UFC 157 Watch List: TUF standouts

February 20, 2013, 2:11 PM

Before each event, The Watch List will identify the intriguing prospects on the fight card, and fill you in on some of the fighters flying under the radar you might want to keep an eye on.

Here are the fighters who will step into the cage from outside the spotlight at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., this weekend at UFC 157.

Watch four UFC 157 preliminary fights Saturday, starting at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT on Sportsnet East, Ontario, West and Pacific. In addition, catch bonus early prelims on Sportsnet.ca starting at 6:30 p.m. ET / 3:30 p.m. PT.

FIGHTERS TO WATCH

Fighter: Court McGee

Record: 13-3

Opponent: Josh Neer

This bout will mark McGee’s debut in the welterweight division, a change in scenery he’d been thinking about prior to suffering consecutive defeats to Costa Philippou and Nick Ring last year.

And if we’re being honest, I still don’t see how the judges scored that fight for Ring.

But that’s water under the bridge now. McGee has moved on from the decision, using it as fuel for this weekend’s bout with Neer, a seasoned veteran on his third go-round with the UFC who also enters Saturday’s contest on a two-fight losing streak.

The move down in weight should pay dividends for McGee, who has always shown great conditioning and tremendous heart, but occasionally lacks the power to contend with bigger foes in the 185-pound ranks. Dropping to welterweight should give him a little extra pop on his punches, and allow him to take advantage of his size and grinding style more than he could at middleweight.

Fighter: Michael Chiesa

Record: 8-0

Opponent: Anton Kuivanen

Doesn’t it feel like it has been forever since Chiesa won Season 15 of The Ultimate Fighter?

After having his post-TUF debut delayed thanks to an undisclosed illness, the Spokane, Wash., resident will finally hit the Octagon on Saturday, where he’ll look to maintain his unbeaten record by handing Finnish grappler Kuivanen his second UFC loss.

Chiesa showed solid potential in winning the first-and-only live season of the long-running reality TV competition, and has now had nine months to continue adding to his arsenal and sharpening his skills in advance of his long-awaited freshman effort as a full-fledged UFC fighter.

Of the recent winners of The Ultimate Fighter (Season 14’s champions aside), Chiesa has the highest ceiling in my opinion. He’s a gutsy fighter with a ton of heart, and a very solid grappling base. As he continues to work, he has the potential to become a legitimate contender, and this should be a good starting point for what will be a lengthy career in the UFC.

Fighter: Dennis Bermudez

Record: 9-3

Opponent: Matt Grice

“The Menace” has looked excellent in earning a pair of victories after making the featherweight finals on Season 14 of The Ultimate Fighter.

Bermudez has stuck to his wrestling roots in notching back-to-back wins over Pablo Garza and Tommy Hayden, and continues to show marked improvement with each subsequent fight. Grice comes from a wrestling background as well, having done time on the mats at the University of Oklahoma, so this should be a chance to see some of the other facets of Bermudez’ game.

After consecutive dominant performances, I expected the former TUF finalist to get a bigger step up in competition than Grice, and the fact that he didn’t leads me to believe the UFC sees Bermudez as someone with long-term potential. Rather than rushing him into the fray in the featherweight ranks, they’re bringing him along slowly, and letting him develop; a smart decision considering the depth that has suddenly collected at the top of the 145-pound ranks.

This is a chance for the 26-year-old Long Island native to validate those “top of the division” visions, and show that he’s ready to face more seasoned competition next time out.

Fighter: Caros Fodor

Record: 7-2

Opponent: Sam Stout

A training partner of UFC flyweight champ Demetrious (Mighty Mouse) Johnson at AMC Pankration in Kirkland, Wash., Fodor makes his UFC debut here in a tough pairing with Canadian veteran Stout.

Fodor put together a five-fight winning streak to climb into title contention in the Strikeforce lightweight ranks before being submitted by Pat Healy on the undercard of the Tate-Rousey fight card last March.

This is a great opportunity for Fodor to make an immediate impression in the UFC. The 29-year-old hasn’t fought in nearly a year, and will be sharing the cage with an experienced competitor making his 15th appearance in the Octagon. Bucking the odds and bringing home a victory would instantly put “The Future” on the map with the UFC audience, and he’s more than capable of doing just that this weekend.

Fighter: Yuri Villefort

Record: 6-1

Opponent: Nah-Shon Burrell

Added to the card at the 11th hour after the bout between Chad Mendes and Manny Gamburyan fell apart, this is a tremendous opportunity for Villefort to make up for lost time and start making good on some of the hype that has followed him throughout his brief career.

The younger brother of former UFC competitor Danilo Villefort, the 21-year-old Brazilian was considered one of the best prospects in the sport two years ago, but a severe knee injury has slowed his development. After nearly two full years without competing, Villefort dropped a split decision to Quinn Mulhern last May.

It’s hard to know what to expect from Villefort at this point. On one hand, he was once viewed as a better prospect than Erick Silva and Gunnar Nelson, both of whom are already enjoying UFC success. On the other hand, we’ve seen plenty of prospects flame out, and the recent run of poor results from his Blackzilian teammates doesn’t necessarily inspire confidence.

But I’m willing to give Villefort the benefit of the doubt, for now.

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