By Dwight Wakabayashi
Dangerous prospect Uriah Hall and surprising, southpaw brawler Kelvin Gastelum will fight to determine who will be crowned The Ultimate Fighter Season 17 champion and earn a UFC contract. It is a somewhat surprising match-up with Gastelum flying under the radar all season to secure his spot across from the heavy favourite Hall.
The rest of the card will feature some very exciting match-ups with some intriguing storylines as heavyweight behemoth Travis Browne will look to get his career back on track against the resurgent Gabriel Gonzaga. Miesha Tate and Cat Zingano will battle to earn a spot as a coach on the next season of TUF, followed by a shot at Ronda Rousey and the women’s bantamweight title. The card will be headlined by superstar Urijah Faber as he looks to get past Scott Jorgensen and remain in bantamweight contention.
Here is a complete main card beakdown. Robert (Bubba) McDaniel (20-6) vs. Gilbert Smith (5-1) – middleweight
A battle between two disappointing contestants from this season of TUF will open the card and here is hoping that the bright lights don’t cause these men to freeze up.
McDaniel was the most experienced fighter on the show this season and he bowed out with losses to both Hall and Gastelum. McDaniel trains at Jackson’s MMA and should be able to win this fight on experience and cardio alone. Smith displayed a very green game with questionable cardio in his one loss to Luke Barnatt.
Look for McDaniel to load up for the knockout, but failing that, he will get a late submission. Travis Browne (13-1-1) vs. Gabriel Gonzaga (14-6) – heavyweight
Browne is looking to bounce back from the first loss of his career, in which a hamstring injury contributed to him getting knocked out by the surging Antonio Silva. Browne is an absolute handful with his incredible speed and athleticism for his size. He was a little bit loose in his defence against Silva as well, and he will want to take a more cautious approach early in this one.
Gonzaga is on a career resurgence with a two-fight winning streak inside the UFC and three-win streak overall. Both of his recent wins have come via submission and look for Gonzaga to try to get this one down to the mat as well. If Gonzaga can take a tactical approach and make this one a grappling match, I like his chances. If this fight stays standing, then Browne will get the knockout. Miesha Tate (13-3) vs. Cat Zingano (7-0) – bantamweight
The TUF 17 finale will see the second women’s fight ever in the Octagon as Tate and Zingano will meet to determine both the next challenger to Ronda Rousey’s title and who will coach opposite Rousey on the next season of TUF.
Tate is more experienced going in and would be a perfect fit for the reality show based on her past history with Rousey, and incredible all-around appeal. She is also a favourite to win this fight using a more well-rounded game and toughness. Tate is as tough as they come in the women’s game and she will use that toughness to gain top position for a decision. Uriah Hall (7-2) vs. Kelvin Gastelum (5-0) – middleweight
The real headline fight of the night appears to be a large mismatch but if there is one thing we learned on this past season of TUF it is to never count Gastelum out. While Hall has run through the competition with some of the most devastating knockouts in Ultimate Fighter history, Gastelum has flown under the radar and surprised his way to the finals.
Hall has been deadly with his explosive striking game and has many tapping him as the most electrifying prospect to come out of the TUF house in a long time. Gastelum must close the distance early and quickly and take Hall out of his comfort zone right away. He must be willing to eat a couple shots to get it where he wants it to go. Every takedown that Gastelum can get will sap Hall of some power and go a long way in getting a decision win.
If Gastelum can’t get the take down, he will eventually get knocked out by Hall. Urijah Faber (27-6) vs. Scott Jorgensen (14-6) – bantamweight
Despite the frustrations of many fans and media, Urijah Faber is still hanging around at the top of the bantamweight division. Faber has lost five chances at WEC and UFC titles in two divisions over the past five years but can remain in the thick of title contention with a win over Jorgensen. Like it or not, Faber continues to beat every bantamweight who doesn’t hold a title and until he loses two in a row, he will remain near the top.
Jorgensen is like Faber in the sense that he has recently been able to beat everyone but the very best in his weight class. His “Fight of the Night” loss to No. 1 contender Eddie Wineland aside, Jorgensen has only lost to champions Dominick Cruz and Renan Barao in the last three years. This fight will send one of these elite veterans down the ladder once and for all.
Jorgensen has finally embraced the discipline and preparation needed to compete at the highest level of the sport and will look to use his wrestling to dictate the pace and location of this fight. Jorgensen can do it all, but Faber can do it all just a little bit better, and look for this one to be a battle of will that Faber takes control of in the late stages of the fight.
Faber’s heart and superior conditioning will take over and land him a decision win.
Dwight Wakabayashi is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report UFC and regular contributor to Sportsnet.ca’s UFC section. Follow him on Twitter @wakafightermma.