ULTIMATE FIGHTER FINALE PRIMER 7/7: Full preview of Friday’s Johnson vs. Gaethje headlined event on FS1

By Matthew Ecochard, MMATorch contributor

An interesting take of “The Ultimate Fighter” where the season was centered around redemption comes to a close. Headlining the card is Michael Johnson taking on promotional newcomer the undefeated World Series of Fighting lightweight champion Justin Gaethje. The finals of the tournament take place with Dhiego Lima taking on …… to finish their redemption story. A few undefeated fighters round out the main card with some veterans on the under card. The following are previews and predictions for the entirety of the card.

UFC Fight Pass Prelims (6 PM ET / 3 PM PT) 

(#5) Tecia Torres (8-1) vs. Juliana Lima (9-3) – Women’s Strawweight Bout

Ranked fighter Tecia Torres will look to get closer to a title shot with a win over the durable Juliana Lima. The only loss of Torres’ career was to the recently reinvented Rose Namajunas, but she has beaten Angela Magana, Angela Hill and Bec Rawlings of note in the UFC. Torres’ striking is high level as she has black belts in both karate and taekwondo. Juliana Lima has only struggled in the UFC against Joanna Jedrzejczyk before she was champion and Carla Esparza. She has never been finished, but she has been controlled in those two fights. The striking of Torres should allow her to keep the fight where she wants it en route to a decision victory.

Prediction: Tecia Torres via Unanimous Decision

Gray Maynard (12-6-1, 1NC) vs. Teruto Ishihara (10-3-2) – Featherweight Bout

Once former champion Gray Maynard has fallen far from grace. He was 10-0, 1NC, then preceded to go 2-6-1 in his next 9 fights. He gets a fighter that is a fairly winnable opponent in Teruto Ishihara on Friday night. Besides a loss to Artem Lobov, Ishihara has looked pretty strong with good striking and grappling since training with Team Alpha Male. Maynard has shown a suspect chin and as long as Ishihara keeps the fight standing he will find his chin and connect.

Prediction: Teruto Ishihara via KO Round 2

Fox Sports 1 Prelims (7 PM ET / 4 PM PT)

Jessica Eye (11-6, 1NC) vs. Aspen Ladd (5-0) – Women’s Bantamweight Bout

Undefeated young prospect Aspen Ladd is making her UFC debut against the company veteran Jessica Eye. I really wonder what has caused the UFC to keep Jessica Eye around as she has gone 1-5, 1NC in her time in the organization. Eye has never been knocked out so I don’t believe that Ladd will be the first to do that. Ladd’s striking is fun and she has some power in her punches and kicks. As long as Ladd doesn’t tie up in the clinch game too much with Eye she should be able to get the decision. Kickboxing distance will be the key to Ladd’s victory.

Prediction: Aspen Ladd via Unanimous Decision 

Ed Herman (24-12, 1NC) vs. CB Dollaway (16-9) – Light Heavyweight Bout

Ed Herman has alternated wins and loses since he rejoined the UFC in 2013 with his last two losses coming from knockouts. A black belt in BJJ, Herman has has the majority of his wins from submissions, but he does enjoy standing up and striking with his opponents. CB Dolloway is on a three fight skid and needs the win here otherwise he will likely be cut from the company. Wrestling has always been the background for Dolloway, but he seems to prefer striking in most of his fights, lately that has cost him against the likes of Lyoto Machida and Nate Marquardt. Over a full year off might do Dolloway some good with some recovery from his knockout losses, but he might also come back a little rusty. I trust that the wrestling of Dolloway might be the edge here and it helps him get a ground and pound finish in the later rounds.

Prediction: CB Dolloway via TKO Round 3

James Krause (23-8) vs. Tom Gallicchio (19-10) – Welterweight Bout

The two fighters who failed in the semi-finals go head to head. Tom Gallicchio has come up short twice now, but he does get fairly close to winning each time with his strong wrestling and relentless pace. If Gallicchio starts to run out of gas or gets stuffed on a takedown or reversed it just seems like he begins to doubt himself a little too much. James Krause is already under contract with the UFC but wanted to test himself in the house since last time he didn’t even get past the preliminary round. This time around Krause fared much better due to his technical striking and solid takedown defense. As long as Krause doesn’t look as gassed as he did when he faced off against Jesse Taylor after being taken down. Krause normally comes out to perform and his takedown defense normally holds up. Krause will pick Gallicchio apart on the feet.

Prediction: James Krause via TKO Round 2

Angela Hill (6-3) vs. Ashley Yoder (5-2) – Women’s Strawweight Bout

Two fighters who lost the last time out in the octagon will be taking each other on. Angela Hill is back for her second stint in the UFC after winning the Invicta FC belt. She came up short in her return bout against Jessica Andrade. Ashley Yoder lost her debut against Justine Kish, but she but up a decent fight and just needed to be more active. Angela Hill should be on another level here. Yoder loves the armbar, but Hill is too quick and is more than durable enough to survive any attempts. On the feet, Hill picks apart Yoder to a dominant win.

Prediction: Angela Hill via Unanimous Decision. 

Fox Sports 1 Main Card (9 PM ET / 6 PM ET)

Jordan Johnson (7-0) vs. Marcel Fortuna (9-1) – Light Heavyweight Bout

An awesome bit of matchmaking opens up the main card on Friday. Marcel Fortuna debuted on short notice against Anthony Hamilton in a heavyweight bout where he was a few dozen pounds undersized. Fortuna got his first ever knockout in that fight in the first round in amazing fashion. Normally Fortuna is better on the ground, but he showed off his striking skills on that night. Jordan Johnson would be wise to use his NCAA wrestling skills to grind out Fortuna, but he needs to be careful because he is no slouch on the ground. Johnson has yet to be solved, but Fortuna might be the man to break that mystique.

Prediction: Marcel Fortuna via Submission Round 2

Brad Tavares (14-4) vs. (#15) Elias Theodorou (14-1) – Middleweight Bout

Not just a pretty face, model Elias Theodorou is a great fighter, only losing once to Thiago Santos, but he has rebounded since with wins over Sam Alvey and Cezar Ferreira. Brad Tavares will likely be in for a rough night as he has recently showed holes in his game on his feet. Losing twice via knockout in two of his last four fights, Tavares shouldn’t have much to offer against the Muay Thai of Theodorou. Tavares could use his wrestling to stifle Theodorou, but his takedown defense is strong and he is good at controlling the pace.

Prediction: Elias Theodorou via TKO Round 2

Jared Cannonier (9-2) vs. Nick Roehrick (7-0) – Light Heavyweight Bout

Short notice newcomer Nick Roehrick is taking on a big challenge in Jared Cannonier. While Roehrick is undefeated he might in too deep here against Cannonier. Losing once at heavyweight and once at light heavyweight, Cannonier does have a win in each weight class too. A loss to Glover Teixeira at 205 lbs is nothing to be ashamed of and he should rebound nicely here. Cannonier is more of a finisher than Roehrick and I could see Cannonier getting the finish here, ruining the debut of Roehrick.

Prediction: Jared Cannonier via TKO Round 1

Marc Diakiese (12-0) vs. Drakkar Klose (6-0-1) – Lightweight Bout

A battle of two formidable strikers and proven finishes should be an exciting one. Marc Diakiese has finished half of his victories via knockout and in 2-0 in the UFC. A purple belt in BJJ, Diakiese definitely prefers the striking game and loves to use the pocket and break out with some hard overhand shots and hooks. Drakkar Klose has a very similar style but in his fight with Devin Powell he really used the clinch a lot. Both men have power, but I believe Diakiese to be the faster and more accurate man. Neither man has lost so it is hard to tell if they both have a great chin when hit with each others’ hardest shots.

Prediction: Mark Diakiese via Unanimous Decision

Dhiego Lima (12-5) vs.  Jesse Taylor (30-15) – Welterweight Bout

The finale of the UFC’s reality series is a strong welterweight bout. Dhiego Lima made it to the finals before, but was finished by TKO early on. His striking is strong, but his chin has been tested four times now and it doesn’t seem to hold up too well. During the season it looks like he has made improvements to his game and it is looking better for him. Jesse Taylor is the real redemption story of this season. Surprisingly he made his way to the semi-finals and finished James Krause in the third with an impressive guillotine choke. Taylor’s plan is to wrestle Lima to the floor and grind him out until he can get a finish. Lima’s takedown defense is not that great and I don’t see any way that Taylor doesn’t get the finish.

Prediction: Jesse Taylor via Submission Round 2

(#5) Michael Johnson (18-11) vs. Justin Gaethje (17-0) – Lightweight Main Event (5 Rounds)

This will be violent folks. If you have never seen footage of Justin Gaethje look him up on Youtube and be ready for a show. For his UFC debut, Gaethje is getting a prominent figure in Michael Johnson and if he can defeat him, he will be propelled into the top of the division and only one or two wins from a title shot. Michael Johnson is 1-3 in his last four, but before that had beaten Edson Barboza and his win in his 1-3 was domination against Dustin Poirier. This fight should be interesting and exciting for as long as it lasts, but someone is going to go to sleep in the main event.

Michael Johnson was a NCAA wrestler that has heavily favored his hands for the last few years. His takedown defense is pretty solid and has quick hands and some big power. Johnson has proven himself to be a hit-able target in most of his fights though and if he doesn’t use defense he will be destroyed by Gaethje. Johnson should go back to his wrestling to be safe and we don’t know what condition he is in after being absolutely destroyed by Khabib Nurmagomedov.

Justin Gaethje is undefeated with 14 of his 17 wins coming from knockout. Three of the 14 knockouts are via leg kicks and he throws in a slam and some elbows for good measure. Gaethje doesn’t stop coming forward and will eat a shot to land two more on someone. He depends on his chin to hold up while he lands blows on his opposition. Surprisingly Gaethje is a NCAA wrestler as well, same credentials as Johnson, but he chooses to almost exclusively stand and bang. This fight comes down to who lands more, who has the better chin and who hits harder. I could easily see either man going down, but neither man has been knocked out. Over the course of five rounds, I expect Gaethje to have more gas and get the finish.

Prediction: Justin Gaethje via TKO Round 4

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