In all likelihood, several of the remaining matchups for The Ultimate Fighter 22 Finale will not be revealed until after Team McGregor and Team Faber take to your television sets one last time this Wednesday on FOX Sports 1.
Naturally, this piece will not include any predictions on any of the potential fights that will be used to fill the gaps left by what is, at time of publication, a seven-fight card.
Chances are, however, you’re more intrigued in the main and co-main event here than you are who wins the 22nd season of TUF. And why shouldn’t you be? You’re poised to witness some of the very best fighters at 145 and 155 pounds, respectively.
Here’s how we see the non-TUF fights at The Ultimate Fighter 22 Finale turning out:
- Geane Herrera def. Joby Sanchez via decision
- Konstantin Erokhin def. Gabriel Gonzaga via KO
- Tatsuya Kawajiri def. Jason Knight via decision
Ryan LaFlare vs. Mike Pierce
A solid wrestler with the capacity to throw strikes when necessary, Ryan LaFlare reminds us every time why he was considered a top prospect when making his UFC debut. He became somewhat of a unanimous-decision machine when entering the deep waters the UFC hosts at 170 pounds. But he continued to win, which proved he, at the very least, had some placement among those elite at welterweight.
If nothing else, his wrestling background proved to be a invaluable tool when facing an elite grappler in Demian Maia. It won’t be quite as useless when he faces Mike Pierce.
Pierce doesn’t boast what submissions Maia does, nor does he retain the ability to smother an opponent like the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt can. He can surely hold his own in the wrestling department, offering power double legs when necessary; but he doesn’t have the needed striking to keep up with LaFlare when the two expectedly nullify their wrestling pedigrees.
Prediction: LaFlare def. Pierce via decision
Joe Lauzon vs. Evan Dunham
A fan favorite for most of his career, Joe Lauzon enters the cage for the third time in the calendar year. He’s a slick grappler with 18 submission victories to his name, which always makes it surprising to be reminded that the Boston native is merely a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu — an accolade he earned just two years ago.
Brown belt, black belt or white belt, Lauzon has long been revered as one of the most dangerous grapplers in MMA’s lightweight division. It’ll certainly come into play when he faces Evan Dunham Friday.
Dunham is a durable fighter, but look for Lauzon to get this fight to the canvas in Round 2, attempting to sneak in a submission before unleashing some strikes on the ground.
Prediction: Lauzon def. Dunham via TKO
Edson Barboza vs. Tony Ferguson
Tony Ferguson got somewhat of a blessing in disguise when his original opponent and former No. 1 lightweight contender Khabib Nurmagomedov was forced to withdraw due to injury. In all likelihood, Ferguson would have been forced to fight off of his back or against the cage for a good portion of his would-be 15-minute affair with the elite-level wrestler.
In steps another striker to potentially save Ferguson’s day.
A victory over Edson Barboza surely won’t mean quite as much as a win over Nurmagomedov would have, but at least it increases Ferguson’s chances of winning here.
Boasting some of the better boxing seen in the lightweight division these days, the most intriguing aspect in this fight is seeing whether or not Ferguson will choose to stand and trade with the Muay Thai and Taekwondo black belt. Should he do so, he may be in for a rough night. If he’s wise, he’ll test the waters on the canvas and try to tire the vicious striker there.
Prediction: Ferguson def. Barboza via decision
Frankie Edgar vs. Chad Mendes
Like many of the fights happening on this could-be historic weekend, Friday’s main event leaves many questions to be answered.
Fighting out of the blue corner for this bout, Chad Mendes brings a lot of problems for any fighter at 145 pounds — and that includes to two men at the top in Jose Aldo and Conor McGregor. Some of the most explosive power belonging to any one fighter in the featherweight division, Mendes often catches his opponents who are far more focused on preventing his takedowns. That’s where Mendes succeeds: in his ability to smack opponents looking to sprawl and wrestling opponents looking to brawl.
But he runs into a particularly unique challenge in Frankie Edgar at the TUF 22 Finale. Not only does Edgar likely have the grappling prowess to hold his own — if not outright dominate — the wrestling exchanges, but he’s also elusive enough to avoid any of Mendes’ power right hands.
We all have vivid memories of Edgar battered in the opening rounds against Gray Maynard at UFC 125 and 136, but it’s hard to see Frankie Edgar circa 2015 suffer much of the same fate. He’ll circle out, never giving Mendes a stationary target to connect with.
You also can’t neglect what cardio concerns we’ve seen from Mendes in both of his most recent fights for the interim and actual featherweight title. You can pin the McGregor fight to competing on two week’s notice. But the Aldo fight? He simply grew tired from the frenetic output he and the champion were offering that night in Rio. It’ll likely be a similar output to that of his upcoming fight with Edgar, but that should only benefit the former UFC lightweight champion.
Prediction: Edgar def. Mendes via decision