Anyone else get a kick out of the fights on Fight Pass last night? I sure as hell did! The Ultimate Fighter 22 Finale card actually offers less quality when you eliminate the main event and what should be the co-main event, which should give a good idea of the quality of the preliminaries. To be fair, injuries new and old have affected the quality of some of these fights, while there is always going to be a drop in the quality of any TUF event anymore due to the seemingly mandatory tryout fights. Perhaps someday the UFC will finally realize that The Ultimate Fighter is no longer a notable achievement, but it doesn’t seem like it…
Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Konstantin Erokhin (Heavyweight)
What’s at Stake: Gonzaga has been around the UFC seemingly forever while Erokhin only joined this year… but both need a win to remain under employment.
The Fighters: Gonzaga seemed revitalized upon his UFC return, winning four of five and earning a co-main spot on a big FOX card. He has since lost three straight. Still a dangerous opponent despite his skid, Gonzaga controlled Mirko Cro Cop for the majority of the time in his last fight before letting the veteran legend come back. With a steady list of KO’s on his ledger, many often forget that Gonzaga’s base comes from his accomplished BJJ submission game, making him one of the most talented grapplers at heavyweight. His wrestling isn’t quite up to the quality of his BJJ, but it isn’t a weakness either. As already implied, he has a lot of power in his fists and kicks. Now if only he could avoid leaving himself wide open for a return shot…
Erokhin arrived in the UFC with a good amount of fanfare, as he had KOd all but one of his opponents in the first round of his wins. He damn near finished Viktor Pesta too, but Pesta survived the onslaught to reveal that Erokhin has little to offer if his opposition can get past his first wave of attack; his shallow gas tank made him an easy target to take down afterwards. He has had nearly a year to work on his gas tank. Perhaps it should be noted that Erokhin had been fighting professionally in MMA for less than three years upon his UFC debut, so improvement seems highly likely. His sprawl is actually effective when fresh as he knows he needs to be on the feet to land his stupidly strong looping punches. Those are about the only things going for him, but it is good enough it should win him some high level fights.
The Expectation: No matter who wins, don’t expect this one to go to decision as the have one decision victory between them. While I admit Erokhin’s chin hasn’t faced the same tests that Gonzaga’s chin has, Gonzaga has failed that test multiple times. That combined with his poor striking defense lead me to believe Erokhin should end this quickly. Erokhin via KO in the first round
Ryan LaFlare vs. Mike Pierce (Welterweight)
What’s at Stake: There is one glaring difference between these fighters that look a lot alike stylistically… Pierce hasn’t fought in over two years. A spot in the rankings could be on the line.
The Fighters: LaFlare’s loss to Demian Maia exemplified the problem of being a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none. LaFlare is a competent grappler, but he was dominated by Maia for four rounds before the Brazilian grappling ace gassed. Will he have that problem against Pierce? Doubtful. LaFlare respected Maia’s grappling too much to initiate what is truly his biggest strength in wrestling. He had hit at least four takedowns in every one of his UFC fights before the Maia fight. How many against Maia? Zero. He knows a number of ways to get his opponent to the ground, but isn’t the heaviest fighter from the top, often allowing his opponent back to their feet. LaFlare’s standup lacks dynamism, but he pushes the pace for a high output both at distance and in the clinch, gaining steam as the match progresses.
The last time Pierce was seen in the cage, he was tapping in agony to a heel hook held long enough to do serious damage to his knee. Do you need to ask who was applying it? I have a hard time feeling bad for Rousimar Palhares suspension when he took two years of Pierce’s career. Now the 35-year old Pierce is a huge mystery as he makes his return as it is unknown if he can return to his previous form. A compact bowling ball with a hell of a wrestling attack, Pierce also possessed underrated submissions while proving difficult to submit himself. Like LaFlare, he wasn’t a dynamic striker, but he did improve throughout his UFC tenure largely relying on a countering style with occasional power and sound cardio. Is he that same fighter? We’re about to find out.
The Expectation: If I knew Pierce is the same fighter that he was heading into the Palhares bout over two years ago, I’d pick him with little hesitation due to his better takedown defense and power in his fists, though it would be close. Now? I can’t trust a dude coming off of a two year layoff that is now in his mid-thirties. LaFlare via decision
Joby Sanchez vs. Geane Herrera (Flyweight)
What’s at Stake: While neither are true blue-chippers, Sanchez and Herrera are both prospects who could make noise if groomed correctly, as Herrera replaces Justin Scoggins on short notice.
The Fighters: There won’t be an inch of the cage that Sanchez won’t have occupied if this fight goes 15 minutes, as he is extremely active on his feet, moving side to side and in and out looking for openings. Unfortunately a lot of the footwork is for show at this point as he still gets tagged more than you would think someone who travels the distance he does. Pumping a jab with regularity to judge range and distance, Sanchez’s style isn’t designed for him to be an accurate puncher as he throws with great volume. He’ll put an opponent out if he lands his big overhand right which he’ll disguise with his jab. Sanchez struggled against wrestler/grappler Wilson Reis in his UFC debut as he relied more on his athleticism than his technique to stuff takedowns. Bank on him having improved in that area.
Herrera will be hoping he hasn’t, as the submission game has been his bread and butter. Though he didn’t win his UFC debut, Herrera showed he is well-versed in submission defense to compliment his own aggressive submission style, which should give him the edge on the mat. What has been troublesome for him has been his wrestling, or perhaps I should say lack of it. While I admit Ray Borg is a fantastic wrestler, Herrera offered no resistance whenever Borg looked to go the ground. On his feet, Herrera possesses a wicked Thai clinch where he can devastate opponents with knees and can also initiate his judo trips from there. He has potential from a distance, but needs to pick up the volume and improve his boxing angles.
The Expectation: This is a very close fight, but for some reason very few are picking Herrera. Maybe it is because Sanchez has the more recognizable name out of the Jackson-Winkeljohn camp. Whatever it is, Herrera is getting overlooked while presenting a completely different look than what Sanchez’s original opponent presented. Herrera via submission in the second round
Chris Gruetzemacher vs. Abner Lloveras (Lightweight)
What’s at Stake: This is your seemingly mandatory tryout for TUF participants to open up the Fight Pass portion… except this isn’t Fight Pass this time. Loser doesn’t get another shot.
Fighters: Gruetzemacher got a pretty well-deserved reputation for being a boring fighter on the show, but you can’t blame a guy for sticking with what brought him to the dance. Gruetzemacher ended up having problems installing his grinding style against a much larger Artem Lobov, and could run into the same type of problems against Lloveras as Gruetemacher is a natural featherweight. If able to implement the strategy, Gruetzemacher usually does a good job of staying busy with knees and elbows against the cage in addition to steady ground and pound if on the floor, though he doesn’t offer a lot of power behind the shots. A pretty basic boxing game is what he offers on the feet when he isn’t in the clinch and he has shown competent grappling as well.
Lloveras has been plying his craft for over a decade, making him one of Spain’s most experienced fighters. A former member of the Spanish National Team for boxing, Lloveras did better on the show than most anticipated thanks to his well-roundedness more than his boxing. Don’t get me wrong, Lloveras still has plenty of holes in his wrestling and grappling, but being larger than you opponents sure helps on most things. He did start to tire against Julian Erosa in the house, but I have a feeling a lot of it had to do with him performing a larger weight cut than most of the others as Lloveras Besides, I always take fights from the TUF tournament with a grain of salt.
The Expectation: I’m having a hard time caring much about this fight. It was announced late and I didn’t get to do as much research on it as I did the other fights, so beware of my analysis of this bout. Gruetzemacher is the younger fighter with a better training camp (MMA Lab). That is enough for me to go for him. Gruetzemacher via decision