Six of Roy “Big Country” Nelson’s seven career losses have come by decision. | Photo: Sherdog.com
In most years, an “Ultimate Fighter” finale lineup is stocked full of participants from the reality show, shattering the illusion that only the tournament winner has a shot at an Ultimate Fighting Championship contract.
After Season 16 offered a mostly drab weekly selection of fights, the promotion decided to change things up. As a result, only welterweight finalists Mike Ricci and Colton Smith have a spot at “The Ultimate Fighter 16” Finale on Saturday, while the rest of the cast will watching comfortably from seats at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
In addition to the showdown between Ricci and Smith, much-maligned coach Roy Nelson will lock horns with Matt Mitrione, who stepped in when Shane Carwin blew out his knee in training camp. The show also features potentially entertaining slugfests at lightweight -- Jamie Varner vs. Melvin Guillard -- and heavyweight -- Pat Barry vs. Shane del Rosario.
Here is a closer look at “The Ultimate Fighter 16” Finale, with analysis and picks:
Sherdog Fantasy MMA: “The Ultimate Fighter 16” Finale Free Fan Pick’Em
The Matchup: For the second consecutive season, the American version of “The Ultimate Fighter” lost its originally intended coach-versus-coach matchup before reaching the finale. Fortunately for the UFC, the heavyweight pairing of Nelson and Carwin did not have immediate title implications like Season 15, when Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber were set to square off for the bantamweight crown before “The Dominator” injured his knee.
Still, it would have been interesting to track Carwin’s progress after a year-and-a-half absence due to back and neck surgery. Now 37, with another lengthy rehabilitation process ahead of him after blowing out his knee, one has to wonder if Carwin has another UFC run in him. In his place steps Mitrione, who competed alongside Nelson on Season 10 of “The Ultimate Fighter.”
“Meathead” suffered the first loss of his professional career in his last outing a little more than a year ago, dropping a lackluster decision to Cheick Kongo at UFC 137. A former NFL player with heavy hands and deceptive athleticism, Mitrione feasted on lower-level competition in his first five UFC appearances, besting the likes of Marcus Jones, Kevin Ferguson, Joey Beltran, Tim Hague and Christian Morecraft in succession. Of those five men, only Beltran and Morecraft remain on the UFC roster, and their futures appear tenuous at best.
The fact that Mitrione’s signature victory came against the aforementioned “Kimbo Slice” does not bode well for him against a crafty veteran like Nelson. “Big Country” showcased the formidable power in his right hand in his most recent bout, knocking out Dave Herman just 51 seconds into their UFC 146 encounter. Nelson might not ever be a heavyweight title contender, but the toughness he showed in absorbing one-sided beatings at the hands of Fabricio Werdum and Junior dos Santos remains one of his greatest assets.
The preparation for Mitrione figures to be quite different than it would have been for Carwin. The Grudge Training Center product is a heavy-handed wrestler, while Mitrione is much lighter on his feet with quicker hands. A southpaw with a nine-inch reach advantage, Mitrione will attempt to land combinations on the outside, and his left cross is a particularly valuable weapon.
While the granite-chinned Nelson might very well be able to absorb everything Mitrione can offer on the feet, he will have to work on closing the distance or risk losing points and rounds. The Las Vegas resident uses a solid one-two to close the gap and force clinches. From there, Nelson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, wants to drag the fight to the ground, where he is suffocating from top position. The Burger King spokesman is adept at passing guard, moving to side control and peppering his foes with short punches while employing his girth to his advantage.
Mitrione, meanwhile, has yet to show much on the floor. A couple late takedowns and failed clinch work doomed him against Kongo, and he will have to be more willing to let his hands go than he was in that contest.
The Pick: Mitrione has the ability to win rounds standing, but Nelson will keep pressuring and moving forward. “Big Country” finally asserts his will on the ground for a technical knockout or submission stoppage in the third frame.
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