This season of TUF introduced a pleasant new change to the show's format - in that the fighter's actually had to beat somebody to get on the cast, of course resulting not only in the hilarity of 16 guys-who-were-convinced-they-were-already-celebrities being sent home without ever getting to see the house, but resulting in a cast that it was evident deserved to be on the show. No offense, Blake Bowman and Andy Wang, but had you undergone similar testing you probably would've been dropped off 2 stop lights before the gym.
The fights were good, the frauds were exposed, and with the possible exception of C.B. Dollaway, we got the two guys in the finale who deserved to get there. I've seen a lot of people surprised that Gerald Harris didn't get a second look, as he was one of the highly-touted prospects coming into the show, but giving the other two semi-finalists another chance is fair enough to me. Make no bones about it though, Amir is the fan-favorite; C.B. is kind of an expletive.
What THIS Pulitzer-esque journalist sees as the selling points of this card are the pretty dope matchups from top to bottom, and the fact that it's free and Spike's first card in HD. Obviously about 4 people would buy it if they had to throw down $40-50 on it but they don't so this is a pointless sentence. On to the ANALYSIS!!!
Evan Tanner vs. Kendall Grove (Middleweight - 185 lbs.)
What we have here is two guys who absolutely cannot afford to lose. There aren't any chumps in the UFC anymore, so while in the past these guys might be able to drop a few in a row and still have a job, they can't now because the middleweight division has made a comeback. And they're between the contenders and the guys who are fighting each other to become contenders. Tanner was the first UFC Middleweight Champion, his base is wrestling but was well-rounded before you needed to be well-rounded to make it out of the cage alive. After conquering the bottle he got the passion for fighting back and returned to the cage at UFC 82 for the first time since UFC 59. Unfortunately for him, he ran into a guy named Yushin Okami, a brutally strong wrestler who decided that he was going to bring some standup into the Octagon that night, knocking out Tanner early in the 2nd with an equally brutal knee. Okami's in line for a title shot with the best fighter in the world later this year so it's not like Tanner folded against some hobo, he hung in there with a contender and happened to fall short.
The middleweight champion of TUF 3, Grove is like the UFC equivalent of Shawn Bradley, going 6'6 at his 185 pounds. If there's something he isn't better than his opponent at, one would probably have to point to his wrestling, but the leverage he's able to command at that height actually makes him into a reasonable wrestler. The dude was on a roll to begin his career, then he ran into Patrick Cote @ UFC 74 and Jorge Rivera @ UFC 80, both of whom knocked him out early in the first round. When you lose 4 of your 5 defeats via knockout, your chin SURPRISINGLY ENOUGH becomes a question mark, dare I say a liability. Both fighters prefer clinch work when standing, and at this point in both of their careers it's hard to say whose is better but this guy right here is telling you that's where it's going to be decided. It's hard not to root for Tanner, given his long history in the sport and all that personal-demon-overcoming, but I personally see Grove's length standing being the difference here and Tanner running into his knee like he did against Okami. Grove by TKO.
Amir Sadollah vs. C.B. Dollaway
Amir reminds a lot of people of current heavyweight champ Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in his ability to get his ass beat for 90% of the fight and turn it on at the end and submit you. Unlike Nogueira however, Amir's shown to be a standup finisher also. And he's beaten some pretty badass guys to get where he's at, including Dollaway. C.B. had a much easier road and looked like FEDOR or something until he ran into Amir, at which point he looked like a guy without a chin and the gas mileage of a Ford Excursion. Both have had much longer to train for this fight than they had for any of those on the show, so this is either going to end with C.B. doing what he did the entire first fight, except not getting caught in the armbar this time, or Amir exposing all of his weaknesses in the same fight again. Personally, I can't see Dollaway summoning the RANDY COUTURE GAS TANK and becoming something he's not, and unless Amir comes in hurt, what makes his game "his game" is stuff you can't take away from the guy. I see a somewhat improved Dollaway gas tank and I also see what Amir's skills being polished. Amir by Decision.
Diego Sanchez vs. Luigi Fioravanti
The original 170 lb. Ultimate Fighter, Sanchez snapped his two-fight losing streak at UFC 82 against David Bielkheden and Fioravanti surprised a ton of people in dominating the hot-at-that-time Luke Cummo in a three-round decision. Diego's a wrestler, more of a well-rounded wrestler actually, who's shown the power to stop people with his hands and the jiu-jitsu to tap you on the ground. Fioravanti's not a bad wrestler himself but has stated he wants to stand and brawl. Sanchez doesn't want to do that, he wants to turn it into a wrestling match and a wrestling match he can win. I don't see this being particularly exciting but the name "Diego Sanchez" means the casual fan wants to see it. Sanchez by Decision.
Spencer Fisher vs. Jeremy Stephens
Now THIS is something to get excited about. Spencer's wrestling didn't look too hot last November while getting busted waay up by Frankie Edgar but Frankie Edgar is a stud so it's not an indictment on "The King". His BJJ and Striking are excellent, he's got all the heart in the world and won't settle for being in a boring fight. Stephens is riding a two-fight win streak and looked great while beating the ass of Cole Miller at a recent Ultimate Fight Night. This has all the makings of a stand-and-bang and thank God it's on the main card and not buried as a dark match like a couple others shouldn't be. This is really a complete toss-up and if you're a betting man don't waste your money. In times like these I like to ride the hot, younger, taller, faster, stronger hand though, and Jeremy Stephens is that hand. Stephens by TKO.
Matthew Riddle vs. Dante Rivera
This is possibly the stupidest main-card inclusion I've ever seen on any UFC show. Take two mediocre cast members over both good cast members who aren't on the card at all, and good cast members who are tentatively untelevised. Rivera's a submission grappler with reasonable wrestling. Riddle's the better athlete, and simply has more chances to win. Some might contend that among the chances to win, Rivera's submissions would be the biggest chance in the fight, but this guy doesn't see it. Riddle by TKO.
----THE FIGHTS THAT MAY NOT BE BROADCAST----
Josh Burkman vs. Dustin Hazelett
How these two guys are down here, when Riddle and Rivera are up there is (excuse my language) just plain DAFFY. Hazelett looked phenomenal prior to getting stopped by the more-phenomenal Josh Koscheck at UFC 82, and Burkman (although looking TERRIBLE against Mike Swick) is going to be in an exciting brawl more often than not. Burkman says before every fight that he's rededicated himself to his training, blah blah blah... perhaps he did, and good for him. His brutal power is his chance in this one, otherwise Hazelett has the momentum even considering they both lost, and can do it all, with plus-submissions (yes, that was a baseball-scout-evaluation reference). Hazelett by EXCITING Decision.
Marvin Eastman vs. Drew McFedries
This has absolutely no business being on the undercard either. McFedries is a VIOLENT home run hitter who can end it connecting on one 70% punch and Eastman at his new weight of 185 worked over a very tough Terry Martin at the last UFN. McFedries will have the height and reach advantage, like all of Eastman's opponents, but Eastman's an excellent athlete with the ability to get inside, especially at this new weight. There's no way in hell this doesn't end in a KO. Neither's chin is made of anything harder than a coconut shell but McFedries trains at Miletich, Eastman trains by himself, McFedries has the reach, and McFedries has the power. McFedries by KO.
Matt Brown vs. Matt Arroyo
File this one under "the 3rd fight that deserves to be shown instead of Riddle/Rivera". Keep in mind that unless they all go to decision (which never happens), at least 2 undercard fights usually get shown, so hopefully they'll pick the right ones. We know Brown's a bit of a nut, and Arroyo has looked pretty damn good from the first time we saw him on TUF 6. Brown's probably going to look to want to trade more than Arroyo, who's more comfortable on the ground and has more than enough ability to get it there. This cannot be boring. Arroyo by Submission.
Jeremy Horn vs. Dean Lister
A lot of people think this should be filed under "the 4th fight that deserves to be shown instead of Riddle/Rivera," I somewhat agree, I somewhat don't. This has the highest potential to go to decision, and a pissing-match-on-the-ground-decision. Both have brilliant submissions, Lister has the more brilliant submissions. Horn is a competent standup fighter, Lister really isn't, though in his pre-fight interview on UFC.com seemed to have great confidence in his improvement in that area. Both can take a hell of a beating but neither is going to administer one. This fight can only end in submission or by decision, I think it's Lister's time. Lister via Submission.
Tim Credeur vs. Cale Yarbrough
Credeur's shown me everything, Yarbrough's shown me nothing. Credeur by TKO.
Rob Yundt vs. Rob Kimmons
Who cares. Neither.