Igor Pokrajac (right): Dave Mandel | Sherdog.com
An entertaining card awaits MMA fans Saturday in Las Vegas, as the UFC will award a six-figure contract tonight at “The Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale.” The bill will air live on Spike TV at 9 p.m. ET.
Michael Johnson vs. Jonathan Brookins
Brian Knapp: Brookins by rear-naked choke submission in the first. I think his combination of quickness and craftiness takes Johnson out of the fight early, frustrates him and leads to a big mistake.
Tristen Critchfield: Brookins gets the edge in strength of schedule, having already faced Jose Aldo and Yves Jabouin in his MMA career. But anyone who impresses Mike Tyson with his speed, as Johnson did, is not someone to take lightly. Johnson hasn't been lacking for talented sparring partners during his recent time training at Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts. If he stays away from Brookins' chokes, this one goes the distance. Brookins by split decision.
Tomasz Marciniak: The UFC and WEC could not have come together at a better time for Brookins, who should ply his trade at 145. Johnson is a legit lightweight, but he prefers to take his rivals down to the ground. That seems to be his downfall here, as Brookins is much more skilled in that department. If Johnson gets rolling on the feet he might win this, but if he has problems with Brookins’ range and resorts to takedowns, I see him getting submitted.
Tim Leidecker: Both fighters come from a wrestling background with Brookins having the edge in both submission skills and experience. As a featherweight, Brookins was only one of two fighters who managed to go into the third round with 145-pound king Aldo (the other was former champion Urijah Faber). All of Johnson’s four career losses have come by way of submission, so it is clear what he will have worked on in preparation for this fight. Brookins will put his more versatile skillset on display Saturday night and win on points.
Stephan Bonnar vs. Igor Pokrajac
Luca Fury: This fight offers a classic “striker versus grappler” element. Stephan, a former Golden Gloves champion, will look to keep the fight standing, while Igor, a solid ground fighter, will look to take it to the mat. The problem here for Igor is even if he gets the fight to the floor, he won’t be able to pass Bonnar’s underrated guard and do any real damage, or lock in a submission. Pokrajac’s only hope in this fight is to get Stephan down and hold him there until the final bell rings. While Bonnar's takedown defense is far from great, Igor doesn’t setup his takedowns well enough to get Bonnar down before Stephan shoves him off to side or grabs an underhook to defend the takedown. On the feet, “The American Psycho" has a massive advantage: Stephan has shown to be a very solid striker, while Pokrijak has been out-struck by less-than-good strikers, such as Vladimir Matyushenko. Once all is said and done, Bonnar should pick up the decision victory by using superior striking and effective takedown defense.
Tony Loiseleur: Since his memorable performance with Forrest Griffin in the first TUF finale , Bonnar has had it a bit rough both in and out of the Octagon. Be that as it may, the Carlson Gracie black belt should still have what it takes to match Pokrajac on the feet -- and will likely be encouraged to fight harder if Pokrajac’s punches make their mark early -- and more than enough skill to control and dispatch the Croation on the canvas. It’s not a lock in my book, but I expect a fun and competitive three rounder with the “American Psycho” edging Pokrajac on the cards.
Demian Maia vs. Kendall Grove
Lutfi Sariahmed: You remember the fight between Maia and MacDonald back at UFC 87? You have to think this is going to go along those same lines, right? I mean Maia's striking is about as effective as yours or mine, so Grove doesn't have to worry about getting knocked out again. Maia's game comes in his submission prowess. Will he beat Grove? Yes. He'll submit him in the second round; but this won't be a bad loss on Grove's ledger. He'll come away as having given a tough effort but coming up just short against a fighter that was clearly better than him on the floor.
Critchfield: Grove's length is enough to give anyone fits, but if any is up to the test, it's the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt. Grove is comfortable on his back, but his grappling skills don't match up with Maia, a former ADCC champion. Maia's last few victories have gone the distance, but he notches a submission victory over Grove here.
Leidecker: Even though he came out on the losing end in four of his last eight fights, Grove has never been submitted in the UFC. Prior to changing up his training by incorporating more striking a year ago, Demian Maia had submitted all five of his UFC opponents. As Grove has a distinct reach advantage on anybody and everybody in the welterweight division, it is clear where Maia needs to take this fight to win. Grove does have good jiu-jitsu, but Maia is simply one of the top five BJJ players in MMA right now. Maia will choke out Grove midway through the first round.
Johny Hendricks vs. Rick Story
Loiseleur: Powerful and explosive as he is, Story won’t be outwrestling Hendricks or putting him away on the feet. Also, given Story’s tendency to fade later in the fight, I expect Hendricks to take over once he starts bullying with the headlock and bringing the fight down to the mat on his own terms. Hendricks will thus maintain his unbeaten streak, outpointing Story throughout three rounds.
Knapp: Story has won four in a row and nine of his last 10. He's flying under the radar a bit, but he has momentum on his side. That said, I think Hendricks brings way too much wrestling to the table. I think he keeps Story on his back for much of the fight, scores with ground-and-pound and takes a decision.
Marciniak: Story struggles against better wrestlers. That is why he lost to Hathaway, that is why he had so much trouble with Osipczak, when the Brit surprisingly put him on his back foot. Hendricks is one of the top wrestlers in the division and I think he shuts down Story's game rather easily.