TUF Finales tend to by and large be fairly forgettable cards as normally they’re stacked with fighters who’ll be making their only appearance in the UFC against fighters who’ll be making one of two appearances in the UFC. UFC on FX 6 was a card that was a functioning TUF Finale but didn’t have all the baggage that came with it. It might be a model for how to run the series, to make getting to the finals that much more important.
This card had more actual UFC talent than TUF talent and as such it delivered in spades. Now it’s time to play matchmaker and find the five most intriguing winners (and losers) of this card and plot out where their next move could be.
Ross Pearson vs. Jacob Volkmann – I think we can forget the Ross Pearson featherweight experiment. Pearson looks better at 155 than he did at 145 because the weight cut seems to be a bit too much for him. He’s a fighter whose ideal weight class would probably be 150 and is stuck between two weight classes. Cutting to 145 just seems to take away that dynamism he shows at 155, where he happens to have an easy cut to make. I think he stays at 155 because he’ll end up looking better, even if he has to sacrifice size. Knocking out a fighter like George Sotiropoulos is something, especially in such dramatic fashion, and as such he vaults up the ladder from where he once was. A win over someone like Volkmann vaults him into consideration for the Top 10, at a minimum, and he gets someone in a similar spot.
Hector Lombard vs. Brian Stann – Lombard wants Michael Bisping, which is all fine and dandy, but he hasn’t earned that fight yet. Beating Palhares is something but he still needs to wash the stink of the Boetsch fight off him. Bisping is a win over Vitor Belfort away from a title shot and Lombard isn’t. But a win over another Top 10 guy gets him there. Lombard/Stann was agreed to at one point and I think it still makes sense for both after Stann gets through pasting Wanderlei Silva in Japan at light heavyweight. Mark Munoz could be in this slot as well. He needs a win over another contender before he gets his title eliminator; the Boetsch loss did a lot to cut off most of his momentum coming in. As such he’s going to have to go through a meat grinder to get a shot at Anderson Silva. Stann is going to get someone in the Top 10 after the Silva fight and Lombard makes tons of sense to make one more time.
Chad Mendes vs. The Korean Zombie – Mendes is an unenviable spot as being perhaps the #2 featherweight in the world but having been cleanly defeated in emphatic fashion by the champion. But after two absolute thrashings of talent that shouldn’t have been in the cage with him he has to be pushed up against someone that matters. The featherweight division has backed up quite a bit since he beat Dustin Poirier and I think the UFC gives him another fight instead of a title shot, especially with Jose Aldo vs. Frankie Edgar (and Aldo’s potential abandonment of the division for the lightweight division) on the horizon. KZ vs. Mendes makes a TON of sense in this regard; if he can beat Mendes he deserves a shot. Guys don’t get title shots coming off of FUEL TV cards, especially after long injury layoffs, and I think this could make some sense. The winner of Dennis Siver vs. Cub Swanson against Mendes could be in the cards as well.
Mike Pierce vs. Jake Ellenberger – If you change a couple of decision losses to Johny Hendricks and Josh Koscheck we’re talking about Mike Pierce as a title contender. He nearly stopped Jon Fitch, as well, and at this point Pierce has to be considered the one Top five talent in the welterweight division who doesn’t have the credentials to be properly ranked there. He’s also such a horrible style match up because he has his bread and butter, his powerful takedowns and boxing game, and he employs it without fail. He keeps winning the fights he should and has lost only to the really best fighters in the division. I think he gets another top guy and Ellenberger needs a fight. Martin Kampmann could be in this spot as well. Pierce is going to get someone in the Top 10 to try and see if he can finally get that next step up. If Nick Diaz hadn’t been given the GSP fight I could see him in this slot as well as perhaps Damian Maia if he beats Fitch in 2013.
Joey Beltran vs. Brandon Vera – Beltran was a man on the cusp of finding his way out of the company Friday night when he pulled off a winning performance that I don’t think he had in him. Here’s the thing: he’s still in that spot. He’s a tough, durable fighter but not a particularly good one. He’s the Mendoza line of the light heavyweight division; it’s a spot that used to be held by the man nicknamed “The Truth.” It kind of makes sense to let him get a win, or at least show if he can win a fight against someone that isn’t first rate like Shogun Rua. The winner of Roger Hollett vs. Wagner Prado could be next as well. Beltran isn’t going to get anyone that matters or anyone on the fringe of the Top 10. He’s getting someone near the bottom and is going to have to scrape his way to relevance.
George Sotiropoulos vs. Spencer Fisher – G-Sot is in a bad spot. After an impressive win streak he’s dropped three straight, two by knockout, and at age 35 he’s gotten old fast. He’s lost to fairly solid competition but the point remains that he’s almost become an Australian Jens Pulver overnight. But in his defense he’s lost to Pearson, Dos Anjos and Dennis Siver. It’s not like he’s getting bum-rushed by guys marginally good enough to be in the UFC; he’s just lost in bad fashion to very talented fighters. The fight with Pearson was remarkable and he nearly finished him in the first and won the standup war in the second; it’s not like he’s getting dominated. He’s just getting knocked out against good fighters. And I think he gets another fighter in a similarly bad spot in “The King” who has also lost three in a row, making this a de facto “loser leaves the UFC” kind of fight. I wouldn’t be shocked if G-Sot walked away and retired, as well, but I think he fights one more time. The key here is that if he continues to be a fighter, and isn’t cut from the roster, that he finds himself fighting someone in a similarly bad spot on a Facebook prelim.
Rousimar Palhares vs. the loser of Tim Boetsch vs. Costa Philippou – There’s no shame in losing to Hector Lombard how he did. Palhares is a tough out and Lombard has some massive hands to deal with; Palhares’s chin is a little suspect at times and this was one of them. He’s still a Top 10 fighter, if only the fringe variety. Costa Phillippou would make sense as would Patrick Cote, who had that bizarre fight before the GSP vs. Condit PPV.
Seth Baczynski vs. Chris Clements – It’s hard to look good against Mike Pierce and for good chunks of the fight Baczynski looked really good. Could he be a potential title contender down the road? Maybe. He certainly has all the tools and has looked dynamic against everyone. The downside for Baczynski is that his takedown defense is good but not great; elite wrestlers in the division are going to put him on his back but not average ones. This is why I think they give him someone who’ll stand with him instead of another wrestler. Jay Hieron might be in this spot if they go that route.
Brad Scott vs. the loser of the loser of Pascal Krauss vs. Mike Stumpf – What an absolute war Scott vs. Whitaker was for the TUF Smashes title! Plenty of losers in the TUF finale haven’t gotten another shot in the UFC but I think Brad Scott gets another fight or two because of how exciting his fight with Whitaker was. The one thing the UFC does reward is the ability to have an exciting fight, even if a fighter isn’t quite UFC caliber right away. Brad Scott might not be a UFC level quality fighter yet but he certainly fought like one at the finale. He showed the intangibles like poise under fire, et al, which you can’t teach in a gym. His abilities, on the other hand, still need work but he’s scrappy and durable. Those are two qualities the UFC tends to like to keep around for more than a cup of coffee in the organization. I think he gets another shot and he gets it against someone in a similar spot of trying to claw their way into more than a handful of low-level fights in the UFC.
Colin Fletcher vs. the loser of Vinc Pichel vs. Rustam Khabilov – Fletcher fought tough, even if it was fairly one sided, but he’s an engaging personality and looks like he could belong in the UFC for a spell. The loser of Pinchel vs. Khabilov probably sticks around for another fight to be featured on the undercard of something on Fuel. A match against Fletcher would make sense; there’s something that Fletcher has that connects with people but he hasn’t quite shown he has a high ceiling yet. He has all the tools but we don’t know how good he’ll be just yet; throw him against someone in a similar spot of having to justify their spot in the UFC and you’ll figure it out sooner than later.