‘The Ultimate Fighter 16’ Finale Prelims: 5 Reasons to Watch

By Brian Knapp Dec 13, 2012
Tim Elliott has put away five opponents in the first round. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

In terms of degree of difficulty, Tim Elliott’s Ultimate Fighting Championship debut -- a short-notice call to arms against top flyweight contender John Dodson in May -- could not have been much steeper.

Elliott will have a full and focused training camp behind him for his sophomore Octagon appearance, as he meets former King of the Cage champion Jared Papazian at “The Ultimate Fighter 16” Finale this Saturday at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

A state high school wrestling champion in Kansas, Elliott wrestled collegiately at the University of Central Oklahoma. After starting his professional mixed martial arts career with a draw and two losses, the Grindhouse MMA export settled in and rattled off eight consecutive victories, seven of them finishes. His tear included a December 2011 knockout of former UFC lightweight champion Jens Pulver and a 28-second brabo choke finish on Josh Rave three months later, resulting in a phone call from Zuffa.

Elliott acquitted himself well against Dodson, ultimately losing a competitive 29-28 unanimous decision. He remained aggressive throughout, threw everything he had at the man they call “The Magician” and did his best work in the third round. More importantly, Elliott showed no signs of the Octagon jitters that have plagued so many other newcomers.

In Papazian, Elliott confronts an adversary desperate to solidify his place in the UFC. The former bantamweight came up short in his first two assignments with the promotion, losing a majority decision to Mike Easton in January before succumbing to a first-round rear-naked choke from Dustin Pague in June. The 24-year-old Papazian had won eight of his previous nine bouts, including a five-round unanimous verdict over Dream and EliteXC veteran Abel Cullum that brought him 135-pound gold in King of the Cage. Five of his eight career defeats have come via choke-induced submission.

The Elliott-Papazian showdown is but one reason to check out “The Ultimate Fighter 16” Finale prelims on Facebook and Fuel TV. Here are four more:

Submission Specialist

No one will ever accuse former Shark Fights welterweight champion T.J. Waldburger of engaging in a boring fight.

Fifteen of the Texan’s 22 career bouts -- 11 of his wins and four of his losses -- have ended inside one round, four of them in less than a minute. The 24-year-old Waldburger last appeared at UFC on FX 4 in June, when he lost a unanimous decision to Brian Ebersole in Atlantic City, N.J. He had the durable Ebersole in serious trouble in round one, as Waldburger floored him with a short left hand before wrapping him in an anaconda choke. Alas, he could not close the deal and ultimately fell behind on the scorecards. A Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt with a treacherous guard, he has secured 12 of his 15 wins by submission.

Waldburger will aim for his seventh victory in nine outings when he faces former Ring of Combat champion Nick Catone on the undercard.

Here’s Johnny

File Photo: Sherdog.com

Bedford rarely goes the distance.
More than a year has passed since Johnny Bedford last set foot inside the cage.

A semifinalist on Season 14 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” the 29-year-old Woodville, Ohio, native made his promotional debut at “The Ultimate Fighter 14” Finale in December 2011, when he stopped Team Tiger Schulmann standout Louis Gaudinot on third-round knees to the body. He has not fought since, injuries and fight cancellations curbing his activity. A proven finisher who benefits from his spindly 5-foot-10 frame and 71-inch reach at 135 pounds, Bedford has delivered 14 of his 18 professional victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission.

Marcos Vinicius Borges Pancini would like nothing more than to ruin his return. Brimming with confidence, the Brazilian has 20 wins on his resume, all of them finishes.

Crouching Tiger

The UFC struck gold with Russian lightweight Khabib Nurmagomedov. Perhaps it can do the same with Rustam Khabilov.

A One Fighting Championship and M-1 Global veteran, Khabilov is one split verdict away from being undefeated. The 26-year-old former world sambo champion will enter his first UFC gig on the strength of a three-fight winning streak, including a unanimous decision victory over the well-traveled Jason Dent in May. Khabilov has put down roots at Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts in Albuquerque, N.M.

“The Ultimate Fighter” Season 15 semifinalist Vinc Pichel has designs on spoiling his arrival. The unbeaten 30-year-old was primed for his first UFC appearance in June, only to see his bout scrapped when James Vick was not cleared to compete. In what can only be described as a statistical anomaly, Pichel has scored six of his seven victories by knockout or technical knockout in the second round.

Hungry Wolverine

Mike Rio understands the demands success requires.

A three-time national wrestling champion in college, the 31-year-old Miami native will finally get his long-awaited crack at the big show when he locks horns with the Hardcore Gym’s John Cofer in a preliminary lightweight clash. Rio, who competed on Season 15 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” has not fought in nearly a year. He suffered his only professional setback in 2011, when he lost on points to Efrain Escudero under the Championship Fighting Alliance banner.

Cofer undoubtedly wants a second chance to make a first impression. He was victimized by a second-round head kick from Justin Lawrence at “The Ultimate Fighter 15” Finale in June.


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