The fact that they will fight in the shadows of UFC 194 does not make the showdown between Frankie Edgar and Chad Mendes any less compelling.
Edgar and Mendes will collide in “The Ultimate Fighter 22” Finale main event on Friday at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, with the winner moving into position to perhaps challenge for Ultimate Fighting Championship gold at 145 pounds once more. Both men have lost to current UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo, Mendes on two occasions.
In the process of piecing together a hall-of-fame resume, Edgar will carry a four-fight winning streak into the match. The 34-year-old Toms River, N.J., native last appeared at a UFC Fight Night event on May 16, when he took a five-round decision from Mendes’ mentor and Team Alpha Male patriarch Urijah Faber. Edgar’s run of sustained success covers two divisions -- he once held the UFC lightweight title -- and includes victories over big names and former champions, from Sean Sherk, Cub Swanson and Charles Oliveira to Jim Miller and B.J. Penn (three times). “The Answer” has never been finished in a career that spans more than 10 years and 24 bouts.
Mendes, meanwhile, finds himself on the rebound following his second-round technical knockout loss as a short-notice opponent for Conor McGregor at UFC 189 in July. The 30-year-old’s only other two defeats have come to Aldo, one by knockout, the other by decision. Mendes was a two-time NCAA All-American wrestler at California Polytechnic State University, where he was a national runner-up in 2008. Wins over Swanson, Ricardo Lamas, Nik Lentz, Clay Guida and Darren Elkins strengthen his case as one of the sport’s premier featherweights.
With the pivotal Edgar-Mendes clash on the marquee, here is what to watch for at “The Ultimate Fighter 22” Finale:
Strong Second Fiddle
Tony Ferguson has worked hard to gain some momentum in the cutthroat lightweight division, and he has no desire to relinquish it.
Ferguson will put his six-fight winning streak on the line against former Ring of Combat champion Edson Barboza in the co-main event. “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 13 winner last competed at a UFC Fight Night event on July 15, when he picked apart the American Kickboxing Academy’s Josh Thomson for a three-round unanimous decision. It followed victories over Gleison Tibau, Abel Trujillo, Danny Castillo, Katsunori Kikuno and Mike Rio. Ferguson, 31, sports 15 finishes among his 19 professional wins.
A replacement for the injured Khabib Nurmagomedov, Barboza has won six of his past eight bouts, losing only to Donald Cerrone and Michael Johnson.
Still Going Strong
Having reached his late 30s, Tatsuya Kawajiri keeps plugging along.
The former Shooto champion and Pride Fighting Championships veteran will do battle with promotional newcomer Jason Knight at 145 pounds. Kawajiri will enter the cage on the heels of his unanimous decision over Dennis Siver at UFC Fight Night 69 on June 20, his performance in the co-main event overshadowed by women’s strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk utter brutality in the headliner. The 37-year-old “Crusher” remains a difficult out, as evidenced by his stellar 7-1 record across his last eight appearances. In his 15-year career, Kawajiri has never suffered back-to-back defeats.
A fill-in for the injured Mirsad Bektic, Knight has rattled off eight consecutive victories, including a triangle choke submission on the highly regarded Musa Khamanaev at a Titan Fighting Championship event in September.
The miles continue to pile up for Joe Lauzon, but the lightweight mainstay does not intend to ease off the accelerator.
Lauzon, who has amassed a record 13 post-fight bonuses worth more than $600,000, will take on fellow grizzled vet Evan Dunham in a lightweight showcase. The 31-year-old Lauzon last fought at UFC on Fox 16 in July, when he steamrolled former Pride champion Takanori Gomi on his way to a first-round stoppage at the United Center in Chicago. He has secured 24 of his 25 victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission, 16 of them inside one round.
Dunham has resurfaced as a viable lightweight, having followed a three-fight losing streak with back-to-back wins against Ross Pearson and Rodrigo Damm. The 33-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt started his career 11-0 but has gone just 5-6 since.
Back in Business
The MMA world has not seen Mike Pierce since he had his knee and ankle damaged by a Rousimar Palhares heel hook more than two years ago.
Pierce will return to the Octagon for the first time since Oct. 9, 2013, when he meets the once-beaten Ryan LaFlare in an intriguing tilt between mid-level welterweights. The 35-year-old Pierce was on a run of four straight wins before his ill-fated encounter with Palhares sent him to the sidelines and made him a forgotten man at 170 pounds. He owns a 9-4 record in the UFC, with his only other losses coming to Johny Hendricks, Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck.
LaFlare was met with his first professional setback in March, when he wound up on the wrong side of a unanimous decision against Demian Maia in Brazil. A former college lacrosse player, he was a champion inside the Ring of Combat organization prior to touching down in the UFC.