Previewing the Favorites, Dark Horses of TUF Nations

Riley Kontek@@BigRIlesMMAFeatured ColumnistJanuary 14, 2014

MONTREAL, CANADA - JUNE 27:  Patrick Cote trains with a sparring partner during a public training session on June 27, 2012 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images for Zuffa)
Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

Starting Wednesday after UFC Fight Night 35, The Ultimate Fight Nations is set to premiere. This season will feature Team Canada vs. Team Australia in a format that is more intriguing than the traditional format we've seen for so long.

The season will be coached by TUF vets Patrick Cote (Canada) and Kyle Noke (Australia). Cote competed on the fourth season, which was the comebacks version of the show, while Noke competed on season 11 as a member of Team Liddell.

This is definitely a great format for the show, as fighters are representing two nations. Even if you are not a part of one of those nations, you will be interested to see who comes out on top.

The first version was season nine, which featured Team USA vs. Team UK. Then, we had a version that pitted Team UK against Team Australia.

With that, let's take a look at the welterweights and middleweights featured on this season. From the cast, we will pick the favorites to win and the dark horses of the tournament and predict who will be in the finale.



Team CanadaTeam Australia
Olivier Aubin-Mercier (4-0)Chris Indich (5-1)
Matt Desroches (4-0)Jake Matthews (3-0)
Kajan Johnson (19-10-1)Brendan O'Reilly (5-0)
Chad Laprise (7-0)Richard Walsh (7-1)

Looking at the roster on paper, Team Canada has the deeper team. That is evident in normal lightweight Kajan Johnson, who is the most experienced fighter on the season. That being said, Australia will have some under-the-radar guys to watch.

There are five undefeated fighters on the show, but everybody outside of Chad Laprise with no losses has five or fewer pro fights. That shows that these fighters are legit prospects who lack experience. That's why TUF will be a great tool for them.

So who are the favorites, and who are the dark horses?



The three favorites of the show have to be Laprise, Johnson and Richard Walsh.

Laprise normally fights as a lightweight, but he is a big lightweight with a good ground game and experience under the bright lights of Bellator. He is a training partner of current UFC fighter Jesse Ronson and has only fought to decision twice, showing his power and technique.

Johnson, being the most experienced fighter, also has to be considered a favorite because he has 18 more fights than the next most experienced fighter on the show (Walsh). While Johnson may be "rusty" because he hasn't fought since October of 2011, he has been working out the kinks with Tristar Gym, which is home to former UFC champ Georges St-Pierre, Rory MacDonald and the rest of that elite team.

Walsh has the be the best fighter on paper for Australia. He is the most experienced fighter and has stepped in the squared circle with TUF Smashes winner Robert Whittaker.

Walsh is a very big welterweight with good strength and nasty knockout power. Stand-up is his bread and butter, and he comes into this show on a five-fight surge.


Dark Horses

The two dark horses of the season come in the form Jake Matthews and Olivier Aubin-Mercier.

Matthews is young in his career at 3-0, but he has finished all of his fights in two rounds, including a choke out of Luke Jumeau. He has been a pro for just over a year, but "The Celtic Kid" has a very promising future.

The other dark horse is Aubin-Mercier, a judoka with serious grappling chops that could make him the most dangerous ground fighter on the show. He is just 24 years old, making him a top prospect on the show. All four of his fights have been ended via rear-naked choke in the first round, showing his ability on the ground.

Also, don't sleep on Chris Indich, as he could be the biggest surprise fighter of the season.


Welterweight Finale Prediction: Chad Laprise vs. Olivier Aubin-Mercier



Team CanadaTeam Australia
Luke Harris (10-2)Vik Grujic (6-2)
Nordine Taleb (8-2)Daniel Kelly (5-0)
Elias Theodorou (8-0)Tyler Manawaroa (10-0)
Sheldon Westcott (8-1-1)Zein Saliba (4-0)

The middleweight bracket of the show definitely showcases more experienced fighters than the welterweight portion. The most experienced guy is Luke Harris with 12 pro bouts, while the least experienced is Zein Saliba with four.

Like the welterweights, there are a handful of middleweight guys with undefeated records. From Canada, Elias Theodorou has yet to lose, while Daniel Kelly, Tyler Manawaroa and Saliba are the Australians with perfect marks.

This is another set of exciting prospects, so let's sort out the favorites and dark horses.



The three favorites have to be Theodorou, Manawaroa and Sheldon Westcott.

Theodorou has become more relevant through his one fight with Bellator and bouts with Score Fighting Series. He is well-rounded and long, which will allow him to fight from a distance until he's ready to use his good takedowns to punish his opponents on the ground.

Westcott, a normal welterweight, probably moved up to middleweight so he wouldn't need to cut as much weight. He is another well-rounded guy who has faced some good competition in his career, scoring wins over longtime vet Thomas Denny and TUF vet Nic Herron-Webb.

The favorite coming out of the Australian camp is also the youngest fighter, 19-year-old Tyler Manawaroa. Though he is well-rounded, he is a great submission fighter on the ground and finished all but one of his opponents.


Dark Horses

The two dark horses in this bracket have to be Daniel Kelly and Luke Harris.

Harris is tied for oldest fighter on the season, possessing 36 years on this planet. He is also the most experienced, as the Canadian has spent time in Maximum Fighting Championship, one of the most respected promotions in Canada.

As for Kelly, the undefeated Aussie has finished all but one of his fights. He is also 36 years old but has an Olympic judo background that saw him compete in the games three times (2000, 2004, 2008). He is strong like a bull and is developing his skills well, which could bring him on a surprise run in this tournament.


Middleweight Finale Prediction: Elias Theodorou vs. Tyler Manawaroa


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