Joshua Sampo will enter his UFC debut on a four-fight winning streak. | Photo: Andy Hemingway/Sherdog.com
With the Nov. 28 ultimate eating championship now behind us, the Ultimate Fighting Championship is clear to once again take center stage on Saturday, when the promotion hosts “The Ultimate Fighter 18” Finale at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.
The event will see two Season 5 alums collide in the headliner, as Nate Diaz rematches Gray Maynard in a pivotal lightweight showdown. Prior to the six-fight main card, the preliminary proceedings will air live on Facebook and Fox Sports 1. Here are five reasons to tune in early and catch the undercard:
Sherdog Fantasy MMA: ‘The Ultimate Fighter 18’ Finale Free Fan Pick’Em
Joshua Sampo is likely flying under the radar of many UFC fans, but that may not be the case for long.
“The Gremlin” has compiled a nice resume in his four years as a pro, outpointing former World Extreme Cagefighting bantamweight title contender Antonio Banuelos before choking out current World Series of Fighting talent Alexis Vila to capture the Championship Fighting Alliance flyweight title in January. Currently ranked 10th in the world at 125 pounds by Sherdog.com, Sampo last competed on Oct. 12, when he used takedowns and positional dominance to outpoint Sam Thao and retain his CFA belt.
Now paired with fellow Octagon debutant Ryan Benoit, Sampo looks to extend his ongoing winning streak to five fights. Can he pick up a victory in his UFC debut or will Benoit make his mark by besting the world-ranked Sampo?
The UFC has steadily improved its heavyweight division over the last several years, and Jared Rosholt looks to be another intriguing addition to the category.
A three-time NCAA All-American wrestler at Oklahoma State University, the heavyweight undoubtedly hopes to find the type of consistency in the UFC that eluded his older brother, Jake Rosholt, who posted a 1-2 Octagon record during his 2009 stint with the promotion. The 27-year-old suffered the lone loss of his career in August 2012, when he was knocked out by Derrick Lewis in a failed bid to capture the Legacy Fighting Championship heavyweight title. Rosholt responded to the setback by posting four straight wins, knocking out his last two opponents in a little more than two minutes combined.
The wrestler now meets five-fight pro Walter Harris, who makes his Octagon debut opposite “The Big Show.” Will Rosholt take care of business and establish himself as a man to watch in the UFC heavyweight division?
Featherweight Front Lines
Akira Corassani and Maximo Blanco have much to fight for heading into their featherweight clash.
Each man finds himself coming off of a victory, and Corassani enters the cage on the heels of back-to-back wins, outpointing Andy Ogle and Robbie Peralta in his first two promotional appearances. Blanco, meanwhile, rebounded from two straight losses to take a unanimous decision from Sam Sicilia at “The Ultimate Fighter 17” Finale in April. The former Sengoku standout now meets another heavy-handed “Ultimate Fighter” alum in Corassani. While both men have proved capable of ending fights inside the distance, neither fighter has accomplished that feat in more than three years. Which competitor will assert himself and take another step forward at 145 pounds?
Let me tell you something you should already know: Rani Yahya is a really bad dude if he can drag a fight to the floor.
Technically, the former Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist is head-and-shoulders above most of the featherweight division, as evidenced by his one-sided submission win over Josh Grispi. Physically, however, he is not the largest 145-pounder, and his striking no doubt leaves something to be desired.
Yahya’s last two wins have followed a pattern, with the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt scoring takedowns and earning positional dominance in the first two rounds before showing signs of fatigue down the stretch. Nevertheless, Yahya walked away with unanimous decision victories over Mizuto Hirota and Josh Clopton.
Can the grappler maintain his momentum and score his fourth straight win or will Finnish veteran Tom Niinimaki improve his current winning streak to 12 fights?
I think Sean Spencer could be a good UFC welterweight, provided he continues to improve his skills and matures in the cage.
After an ill-fated and short-notice debut against Rafael Natal at 185 pounds, Spencer returned to welterweight for his sophomore UFC effort, where he edged former top prospect Yuri Villefort in a split decision. “Black Magic” possesses power in his hands and puts some nice snap on his punches when he is fresh. He is also a capable scrambler when he needs to be, but my major concern lies in his lack of conditioning. If Spencer can find a reliable rhythm in the Octagon and set a pace, I think he could be a real problem for a lot of welterweights.
Originally slated to face two-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion Sergio Moraes, Spencer will instead meet UFC rookie Drew Dober. While Dober has earned 10 of his 13 wins via stoppage, I still think this is a better fight for Spencer given Moraes’ well-documented submission excellence.
How much has Spencer improved since we last saw him and will he bring any new tricks to the table?