THIS Saturday night sees the Mandalay Bay play host to the live season finale of The Ultimate Fighter. The show will go out live on FX as Team Sonnen fighters Uriah Hall and Kevin Gastelum square off in the Octagon to decide who will be this series‘ Ultimate Fighter. The prize up for grabs is a six figure UFC contract and a customized Harley Davidson.
The reality show has given opportunities for fighters to kick off their UFC careers and some of the previous TUF alumni include stars such as Josh Koscheck, Chris Leben, Stephan Bonner, Nate Diaz, Kenny Florian, Diego Sanchez, Roy Nelson and Michael Bisping to name a few. The biggest success stories in the history of TUF are it’s three former champions who went on to claim UFC gold. Matt Serra who won TUF 4 “The Comeback” went on to shock the world as he knocked out Georges St-Pierre to claim the UFC Welterweight Title. The original Ultimate Fighter Series 1 Light Heavyweight winner Forrest Griffin would later get his hands on the 205lbs belt after beating Quentin ‘Rampage’ Jackson via decision. Unfortunately for Griffin his reign would be short as he was knocked out by TUF Season 2 victor Rashad Evans (Evans won his TUF title at heavyweight before dropping down to 205lbs to compete).
In recent years the series has struggled to stay relevant and there has been many attempts to breathe new life into the show as critics and fans appeared to grow tired of the format. There was an attempt with the move to FX to change things up with TUF Live but it’s appearance on a Friday night may have cost it viewers and there were some difficulties that may have been unforeseen in other countries showing the show live. As Seasons went on, we were left with more action happening inside the house than in the octagon much to the frustration of UFC President Dana White. During Season 16 his frustration hit boiling point after one particular action less bout where he demanded more from the cast if they wanted to fight at the finale should they lose during the regular season (previously most TUF season cast members would fight on the season ending card). Previous seasons have relied on a particular contestant (as when Kimbo Slice appeared on TUF The Heavyweights) to drum up ratings. Others have relied on animosity between the coaches as has happened on a number of occasions in the past (whether it be Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock or Rashad Evans and Quentin Rampage Jackson just to name two).
This season however has worked out differently and how. When the coaches pairing was initially picked it was expected that we would largely have a season of Chael Sonnen continuing his tour de force of smack talk in advance of his opportunity to take on fellow coach Jon Jones for the Light Heavyweight title. Yes there’s still been barbs between Jones and Sonnen; especially as Chael chalked another “W” up for the bad guys or the dark side as he’s referred to his team.
Instead of being largely focussed on the coaches we’ve eagerly being waiting to see why and who Dana White referred to as “the most feared guy to come out of TUF ever”. That man turned out to be Uriah Hall. In his four fights leading into the finale he’s finished each of them in style. He’s also a 100% strike rate when it comes to sending opponents to the hospital. The hospital trips have ranged from a broken arm, to a broken nose and of course the most famous knock out of the season, and one that led Dana White to say it was ‘the most vicious knockout in TUF history’. Hall unleashed a spinning hook kick out of nowhere that saw Adam Cella lying unconscious for several minutes.
Hall has a not overly impressive record of 7-2 on paper but he has faced top class competition in his career. The two losses on his record come from familiar faces to most UFC fans (185lbs notables Costa Philippou and Chris Weidman specifically). They hype surrounding Hall has been huge with some people even suggesting that he should skip to the top of the queue to face Anderson Silva for the Middleweight Title. Whilst it may be too soon to really think about Silva, Hall could find himself in among the title contenders in no time if he continues his current ascendancy.
His opponent Kevin Gastelum has been largely seen as one of the underdogs on the show. Having been picked last for team Sonnen; he has shocked everyone with his performances thus far and his drive and ability to win are unquestionable. His victory over semi final favourite Josh Sammon nixed what many thought would be the final.
Gastelum goes into the fight with a perfect professional record of 5-0 and has won all of his fights by stoppage. His wrestling is good as his control in top position and one has to feel that this is his key to victory.
It really is a case of whether or not Gastelum can find a way to avoid the power of Hall. If he can do this and the get the fight to the ground then I’d give him a slight edge as I’d expect him to protect himself adequately and possibly be able to find a submission. It’s a big task to ask but this should be one of the most interesting finale bouts for a while.
Elsewhere on the main card on FX we’ve an intriguing battle between Miesha Tate and Cat Zingano which has TUF implications. The winner of the bout will become a coach of next season of the reality show opposite Ronda Rousey. Tate v Zingano will be only the second ever female MMA fight the UFC have held following February’s title fight between Champion Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche.
We’ve also got former TUF Live coach Urijah Faber taking on Scott Jorgensen as both men attempt to climb further up the 135lbs division rankings. Travis Browne returns to the Octagon for the first time following his loss to Antonio “Big Foot” Silva as he faces former title challenger Gabriel Gonzaga.
TUF cast-mates Robert “Bubba” McDaniel and Gilbert Smith will face off against each other as they battle to impress to try and continue their UFC careers beyond a one fight deal.
The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale full card includes:
MAIN CARD (FX, 9 p.m. ET)
Urijah Faber vs. Scott Jorgensen
Kelvin Gastelum vs. Uriah Hall – “TUF 17” tournament final
Miesha Tate vs. Cat Zingano
Travis Browne vs. Gabriel Gonzaga
Robert McDaniel vs. Gilbert Smith
PRELIMINARY CARD (FUEL TV, 7 p.m. ET)
Kevin Casey vs. Josh Samman
Luke Barnatt vs. Collin Hart
Dylan Andrews vs. Jimmy Quinlan
Clint Hester vs. Bristol Marunde
PRELIMINARY CARD (Facebook, 5:30 p.m. ET)
Cole Miller vs. Bart Palaszewski
Justin Lawrence vs. Daniel Pineda
Maximo Blanco vs. Sam Sicilia