Team Joanna vs. Team Claudia. Gadelha vs Jedrzejczyk. Who’s the better coach? Well, the questioned was clearly answered in the latest season of the Ultimate Fighter, when all of Gadelha’ Strawweights, and all but one of her Light Heavyweight students advanced to the knockout rounds of the competition. Heck, had it not been for Cory Hendricks’ injury, it’s entirely possible that Jedrzejczyk would have had none of her team members in the Finale at all!
Regardless, we all know who the better coach is. Tonight, well find out who the better fighter is, as the two women will face off in a long-awaited grudge match that’s been almost two years in the making. The winner will walk away with the UFC Strawweight title, and the loser will have to go back to the drawing board.
Also on the main card are the two tournament final bouts, as well as three bouts that feature some of the best prospects in the UFC today. One of those men is former Bellator Lightweight champion Will Brooks, another is Korean rising star Doo Ho Choi, and then there’s a high-level prospect bout between undefeateds in Andrew Holbrook and Joaquim Silva to kick off the slate. It should be a great night, that’s for sure. Here are my picks for tonight’s main card.
Andrew Holbrook (11-0) vs. Joaquim Silva (8-0)
When it comes to Fight Night main card openers, nothing fits better than a high-level prospect bout. Well, this is just that, and between undefeated fighters to boot. Silva is a finisher with seven of his fights ending in the first round. Holbrook had finished nine fighters via submission, all in the first round. Silva may or may not be the better fighter. I’m still sour over Holbrook not getting to fight Sage Northcutt, so I’ll say he takes his anger out on Silva and wins in the second round. Prediction: Holbrook via submission, round 2.
Doo Ho Choi (14-1) vs. Thiago Tavares (20-6-1)
Up next is a clear-cut prospect vs. veteran bout, eith hefty ramifications. Choi has won 12 straight boits, has 11 knockout wins, eight first round finishes, and his combined fight time for his two UFC bouts is 1:51. Simply put, “Korean Super Boy” is one of the brightest Asian prospects to ever enter the octagon.
Tomogjt, Choi faces his stiffest test to date in Brazilian veteran Thiago Tavares. A third-degree Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt, Tavares has won 13 bouts via submission. He’s been in the UFC since April 2007, and possesses a respectable 10-6-1 record inside the octagon. However, he four of those six losses have come via knockout. He has a decent chin, but if Choi connects even once, the Fight will be over. Sure, Tavares can pull off a submission. But, I’ll lean with Choi here. Prediction: Choi via ko, round 2.
Will Brooks (18-1) vs. Ross Pearson (19-10, 1NC)
Will Brooks is finally in the UFC! The former Bellator Lightweight champion had been hoping to make it to the Big show for quite some time now, to the point that he purposefully strained his relationship with Bellator, and lucked out by the fact that the UFC signed him on short notice for this fight.
Possessing a stellar 18-1 record, “Ill” has six knockout, four submission and eight decision wins. His lone loss came against perennial Bellator knockout artist Saad Awad back in early 2013, just 43 seconds into the bout. Brooks has won eight straight since then, but six of those wins have come via decision.
Speaking of decisions, that’s been the name of the game for Pearson on 12 of 30 occasions. The British TUF: 9 champion has gone 11-7 with a no contest inside the octagon, and hasn’t had a streak of any sort since April 2013. He’s won seven fights via knockout and decision apiece, and also has five submission wins. Seeing how he won his last fight via decision, let’s play it safe and assume that he’ll lose this one in just that manner. Prediction: Brooks via decision.
TUF 23 Strawweight Final: Tatiana Suarez (3-0) vs. Amanda Cooper (2-1)
Up next is the first of two TUF tournament finals, featuring the female Strawweight finalists. Cooper is a boxer, while Suarez was once the best amateur female wrestler in the world. She then got diagnosed with thyroid cancer, recovered, and went into MMA.
Suarez, the top women’s pick, won both her house fights via submission. Cooper, despite some weight cutting struggles, won her semifinal bout against Muai Thai striker Lanchana Green via first round submission, after winning a controversial decision against Jamie Moyle in the quarterfinals. I wouldn’t be shocked if Cooper won, but the obvious smart money pick is Suarez. I’ll say she finds a way,to take this to the ground and submit “ABC” late in the first round. Prediction: Suarez via submission, late round 1.
TUF 23 Light Heavyweight final: Andrew Sanchez (7-2) vs. Khalil Roundtree (4-0)
Another season, another replacement in the finals.
In the co-main event of the evening, the last of the TUF finals will take place, as replacement Khalil Roundtree will take on Andrew Sanchez. Roundtree lost to Cory Hendricks in the quarterfinals, but Hendricks injury resulted in Roundtree’s re-entry. Roundtree then beat real-life teammate Josh Stansbury, and is now in the final. He’s a former 300 – pounder who got his life in order, and is 4-0 as a pro. He’s got a pair of knockout and decision wins apiece, and is known by hardcore fans due to his RFA fights.
Meanwhile, Sanchez won his quarterfinal via grinding decision against Myron Dennis, before destroying Eric Spicely in the semis in the opening minute. He’s 7-2 as a pro, with five knockout wins, two submission wins, and his lone knockout loss came against UFC veteran Kevin Casey in an RFA headliner in June 2014.
Obviously, I love Roundtree’s story, redemption, charisma, etc. I’d love to see him win. But man, I’m so sick of replacement fighters getting unwarranted second chances in the tournament and winning them. Sanchez didn’t get a second chance, and deserves the win, so I’ll pick him against my heart. Prediction: Sanchez via submission, round 2.
UFC Female Strawweight championship: (c) Joanna Jedrzejczyk (11-0) vs. Claudia Gadelha (13-1)
All the tension. All the drama. The bad blood that began in late 2014. It all comes down to this.
Now, I’ll admit that I’m a fan of both women. Joanna is an elite level Muai Thai striker. Gadelha is arguably the most well-rounded fighter in the division. Their first fight was close, and while I’m happy with Joanna accomplishing so much since that fight, I thought Claudia won it. I still believe she’s the better fighter, and she became a fan favorite on TUF.
Gadelha missed out on her chance at Invicta gold when then champion Carla Esparza got injured, right before the entire Invicta Strawweight division got absorbed into the UFC. Then, she lost the controversial decision to Jedrzejczyk. Now, I think her hunger will fuel her to a win. She’s got six submission wins, and while she does gas out at times, she does have five decision wins, including a dominant performance over arguably a top 2 all-time Strawweight in Jessica Aguilar last August. I don’t know if she has the gas tank to go the distance with Jedrzejczyk, but she is by far the most crafty grappler that Jedrzejczyk has ever faced. These past two years have been the years of championship shifts, and I believe we’ll se another one go down tonight. Prediction: Gadelha via submission, round 2.