The majority of the fights on this past weekend’s Ultimate Fighter Finale consisted of contestants from this season, and a handful of fighters who land in the middle of their respective divisions or lower.
The main card, however, offered up four bouts with solid intrigue, with three of them carrying top-of-the-division implications. Sorry Bubba McDaniel, but your fight was the one of these things that just didn’t belong. Nothing personal.
From Urijah Faber proving once again that he’s still a force in the bantamweight division, and Kelvin Gastelum continuing his upset run en route to becoming the youngest Ultimate Fighter winner yet to Cat Zingano’s impressive comeback win and Travis Browne’s 70-second victory, the main card gave us plenty to think about when it comes to where the competitors land after this weekend.
We know that Cat Zingano will now challenge Ronda Rousey after their coaching duties opposite each other on TUF 18. Here are my thoughts how the UFC will proceed with Saturday’s other main card competitors.
Urijah Faber vs. Michael McDonald
Against Scott Jorgensen, “The California Kid” did what he always does in non-title fights: he won, fairly handily at that.
Faber has now won seven consecutive non-title fights dating back to when he lost the WEC featherweight title to Mike Brown. He is without question one of the best bantamweights in the sport, but he’s also kind of stuck right now. There isn’t a lot of push to see him fight for a title again, so that leaves Faber earning tough assignments where he’s the one with more at stake than his opponent.
A pairing with McDonald would work for many reasons. Faber is still a very strong draw, especially when it comes to the lighter weight classes, and the star-power he brings to the table can help get McDonald a little more shine. “Mayday” is coming off a loss to interim champ Renan Barao back in February, so there is no need to dip him too far down the rankings for his next assignment.
This is the type of fight the next generation fighter needs -- and needs to win -- in order to prove he’s capable of being one of the stars of the division going forward. Unfortunately for Faber, this is pretty much the role he’s going to have to accept for right now.
Scott Jorgensen vs. Mike Easton
This one seems pretty straightforward to me. They’re both coming off losses in the first half of April, but remain in the upper third of the division overall.
Easton needs a good win to get back into consideration as a potential contender, and with his loss to Faber, Jorgensen’s claim to being a contender has taken a hit. He’s still a very capable fighter and a dangerous gatekeeper, but he seems to be a shade behind the best in the weight class at this stage.
Kelvin Gastelum vs. As Yet Unsigned Inexperienced Middleweight
As nice a story as Gastelum has been -- and as much as I think he has a bunch of upside -- he’s still a 21-year-old with just six professional fights under his belt.
There is absolutely no reason to rush him into any fight that is remotely risky at this point, so don’t be surprised to see him in a preliminary card showcase bout against a fighter with a solid regional record making his UFC debut next time out. The UFC should handle its latest Ultimate Fighter winner with kid gloves for the next year, allowing him time to develop.
Uriah Hall vs. Josh Samman
This is a fight Hall wanted throughout the season, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it come together now that both are officially on the UFC roster.
Hall was so destructive during the season that he’ll surely get ample opportunity to prove he belongs, and he’ll likely get a steady diet of somewhat favourable pairings for the time being. Regardless of his mediocre effort in the finale, he captured audience attention on the show, and he remains marketable off his trio of finishing there for the time being.
Samman survived an early scare to beat Kevin Casey on the finale, and thought of himself as the best fighter in the house throughout Season 17. He expected to meet Uriah in the finals, so I could see him lobbying to meet him in the Octagon now that the show is over and the fights count.
Miesha Tate vs. Sarah Kaufman
Considering she has already beaten Tate in the past, and is coming off a hard-fought win over Leslie Smith on the last Invicta FC show, Kaufman probably deserves to face the winner of the Alexis Davis/Rosi Sexton or Sara McMann/Shiela Gaff fights, but this is where I see her making her UFC debut.
Rather than pairing Tate with Liz Carmouche and guaranteeing you have one established female fighter on a two-fight losing streak, going this route would make more sense. You have the built-in rematch angle, and Tate is a recognizable enough name that you could slot this on the main card of a televised show as a battle of former champions in hopes of generating some momentum and traction for the winner.
Travis Browne vs. Roy Nelson
Regardless of the outcome of Nelson’s upcoming bout with Cheick Kongo, I think he’ll be the next man Browne faces. There just aren’t a ton of options in the heavyweight division that make sense for the Hawaiian big man at this point, and pairing him with a fellow fringe contender like Nelson would be a way to move just one of the two forward.
Here’s the thing: you could conceivably step Browne back a notch and have him face someone like Matt Mitrione or Brendan Schaub or the Stipe Miocic/Soa Palelei winner, but that’s not likely to be something that interests him at this point. He’s coming off a good win over a solid opponent, and needs to keep moving forward, facing bigger challenges.
Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Pat Barry/Shawn Jordan Winner
Gonzaga didn’t get much of a chance to get anything going Saturday, but remains a notch above these two in my rankings. Pairing the experienced veteran with the winner of the UFC 161 heavyweight showdown seems like a logical next step to me.