Can Bryan Caraway overcome his inner demons and reach his potential? | Photo: Peter Lockley
The final season of “The Ultimate Fighter” on Spike TV proved to be an important one, ushering in the organization’s full-blown promotion of the bantamweight and featherweight classes. Season 14’s live finale is highlighted by a middleweight scrap between coaches Michael Bisping and Jason Miller, in addition to the 135- and 145-pound finals.
The intrigue is not exclusive to the main draw, however, as the preliminary proceedings may also provide plenty of excitement at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas on Saturday. Here are five reasons to watch the “The Ultimate Fighter 14” Finale undercard.
Often overshadowed by their heavier brothers in combat, the little guys are finally finding their place in the UFC. The organization’s lightest divisions will be on full display in the prelims, as five bantamweight and featherweight contests are slated to stream on Facebook.
Whether one watched the show is irrelevant; few can bring the heat on a consistent basis like the smallest men in this sport. The increased prominence of champions Jose Aldo and Dominick Cruz, as well as the quality of their title defenses, speak to this fact. An undercard featuring solely bantamweight and featherweight fights should be tough to beat in the way of pure action.
Ferguson’s Flyweight Prospects
On the surface, “The Ultimate Fighter 14” was created to showcase talent at 135 and 145 pounds. Reading between the lines, however, it becomes apparent that Zuffa LLC has also acquired some serious talent to compete in its flyweight division in 2012.
As seen in years prior, many reality show competitors -- even season winners -- go on to thrive in weight classes outside of the ones to which they conformed while living in the fighter house. This year should be no different, as talents like John Dodson and Louis Gaudinot will likely find their way into the newly established 125-pound category if and when Zuffa fleshes out the new division in 2012.
Josh Ferguson could find himself as another potentially promising addition to the developing category if he plays his cards right. Possessing great speed and a swarming style, Ferguson was ultimately bested by the rangy Johnny Bedford in the bantamweight bracket.
Will he experience a similar problem against Roland Delorme, or will he stake his claim as a budding UFC talent? If he can navigate his way through the deep waters of 135 pounds for a spell, Ferguson’s flyweight future could be bright.
Bass and Brimage
Nothing fancy about this one, folks. Stephen Bass and Marcus Brimage are probably going to let it all hang out, which could mean a stirring finish, one way or another.
Entering the show with an undefeated record, Bass was blanketed by powerful wrestler Dennis Bermudez in the quarterfinals before getting his ears pounded in. Likewise, the striker Brimage fell to a skilled submission fighter in Bryan Caraway, as he could not stop the WEC veteran’s takedowns to utilize his striking advantage.
Neither man should succumb to the same problems that plagued him during the show. As a result, the matchup should be a fan favorite. Both have showed an inclination toward finishing fights in the past -- Brimage with his strikes and Bass with his submissions. Who will seize the opportunity?
Caraway is a legitimate talent at 145 pounds. Unfortunately, casual observers likely do not remember him for his appearances in Strikeforce, EliteXC and the WEC.
Instead, most fans probably know Caraway for one of two reasons. First, he is Strikeforce women’s 135-pound champion Miesha Tate’s boyfriend. Second, he was the nervous guy on “The Ultimate Fighter 14” who seemed afraid to fight Diego Brandao and then got smashed by the Brazilian in one round.
This is Caraway’s chance to introduce himself to a broader audience than he has ever entertained before. Caraway has guts to openly discuss his doubts and fears as a fighter, but it will be all for naught if they get the better of him. It is a fine line to walk for the man in the cage and a compelling aspect of the sport to follow for observers on the other side of the fence.
If the Washington native is to shed the aforementioned labels and create new fan associations, a victory over Dustin Neace would be an excellent beginning to that process.
Dustin Pague might turn out to be a serious bantamweight baller.
Only 24 years old and holding a wealth of potential, Pague’s in-cage skill set is supplemented by his strong religious beliefs and work ethic. Already a veteran of 14 professional bouts, three of Pague’s four losses have come to familiar names in Jeff Lentz, Anthony Leone and Din Thomas.
After suffering that trio of setbacks, Pague won five straight fights before joining the cast on “The Ultimate Fighter.” After outpointing Tateki Matsuda in the opening round, “The Disciple” cut off the cage against the much faster Gaudinot and absolutely wrecked the undersized bantamweight from the clinch. Though he would fall to T.J. Dillashaw in the semis, Pague acquitted himself fairly well against the highly regarded Team Alpha Male prospect.
At the finale, Pague faces John Albert, another rangy bantamweight with a varied striking attack. While Dillashaw’s wrestling ultimately proved too hot for Pague to handle, he will likely find himself in a firefight against Albert, a place where he should feel comfortable.
Conversely, Albert will likely come in hungry to erase the memory of his quarterfinal loss to the ultra-quick Dodson and could easily spoil Pague’s plans to make a name for himself in the Octagon. There should be not a hint of lay-and-pray in this one, so fight fans would be wise to watch.