The Ultimate Fighter: Season 8 Finale

I honestly don’t know if it’s because I’ve been paying such special attention to it while writing about this season, or what, but I feel like this is one of the best seasons of TUF to date. I don’t mean to say this to discredit the talent of seasons past (and the previous seasons have produced some serious talent), but the combination of talent and spectacle has produced a fantastically watchable show. Granted, there’s been a great deal more drama, and there’s no singular “star”, but I think that after Saturday’s finale, we might see a phenom rise from the house. This is what I expect out of the TUFfers in their last hurrah…

Rolando Delgado vs. John Polakowski – LW
Neither Roli nor John were particular favorites in the show, especially considering that Roli was only brought back to replace the injured Brian McLaughlin. While the validity of his Jiu-Jitsu credentials were frequently questioned, Roli did nothing to back up his claims, as he managed to lose both of his fights by decision. Nothing he did in either fight was found to be impressive. Weak striking and suspect BJJ were all that were displayed. It was a wonder he stayed on his feet through two round. And though very well liked in the house (and known as the guy who likes to hug), John did not prove to be much better. Though John actually won his fight to get in the house, he followed this up with a loss via decision to George Roop. The only thing I see going for John is that he trains under Chuck Liddell, so he may have some skills in his arsenal that we haven’t seen yet. Skill-wise, Polakowski has the advantage, and because of that I see him taking this fight. Polakowski via decision

Shane Nelson vs. George Roop — LW
While both are well versed in wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu and have fairly decent professional records, neither of their wins to get into the house were particularly impressive. And while Nelson lost his subsequent fight (an expected loss to Escudero), Roop racked up another win before his final loss to Nover (another expected loss). Though both are presumably healthy now (I would imagine Roop’s hand has healed since the season ended), Nelson’s Jiu-Jitsu seems to be somewhat more advanced and that will provide him with an advantage. Nelson via submission — R3

Kyle Kingsbury vs. Tom Lawlor — LHW
This should definitely prove to be an interesting fight, as both are upper echelon collegiate wrestlers. The question isn’t who is a better wrestler, but who has tricks in their bag other than wrestling? Both lost their initial fights in the house, and in both cases it seemed like their wrestling skills didn’t help. Both have pretty good striking, so I could see either trying to use that to turn the fight in their favor. But in the end, I think the fight will be won by old tricks. While Kingsbury and Lawlor are fairly evenly matched, I see Lawlor overpowering Kingsbury. Lawlor via submission — R2

Eliot Marshall vs. Jules Bruchez — LHW
Most people have probably been asking themselves “Who’s Jules Bruchez?” The 30 year-old from Louisiana has not received very much attention on the show, either fight-wise or drama-wise. He has probably had the least airtime of any fighter. This would probably be one of the reasons he is the serious underdog for this fight. As a black-belt in Karate, he could probably do well either on his feet or on the ground, but I think he’ll be overwhelmed by Marshall who’s been one of the coaches’ favorites since the beginning. Marshall, who’s been training in MMA since the age of six, is well versed in Jiu-Jitsu, which will definitely be his advantage over Bruchez. His ground game is fairly established, and his striking isn’t bad either. Regardless of where the fight goes, Marshall will likely be controlling it and will dominate Bruchez. Marshall via submission R2

Krzysztof Soszynski vs. Shane Primm — LHW
As one of the favorites in the house from day one, Soszynski is also the oldest, at 31, and has the most fights under his belt. Mostly known for his striking and animal-like aggression (due to his 30-second TKO win over Mike Stewart in Episode 1), he tried to stress that his ground game is no joke either, as he trains with Dan Henderson. Coming from a pro-wrestling/bodybuilding background, all underestimated his Jiu-Jitsu. He then proved himself when he quickly submitted Kingsbury in Episode 9. However, when a tested by a true Jiu-Jitsu expert, his flaws were exposed and he suffered a devastating loss. Primm, on the other hand, has proven that both his standup and ground game are quality. Though an avid boxer, he used his Jiu-Jitsu to win via quick submission to get into the house. Unfortunately, his Jiu-Jitsu was not as good as Marshall’s and he suffered the same fate as his first opponent. Knowing that his Jiu-Jitsu needed serious work, I am certain that Soszynski has been training hard since the season ended. Between this training and his already vicious standup, I just see Primm being walked through and beat down. Soszynski via TKO R2

Junie Browning vs. Dave Kaplan — LW
This will probably be the biggest train wreck of a fight, and that is probably why Dana White threw these two messes together. It seemed like this season could’ve just been called the Junie show. Unfortunately this was not due to his “unbelievable” fighting skills, but instead due to all the drama he created. The hotheaded, short-tempered lightweight from Kentucky has been training in combat sports since he was 4, but I’m not sure I saw the evidence of it in any of his fights. While claiming to be the best in the house from the start, with outstanding striking and Jiu-Jitsu, I found myself still waiting for proof at the end. His TKO win in Episode 1? Weak. Jose Aguilar lost that fight more than Junie won it. And the same could be said for his split decision win over Roli Delgado. Where was the striking? The Jiu-Jitsu? Nowhere to be found. Though not nearly as dramatic (but maybe as crazy), Kaplan was an early favorite to win the show in the Light Heavyweight division. A solid wrestler who’s trained all over the world, he now focuses on Muay Thai. As one of the stronger Light Heavyweights, his striking is definitely impressive. His ground game should not be counted out though, as evidenced by his early submission win over Fernando Bernstein. He could take this fight to the ground or keep it standing, and either way I think Kaplan will control it. Although Junie is the overwhelming favorite in this fight, they both have a lot to prove and I think Kaplan will take this more seriously and get the win. Kaplan via decision

And now the main card, the whole reason we watch the finale in the first place…

Light Heavyweight — Finale: Ryan Bader vs. Vinicius Magalhaes
Twenty-four year-old Bader, a two-time All-American wrestler, has definitely proven himself to be a worth adversary in the house. His wrestling skills have definitely been his advantage, particularly in his submission win over Kingsbury to get into the house, as well as his TKO win over Tom Lawlor. However, it was his total control of Marshall that propelled him into the finals. The question is, however, can his wrestling and standup hold up against the inhuman Jiu-Jitsu of Vinny Magalhaes. The Brazilian, who trains with Dan Henderson, demonstrated his Jiu-Jitsu skills in all his fights, winning two of three via lightning quick submissions. Not even in previous seasons have we seen a ground game that parallels that of Magalhaes. His transitions are slick and fast, his strength overpowering, and his submissions brutal. Even going up against a solid striker like Soszynski, Magalhaes managed to consistently get him on his back, and then submitted him. I have a feeling that no matter how hard Bader tries to keep this fight standing up, we will see Bader on his back in a choke or armbar. Magalhaes via submission R1

Lightweight — Finale: Phillipe Nover vs. Efrain Escudero
The world’s toughest nurse, Nover, has been training in MMA since he was nine and has earned a brown belt in BJJ. By the looks of his game in the cage, I am truly shocked he’s not a black belt. Since being on the show, “fainting Phillipe” has won every single fight via submission, even when he was the underdog against Kaplan. His ground game is no joke, however, neither is his standup. The 24 year-old can go toe to toe with a striker or take him to the ground and submit him. Either way, he dominates. Escudero, on the other hand, seems very one-dimensional. With a background in wrestling, he too won all of his fights on TUF via submission. But that seems like all he can do. When trying to go punch for punch with Junie, he seemed very ineffective. Yes, he can take a punch, but what good is that when you can’t do any damage with your own? Not to mention, I don’t think Escudero’s Jiu-Jitsu is quite at the level of Nover. Is Nover on level with Magalhaes? Of course not. But for a Lightweight, Nover has real power behind his punches and a truly solid ground game. I just don’t see Escudero having a chance. Nover via submission R2

Overall, I think this will be a great night of fights. Even the “consolation” fights seem to be some great match-ups. But in the end, I believe that Magalhaes and Nover will reign supreme and both become powerhouses in the UFC.