In what is a loaded combat sports weekend, the prime slate has to be the main card of the TUF: 24 Finale. Headlined by UFC Flyweight Champion Demetrious Johnson taking on TUF 24 winner and former UFC gatekeeper Tim Elliott, and co-headlined by a scintillating Flyweight bout between #1 ranked Joseph Benavidez vs. #2 ranked Henry Cejudo, the card is chock full of veterans, and should deliver a decent show at least. Without further ado, here are my predictions for tonight’s main card.
TUF 24 Main Card (10/9c, FS1)
12) Brandon Moreno (12-3) vs. Ryan Benoit (9-4)
It’s extremely out of the ordinary for a relatively unknown TUF contestant to be ranked 12th in a UFC division heading into just their second UFC fight. However, in the case of Brandon Moreno, that’s exactly what’s happening. Of course, he did just defeat highly coveted contender Louis Smolka via first round submission in his short notice debut. Oh, and he’s a submission specialist who’s won nine fights in that manner, including seven in the first round. Plus, he’s got a nine-fight winning streak going, so for him to be ranked so quickly in a shallow division shouldn’t be much of a surprise.
As for Benoit, the knockout artist has gone 2-2 inside the octagon, with both his losses coming via, go figure, submission. Basically, this is a showcase fight for Moreno, and while Benoit can win with a single shot, it’s probably best to expect Moreno to pull off another submission win. Prediction: Moreno via submission, round 1.
(7) Sara McMann (9-3) vs. Alexis Davis (17-6)
Up next is the a Women’s Bantamweight bout between a pair of 2014 title challengers.While McMann is a former Olympic wrestler, Davis is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt McMann has had a rocky UFC career, going 3-3 inside the octagon to date, and most of her latest showings have been far from great. Meanwhile, Davis is returning to the octagon for the first time since April of last year, after having become a mother recently. She’s got eight submission and seven decision wins, and has won nine of her last 11 bouts, while amassing a 4-1 UFC record prior to her hiatus. That said, while she is dangerous on the ground, she will likely be rusty. As a result, I’ll have to pick McMann to grind out a decision win. Prediction: McMann via decision.
Ion Cutelaba (12-2, 1NC) vs. Jared Cannonier (8-1)
The next fight should be a slobber-knocker. Cutelaba entered the UFC with all but two of his first 13 fights ending within the opening minute and a half. SInce entering the UFC, he’s been submitted in the third round, and won his lone decision fight. This fight should be a vintage Cutelaba fight compared to those two. As for Cannonier, he’s 8-1, has only gone the distance once, and has seven finishes in eight wins, with seven of his fights ending in the opening round. It’ll be a huge surprise if this fight goes past round 1, and I’ll pick Cutelaba, but anything can happen. Prediction: Cutelaba via tko, round 1.
Jorge Masvidal (30-11) vs. Jake Ellenberger (31-11)
Up next, a pair of Welterweight veterans will step into the octagon. Ellenberger has been fighting since April 2005, and while he does have 19 knockouts and six submission wins, he’s 10-7 inside the octagon, with a 2-6 mark in his last eight fights. He was pretty much let go before his stunning UFC 201 first round upset of Matt Brown in July, and now, if he wants to extend his career inside the octagon, he’ll have to pull off another one.
Masvidal may have 11 knockouts to his credit, but 25 of his 41 fights have gone the distance, including seven of his last eight, and he’s amassed a 17-8 in such fights. He’s 2-3 in his last five, with all three losses coming via split decision. He tends to start well, peak in the second round, and then coast the rest of the way. If he does that against Ellenberger, he might get caught and lose the fight via tko. However, I think he’ll fight smarter this time, and I’ll say he wins via decision, although one shot from Ellenberger could definitely end his night. Prediction: Masvidal via decision.
(1) Joseph Benavidez (24-4) vs. (2) Henry Cejudo (10-1)
In the co-main event of the evening, the TUF 24 coaches will finally get a chance to end their feud. Cejudo may be an olympic wrestler, but Benavidez is the more well-rounded mixed martial artist, having only lost to the current UFC Flyweight and Bantamweight champions in his career. He’s 11-2 inside the octagon, with both losses coming against Flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson, most recently in December 2013. He’s 5-0 since, has 15 career finishes, and a win tonight will likely cement his title shot.
As for Cejudo, a career that began with four straight first round tkos, has since resulted in six consecutive decision wins, prior to his one-sided first round knockout loss at the hands of Demetrious Johnson at UFC 197 in April. A win will put him back in contention, but a loss will give him two straight. While he could definitely pull off a win if he wrestles his best, I just feel like Benavidez is too well-rounded, and will wind up winning tonight. Prediction: Benavidez via decision or late submission.
UFC Flyweight Championship: (c) Demetrious Johnson vs. Tim Elliott (13-6)
In the main event of the evening, the UFC’s only Flyweight champion will defend his title for the ninth time. The former wrestler who was notoriously a decision machine has vastly improved his game since winning the title back in September 2012, and has finished five of his eight title defenses. He is, in many people’s eyes, the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world.
Now, Johnson faces his latest challenge: the winner of TUF 24, Tim Elliott. Elliott is a familiar name to many fight fans, because he was in the UFC for a while. He came into the UFC in May 2012, and after going 2-4 with the promotion, got cut in early 2014. He has since gone 3-0, entered TUF 24 as the Titan FC Flyweight champion, won some bouts in close decisions, and now winds up with a shot at the UFC title. He has eight finishes to his credit, including five submissions, but I don’t see him finishing DJ. Maybe he can test the champion, but most people doubt it. Upsets are possible, but I’m not going to bank on one happening tonight.If this fights goes past three rounds, it’ll probably be a surprise. Prediction: Johnson via submission, round 3.