Former Lightweight champion, Rafael dos Anjos, will look to halt the rise of surging Welterweight Kamaru Usman this Friday (Nov. 30, 2018) when the two headline The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 28 Finale, live from inside Pearl Theater at The Palms in Las Vegas, Nevada. In the Heavyweight finals, Team Gastelum’s Justin Frazier takes on Team Whittaker’s Juan Espino, while Gastelum reps Pannie Kianzad and Macy Chiasson duke it out at 145 pounds.
TUF 28 Finale’s “Prelims” undercard is split 4:3 between FOX Sports 1 and Fight Pass. Let’s dive right in!
145 lbs.: Rick Glenn vs. Kevin Aguilar
Rick Glenn (21-5-1) stepped up in weight for his short-notice UFC debut, which saw him lose a decision to Evan Dunham, but walk away with a “Fight of the Night” bonus. “The Gladiator” has since won three of four bouts, including dishing out one of the most violent beatdowns in recent memory against favored prospect Gavin Tucker.
He stands five inches taller than Kevin Aguilar (15-1) at 6’0.”
“The Angel of Death” suffered a surprise loss to Leonard Garcia in his first bid for the Legacy FC Featherweight belt, but won it three years later and defended it against the likes of Damon Jackson, Justin Rader and Thanh Le. This streak led to a late-notice “Contender Series” appearance against Joey Gomez, whom he edged by split decision in July.
He steps in for Arnold Allen, who was originally booked to face Gilbert Melendez before “El Niño” had to bow out.
This might boil down to firepower. Glenn’s endless cardio and perpetual offense can break down most anyone willing to sit in the pocket with him, but Aguilar is the more violent puncher and has a solid jab that he can work off of effectively. In addition, Glenn’s happiness to trade mitigates that height advantage of his and should allow Aguilar to control the pocket with his jabs.
The question marks here are Aguilar’s ability to match Glenn’s pace on short notice and Glenn’s willingness/ability to get his nasty ground-and-pound going. Against a straightforward target, though, I expect Aguilar to thrive. Durability, power, and a sniper rifle jab carry Aguilar to victory in a “Fight of the Night” candidate.
Prediction: Aguilar via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Joseph Benavidez vs. Alex Perez
From 2010-2016, Joseph Benavidez’s (25-5) only losses came against Demetrious Johnson, while his wins included victories over Jussier Formiga, Tim Elliott and Henry Cejudo. After 1.5 years on the shelf, he took on Sergio Pettis at UFC 225 and walked away with a split decision loss.
He was originally booked to face Ray Borg at UFC Fight Night 139, only for Borg to withdraw on late notice.
Alex Perez (21-4) submitted Kevin Gray on “Contender Series” to set up an Octagon debut opposite C.J. de Tomas, whom Perez caught in a d’arce choke midway through the second round. He went on to upset TUF veteran Eric Shelton and blasted top prospect Jose Torres for just his fourth (technical) knockout victory.
He is two inches taller than Benavidez and will have a half-inch of reach on him.
Perez has all the momentum here, but I see this as a similar match up to Benavidez-Borg; though Perez is a fiercer striker than Borg, the submission-savvy wrestler is an archetype that Benavidez has been outclassing for over a decade. Perez doesn’t have the precise long-distance sniping that Pettis used to great effect and Benavidez can more than hold his own on the inside.
Benavidez still has a question mark dangling over his head after the poor performance against Pettis. That said, I expect him to be a lot more comfortable and effective against a familiar style clash. He out-scrambles Perez and lands enough haymakers to edge out a victory.
Prediction: Benavidez via unanimous decision
265 lbs.: Maurice Greene vs. Michel Batista
Between his drunken shenanigans, one-sided feud with Juan Espino, and brutal knockout of Przemysław Mysiala in the opening round, Maurice Greene (5-2) established himself as one of the biggest personalities on TUF 28. He didn’t quite manage to be the best fighter, though, getting pounded out by the aforementioned Espino in the semifinal round.
He has submitted three opponents and knocked out one other.
Cuba’s Michel Bautista (4-0) rewarded Robert Whittaker’s decision to pick him by knocking out Josh Parisian in the quarterfinals. He couldn’t do the same to Justin Frazier, who knocked him out in the tail end of Round One.
He will give up four inches of height to the 6’7” Greene.
The looming question here is Batista’s willingness to wade through fire to implement his wrestling. After manhandling Parisian, he refused to engage with Justin Frazier and ultimately went down to a punch that really didn’t look that devastating. He’ll eat Greene alive on the mat, but he’ll have to show a lot more grit to do so.
It’s a coin flip, admittedly, but Greene’s height and the way Batista just folded against Frazier have me thinking the kickboxer pounds out the wrestler before long.
Prediction: Greene via first-round technical knockout
145 lbs.: Leah Letson vs. Julija Stoliarenko
Leah Letson (4-1) represented Team Gastelum on the show, defeating Bea Malekci to advance to the semifinals. In the final episode of the season, she faced Macy Chiasson, who took her out with knees in the first round.
Three of her four professional victories have come via (technical) knockout.
Julija Stoliarenko (4-2) entered TUF 28 with four armbar victories under her belt, then made it five at the expense of Marciea Allen in the opening round. She struggled to take down Pannie Kianzad in the next round, however, and suffered a submission loss.
All four of her submissions wins came in the first round.
The amount of mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters who can make fighting off their back work can be counted on one hand. Stoliarenko is not among them, and unless she beefs up her wrestling significantly, she’s going to struggle to make an impact no matter what division she’s in. Unfortunately for her, she’ll need to get consistent top position to defeat Letson, who has legitimate finishing ability.
Stoliarenko can obviously turn the fight on its head in an instant, but she’ll struggle to impose her game on anyone with a modicum of takedown defense. Letson chews her up on the feet, then ultimately pounds her out after a desperate guard pull.
Prediction: Letson via second-round technical knockout
155 lbs.: Roosevelt Roberts vs. Darrell Horcher
Roosevelt Roberts (6-0) won his final six amateur bouts before making his professional debut in 2016, quickly racking up five stoppage victories. Following a win in Bellator, “The Predator” joined “Contender Series,” where he choked out Garrett Gross in the second round.
He has knocked out and submitted three foes apiece.
Darrell Horcher (13-3) was on the wrong end of a Khabib Nurmagomedov mauling in his Octagon debut, and a subsequent motorcycle accident didn’t improve his mood. Luckily, he returned to action 14 months later with a split decision over Devil Powell, but struggled with the wrestling of Scott Holtzman en route to a decision loss.
He stands four inches shorter than the 6’2” Roberts.
Horcher has a clear wrestling deficiency, and this will be the third time in four UFC fights that he’s been pitted against someone well-equipped to exploit it. Roberts uses his massive frame to wrap opponents up in the clinch and drag them to the mat, where he unleashes hard punches until they give up their necks. The shorter Horcher will struggle to get his punching offense flowing, and though Roberts can be tagged on the inside, the looming threat of his clinch will put a damper on Horcher’s willingness to unload.
Roberts remains unproven, but this is certainly a doable first step on his way into the Lightweight ranks. Persistent takedowns, top control, and persistent choke attempts earn him victory in his debut.
Prediction: Roberts via second-round submission
170 lbs.: Tim Means vs. Ricky Rainey
Tim Means (27-10-1) started his second UFC stint 6-2 before hitting his current 1-3 (1 NC) stretch. His last two defeats saw him lose a competitive split decision to Belal Muhammad and a horrific split decision to Sergio Moraes, whom “The Dirty Bird” had clearly dominated on the feet.
Eighteen of his 22 stoppage victories have come by form of knockout.
Ricky Rainey (13-5) joined UFC on the heels of a strong Bellator run, replacing Abdul Razzak Alhassan against Muslim Salikhov on short notice. Rainey used his length well against the “King of Kung Fu,” only to fall victim to the latter’s power punching late in the second round.
“The Sniper” is one inch shorter than Means, but will have a four-inch reach advantage.
Even with his recent struggles, Means remains one of the Welterweight division’s more potent strikers. He can be patient to a fault, though, resulting in several of his fights being much closer than they should be. Luckily, Rainey has his own issues with passivity and, unlike Means, has been stopped with strikes three times.
At the end of the day, Means can stand up to Rainey’s best shots, while the inverse doesn’t hold. Rainey racks up some early points with his reach advantage before getting clipped and finished.
Prediction: Means via first-round technical knockout
135 lbs.: Raoni Barcelos vs. Chris Gutierrez
After nearly two years away, Raoni Barcelos (12-1) finally made his Octagon debut in July, taking on the ever-tough Kurt Holobaugh. The two wound up putting on the “Fight of the Night,” which came to a dramatic end in the third round when Barcelos put away Holobaugh with nasty uppercuts.
He has knocked out seven pro foes and submitted one other.
Chris Gutierrez (12-2-1) upset PFL standout Timur Valiev back in 2016, only to lose the rematch and drop a decision to UFC vet Jerrod Sanders soon after. He has since won three straight, making the most of his first LFA main event with a submission of black belt Ray Rodriguez.
He will have two inches of height and reach on the Brazilian.
At 27 years old, Gutierrez has the look of a future contender at Bantamweight. He boasts quality long-range striking, sneaky grappling, and some of the nastiest leg kicks I’ve seen in a while. It’s a shame that he has to debut against Barcelos.
The Brazilian is a lethal mix of top-notch wrestling and slick counter-punching, and considering he’s manhandled and knocked out Featherweights with ease, he’s going to be one dangerous Bantamweight. Gutierrez is patient and effective enough with his kicks to hypothetically potshot his way to victory, but the Valiev fights showed that his habit of not setting up his kicks opens him up to takedowns. Barcelos leans on his ground game more than usual, keeping Gutierrez from getting comfortable at range with regular takedowns.
Prediction: Barcelos via unanimous decisions
TUF 28 Finale features fresh names, plenty of finishers, and contender implications in the main event. Sounds like a quality Friday night to me — see you then, Maniacs!
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire TUF 28 Finale fight card, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the main card start time at 10 p.m. ET (also on FOX Sports 1).