Now that we know the full fight-card and which two contestants will be battling it out to be crowned this year’s Ultimate Fighter, the time is upon us to take a look at the event from top to bottom and get you filled in on the fights.
David Branch (7-1-0) vs. Rich Attonito (9-3-0)
After getting slammed onto SportsCenter by Gerald Harris in his UFC debut, Renzo Gracie black belt David Branch bounced back with a solid performance over Tomasz Drwal to earn his first win inside the Octagon.
Rich Attonito was shut down early in Season 11 of the reality TV staple, breaking his hand during his opening round win over Kyacey Uscola. Since then, the American Top Team product has collected a pair of victories, stopping Jamie Yager at the last installment of this show before getting the better of Rafael “Sapo” Natal in September.
This is an interesting pairing in that neither guy is head-and-shoulders ahead of the other in any area of the fight, a situation that usually yields an entertaining fight. Both men should be safe from the firing line – save for pulling a Harris – so expect the two middle-tier middleweights to come out hard in an effort to further cement their standing in the division.
Fredson Paixao (10-3-0) vs. Pablo Garza (9-1-0)
Someday in the distant future, someone will ask who took part in the first featherweight bout in UFC history. These two combatants will now go down as the answer to that question.
Paixao is a world-class competitor in Brazilian jiu jitsu, having earned gold at Mundials in 2001, 2002 and 2005. After dropping his WEC debut to top 10 competitor Wagnney Fabiano, Paixao has since bounced back with wins in his last two fights. Like many sport jiu jitsu standouts, Paixao’s striking lags behind his ground game. He's still able to get by with only his grappling game, but that will change as he moves up the division.
Garza has made the most of not making it into The Ultimate Fighter house this season. After losing to Michael Johnson in the qualification round, Garza was a last minute fill-in for Jason Reinhardt at WEC 51, getting submitted by Tiequan Zhang in the first round. Now, “The Scarecrow” gets another chance to catch with the company.
Unfortunately for Garza, this feels like his “thanks for helping us out” fight, the one where if he loses, the company can cut him loose without feeling bad about dropping the guy that did them a solid.
Will Campuzano (8-2-0) vs. Nick Pace (5-1-0)
While Paixao and Garza will go down as the answer to a trivia question, these two competitors will most likely be forgotten despite being the first bantamweight fighters to step into the Octagon.
The truth of the matter is that this is really a forgettable fight; while both Campuzano and Pace have shown promise, they’re at the level where a loss sends them back to the regional circuit, eager to be invited back for another cup of coffee with the big show.
Sako Chivitchian (5-0-0) vs. Kyle Watson (12-6-1)
This bout serves as a prime example of how much The Ultimate Fighter has changed in the 12 seasons it has been on the air.
At the TUF 1 Finale, current contenders Josh Koscheck and Chris Leben scored wins, while long-time veterans of the Octagon Mike Swick and Nate Quarry got their first of many UFC victories. Six years later, all four remain in the UFC fold. I don’t hold out the same hope for these next four fighters, even if you reduce the time frame to two years.
Chivitchian intrigues me based on his judo pedigree, a skill set honed under his uncle, Gokar. With a legitimate elite level background as a judoka, “The Chainsaw” has the kind of grappling skills to carry him through this fight and perhaps a couple more at this level.
Watson is the kind of guy you want to see succeed. Not a superior physical specimen or blessed with outstanding athleticism, Watson is a grinder in the greatest sense. That being said, his lack of athleticism and explosive skills was evident against Jonathan Brookins in the semifinals and he appears overmatched here as well.
Ian Loveland (13-7-0) vs. Tyler Toner (11-2-0)
I grew up racing horses, so even before Tamdan McCrory took to the Octagon, I had heard the term “barn cat” on more than one occasion. Stupid little mongrel cats always hissing at me when I’m trying to pick a stall...
Anyway, Loveland goes by the moniker “The Barn Owl” and that's one I’m not too familiar with. Aren’t owls more of a tree-dwelling animal? A member of Team Quest, Loveland has earned six-straight wins heading into this bout. Curiously, he was added to the card as an injury replacement for Leonard Garcia. Keep that in mind as we move forward.
Toner fights out of the Grudge Training Center in Colorado, and looks nothing like a fighter. I know that sounds dumb, but seriously, he looks like an accountant or the guy who works at your local hardware store and knows everything there is to know about wrenches.
As with every fight on the undercard, this should be a case where the winner stays and the loser leaves town.
Aaron Wilkinson (6-3-0) vs. Cody McKenzie (11-0-0)
The battle of the two men to choke out Marc Stevens via guillotine could be an interesting affair, if only because you’ve got to be curious to see if Cody can continue earning wins by his signature submission.
Wilkinson is one of the competitors who has the look of someone who a chance to latch on long-term with the UFC. He trains at the Wolfslair Academy, a gym that is well-represented in the organization, and showed a hunger to learn and commitment to his craft during his time inside the Ultimate Fighter house.
A member of the Lyle Beerbohm “Fancy Pants Fight Team,” McKenzie is one of those rare breeds that manages to earn wins despite being a one-trick pony. All but one of his wins has come by guillotine, and the two victories he secured on Spike TV were secured that way as well. Unfortunately for the Alaskan, in the one fight where he wasn’t able to sink in a choke, his lack of secondary and tertiary talents was exposed.