The double main event for Saturday’s finale at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas features the lightweight and light heavyweight finals. All sorts of pending storylines are involved, from the ongoing war of fistic aggression between Mexico and the Philippines to the clash of ultimate nicknames between Ryan Bader and Vinicius Magalhaes.
So instead of slogging through that requisite Spike TV marathon, sit back, relax and enjoy another round of pugilistic prognostication.
“The Ultimate Fighter 8” Lightweight Final
Phillipe Nover vs. Efrain Escudero
Nover Scouting Report
Height/Weight: 5’9/155 lbs.
Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Fighting out of: Brooklyn, N.Y.
The stakes: Forget “The Ultimate Fighter” tag. Sure, it will get you a nice push from the boys in matchmaking and some extra sponsorship bling, but with the UFC’s lightweight division rapidly turning into a mutant shark tank, Nover needs to prove he belongs in the deep end of the pool.
Just look at Mac Danzig. Three fights into his UFC run, people are starting to wonder if he’ll ever be anything more than a serviceable gatekeeper. For Nover, the problem’s two-fold, as he entered the show a virtual unknown. A loss here may leave him relegated to flash-in-the-pan status.
The breakdown: For all the talk of Nover’s recent promotion to Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, he’d be scoring a Forrest Gump on the IQ scale if he comes into this bout serious about rolling around with Escudero. This past season of “The Ultimate Fighter” showed us that Nover’s more of a multi-faceted offensive threat than Escudero, and he needs to use that advantage to be effective.
The obvious strategy is to make Escudero uncomfortable by forcing him into striking exchanges where both his chin and technique remain major question marks. That means Nover must come out ready to stuff takedowns and transition to the clinch, where he can use his muay Thai background to soften up Escudero for later. In other words, make like Manny Pacquiao against Oscar De La Hoya and keep the Philippines ahead of Mexico in this fracas.
Escudero Scouting Report
Height/Weight: 5’9/155 lbs.
Hometown: San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora, Mexico
Fighting out of: Tempe, Ariz.
The stakes: While the same prize is at stake for both Escudero and Nover, it’s Escudero who has to live up to being the season-long odds-on favorite. That’s a burden he has shouldered with ease up to this point, but he’s now faced with a dark horse set to steal his thunder and the prospect of becoming another failed shoe-in reality TV champion.
The flipside is that Escudero’s a seasoned fighter with a strong understanding of his own skills and style, which makes him ready to hit the ground running in the UFC. Whether or not he can live up to the “TUF” tradition of Mexican jiu-jitsu artists is anyone’s guess, but Escudero can at least avenge De La Hoya and perhaps show the world that he’s capable of showing emotion for more than five seconds.
The breakdown: The game-plan for Escudero should be the usual dish -- close the pocket early, get a takedown and work. The first part of that plan will be the most critical for Escudero, as his striking game remains nascent and leaves him little hope of surviving any exchanges with a far better stand-up fighter.
Movement will be the key to making everything work, as Escudero must cut off the cage before closing in on Nover; that eliminates his escape routes and limits his options in terms of offense. If Escudero can do that, a takedown should be a formality; a submission’s a more risqué proposition.
Against a fighter who so clearly outclasses you in one area, you must use your best skill to finish him as quickly as possible. Considering Escudero’s, at times, more methodical approach, he must set that mentality aside and go for broke whenever this fight hits the ground.
The bottom line: This fight comes down to who can survive in the other man’s world long enough to bring the fight back to his own realm. While Nover does not have bulletproof takedown defense, he’s a solid grappler who excels at creating scrambles. Escudero’s striking is second-hand at best.
What really tips the scales in Nover’s favor is the fact that Escudero’s takedowns are hardly otherworldly, which means he’ll have to pay a heavy toll to sniff out whatever takedowns he does get. The punishment will add up as the bout wears on, with Nover gutting out a technical knockout win early in the third round.