With Johnson vs. Benavidez out, a critical lightweight tilt now tops TUF 18's finale.
UFC 167 is in the books. The results are as follows, per the UFC website:
UFC 167 Main Card
- Georges St-Pierre def. Johny Hendricks, split decision (48-47, 47-48, 48-47)
- Rashad Evans def. Chael Sonnen, TKO (Round 1, 4:05)
- Robbie Lawler def. Rory MacDonald, split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
- Tyron Woodley def. Josh Koscheck, knockout (Round 1, 4:38)
- Ali Bagautinov def. Tim Elliott, unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
Fox Sports 1 Prelims
- Donald Cerrone def. Evan Dunham, submission (Round 2, 3:49)
- Thales Leites def. Ed Herman, unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
- Rick Story def. Brian Ebersole, unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
- Erik Perez def. Edwin Figueroa, unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
- Jason High def. Anthony Lapsley, unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
- Sergio Pettis def. Will Campuzano, unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
- Gian Villante def. Cody Donovan, TKO (Round 2, 1:22)
Next up? The Ultimate Fighter season 18 finale, headlined by Nate Diaz vs. Gray Maynard and backed up by a slew of bouts from the season.
Unfortunately, the majority of the card remains a mystery as the season still has two episodes yet to air. Still, there are some things worth asking about both the event and the future of TUF.
This seems like a stupid question, but the fact is that we just don't know the answer yet! Because of that, a sizable portion of the card remains a mystery.
In the men's division we know that Chris Holdsworth secured a spot for Team Tate in the finals. He will face the winner of Anthony Gutierrez vs. David Grant, who will throw down on Wednesday (barring something crazy happening...again).
With the ladies, Julianna Pena roughed up Sarah Moras to advance to the finals. She will face off with the winner of Raquel Pennington vs. Jessica Rakoczy in what, on paper, should be a downright brawl.
That knots up a good portion of the cast in terms of who we could see in the finals and who could be fighting on the preliminary card.
Every season of The Ultimate Fighter is different, and every season has varying degrees of talent. That translates to varying degrees of willingness to retain fighters afterwards.
Seasons 14 and 15, for example, had an amazing amounts of talent. A majority of the cast was kept afterward, and fighters such as Steven Siler and Myles Jury, who were knocked out of the competition early, have performed quite well in the Octagon since.
On the flip side, Season 16 featured fighters selected not for their talent, but for their maturity. Their lack of maturity, that is. This resulted in historic ratings lows and precisely two fighters still on roster from the season at the time of this writing (the season's winner Colton Smith and semifinalist Neil Magny).
Before that, the UFC would typically bring back in fighters that cleared the first round of fights, match them based on on-set feuding, then send the losers back to regional promotions.
So which fighters will get a second chance at UFC fame? In addition to the finalists, the only one that is guaranteed to make a comeback is Tim Gorman, who was forced out of the competition shortly into the season after he hurt his leg.
It was a strong group of fighters this season, so it will be interesting to see who is already on the comeback trail.
The crew of ladies featured in The Ultimate Fighter season 18 was really, really good. That includes the ones that washed out before entering the house.
The UFC, for the most part, tends to only bring back people who made it past the first round of fights in the House. However, we know that while the UFC's women's bantamweight division is filled with literally dozens of mouthwatering matchups that could be made on a day's notice, it still has just 15 fighters currently on roster.
The UFC needs more than just four new fighters to really flesh out the division. So who from the season will they bring back?
The most obvious candidates are the four veterans: Tara LaRosa, Shayna Baszler, Tonya Evinger and Roxanne Modafferi. Each of them own wins over fighters already in the UFC (save Modafferi, who has primarily fought in Japan but found the time for wins over Marloes Coenen and LaRosa).
LaRosa, Baszler and Evinger would all be potentially valuable additions to the bantamweight division. Modafferi, meanwhile, could potentially be added to the in-the-works strawweight division.
Past them, it is hard to overlook the high ceilings of Jessamyn Duke and Peggy Morgan. The two lanky ladies are both physically powerful and young enough to develop into enduring components of the UFC's women's divisions.
Additionally, Sean Shelby would probably be well served by keeping an eye on some of the preliminary washouts like Revelina Berto and Colleen Schneider.
I once brought up the idea of doing an all-female season of The Ultimate Fighter, but I questioned whether or not the ladies would be capable of generating strong ratings. What I, and I would bet most others, didn't expect was that the ladies consistently drew bigger numbers than the men. You can check out the stats here from MMA Payout.
The ladies have been pulling about 18 percent more viewers. The only exception was between Weeks 9 and 10, when Sarah Moras vs. Peggy Morgan was programmed opposite Game 6 of the World Series, and Chris Holdsworth vs. Mike Wootten was boosted by UFC Fight For the Troops 3.
While a big part of this season's success has been the Rousey vs. Tate rivalry, the week-by-week numbers suggest, quite simply, that folks want to see the ladies fight more than the men.
TUF 19, unfortunately, is already lined up. Former UFC lightweight champs (but current featherweights) BJ Penn and Frankie Edgar will each coach a crew of middleweights and light heavyweights. If the ratings tank on that, though, it could open the door for a girls-only season of TUF.
Coaching options are plentiful between Sarah Kaufman, Jessica Eye, Sara McMann, Alexis Davis, Cat Zingano and Amanda Nunes. Wrapping up the season with a top contender bout between the two coaches would add serious relevance to the finale.
The biggest question is whether or not the UFC would be able to scrounge up another palette of talented ladies.
The addition of a strawweight division makes it easier for the UFC, since they can simply try and pull together 16 ladies that can fight between 106 and 116 pounds, and then another 16 that can weigh in between 126 and 136.
The loss of Demetrious Johnson vs. Joseph Benavidez was a major hit to the card.
Obviously, losing the flyweight championship bout between Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson and Joseph Benavidez was a serious hit to the overall quality of this card. It also breaks from many recent seasons in that it doesn't have the coaches' fight as the headliner of the card (Roy Nelson vs. Shane Carwin, Ross Pearson vs. Georges Sotiropoulos, Fabricio Werdum vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, etc.).
That said, there's no looking past the fact that there is precisely one interesting fight on this card outside Ultimate Fighter contestants from this season (which is, of course, the main event between Nate Diaz and Gray Maynard).
TUF finales are rarely genuinely stacked cards, but for comparison's sake, TUF 17's finale was headlined by the bantamweight tilt between WEC stars Scott Jorgensen and Urijah Faber. It was backed up by a top contender bout between Cat Zingano and Miesha Tate. It had Travis Browne's bounce-back fight.
TUF 16 had Roy Nelson vs. Shane Carwin (albeit briefly), and other fights that included Rustam Khabilov, Pat Barry and Mike Pyle. TUF: The Smashes had Georges Sotiropoulos vs. Ross Pearson backed up by Hector Lombard and Chad Mendes. Suffice it to say, while the UFC doesn't go nuts on these cards, it rarely seems as indifferent as they did here.
So why is this?
Well, obviously the UFC has been going absolutely nuts lately, as there were three cards in October. November has four lined up, and then December has three more. That's a lot of cards in a three-month span.
Also, and this has really escaped many observers, The Ultimate Fighter has actually been beating Fight Night events in terms of ratings. In fact, Episode 2 featuring Baszler vs. Pena blew away every single Fight Night event thus far, save Sonnen vs. Rua. It's possible the UFC might actually be confident enough in the crew's ability to draw that the company is willing to sit back and rake it in.
Nate Diaz is reeling terribly from back-to-back harsh losses.
There was a time when Nate Diaz seemed like the scariest lightweight in MMA.
He ran clean through former Pride champion and current fan favorite Takanori Gomi, making him tap to an armbar in round 1. Then he roughed up Donald Cerrone without incident. To top it all off, he delivered one of the most lopsided beatdowns ever seen in a bout between two legitimate top-10 fighters when he tossed Jim Miller around before forcing him to tap in the second round.
Then he lost to Benson Henderson in cut-and-dry fashion at UFC on Fox 5. Then he suffered a shocking, lopsided knockout loss from Josh Thomson.
He is in a career free fall, and the UFC is doing him no favors in matching him against Gray Maynard. It's an ugly stylistic matchup that could see Diaz get pressed to the cage and ground down for 15 minutes.
Gray Maynard is also coming off a surprising knockout loss.
Gray Maynard hasn't logged a good win since beating Kenny Florian at UFC 118. Think about that.
Since then, he has gone 1-2-1.
The UFC is a "what have you done for me lately" organization. What has he done for them lately? Well, he has put fans to sleep, withdrawn from fights and gotten knocked out.
Yeah, sure. Two of those fights were his amazing title bouts with Frankie Edgar. The one win, though, was the infamous bout with Clay Guida at UFC on FX 4.
Nate Diaz is a tough fight for any lightweight, and the series is currently split between the two. The fact that Maynard has twice been knocked out is worrisome. So, too, is the fact that Diaz is capable of submitting basically anybody.
It's a very tough spot for the former TUF 5 participant.
Both Maynard and Diaz could be at risk of being cut following a loss.
As stated, it wasn't very long ago that Gray Maynard and Nate Diaz were two of the greatest lightweights in MMA. The turnaround has been truly unexpected.
That makes their spot in the main event all the more perplexing.
Very few fighters survive an 0-3 stretch, and Diaz could find himself in such a position with a loss. Maynard, meanwhile, would fall to 1-3-1 in his last five which, once again, spells doom for most fighters, especially ones in competitive divisions like 155 lbs.
Maynard is definitely more at-risk. Diaz is a far more exciting fighter and has a relatively large fanbase. Meanwhile, UFC and Dana White have made it pretty clear that no plodding grinder, outside Chael Sonnen, is welcome in their organization with the cuts of Jon Fitch and Yushin Okami, as well as the recent dismissal of Ben Askren.
The last time a fighter was released following a UFC main event (if this writer recalls correctly) was back in 2010 when Mark Coleman was booted from the UFC following his loss to Randy Couture at UFC 109.