Mike Pyle vs. James Head sits atop the Fuel TV preliminary card to tonight's TUF16 Finale.
To build anticipation for tonight's finale of The Ultimate Fighter 16, the UFC is putting on a standard feature of undercard fights on Fuel TV.
After the three Facebook fights, we have an undercard with longtime veteran Mike Pyle facing off with James Head. Outside Pyle, however, this is an undercard made up of young hotshots looking to make names for themselves.
Middling welterweights Nick Catone and T.J. Waldburger face off to right their ships and rise through the division's ranks. TUF 14 holdover Johnny Bedford faces off against TUF: Brazil alumnus Marcos Vinicius in a downright tantalizing bantamweight fight. In the lightweight division, we have a battle of promotional newcomers (but MMA veterans) Vinc Pichel and Rustam Khabilov.
So who should your money be riding on? Who should you pick in your fantasy MMA league or whatever it is you kids do these days?
Find out right here!
Look for Catone to use the size edge from his drop to welterweight to his advantage.
This right here is a fight between two guys you've never heard of who happen to have wins over guys you have heard of.
Nick Catone is making his welterweight debut after going 3-3 as a middleweight. Why somebody would actually want to enter the hell that is the lower tier of the UFC's welterweight division is a mystery to me, but there it is. In his third UFC fight, he came up just short against Mark Munoz, narrowly losing a split decision. In 2011, though, he ended up getting a lopsided decision victory over Costa Philippou. (He would then lose to Chris Camozzi.)
Waldburger, meanwhile, has beaten the likes of Pete Spratt, Brian Foster and Pat Healy. Those are some solid fighters on top of his 3-2 record in the UFC.
So who wins?
On paper, these two match up stylistically, but the real X-factor is the weight cut by Nick Catone. If Catone's cut goes smoothly, his well-rounded skills will compliment the size edge, and should give him a solid decision win.
If he has trouble, though, expect Catone to fade and Waldburger to take advantage.
Prediction: Catone via Decision
Right here we have a standard grappler-versus-striker matchup.
Pichel is one of the talented fighters left over from TUF: Live who has not yet made his official UFC debut. He is undefeated in seven professional fights but lost to Al Iaquinta in the semifinals of the season. Each of those wins has come from punching out an opponent.
Rustam Khabilov, meanwhile, is a Sambo fighter out of Russia who mostly submitted his way to an 8-1 record in M-1. While seven of his 14 career wins have come by decision, he has four big armbar wins and has some level of knockout ability.
It's hard to make a prediction on Khabilov with essentially no tape on him, but two factors get him the nod here. One is that, all things equal, the grappler wins against the striker 80 percent of the time. The other is that Khabilov is training with Greg Jackson.
I expect that Khabilov will be able to take advantage of the likely grappling discrepancy and work Pichel over on the ground.
Prediction: Khabilov via Decision
This is probably the best fight on this card that you don't know about.
Johnny Bedford and Marcos Vinicius are two recent additions to the UFC's bantamweight division. Each has just one fight. Both scored third-round knockouts in those fights.
In smaller promotions, both were amazing finishers. Bedford has 14 finishes in 18 wins. Vinicius has 20 finishes in 20 wins.
The question when it comes to who wins comes down to the submission game. Looking strictly at the stats, Bedford owns eight submission losses. Vinicius, meanwhile, has 13 wins by submission and not just off rear-naked chokes. Because of that, I give the nod to Vinicius here by submission.
Regardless, this is the must-see fight of the undercard. Don't miss it!
Prediction: Marcos Vinicius via Submission, Round 3
Mike Pyle's experience is likely to carry him over prospect James Head.
The welterweight division is probably the toughest division to rise in. There is a huge amount of talent, and it is nearly impossible to rise up through that bunch. Mike Pyle and James Head are two fighters that are trying to do just that, each at the expense of the other.
Both fighters are coming off back-to-back wins, following tough losses. Pyle got slapped around by Rory MacDonald in 2011 but has two big wins in 2012 against Ricardo Funch and Josh Neer. James Head, meanwhile, got choked out by Nick Ring and bounced back over Papy Abedi and Brian Ebersole.
The question here, ultimately, is how good James Head is. He is 28 years old and only has three fights in his UFC career. His victory over Brian Ebersole is a big name, and he also holds a win over former UFC middleweight Gerald Harris.
Pyle is a tough, scrappy veteran, and Head's performance against this kind of opponent is going to tell us a lot about where he is in the division skill-wise.
As a policy, I give the nod to experienced fighters, and I don't feel strongly enough about James Head to make an exception. Head could win here, for sure, but I'm leaning towards the guy who has been fighting in top promotions for as long as Head has been fighting.
Prediction: Mike Pyle via Decision