyes connects, he moves forward swinging with reckless abandon while mixing in a steady supply of front kicks as well. What has allowed him to succeed (like many others in the UFC) is that his chin has proven to be solid. Like the other TUF Latin America cast members on the card, his wrestling is severely lacking as he relies on his usual size and strength advantage as he is a large 155 pounder. Unlike Azramendia, Reyes’ ceiling is limited by his age as he is already 31.
The Expectation: Reyes will have a good chance so long as he can draw Arzamndia into a firefight, which is a good possibility. Even then the odds of him winning are only about 50-50, so it is hard not to favor the younger and more athletic Azramendia. Azramendia via TKO in the second round
TUF FINALS BOUTS:
Erick Montano vs. Enrique Marin (Welterweight)
What’s at Stake: The TUF Latin America 2 welterweight championship will be decided… does anyone care?
The Fighters: The younger brother of UFC veteran Augusto Montano, Erick hasn’t found as much success as his brother largely due to his propensity to get caught in submissions thanks to his aggressive nature. Like his brother Augusto, Erick is a big dude at 170 who looks to use his size and strength to his advantage. While that isn’t necessarily a bad strategy, Erick tends to neglect technique in his grappling and wrestling which has led to his issues getting caught in submissions. His boxing is usually basic which isn’t a bad thing as he can throw with KO power if not accuracy. What does need help is his footwork as he tends to back himself into the cage in addition to putting himself into other perilous positions when he overextends himself or tries to do too much.
Marin isn’t the same type of athlete Montano is, is physically weaker, and will be at a huge disadvantage on the feet. When everything is added up that way it makes it sound as if he stands little to no chance against Montano, but Marin’s strength is exactly where Montano is weakest: submissions. He isn’t the most technically proficient BJJ artist by any means, but he is aggressive and dogged in his attempts to finish off his opponent. Though his striking consists of little more than a basic one-two combination, it is enough to help him get inside for a less than technical takedown, usually the result of a single-leg. Once on the ground he looks for the first opening he can find whether it be a limb or an opponent’s back. The question for him will be if he can get the takedown.
The Expectation: Marin has proven to be a durable and opportunistic fighter, but hasn’t exactly faced great competition in Spain. Montano is the better prospect with more experience against higher competition. As aggressive as he is in looking for the finish, I expect him to get it. Montano via TKO in the first round
Horacio Gutierrez vs. Enrique Barzola (Lightweight)
What’s at Stake: It’s another TUF lightweight final, a division the UFC’s featured time and time again throughout the series’ ten year history.
The Fighters: Gutierrez overcame some long odds by coming in as a smaller lightweight, in addition to dealing with an ankle injury in his first fight in the tournament. It is no surprise being an undersized lightweight that he was often bullied in the clinch, but he was able to overcome that with a solid striking repertoire. Relying mostly on great instinctual timing, Gutierrez has been able to overcome less than stellar technique, though he might be the best out of the cast members on the card. What has brought him success has been his surprising pop in his punches. Gutierrez eats a lot of shots in the process as he is content to stand in the middle of the cage as his opponent circles him making him yet another fighter from the show content to rely on his chin.
One of the top fighters out of Peru (though I admit that is a backhanded compliment), Barzola will look to push Gutierrez out of the center of the cage and take him to the ground as Barzola has shown more grappling and wrestling skills even though he still has work to do in both areas. With that said, he probably possessed the best wrestling on the show. Like Gutierrez, Barzola is small for lightweight, but possess more strength in his frame which will be favorable in getting Gutierrez to the ground. Not the most accurate striker, Barzola tends to throw a high volume of kicks from the outside to keep range before shooting for a takedown once he sees an opening he likes. He’ll be in trouble in a firefight as he tends to eat a lot of blows without landing many clean shots of his own.
The Expectation: I’m not exactly ecstatic about the long-term potential of either of these two, but someone has to win to be the next TUF champ. Both showed good chins, so I’ll favor the better grappler to control the fight for the TUF title. Barzola via decision