TUF 18 Finale: Prelim Card Predictions

Riley Kontek@@BigRIlesMMAFeatured ColumnistNovember 28, 2013

TUF 18 Finale: Prelim Card Predictions

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    Paul Abell-USA TODAY Sports

    The long road that is The Ultimate Fighter 18 comes to an end this weekend, when the live finale goes down Saturday night in Las Vegas. We will crown two new TUF winners, including the first-ever female winner.

    Headlining is a lightweight match between former title challengers Gray Maynard and Nate Diaz, both of whom are looking to return to the win column. It is the third encounter between the two, as Diaz took an exhibition bout by submission and Maynard took a pro bout via decision.

    Before that, though, we get the prelims. Here are the predictions for those fights.

Josh Sampo vs. Ryan Benoit

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    Two newly signed flyweights are set to square off on short notice, as St. Charles MMA product Josh Sampo takes on Legacy Fighting veteran Ryan Benoit.

    Benoit has a wrestling background, but has been using his standup to win fights lately. All of his wins are finishes, including five in the first round.

    Benoit has just one bout as a flyweight, but looked strong and powerful in the weight class. That being said, his most recent loss against Anthony Birchak saw him get outwrestled in the close decision.

    Sampo had been considered one of the top flyweights outside the UFC until his recent signing. He is a wrestler with great submission skills, which has been clear in all of his bouts.

    He was the champion of CFA, owning wins over notable talent such as Sam Thao, Alexis Vila and Antonio Banuelos. He is a great addition to the division and should be a mainstay for some time.

    Benoit has good takedown defense and striking, but Sampo has faced higher level strikers than Benoit. His game plan is shoot, plant and grapple. That should be enough for him to win.

    Prediction: Sampo def. Benoit via decision

Sean Spencer vs. Drew Dober

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    Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports

    A welterweight bout is afoot, as UFC vet Sean Spencer takes his second 170-pound bout with the company against normal lightweight and late-notice fighter Drew Dober.

    Dober was a participant on TUF 15, but was eliminated in the preliminary round to make it into the house. He is on a four-fight winning streak, with his last loss coming to Bellator star Will Brooks.

    Spencer entered the Octagon for the first time on late notice at 185, where he lost to Rafael Natal despite a valiant effort. However, when he dropped to his natural weight class of 170, he performed much better, besting Yuri Villefort in a fun split decision.

    Dober is a solid wrestler with a good all-around game, but he will be outsized in this bout. Spencer is stronger and more athletic, so he should be quicker on the shot en route to a decision.

    Prediction: Spencer def. Dober via decision

Jared Rosholt vs. Walt Harris

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    A pair of intriguing, young heavyweights are set to make their debuts opposite of each other, as Jared Rosholt takes on Walt Harris.

    Rosholt is a star wrestler from Oklahoma St., with great athleticism and quickness for a man his size. He has uncanny power in his strikes, as evidenced in his last two outings where he smashed his foes.

    Harris is a big, fast heavyweight who has only been pro for two years. In that time, he has used his fast, efficient striking to stop all four of his defeated foes via knockout in the first round.

    Harris is going to be a tough test for Rosholt, but it is Rosholt's wrestling that is going to be key here. When things get fishy, he can fall back on the double leg takedown and punish Harris on the ground.

    Prediction: Rosholt def. Harris via TKO

Rani Yahya vs. Tom Niinimaki

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    Jason da Silva-USA TODAY Sports

    Tom Niinimaki, a Finnish prospect making his long-awaited debut, will enter the Octagon with a stiff test when he takes on jiu-jitsu ace and UFC veteran Rani Yahya.

    Yahya has improved his striking, but it is his ground game that has opponents shaking in their boots. The second-degree black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu is known for dragging his prey to the ground and tapping them out, as evidenced by his 15 career submission wins.

    Niinimaki is a well-rounded individual who has taken out notables Chase Beebe and Walel Watson in his last two fights. He has a refined ground game, but would be smart not to fight fire with fire opposite Yahya.

    Niinimaki will need to use his striking in this bout to avoid the ground with the Brazilian, but Yahya is crafty. He should be able to drag him to the mat and spoil his debut here.

    Prediction: Yahya def. Niinimaki via submission

Akira Corassani vs. Maximo Blanco

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    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    A firefight is afoot in the featherweight division, as Sweden's Akira Corassani makes his return to the Octagon opposite of Venezuelan Maximo Blanco.

    Corassani is a striker with a brawling style known for putting on exciting bouts. After a stint on TUF 14, Akira has gone 2-0 in the UFC, beating Andy Ogle and Robbie Peralta along the way. The Peralta fight in particular showed great improvement for the Swede.

    Blanco is a wrestler who also is known to get into brawls. After slipping up against Marcus Brimage in his debut, Blanco went on to beat Sam Sicilia to earn his first win in the UFC.

    Blanco would be smart to drag Corassani down and pound him on the mat. However, he has the Leonard Garcia mentality when it comes to getting hit in the face and may entice Corassani on a brawl.

    Either way, the Venezuelan should be victorious here.

    Prediction: Blanco def. Corassani via decision