The TUF 22 Finale hits Las Vegas tonight, the second of three straight events this week from the UFC, and the main event is as good as it gets for a Fox Sports 1 card. Here’s what’s on tap for tonight’s six-fight main card.
Frankie Edgar vs. Chad Mendes (Featherweight): Two of the best featherweights on the planet not named Jose Aldo and Conor McGregor try to get themselves another title fight in the division in one hell of a matchup. Frankie Edgar, the UFC’s former Lightweight Champion, has been dominant in his last several fights. His boxing game is quite good, though he’s always left himself open to getting hit. Still, one of his great attributes is his chin, as been nigh impossible to put away throughout his long career. Where he truly excels is in his top wrestling and grappling game, where he’s able to put immense pressure on his opponents with position and ground and pound. He’s also got great instincts in his submission grappling game, and when there’s an opening he can take advantage.
That’s what’s so great about this particular matchup, as Mendes is an extremely similar fighter. Mendes has improved his striking game in a major way over the last several years, but his own stellar wrestling and top control game remain an elite asset. He’s used it more to keep fights standing as he’s gotten more and more comfortable on the feet, but as he showed against Conor McGregor it’s still a go to skill when necessary.
Because of how great both are in their offensive and defensive wrestling, this could be a striking-heavy affair. Mendes showed off how good his striking is against Jose Aldo in their rematch last year, knocking the champion down a couple times and forcing Aldo to step up his own game to score the win. Now, he’s coming off a TKO loss at the hands of McGregor, but Edgar’s not quite the proficient power striker McGregor’s shown himself to be.
This is just such a fantastic matchup and it’s hard to parse out exactly how it’s going to play out. Both have power to put the other out. Both have chins that have held up more often than they haven’t. Both are great in their respective top games. Both are hard to keep down. Both have some submission skill, though that may be the one area in which Edgar’s got a definitive edge. Whomever emerges from this fight with a win is going to be a deserving title challenger, and will be ready to put together another elite title fight against either Aldo or McGregor. Complete shot in the dark prediction? Edgar by decision.
Artem Lobov vs. Ryan Hall (TUF 22 Lightweight Final): This was supposed to be Lobov against Saul Rogers, but visa issues kept Rogers from entering the country for the event. This is as much a striker vs. grappler fight as you’re going to find, as both put forth very one-sided gameplans throughout their time on the show. Hall is very much focused on the grappling game, and utilized leg locks to great effect before Rogers ground him out to a majority decision. Lobov was beat by decision in the elimination round, but got brought back by Dana White before scoring three straight KOs to make it to the finals. The thing is, he’s sporting a career record of just over .500 at 11-10-1 with one no contest. He’s historically inconsistent, and I think he’s going to find himself susceptible to what Hall wants to do here. Hall by submission in the first round.
Edson Barboza vs. Tony Ferguson (Lightweight): Barboza’s in this fight as a replacement for Khabib Nurmagomedov, but makes for a more entertaining stylistic matchup here for Ferguson. The Brazilian has a completely aesthetically pleasing fighting style, employing numerous spinning attacks, brutal leg kicks, and heavy hands. He’s struggled to put his past few opponents away, and has been out-struck at times himself, but he’s almost always competitive. With that said, this matchup seems quite similar to what Barboza faced in one of his most decisive losses, which came against Donald Cerrone. Ferguson’s got a very good boxing game, but he also utilizes that to hurt opponents at times before he submits them on the ground. Ferguson’s overall game is just better than Barboza in 2015, and if his chin holds up, and he can avoid the killshot from Barboza, he’s going to hurt the Brazilian, get him to the ground, and finish him off. Ferguson by submission in the second round.
Joe Lauzon vs. Evan Dunham (Lightweight): This is another really good fight in the lightweight division. Dunham’s coming in off a surprisingly one-sided win over Ross Pearson, and he’s got the relentless wrestling game at his best to plant Lauzon on his back and out-work him on the ground. Of course, that’s a very dangerous game to play, because Lauzon’s got as dangerous a submission game as you’re going to find. He’s got a habit of fading after good first round work, but he’s remained competitive throughout his UFC run. His most recent win over Takanori Gomi was one of his best striking displays ever, and he’s a bit more well rounded than Dunham. This should be a competitive matchup, but I think Lauzon’s got the superior game, albeit slightly, and he may pull something off here. Lauzon by submission in the second round.
Tatsuya Kawajiri vs. Jason Knight (Featherweight): Knight makes his debut as a late replacement and puts an eight fight winning streak on the line against a longtime veteran in Kawajiri. The Japanese featherweight has been mostly stellar in the last several years, though he found himself on the wrong side of a decision to Clay Guida last year. Knight brings a very good submission game to the table, and he’s avenged the sole loss on his career, but as the 23-year-old unknown he’s obviously fought lesser competition coming in. Kawajiri’s a significant step up, especially on short notice. Knight could come in and make a splash, but I think it’s more likely he’s going to run into a wall here. Kawajiri by decision.
Julian Erosa vs. Marcin Wrzosek (Lightweight): A fight between two TUF semifinalists. Neither were all that impressive on The Ultimate Fighter, and both were felled on the show by fighters who themselves might not be all that great. Still, they enter with a combined 24-4 record, each having stopped most of their competition. Erosa’s striking leaves him open to getting hit a lot, but Wrzosek’s not a great striker himself. Erosa’s also got a bit of a better ground game, and I think that’ll be the difference. Erosa by submission in the second round.