Wel folks, it’s that time again. As is the case every year in early July, UFC Fight Week is back, which means another TUF season has come to a close sans the Finale, and a big PPV card is right around the corner.
We’ll save the preview for the PPV (UFC 213) for tomorrow. For now, let’s simply preview the fights on deck for the TUF 23: Redemption Finale, as well as predict who will win in the 12 fights scheduled for it.
As is the case for pretty much every TUF Finale, it’s a card full of TUF veterans, and some truly enticing fights that are sure to entertain. This card isn’t as loaded on the entertainment portion as some previous TUF Finales, but there are a few fights that will be guaranteed to thrill. That includes a main event no fan can afford to miss, as undefeated knockout artist, the only WSOF Lightweight Champion Justin Gaethje, will take on fifth-ranked Lightweight Michael Johnson. The actual TUF Finale bout features a pair of former TUF Finalists, as Season 19 runner-up Dhiego Lima takes on the man who perfectly fits the redemption tag of the season, Jesse Taylor.
There are some other notable fights on the card as well. Speaking of, without further ado, let’s delve into what should be a solid card for tomorrow night.
Fight Pass Prelims (6/5c, UFC Fight Pass)
(5) Tecia Torres (8-1) vs. Juliana Lima (9-3)
The opening bout of the card features a pair of female Strawweights who, to be blunt, are decision machines. Torres is ranked fifth in the division, but is stepping up on short notice to take on Lima, hence the reason why the fight is still relegated to Fight Pass. She has black belts in both Karate and Taekwondo, and possesses a lot of skills. That said, she’s never had a fight end via finish. Not when she was on TUF, and not in any of her pro fights. She’s 4-1 in the UFC and has defeated some very well known names, but she is a decision machine.
Speaking of decision machines, Lima is one too, having gone the distance in 10 of 12 fights, including all five of her UFC bouts. Her only losses have come to the two UFC Women’s Strawweight champions in Carla Esparza and Joanna Jedrzeczyk, so she is very tough. She’s also quite a bit older as Torres, isn’t as skilled, and by all means should lose this fight. I’ve spoken enough about this fight as is. I can talk all I want, but that won’t change the fact that pretty much everyone thinks Torres will win another decision, myself included. Prediction: Torres via decision.
Gray Maynard (12-6-1, 1 NC) vs. Teruto Ishihara (9-3-2)
The featured Fight Pass bout is depressing to say the least. It’s your prototypical “well known but extremely shopworn fighter faces young knockout artist before getting released or retiring” bout.
The well known yet shopworn fighter is former two-time Lightweight title challenger Gray Maynard, and the young knockout artist is Teruto Ishihara. Maynard, an All-American wrestler at Michigan State back in the day, was a part of the famed TUF 5 season. He entered the UFC with a 2-0 mark, and began his UFC career with an 8-0 mark with a no contest to earn a title shot against a man who he had previously defeated, Frankie Edgar, at UFC 125. That fight began with Maynard dominating the early going, but Edgar rebounding to have the fight result in a draw. In the rematch at UFC 136, Maynard again started great, but this time, he got knocked out in the fourth round. Since that October 2011 loss, Maynard has gone 2-5. Of the five losses in that span, three have come via knockout, while the lone wins were a split decision against Clay Guida in mid-2012, and then a decision over Fernando Bruno last July. If he loses this fight, the 38-year-old Maynard will likely get cut or wind up retiring.
The man who will try to end Maynard’s UFC career is Teruto Ishihara. The 25-year-old Team Alpha Male product is 9-3-2 with eight knockout wins, including a pair in the UFC. He’s faced some UFC veterans in his career, but has lost to all of the ones who have a known name. That, combined with Maynard’s wrestling ability, makes it possible that Maynard may grapple and smother his way to a decision win. However, I cannot ignore my gut. I think Maynard’s getting knocked out, as much as I don’t want that to happen. Hopefully, the end result isn’t too heartbreaking. Prediction: Ishihara via knockout, round 2.
Televised prelims (7/6c, FS1)
Jessica Eye (11-6, 1NC) vs. Aspen Ladd (5-0)
The opening television bout is the second of three women’s bouts on the card, as veteran Jessica Eye fights for her UFC career against the debuting Aspen Ladd. Eye has been fighting for nine years, and has been in the UFC since 2013. However, she’s just 1-5 with a no contest with the promotion, and the fact that she’s still around is a sign of how shallow the division has become in recent years. Thirteen of her eighteen career fights, including all but one of her UFC bouts, has gone the distance. Not only has she struggled in the UFC, her fights have been mostly lackluster to boot. If she loses, she’s undoubtedly getting cut.
As for Ladd, she’s an exciting, young 22-year-old prospect who’s making her UFC debut. Four of her five fights have ended via finish, and her future seems really bright. However, she’s much less experienced than Eye, having had her most notable win coming against former TUF runner-up Amanda Cooper (who is now 2-3 overall) and hasn’t faced the level of competition that Eye has had to take on. That muddies up the possibilities, and makes me wonder if this might be too much too soon for Ladd. Maybe she should’ve been in Invicta for another fight or two? Regardless, I’m picking her. She’s got more potential, is fresher, and hasn’t consistently failed to deliver like Eye has. A win for Eye should shock no one, but I’m going with Ladd for this fight. Prediction: Ladd via decision.
Ed Herman (23-12, 1 NC) vs. CB Dolloway (15-8)
This next bout between UFC and TUF veterans is very under the radar, but could be a really solid fight. Herman has been fighting for 14 years, is a former TUF contestant, is 10-8 with a no contest in the UFC since joining back in 2006, and hasn’t had a winning or losing streak since 2012. He’s finished 19 fights and has 13 wins via submission due to his black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and is often game to fight. Dolloway was in Season Eight, lost the Finale against Amir Sadollah in June 2008, is 9-8 in the UFC, and has lost three straight. He hasn’t fought since December 2015, and while he did have a 4-1 stretch a few years back with the lone loss being a robbery against Tim Boetch, he’s pretty much guaranteed to get cut with a loss. He’s got knockout power and good wrestling, but I think he loses this fight. Herman might be “vanilla,” but he is a finisher, has great submission ability and can still get the job done. Dolloway needs the win and has the tools to get it done, but I see Herman choking him out. Prediction: Herman via submission, round 2.
James Krause (23-7) vs. Tom Gallicchio (19-9)
Whereas the evening’s co-main event pits the TUF finalists, this bout will feature the two semifinalists who came up just short. Krause is actually an active UFC fighter who participated in TUF to “redeem” his short, fairly embarrassing TUF:Live run which saw him lose his entry fight in 85 seconds back in 2012. A ten-year veteran of the sport who’s fought for notable organizations including WEC, Titan FC and RFA, Krause actually has a winning UFC record (4-3) and has won two straight with the promotion. Even though he got dominated in his loss to Jesse Taylor in the semis of this TUF season, he still “redeemed” himself for the most part. He had a great run, especially compared to what happened when he was on TUF five years ago, and now returns to the company which he’s called home for the last four years. He’s a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt with 14 submission wins and six knockout wins, and actually not far off from being a ranked fighter with a few more wins.
As for Gallicchio, he is also a submission specialist, winning 13 times in that fashion and pulling off some great submission wins inside the TUF house this Summer. He’s been fighting since 2006, and has faced a bunch of journeymen, but proved during the season that he’s worthy of being in the UFC with his shocking submission win over Season 19 winner Eddie Gordon. That said, I think he’ll lose this fight. Not only is Krause way better on the feet, he’s also just as good, if not slightly better than Gallicchio on the ground. While Gallicchio won’t have to go back to installing as many candy machines as he did while he was fighting in regional promotions, he most likely won’t win this fight. Prediction: Krause via tko, round 2.
Angela Hill (6-3) vs. Ashley Yoder (5-2)
The headlining prelim bout pits former TUF female contestants, but will basically be a showcase fight for Hill. A former unbeaten Kickboxer who was very green during her TUF 20 run and ensuing UFC run, Hill won four straight bouts at Invicta following her late 2015 release, including a championship bout against Livia Renata Souza to take the strap. She returned to the UFC in February and was thought to be a live dog against Jessica Andrade, but turned in a spirited performance that, despite the fact that Hill lost a decision, yielded Fight of the Night honors. Now, the UFC wants to make sure they don’t ruin her second UFC stint, and are essentially feeding Yoder to her.
Don’t get me wrong, Yoder isn’t a bad fighter at all. She’s 5-2, has never been finished, has four wins via submission and was pretty solid in her time in TUF 23. Training out of Dan Henderson’s Team Quest, Yoder has potential to be quite a decent UFC stalwart. If she can take Hill down, she has a great chance of winning. However, I see Hill keeping this on the feet and either winning a clear decision, or pulling off a late stoppage win. A Yoder upset would be amazing, and while my gut tells me we might see that happen, I’m picking Hill to take the victory. Prediction: Hill via decision.
TUF: Redemption Finale main card (9/8c, FS1)
Jordan Johnson (7-0) vs. Marcel Fortuna (9-1)
Opening up the main card is a Light Heavyweight bout that might be fun on paper, but I fear that it might wind up being lackluster in reality. Johnson is a two-time NCAA All-American wrestler who’s unbeaten in the sport and has five finishes to his credit, including four in the first round. However, his RFA championship bout against LeMarcus Tucker and UFC debut against Henrique da Silva were both smothering decisions. Fortuna is a third degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, has won six straight since sustaining his lone loss to Jesse Taylor in 2012, and knocked Anthony Hamilton out in his UFC debut in February. However, that was his first knockout and like Johnson, he is a submission specialist. So we have two submission specialists, one of whom is a big-time wrestler, another who is a third degree Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt, neither of whom has more than one knockout. I’ll pick Johnson to win, but this could be a lackluster decision that elicits a whole lot of boos from the crowd. Prediction: Johnson via decision.
Brad Tavares (14-4) vs. Elias Theodorou (13-1)
Up next is yet another bout between former TUF contestants that honestly, I don’t really want to talk about. Tavares competed in Season 11, and while he’s gone 9-4 in the UFC, he’s lost three of his last five. Ten of his 18 fights have gone the distance, and this one likely will too. Theodorou actually won TUF: Nations in April 2014, and has a 5-1 UFC record. He’s finished seven of his fights, but three of his last four UFC bouts have gone the distance. This will be pretty much be a tepid kickboxing bout with a takedown attempt or two here and there, Theodorou will likely win the decision, and that will be that. Prediction: Theodorou via decision.
Jared Cannonier (9-2) vs. Nick Roehrick (7-0)
The next bout was supposed to be Cannonier vs. Steve Bosse, which would’ve been a bananas slugfest guaranteed to earn Fight of the Night consideration. Then Bosse got hurt a couple days back, and Roehrick will be taking his place. Cannonier is 9-2 in the UFC, with his losses coming against Shawn Jordan in his promotional debut, and then against Glover Teixeira at UFC 208 in a fight that everyone knew would be too much for Cannonier. The loss to Jordan was the only time Cannonier got finished, and he’s actually won seven of his nine victories via finish. He’s won six fights in the opening round, and while this is just his third career Light Heavyweight bout, he’s got the potential to be a star down the road.
Roehrick is tough, gritty and undefeated. While he’s gone the distance more times than not, he’s actually finished three of his last four fights. While I do think he can be a fixture in the division down the road, I don’t think Roehrick will win this fight. He’s got great skills and potential, comes from a region where guys like Curtis Blaydes and Dominick Reyes have made waves, and his wrestling ability can muck up the night for Cannonier. However, I think Cannonier will connect before long and turn out Roehrick’s lights within two rounds. Prediction: Cannonier via tko, round 2.
Marc Diakese (12-0) vs. Drakkar Klose (7-0-1)
The final bout before we get to the co-main event of the evening pits a pair of unbeaten Lightweight prospects who have boatloads of potential. Diakese has six knockout and five decision wins, is 3-0 in the UFC, and is coming off a hellacious 30-second finish of Teemu Packalen in March.
Klose is also unbeaten, also has one more knockout than decision wins, and dominated in his UFC debut against Devin Powell in the featured prelim bout of the Yair Rodriguez vs. BJ Penn card in January. Klose is a gritty wrestler, while Diakese is a flashy striker. Diakese has gassed out before, so a win for Klose may be in the cards. However, the fact that Klose likes to keep fights close (pardon the pun) may be a sign that Diakese may knock him out. It’s a close call, but I’ll pick Diakese to win a decision. Regardless, it’s surprising that these two unbeaten prospects are fighting each other this quickly, and hopefully the decision doesn’t hinder the UFC down the road. Prediction: Diakese via decision.
TUF: Redemption Finale: Jesse Taylor (30-15) vs. Dhiego Lima (12-5)
In the co-main event of the evening, the TUF season will officially come to a close. Speaking of redemption, no story better fits the season’s theme than that of Jesse Taylor. Then 6-2 as a pro, Taylor was a star of the seventh season of the show in mid-2008, winning fights but also being a notorious partier and drunk. He made it to the Finale, but in the time leading up to the Finale, he got drunk, kicked out a window of a limousine, acted aggressively towards people in a hotel lobby, and got removed from the Finale. He got one fight in the UFC thereafter, but got submitted via Peruvian Necktie by CB Dolloway in July 2008 and was subsequently let go.
Since then, Taylor got his life in order, has gone 24-12 in the nine years of fighting for a bevy of promotions including WSOF, KSW, DREAM, ACB, Cage Warriors MFC and more, and earned a shot in the redemption season. He acted mature the whole way unlike a good chunk of the other contestants, submitted his last two opponents in the show including James Krause, and is back in the finale. Of his 45 fights as a pro, a whopping 30 of them have been decided via submission, including all but one of his losses. He’s also got five knockout wins, and has never been knocked out.
As for Lima, the TUF 19 runner-up lost in the finale to Eddie Gordon in just 71 seconds, before losing two more times in the UFC via knockout and getting cut in 2015 after going 1-3 with the promotion. Since then, Lima has gone 2-1, including winning the Titan FC Welterweight title. He’s finished seven fights, including four via submission, has a good gas tank, good striking, solid wrestling and is well-rounded to say the least. If anyone in the TUF season this year can withstand Taylor, it might be Lima. That said, it’s a very big if. I think Lima will have his moments, but this is not his moment. This is Jesse Taylor’s moment, it’s his season, and I believe he’ll get the job done to complete his story. Prediction: Taylor via decision or late submission.
(5) Michael Johnson vs. Justin Gaethje (17-0)
The main event of the evening could be a slugfest. Making his debut, the first and only WSOF champion to date, Justin Gaethje, will look to make the fight an absolute barnburner. That’s his game, his style, and it’s allowed him to go 17-0 with 14 knockout wins. Johnson is very tough, and while the TUF 12 runner-up is 9-7 in the UFC and has lost three of four, those losses came against Khabib, Beneil Dariush and Nate Diaz, three really tough guys and two of those went the distance. Both guys should have their moments here, and Johnson should and likely will win. And yet, I can’t shake the feeling that Gaethje will win. Johnson is more disciplined and should win, but if Gaethje lures Johnson into his type of fight, this could be an upset special. Head pick: Johnson via decision or late tko. Gut pick: Gaethje via tko, round 2 or 3.