5 Things to Watch for TUF 9 Finale

Jun 20, 2009
After eight seasons of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show, the UFC decided it was time for some global flare and embattled blokes from the United Kingdom against bros from the United States for season nine. The Pearl at the Palms in Las Vegas hosts this international incidents culmination.

Here are five things to watch for come fight night -- one for every finger in the fist.

No. 1 contendership

The misconception that grappling is not exciting can easily be dispelled by the scramble-fests Diego Sanchez and Clay Guida have had in their UFC careers.

Always in overdrive but coming up inconsistent, Guida currently rides a three-fight win streak, besting two reality show winners in Mac Danzig and Nate Diaz.

Sanchez is just 1-0 at lightweight, earning a decision over Joe Stevenson at UFC 95. However, with 155-pound vultures picking off contenders, Sanchez’s stellar welterweight run and the popularity he carries into the lightweight division makes him the No. 1 contender if he defeats the tireless Guida.

Guida’s UFC resume places him on par with the other wrestlers vying for the top of the division like Gray Maynard, Frankie Edgar and Tyson Griffin.

In other words, Sanchez-Guida is a battle of two of the division’s hottest. And an emphatic performance from either can leave no doubt they deserve the title shot against the winner of UFC 101’s championship clash between Kenny Florian and divisional king B.J. Penn.

The British precedent

British fighter Mark Epstein once forcefully asked me on the London Underground: “What are we, lepers over here?”

Photo by Sherdog.com

Winner or Pearson?
Epstein, who’s a complete pleasure to be around and deserves a spot on the North American circuit, raised a great point back in 2007. The only U.K. graduate getting UFC attention or sponsorship deals was Michael Bisping. Factor in Dan Hardy, who did it the ol’ fashioned way, and Bisping disciples Ross Pearson and Andre Winner, who battle for this season’s lightweight contract, and the UFC is slowly chipping away at Epstein’s statement.

Both Pearson and Winner are two of the UK’s top exports. The victor will get the glory, but the loser isn’t likely to go away. Making their first trips onto the Vegas grand stage, they are likely to excel in training afterward by exploring new camps in addition to their across-the-pond home bases.

Paul Kelly and Paul Taylor have been doing the U.K. justice, however, they won’t have the visibility that Pearson and Winner will enjoy.

James Wilks, of Orange County, Calif., hopes to do his mother country of England proud by trouncing the only American finalist -- welterweight Damarques Johnson. The loser here, too, is likely to stick around for a double down. National pride aside, it’s personal for Johnson. He doesn’t like Wilks, who claims indifference. Oh, and that six-figure contract is up for grabs too.

Clinging to the lightweight ladder

Jim Ross once famously asked, “How do you learn to fall off a 20-foot ladder?” It’s a question Joe Stevenson, a former title challenger who’s lost three of his last four, is trying to answer. If he wants to keep his rung on the ladder, Stevenson must fend off 209-activist Nate Diaz. Diaz lost his first UFC outing to Clay Guida after winning season five of “The Ultimate Fighter” and rattling off four UFC Fight Night victories in a row.

Since both are coming off defeat, disposing of their immensely talented opponent will regain their footing at 155 pounds, or maybe even find them on higher rung or two.

Meanwhile, Melvin Guillard meets Gleison Tibau in a preliminary bout. Both have suffered through inconsistent performances inside the cage. Outside of it, Guillard has endured a cocaine suspension, drug rehabilitation, and a dip back into the lower leagues. Tibau got axed, then saved the day as a late replacement against Jeremy Stephens, which began an impressive two-fight win streak. Winning means surviving here.

Semi-finalist sprint

It’s become a custom that TUF finales are second chances. American lightweight semi-finalists Cameron Dollar and Jason Dent look to stand out after losing in strong performances. The only Brit to come up empty, welterweight Nick Osipczak, plans to stick around by defeating American Frank Lester, who fought four fights in a month during the series with injuries so severe even coach Dan Henderson was impressed.

Jason Dent’s 0-2 series record positions him as the most likely to join the unemployed UFC veteran ranks. Lester’s sentimental favorite status, Cameron Dollar’s punk-but-serious attitude and Osipczak’s excitement factor aids their campaigns to stick around. Wins for all will earn them blips on the radar, while losing will only become a life preserver if a war is had.

Veteran boost

Like any card that resembles a youth movement, some grizzled veterans provide a nice balance. Chris Lytle is perhaps the most UFC-tested veteran at welterweight and Kevin “Fire” Burns is smoldering after a sobering loss to Anthony Johnson. Lytle is a fireman by day -- there’s no reason he shouldn’t extinguish the vastly less experienced Burns, who is 2-1 in the UFC, including one victory that should have been a no contest.

IFL veteran Mike Ciesnoleviscz makes the move down to his natural weight class of 205 pounds after tapping out monstrous Neil “The Goliath” Grove on short notice in the heavyweight ranks. Tomasz Drwal, a power hitter, will attempt to distance himself from a rash of inactivity; he’s posted a 1-1 mark with just one fight since his September 2007 debut.

Another IFL veteran, Brad Blackburn, has parlayed his powerhouse showings in the now-defunct promotion into two UFC victories. Edgar Garcia hit Zuffa’s radar on the WEC front, thrashing Hiromitsu Miura in just over a minute. Garcia trains with “The Ultimate Fighter” season eight winner Efrain Escudero and looks to add another impressive win over a veteran. This is a stern test for the young fighter in the sleeper fight of the night.
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