This groundbreaking season of The Ultimate Fighter is coming to a close soon, officially ending the first season to include female fighters. It has been a success, as the women have stolen the show when it comes to fight time.
Headlining are lightweights Gray Maynard and Nate Diaz, who have met in the past. This fight replaces the former main event of Demetrious Johnson vs. Joseph Benavidez, which was moved to UFC on Fox 9 when Anthony Pettis got injured.
We are still a while out, but let's take an early peek at the fights on the card and speculate about them.
Gray Maynard vs. Nate Diaz
Meeting for the third time in their careers are Gray Maynard and Nate Diaz, who take an unofficial rubber match against each other. It is a matchup of power striking wrestler versus technical boxing grappler.
The two first met on the fifth season of The Ultimate Fighter, and Diaz tapped out Maynard with a guillotine choke. However, the two would rematch in a legit pro fight that actually counts on their record, and Maynard scored a split decision.
Maynard has lost two of his last three, albeit to top dogs TJ Grant and Frankie Edgar. He is always one punch away from winning, as he has extremely powerful hands.
Diaz is 0-2 in his last two, with one fight being a title loss to Benson Henderson. His latest outing saw him get drubbed by Josh Thomson, who broke through his seemingly granite chin.
This time around, I like Maynard. His wrestling is superior, and his power shots will wow the judges en route to a decision.
Prediction: Maynard def. Diaz via decision
Rani Yahya vs. Tom Niinimaki
Newcomer and Finnish prospect Tom Niinimaki finally enters the UFC, but he has a tough task in front of him in the form of UFC and WEC veteran Rani Yahya.
Niinimaki is really getting thrown into the deep end for his debut. He is talented and has potential, but he is taking on a jiu-jitsu ace who taps out most of his adversaries.
Niinimaki is going to show signs of promise, but expect the Brazilian to get the better of him.
Prediction: Yahya def. Niinimaki via submission
Sean Spencer vs. Drew Dober
TUF 15 castoff Drew Dober gets the call on late notice to fight up a weight class, and in his way is two-fight UFC vet Sean Spencer.
Spencer is a power wrestler and one hell of an athlete. He is vastly underrated and has the all-around skills to be a solid UFC midcarder for some time.
Dober, who is usually a lightweight, is coming into this fight with a four-fight win streak, including a win over UFC vet TJ O'Brien. Most of his wins are via submission, but the ground-and-pound fighter has won at least three of those submissions from taps to strikes.
Dober has a chance to be a good lightweight, but he is outsized by Spencer and giving up some athleticism. Spencer should notch the win and send Dober down to 155.
Prediction: Spencer def. Dober via decision
Akira Corassani vs. Maximo Blanco
A great matchup at 145 is afoot, as Akira Corassani meets Strikeforce vet Maximo Blanco. It could be a Fight of the Night contender.
Both men are brawlers with good power in their strikes. Blanco has good wrestling, though, which he should use to try to ground the Swede.
Corassani has improved as a fighter but has been knocked out in all three losses. If he gets grounded by the Venezuelan, he could be in for a long (or short) night.
Prediction: Blanco def. Corassani via TKO
Jared Rosholt vs. Walter Harris
The UFC has brought in two big guns and solid prospects, as Jared Rosholt and Walter Harris will square off in their respective debuts. Both men will try to show that the future is bright in the heavyweight division.
Rosholt is the brother of UFC veteran Jake Rosholt, and he possesses a decorated college wrestling background. He is quick and athletic for a guy his size and possesses Johny Hendricks-like power in his punching.
Harris is another large, athletic specimen with scary power. All four of his wins have come in the first round, with the longest fight lasting just one minute, 54 seconds.
Harris looks like an exciting up-and-comer, but Rosholt's wrestling is going to be the X-factor here.
Prediction: Rosholt def. Harris via submission
TUF 18 Matchups
None of the fights have been announced from the show, as it hasn't ended yet, but let's do some fantasy matchups for each bout.
Right now, I have Chris Holdsworth taking on Davey Grant in the finale, though the next episode indicates that may not happen. For the women's side of the bracket, I have Julianna Pena taking on Jessica Rakoczy for the finals.
As for the other matchups of people who didn't make the final, it appears everyone will likely get a shot in the UFC—other than Cody Bollinger, of course.
Although I'd like to see the two biggest women in Jessamyn Duke and Peggy Morgan fight, they are on the same team, and I'll keep this Team Rousey vs. Team Tate. So, I would put Duke against Sarah Moras and Morgan against Roxanne Modafferi.
That would leave Shayna Baszler to fight Raquel Pennington, even though she could be in the finals. (I am predicting Rakoczy.)
As for the men, I'd match up Chris Beal and Louis Fisette, as well as Josh Hill and Anthony Gutierrez. I would then bring back Tim Gorman, who was injured and kicked off the show, to face Michael Wootten.
What do you think of the matchups? Comment below!