Finale events for The Ultimate Fighter series are somewhat of a unique beast in the realm of the UFC. Where a typical UFC card normally consists of a handful of high-profile fights, a few showcases for up-and-comers and a bout to affect a divisional picture or two, a TUF finale bears little resemblance to the standard product the promotion delivers on a regular basis.
In past cases, these events would be lucky to have at least one of the above listed options. But coming into Saturday night's card for The Ultimate Fighter 17 finale, the runt of the litter in the UFC stable had the potential to have its moment—or moments—in the spotlight.
With a solid main event between Urijah Faber and Scott Jorgensen being the one guaranteed lock to deliver the action, there were plenty of variables afloat which had the power to make or break the event. In the week leading up to fight night, questions hovered on multiple fronts.
Did this season's perpetual underdog, Kelvin Gastelum, stand a chance against highly touted wrecking machine Urijah Hall?
Would the fight between Miesha Tate and Cat Zingano fall flat and tip the direction of the UFC's effort to establish a female presence toward disaster?
Fortunately for the UFC, those questions and several others were answered in enigmatic fashion. Here is a look at the good, bad and strange from The Ultimate Fighter 17 finale.
There were several high points during the event, but the night belonged to Gastelum. The 21-year-old Arizona native completed his run as this season's perpetual underdog when he pulled off an impressive upset over the heavily favored Uriah Hall.
Despite being the last man picked for Team Sonnen, Gastelum beat the odds throughout every step of the tournament. The final obstacle on his path to a six-figure contract with the UFC was a man Dana White called "the nastiest, deadliest, meanest" competitor in the history of the program (h/t Case Keefer of the Las Vegas Sun).
While those adjectives certainly sound menacing and Hall undoubtedly did the work to earn his place in the finals, Gastelum refused to put the New York native on a pedestal and attacked from the opening bell. Over the course of the three-round tilt, both fighters had their moments, but when the judge's cards were read, Gastelum edged out Hall via split decision to become the next Ultimate Fighter.
With the victory, Gastelum cemented himself in the UFC history books, as he became the youngest fighter to ever win the tournament and will have a future competing on the sport's biggest stage to look forward to.
It would be impossible to top Gastelum's moment at the finale, but Zingano's comeback performance certainly came close.
After being on the business end of a beating from Tate for the better part of two rounds, "Alpha" shifted into a different gear in the final round and turned the tide of the fight. With Tate reeling, the 30-year-old pounced, unleashing a brutal series of knees to Tate's face before dropping the former Strikeforce bantamweight champion with a standing elbow to end the fight.
In addition to scoring an impressive victory over a seasoned competitor the likes of Tate, Zingano's win came with several rewards intact. The Colorado-based fighter not only earned the opportunity to face champion Ronda Rousey for the women's bantamweight title, but Zingano will also join "Rowdy" as a coach in the next season of The Ultimate Fighter.
While the decision to make Rousey and the Zingano/Tate winner the next coaches appeared to some to be a pre-wired vehicle for the Rousey versus Tate rivalry to continue, Zingano threw the proverbial wrench in those works as she defeated Tate and properly introduced herself to a new fanbase.
It's easy to pick at a fighter when he comes up short in a bout he was heavily favored to win, and terms such as "hype-train derailed" are thrown about, but Hall losing to Gastelum isn't the reason I'm mentioning him in this category.
Over the course of the fight, there were many things Hall did well, and there were a handful of moments where his undeniable talent shined through. On the other hand, the one glaring element of Hall's approach to the fight that lands him in this category is the fashion in which he handled the majority of the first round.
Stylistically speaking, Hall is levels above Gastelum in most aspects of mixed martial arts. That being said, the one aspect of the fight game where Gastelum had the advantage in the matchup was in the wrestling department.
When the action got underway, Hall allowed Gastelum to walk him backward and into the fence, which is the last place he needed to be. But what made matters worse was the fact that he chose to stay there, hands down, back against the fence, inviting Gastelum to come forward.
The Arizonian wasted zero time capitalizing on Hall's hubris and used the position to score a takedown. Gastelum's action from top position allowed him to take the opening frame and played a large role in his earning the split-decision victory.
While there is no doubt in my mind Hall will go on to have some success competing under the UFC banner, there was an obvious hole in his game plan against Gastelum. Whether that flaw was a mental lapse or overconfidence, he will have to shore up that aspect of his approach in order to reach his full potential.
Outside of Hall's first-round defense, the other entry into this category has to do with the finale itself. The card is comprised of matchups made between the rest of the season's contestants who did not make the finals, and this drives me crazy. Aside from the occasional grudge match—which seems to happen every three or four seasons—the fights are mostly pointless.
Other than getting one more opportunity to compete in front of the UFC fanbase, they serve no grand purpose because they fail to show us anything we haven't learned from watching the reality show.
Bubba McDaniel, Luke Barnatt and Dylan Andrews earning victories over their housemates proved absolutely nothing in the larger picture. On the other hand, had those fighters been matched up with fighters who were already on the UFC roster, those bouts would have served a purpose.
Making them would have at least provided a gauge of some sort instead of prolonging what will ultimately be the inevitable for some of the fighters involved in Saturday night's event.
As the show goes forward, I believe mixing up the matchmaking in the future would be a huge step in the right direction.
In the category of all things curious and weird, the strangest question lingering in the aftermath of the TUF 17 finale is what to do with Urijah Faber?
In his victory over Scott Jorgensen, "The California Kid" once again proved he is a beast and a force to be reckoned with in the bantamweight division. The Team Alpha Male leader remained undefeated in his career when competing without a title on the line. When you consider the fact he has been competing as a professional for nearly a decade, that is an impressive accomplishment by any measure.
On the flip side of that coin, the 33-year-old has come out on the business end of the five title opportunities he's had since 2008. Nevertheless, Faber has refused to relent in his quest to become a UFC champion and has continued to battle his way back to the top after every misstep.
But with his most recent attempt coming last July against interim champion Renan Barao, the thought of Faber earning another opportunity seems a bit off.
At the same time, Faber is undoubtedly one of the best 135-pound fighters on the planet, and any fight outside of title contention doesn't make sense.
With Barao and Eddie Wineland scheduled to trade leather in June at UFC 161, Faber could very well fight the winner. Then again, Dominick Cruz is still pushing to make his return in 2013, and along with "The Dominator" comes an immediate title unification bout.
This situation leaves Faber in limbo, and that is what I find so strange about his position. He is hands down one of the best bantamweight fighters in the UFC fold, but with the title picture locked up and no reason to fight—what Faber does next is anyone's guess.
Perhaps the only thing more strange than Faber's current predicament was the Jon Anik lead interview between Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen.
Awkwardness reigned supreme in this exchange, as the light heavyweight champion refused to engage, aside from the occasional one-word response, while Sonnen rattled off promotional material in rapid-fire fashion. Anik tried to steer the truck out of the ditch several times, but was unsuccessful in his attempts.
With the interview going down in flames, the clock ticking down and Sonnen carrying the segment, "The Gangster from West Linn" threw out his "Knibb High Football Rules" effort when he mentioned "Save Olympic Wrestling."
Jones walked off. Sonnen and Anik stood trapped in the strangeness. And fight fans took to Twitter to relive the experience.
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