TUF 16 Finale: Jamie Varner and 5 Other Fighters Reviving Careers on Saturday
This Saturday, season 16 of The Ultimate Fighter culminates with a fun-filled fight card live from Las Vegas.
Intentionally or otherwise, a good number of MMA evenings coalesce around a theme, either before or after events unspool. Saturday's finale carries a bit of a redemption motif. Several fighters on the card have a chance to revive or continue reviving their wayward pro careers. Here are the six I believe may be seeking a new lease on their fighting lives this weekend in the desert.
Let's get the obvious one out of the way first, seeing as how he was in the headline and all.
After being dumped from the WEC in 2010, Jamie Varner spent a year and a half in the hinterlands. He then got another chance in the big time when Dana White needed someone to replace Evan Dunham against fearsome striker Edson Barboza. Varner lit a cigarette, tied on the blindfold and stepped into the breach.
He knocked Barboza clean out in the first round. The crowd, as you may imagine, went just a bit wild.
That was followed by a hard-fought loss to Joe Lauzon. On Saturday, Varner faces Melvin Guillard.
Was the Barboza win a fluke? Can Varner really, truly pull off this dramatic second act? Can he complete this riveting heel turn? We'll have a lot more information after Saturday.
The up-again, down-again career of Melvin Guillard continued in August when his early wobbling of Donald Cerrone improbably gave way to a wild Cerrone KO victory.
He now has only one win in his last four bouts, and that came over the not-immortal Fabricio Camoes. However, Melvin Guillard has been here before. Against Varner, he'll try to retake the same patch of ground he's gained and lost so many times. If he can do it, maybe this time he'll move into some new territory, toward the glorious career everyone expected from the gifted New Orleanian.
Stranger things have happened.
Call it The Dan Hardy Exception.
In a typical case, the UFC turns a fighter loose after three consecutive losses. However, if you go in swinging hard and go out with a good soundbite, you're liable to get a longer leash.
Pat Barry has a pretty long leash, and he's still flirting with the end.
True, Barry has never lost three in a row. Since entering the UFC, he's never won two in a row, either. His total mark in the Octagon is 4-5, and he's never beaten anyone within a stone's throw of contender status.
If he can topple a respected young buck like Shane Del Rosario, he'll put himself back in the win column and back on a good path.
Dustin Poirier's bump in the road was not quite as jarring as some others on this list. However, when "The Korean Zombie" submitted "The Diamond" in one of the very best fights of 2012, it threw the brakes and a lot of ice water on Poirier's theretofore rapid ascent through the featherweight ranks.
In his first fight since that setback, Poirier will have a chance to redeem himself against Jonathan Brookins, and show whether he can get up off the mat.
Like Poirier, Matt Mitrione was a fast riser who hit a bump. However, in Mitrione's case, it was more of an emperor-wears-no-clothes kind of bump.
Mitrione's name was once bandied about in contender conversations. After getting thoroughly exposed by Cheick Kongo, he's now viewed as little more than heavyweight division bench depth.
If he can upset Roy Nelson on Saturday night, that will change—and quick.
Shane Del Rosario
I imagine every serious MMA fan knows the Shane Del Rosario story by heart. Young knockout artist with Strikeforce mows down everyone in his path. After five years, 11 fights and 11 wins as a pro, he finally gets a UFC contract. He then gets rear-ended by a drunk driver. Major injuries sustained. After 11 months of recovery, he debuts in the Octagon, only to surrender to jitters, rust and Stipe Miocic.
That was May. This is his first fight since. It's against Pat Barry. If he can win this one—just this one—he'll have won a very strong measure of redemption. Hard to think of a reason to root against that happening.