The Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale Preliminary Card Preview

Rani YahyaUltimate Fighting Championship returns once again to the Mandalay Bay Events Center for The Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale, as the Team Ronda vs. Team Tate drama comes (nearly) to an end. The prelims are full of vets and up and comers, so let’s take a look at what to expect for this Thanksgiving UFC. The prelims are headlined by Swede Akira Corrasani (11-3-1), who won’t have plates of turkey and stuffing dancing in his head as he makes the cut to 145. His opponent is Japanese/Venezuelan MMA legend Maximo Blanco (9-4-1-1). Blanco waltzed into Strikeforce as a force from Sengoku, but he was quickly beat up by Pat Healy and rear naked choked. He still made the transition from Strikeforce to the UFC, but lost in his debut at UFC 145 to Marcus Brimage via split-decision. It wasn’t until April of 2013 at the TUF 17 Finale that he was able to get that much-coveted UFC ‘W,’ decisioning Sam Sicilia. Corrasani is undefeated in the UFC at 2-0, and has defeated Andy Ogle and Robbie Peralta in the last 12 months. This fight will likely go like both of these men’s previous encounters inside the Octagon, and will be a tough, but close bout. Blanco has more power in his fists, but Corrasani is the overall better fighter at this time in their careers. Still, this should be a close fight. Longtime Zuffa employee, Rani Yahya (19-7) looks to extend his winning streak to four against UFC newcomer and rider of an 11-fight win streak in Tom Niinimaki (20-5-1). The Finnish 31-year old Niinimaki has been on a great run across Europe, with his biggest win coming in May over former WEC champion Chase Beebe. Niinimaki hasn’t faced the best competition, but he’s fast on his feet and has a really great 1-2, which if he lands, should put you down. Usually he dives into his opponent’s guard recklessly to finish them off with punches or elbows. He probably has the stand up advantage over Rani Yahya, but the second degree black belt in BJJ has absolutely no issues fighting off his back, and will look to take advantage of Niinimaki’s overzealous nature. Yahya has 15 submission wins, and you don’t want to give him an inch of a limb, or he’ll take advantage. This could be a really fun fight, as Niinimaki wants to make a mark for himself after years on the independent circuit. Don’t think that Niinimaki’s submissions are anywhere near Yahya’s. He usually sets them up after his opponent has been pummeled. Brother of former UFC fighter Jake Rosholt, heavyweight Jared Rosholt (8-1) has done well for himself in his brief career. The 27-year old NCAA Division I badass was a long time coming to MMA, and he’s been able to complement his powerful wrestling with some God-given knockout power. His opponent is also a UFC newcomer in Walt Harris (6-1), an NCAA Division I basketball (badass) that has taken to knocking out his opponents instead of dunking on them. Seriously, he has only won via knockout. I’ve watched many Rosholt fights and I have a feeling these two are going to meet in the middle of the Octagon and start swinging for the fences. Or, Rosholt could play it smart and take down the American Top Team and Mayweather Boxing gym member. Either could happen, but I have a gut feeling we’re going to see something fun out of these two newcomers. Likely in the form of another knockout for one of them. Welterweights open the card, with Sean Spencer (10-2) hoping to go above .500 inside the Octagon over UFC newcomer Drew Dober (13-4). Spencer is finally finding groove in the weight class he’s meant to be in – welterweight – and showed that he can hang with the big boys after closely defeating Yuri Villefort in Brazil in September of this year. Dober is on a five-fight winning streak against fair competition, mixing up his striking with a good submission game as well. This fight should be Spencer’s to take, as he’s the bigger and more skilled man, but Dober has created a good resume with multiple late-round wins, showing a massive amount of heart and that damn X-factor. Dober is coming into this fight at 170 as a man who usually weighs in at 155, so we’ll see how the size difference plays out.

Written by Jason Nawara

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