Previewing The Ultimate Fighter 28 Finale
Another Season of The Ultimate Fighter has come and gone, and the finale is Friday night with a card headlined by Top 10 Welterweights. The season featured two weight classes a Heavyweight tournament and a Women’s Featherweight Tournament. In the Heavyweight final a matchup between Team Gastelum’s Justin “The Grizzly Bear” Frazier (10-2) and Team Whittaker’s Juan Francisco “El Guapo” Espino Dieppa (8-1) while the Featherweight final two Team Gastelum members as Pannie “Banzai” Kianzad (10-3) and Macy Chiasson (2-0). Highlighting the main card is the main event as former 155lbs Champion Rafael Dos Anjos (28-10 #3 Ranked Welterweight) takes on Season 21 alum Kamaru “Nigerian Nightmare” Usman (13-1 #5 Ranked Welterweight). The UFC is very busy this weekend with an event on both Friday and Saturday, but the card Friday night has a bunch of solid matchups. With 13 matchups on the card let’s look at the card.
We kick off the night on Fight Pass as Raoni Barcelos (12-1) takes on the debuting Chris “El Guapo” Gutierrez (12-2). Raoni Barcelos is coming off a knockout win in his UFC debut over Kurt Holobaugh (17-6 1NC). That was the 5th straight win for the former RFA Featherweight Champion as he entered the UFC. This was also the 7th knockout of his career and made a great first impression. Barcelos is 31 years old and is in a division where he needs to continue to impress to rise in the ranks. He is the UFC veteran in this matchup and will need to lean on that here. Three straight wins bring Chris Gutierrez to the UFC and a chance to debut in Las Vegas. Gutierrez has fought in both LFA and World Series of Fighting as the 27-year-old worked his way to the UFC. Gutierrez has 6 knockouts on his name, and if he can find that power in his debut he has a chance to make a solid impression. He needs to put the first time UFC jitters behind him and come into this confident. Prediction: Raoni Barcelos via Decision.
Longtime UFC Veteran Tim “The Dirty Bird” Mans (27-10-1 1NC) returns to the cage to take on Ricky “The Sniper” Rainey (13-5). Tim Means has returned to the Octagon looking to get back on track dropping 2 straight Split Decisions. That gives Means 3 losses in his last 4. The longtime UFC veteran will be looking to get back in the win column, and it is all going to start with striking. Means has 18 knockouts on his record and if he can find that power he can get a win here. Means is an unorthodox striker who can really use that to his advantage. For Ricky Rainey his UFC debut did not go as planned as he was knocked out in the 2nd round by Muslim “King of Kung Fu” Salikhov (14-2). The former Bellator Veteran is looking to pick up his first UFC win in this matchup. He has a tough task ahead of him, but the 35-year-old certainly has a chance. Rainey has 7 career knockouts and needs to keep away from the power of Means. Prediction: Tim Means via TKO.
We close out the Fight Pass portion of the night with Contender Series Alum Roosevelt “The Predator” Roberts (6-0) and Darrell “The Saint” Horcher (13-3). After winning a way to a contract through the Contender Series Roosevelt Robinson is set to make his UFC debut Friday. Roberts used a second-round submission to close out week 7 of Season 2 and get himself signed by the UFC. That was the 6th straight win for Roberts who now looks to continue his success in the UFC. The 24-year-old has 3 knockouts and 3 submissions on his resume. He will need to focus on staying inside his game and not getting too hyped up for his debut. Darrell Horcher followed up his first UFC win with a hard-fought decision loss in December of last year to Scott “Hot Sauce” Holtzman (12-2). Horcher had the tall task of making his UFC debut on short notice against Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov (26-0 Lightweight Champion) however he rebounded to pick up a win from there. Horcher has 6 career knockouts and will be looking to make his power known early into this matchup. He has been in the Octagon with one of the best fighters in UFC history, so the nerves shouldn’t be too crazy facing a debuting guy. Prediction: Roosevelt Roberts via TKO.
We head to the televised prelims and get two teammates from this season going at it as Leah “Nidas” Letson (4-1) takes on Julija Stoliarenko (4-2-2) face off in a matchup of Semifinalists. Leah Letson suffered a first-round knockout loss in the tournament semifinals. However, the Invicta veteran Letson is a powerful standup fighter. She has 4 career knockouts on her resume including a highlight reel head kick knockout in her last pro fight. Letson is going to have to learn from the loss on the show to maximize her shot at the UFC. For Julija Stoliarenko a hard-fought decision loss saw her exit on the show. She had won 3 straight fights on her way to the show with 3 first round-arm bar wins. If she can get this fight to the ground, she will have a significant advantage. Stoliarenko has a shot here to make an impact if her ground game gets going in this matchup. Prediction: Leah Letson via Decision.
The Heavyweight semifinalist’s matchup next as Team Gastelum’s Maurice “The Pirate” Greene (5-2) takes on Team Whittaker’s Michel Batista (4-0 1NC). Maurice Greene was finished in the first round of the Semifinal matchup on the show. Prior to the show, he had dropped a 5-round decision in a bid for the LFA Heavyweight championship. Green has 3 submission wins and only 1 knockout on his resume. He did, however, pick up and knockout win in the first round of the tournament. Michel Batista dropped his semifinal matchup with a knockout in the first round. The 34-year-old Florida native was undefeated outside of the show with 2 knockouts in his career. Batista scored a 2nd round knockout on in his first-round matchup on the show. In a Heavyweight division that is always searching for contenders, the winner here has a shot to hang around for a while. Prediction: Maurice Green via TKO.
We move to 125lbs as former title challenger Joseph Benavidez (25-5 #3 Ranked Flyweight) takes on Alex Perez (21-4 #12 Ranked Flyweight). Joseph Benavidez had a 6-fight win streak snapped in a split decision loss to Sergio Pettis (17-4 #2 Ranked Flyweight). Benavidez has been around the UFC for a long time. In a Flyweight Division that has many rumors swirling a win here would be big for Benavidez. The UFC has seen his skills for years and they know what they have. He will need to continue to prove he is still a top contending fighter in this one. Alex Perez came off the Contender Series with a contract and then has racked up 3 straight wins. He now gets a giant step up in competition. Perez is on an 8-fight win streak, and if this division hangs around a win gets him in a prime spot for title contention. Perez goes to the judges a lot with 11 wins by decision. He still has 4 knockouts and 6 decisions. If Perez can get a win here he is going to fire up to the Top 5 in the Flyweights. Prediction: Alex Perez via Decision.
We close the prelims out with UFC veteran Rick “The Gladiator” Glenn (21-5-1) welcoming Kevin “Angel of Death” Aguilar (15-1) to the UFC. Rick Glenn got back in the win column with a split decision win over Dennis “The Menace” Bermudez (17-9) in July. Glenn did, however, miss weight by 2lbs for this one. The former World Series of Fighting Featherweight Champion Glenn has seen the judges in all 5 of his UFC matches. Glenn is still only 29 years old and can dig deep on his experience in big spots. Glenn has 11 knockouts and he needs to bring that power back to really round out his game in the UFC. Kevin Aguilar appeared on Season 2 of the Contender Series. While scoring a decision win Aguilar was not awarded a UFC contract. He has been out of action since July, and this short notice replacement opportunity opened. Aguilar is now given a chance to make good on his UFC opportunity. Aguilar has 10 career knockouts and if he catches Glenn right he will be able to make a great debut. Prediction: Rick Glenn via Decision.
We kick off the main card as Ji Yeon “Firefist” Kim (8-1-2 #11 Ranked Women’s Flyweight) takes on the debuting Antonina “La Pantera” Shevchenko (6-0). Ji Yeon Kim has won two straight split decisions since dropping her UFC debut. She has seen the judges in all 3 of her UFC matchups. She did, however, miss weight by 4lbs ahead of this fight. She has 3 submission wins on her resume. She has looked good in her UFC fights but does leave herself open to eating strikes. She is going to have her hands full in this one, but a win here would cement her in the Top 10. Antonina Shevchenko won her headlining matchup on The Contender Series. The sister of longtime Bantamweight Contender and title challenger Valentina “Bullet” Shevchenko (15-3) is a very skilled striker. She has a chance to make an impact and take out a ranked opponent in her debut. She has 2 knockouts on her resume. and will want to keep this one on the feet. Prediction: Antonina Shevchenko via TKO.
Another UFC debut is next as newcomer Edmen “The Golden Boy” Shahbazyan (7-0) takes on Darren “The Dentist” Stewart (9-3 1NC). Edmen Shahbazyan was a contract winner on Season 2 of The Contender Series. Shahbazyan is only 21 years old and has a 7-0 record. All 7 of those wins including the Contender Series matchup have come via 1st round knockout. He will be looking to get into his striking early and often. We have not seen his ground game, because of his quick work that he makes of his opponents on the feet. For Darren Stewart 2 wins in a row make the 3-fight losing streak he had after first joining the UFC a distant memory. Stewart has rattled off 2 straight 2nd round knockout wins. Stewart is also a knockout artist with 7 of his 9 wins coming via stoppage. Stewart has the experience, and if he uses his head movement he will walk away with a win. Prediction: Edmen Shahbazyan via TKO.
A Top 15 Bantamweight matchup is up next as Pedro “The Young Punisher” Munhoz (16-3 1NC #9 Ranked Bantamweight) takes on Brian “Kid Lightning” Caraway (21-9 #14 Ranked Bantamweight). Pedro Munhoz got back in the win column with a 3-round decision win over Brett “The Pikey” Johns (15-2) in August. Munhoz showed more of a willingness to stand in that matchup even though Munhoz has 9 career submission wins. If he can use his grappling to take this fight to the mat, he can own this fight from start to finish. Bryan Caray has a 2-fight win streak halted in March when he dropped a split decision to Cody “Spartan” Stamann (17-2 #10 Ranked Bantamweight). Caraway is entering his 6th year in the UFC and always seems to string together a few wins in between losses. He has faced some of the toughest talent in the UFC’s 135b division. Caraway is going to want to be able to stuff the takedown and use his striking to take this one. Prediction: Pedro Munhoz via Decision.
We head to the first of the two finals as teammates on the show as two Team Gastelum members Pannie “Banzai” Kianzad (10-3) and Macy Chiasson (2-0) look to crown a winner. Pannie Kianzad took 2 straight decisions through the season of The Ultimate Fighter to find herself in the finals. Kianzad has some serious experience holding wins over current UFC roster members Jessica-Rose Clark (9-5) and Lina “Elbow Queen” Lansberg (8-3 #15 Ranked Women’s Bantamweight). She has also dropped matchups to UFC roster members Tonya “Triple Threat” Evinger (19-7) and Sarah Kaufman (17-4). Kianzad has 3 knockout wins and 7 wins via decision. For Macy Chiasson, her two first-round knockouts that got her into the finals are certainly a big factor. However, she only has 2 professional fights on her resume. The question becomes about the spotlight here. If she can handle the pressure and get her hands going early she can become the next Ultimate fighter. Prediction: Pannie Kianzad via Decision.
We Head to the Heavyweight final as Team Gastelum’s Justin “The Grizzly Bear” Frazier (10-2) and Team Whittaker’s Juan Francisco “El Guapo” Espino Dieppa (8-1) go at it. Justin Frazier scored a decision win followed by a first-round knockout to get himself into the finals. Frazier has 8 career knockouts and 2 submissions. He has never seen the judges in his 12 career fights. He is going to look for that big punch that can end the fight. Frazier will need to be smart and could have a serious advantage being only 29. Juan Francisco Espino Dieppa also scored a decision win then a 1st round knockout to get himself into the final. The 38-year-old has 6 straight wins and is looking to become one of the oldest Ultimate Fighter winners. He will be looking to get the fight to the ground as he has scored 5 submission wins in his career. This is going to be a matchup that could be over very quickly. Prediction: Justin Frazier via TKO.
We close Friday night’s festivities with a Top 5 Welterweight matchup as former Lightweight Champion Rafael Dos Anjos (28-10 #3 Ranked Welterweight) takes on Season 21 alum Kamaru “Nigerian Nightmare” Usman (13-1 #5 Ranked Welterweight). Rafael Dos Anjos is coming in off a disappointing loss to Colby “Chaos” Covington (14-1 Interim Welterweight Champion) in a matchup for the Interim Welterweight Title. Dos Anjos was pressured for 5 straight rounds and just could not overcome it. Dos Anjos had won 3 straight since moving to 170lbs. Dos Anjos has 5 knockouts and 9 submissions on his record. He has won in the eyes of the judges 14 times as well. RDA needs to defend the takedown and make sure that he doesn’t fall into the same trap as his last few losses. Kamaru Usman is one of the most overlooked guys at 170lbs. Even though he last defeated former title challenger Demian Maia (25-9 #8 Ranked Welterweight). Usman hasn’t lost in the UFC and hasn’t suffered a defeat since 2013. Usman is a very talented grappler with monster power. He hasn’t really shown the power in the UFC recently. Usman can apply the pressure and go for 5 rounds without stopping. That pressure on RDA could be a mix to cementing a title shot next. Prediction: Kamaru Usman via Decision.
The UFC has a busy weekend ahead of them. They have 2 events in 2 nights. They will be declaring 2 new winners of The Ultimate Fighter. They are closing out the run for the Ultimate Fighter on FS1 as they will be moving it to ESPN next year. The main event from Las Vegas Friday could determine the next in line for the 170lb title. Hopefully, Friday’s card has a few good bangers on it to lead into Saturday Night.