The Ultimate Fighter 21 ATT vs. Blackzilians: Previewing Each Fighter

Riley Kontek@@BigRIlesMMAFeatured ColumnistMarch 4, 2015

The Ultimate Fighter 21 ATT vs. Blackzilians: Previewing Each Fighter

0 of 16

    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    It's official. The long-running The Ultimate Fighter series is back for the UFC, but this time with a twist.

    It's gym vs. gym.

    That's right, rival Florida gyms will go head-to-head, as Dan Lambert's American Top Team takes on Glenn Robinson's Blackzilians camp in what should be a heated rivalry. It's one that's full of defecting, betrayal and in-the-cage competition.

    In examining the squads, both are different. ATT has some seasoned veterans who have been to the big show mixed with a couple of key prospects, while the Blackzilians are more prospect-heavy and looking to surprise people.

    Strap in, because you have a scouting report coming your way. Here is a preview of each cast member this season.

Marcelo Alfaya

1 of 16

    Team: American Top Team

    Record: 16-7 (1 NC)

    Strengths: Well-rounded

    Weaknesses: Counter-wrestling

    A member of both American Top Team and Team Nogueira, Marcelo Alfaya has a lot going for him. That should translate to a strong showing this season.

    His age may be concerning in the long run, as Alfaya is 36 years old. However, his experience and resume are why he will be a strong contender on this show.

    Alfaya is well-rounded. He has some power on the feet and is a savage on the ground, given his huge ground-and-pound and submission skills.

    He has struggled against wrestlers in the past but has looked better in recent times. In fact, his recent outing against Jon Fitch was a split decision that saw him counter takedowns. He could have easily won the fight on the scorecards.

    He also owns a win over Blackzilians rep Valdir Araujo, which could give him a mental edge. Keep an eye on this seasoned vet on this season.

Valdir Araujo

2 of 16

    Team: Blackzilians

    Record: 14-5

    Strengths: Ground-and-pound, top-game grappling

    Weaknesses: Striking defense

    Known as "BBMonster," Valdir Araujo joins the Blackzilians for this season on loan from MMA Masters in Miami. He should be a welcome addition.

    Araujo is known for his ferocious top game, where he is likely to smash heads with heavy strikes from that position. However, he also has good submissions too, which often result because he throws barrages of punches.

    On the feet, he is sound offensively. However, as seen in bouts with Tyler Stinson and American Top Team member Marcelo Alfaya, when he gets reckless, he lets his guard down and can be touched.

    That said, he has stepped in the cage with some tough opposition, so he should be experienced. Fighting vets like Chris Weidman and Lucio Linhares early in his career has shaped him for the better.

Carrington Banks

3 of 16

    Team: Blackzilians

    Record: 3-0

    Strengths: Wrestling, athleticism

    Weaknesses: Size, inexperience

    Undoubtedly, I can already see myself screwing up and referring to this guy as Carlton Banks from the onset of this show. But, don't let that stupid joke fool you—Carrington Banks is an underdog who may be one of the surprising breakouts on the season.

    Banks usually fights at lightweight, meaning he will likely be a little bit undersized in this welterweight tournament. However, he will also have the benefit of cutting less weight, which could benefit him in this tournament format.

    Banks is an explosive wrestler, who often can achieve takedowns on athleticism alone. Once he gets a guy down, he keeps him there with pressure and good top grappling.

    His inexperience and overall striking will most definitely be his weaknesses here. Not only that, but he hasn't fought since 2013, which could lead to ring rust or great improvements from being in the gym.

    There is no doubt this is one of the guys who need to make a statement on this show due to a lack of notoriety. He will be one of the biggest underdogs on the show but can turn a lot of heads with a strong showing early on.

Steve Carl

4 of 16

    Team: American Top Team

    Record: 21-4

    Strengths: Submission grappling, world champion

    Weaknesses: Clinch

    There's no doubt about it: Steve Carl is probably the favorite to win this season and for good reason. He is the former World Series of Fighting Champion.

    A voracious submission specialist, he has tapped out 16 opponents along the way. Once he gets guys down, he doesn't give them much room to breathe before giving them no choice but to tap.

    Although most of his wins have come by submission, that doesn't mean he can't strike. He has sustainable striking, which he will often use until he's ready to put his opponent on his back.

    Just look at his resume. With victories over Josh Burkman, Tyler Stinson and Brett Cooper, he easily has some of the most impressive wins in the house.

    He's a jack-of-all-trades with a penchant for winning.

Nathan Coy

5 of 16

    Team: American Top Team

    Record: 14-5

    Strengths: Wrestling, big-show experience

    Weaknesses: Striking for extended period

    There's nothing fancy about Nathan Coy. He's a wrestler who is going to close the distance and plant you on the mat. It's a formula that has worked for him for a while. 

    Coy, a veteran of Strikeforce, Bellator and Maximum FC, is a powerful takedown artist who often sets up shots with his hands on the feet. He doesn't like to spend too much time upright, as he prefers dominating from top position.

    He has faced quality opposition too. Despite hiccups to the likes of Brian Foster, Tyron Woodley and Adam McDonough, Coy has beaten Paul Bradley, Dhiego Lima and Ryan McGillivray.

    At 36, his age is definitely a concern. However, this isn't his first rodeo, and his experience should benefit him.

Luiz Firmino

6 of 16

    Team: Blackzilians

    Record: 18-6

    Strengths: Grappling, submissions

    Weaknesses: Counter-wrestling

    It's hard to believe a guy who has fought in Shooto, Pride, Dream and World Series of Fighting is going to be on this show. However, it's a good thing, as it gives Luiz "Buscape" Firmino an in with the UFC, something he deserves.

    Firmino is a jiu-jitsu specialist with a knack for good control from top position and submissions. That said, he's known to go to decision, showing that he needs to up his killer instinct and finishing rate.

    His striking is still coming along, as is his counter-wrestling. His takedown defense has gotten better, as has his ability to plant other fighters on the mat.

    His experience and high-quality opposition will favor Firmino, as he enters this show as one of the most experienced fighters. Plus, with wins over Tyson Griffin, Jacob Volkmann and Luis Palomino, he seems to be hitting a stride where he may be one of the best on this season.

Mike Graves

7 of 16

    Team: American Top Team

    Record: 4-0

    Strengths: Wrestling, ground-and-pound

    Weaknesses: Striking diversity

    Mike Graves is one of three fighters on this season I would consider to be the best prospects. There are some established names on this show, but Graves could be a star of the future.

    Unbeaten as an amateur (9-0) and pro (4-0), Graves brings an aggressive, physical style to the cage. He presses forward from the onset, looking to impose his will and make his opponent uncomfortable.

    He uses a lot of kicks to gauge distance, though his complete striking package is not on full display yet. He then closes that distance and achieves takedowns. Once he's on top, he's able to throw huge ground-and-pound at a high rate.

    He's not just a bruiser on the ground either. He does have some submission skills, which gives him more opportunities to finish fights on the ground.

    Look for Graves to be a breakout star from this show.

Hayder Hassan

8 of 16

    Team: American Top Team

    Record: 6-1

    Strengths: Striking, power

    Weaknesses: Ground game

    Hayder Hassan has a mental edge going into this tournament for a couple of reasons. One reason is that he is a good prospect with scary power, but the other is that he already owns victories over two Blackzilians members.

    Hassan could be one of the more entertaining fighters on the season due to his aggressive style and headhunting. He is gifted as a striker, as he throws bombs and usually puts guys down when he connects.

    The Iraqi-American has experience on the Florida regional scene, as well as in Strikeforce and Titan Fight Championship. He does have some big-show experience, which will help him under the spotlight.

    Plus, as stated, he has victories over two Blackzilians team members in Jason Jackson and Felipe Portela. That shows that he has the opposing gym's number, which could give him a mental edge going into the competition.

    Of course, his ground game will be a bit of a concern. His only loss came on the ground in less than a minute. He will need to sprawl-and-brawl here, as there are plenty of ground fighters who could exploit him.

    Keep your eye on this big-time striker. He called Hulk for a good reason.

Sabah Homasi

9 of 16

    Team: American Top Team

    Record: 8-4

    Strengths: Striking

    Weaknesses: Ground game

    Sabah Homasi is a striker. Thus far, he has had some good wins when he was able to get going on the feet. He owns a victory over TUF 19 vet Adrian Miles, whom Homasi put down in quick, violent fashion.

    That said, his ground game is a concern. For all the power he has on the feet, he sort of falls flat when put on the mat. This is seen in his losses to John Kelly, Frank Carrillo and Ricky Legere.

    Homasi is a multi-time Bellator vet, as well as a former Strikeforce competitor. Being involved on big shows like those will aid him under the bright lights.

    When upright, Homasi has a chance to win any fight. Once the action is on the mat, he will struggle.

Jason Jackson

10 of 16

    Team: Blackzilians

    Record: 4-2

    Strengths: Quickness, submissions

    Weaknesses: Counter-wrestling

    Jason Jackson is one of the lesser-known fighters on this season, but the Miami-based competitor has spent his time on the Florida regional scene, sharpening the tools in his arsenal.

    He had a less-than-stellar amateur career that saw him go 0-3 before going pro. However, his turn pro has seen him improve greatly, as Jackson has gone 4-2 with his only losses coming to American Top Team castmate Hayder Hassan via TKO and UFC prospect Colby Covington (also an American Top Team member).

    Jackson seems to thrive when he's using his striking from a distance. At 6'1", he is one of the taller guys in this tournament, which is complemented by his long limbs.

    On the ground, he is comfortable off his back, though he has been susceptible to getting taken down by offensive wrestlers. Two of his wins have come via triangle choke, which can be attributed to both technique and his long legs.

    He is definitely a long shot on this season, but a guy like him will benefit here. He has a lot of improvements to make, but Jackson could be a guy whom the coaches can mold into a serviceable welterweight.

Uros Jurisic

11 of 16

    Team: American Top Team

    Record: 4-0

    Strengths: Wrestling, submissions

    Weaknesses: Striking

    Slovenian Uros Jurisic is a prospect to keep your eye on. He is one of the lesser-known names on this show that has a tremendous upside in the future.

    In four pro fights, he has finished every opponent—three in the first round. This comes as a result of his powerful takedowns and polished ground game, which allows him to smash opponents with big punches before securing a submission.

    He'll need to polish his striking, as right now it usually just sets up his takedowns. However, his wrestling is good enough to a point where that's all he needs his striking...for now.

    His inexperience is a disadvantage, but he has all the tools of a future contender. If he can harness all these skills and develop the missing ingredients, Jurisic could be the diamond in the rough of this season.

Vicente Luque

12 of 16

    Team: Blackzilians

    Record: 7-4-1

    Strengths: Jiu-jitsu, submissions

    Weaknesses: Submission defense

    A native of Brazil, Vicente Luque comes to America to compete with the Blackzilians. He enters the competition as a long shot, as his record is not exactly top-notch, and his resume is not the strongest.

    That said, Luque is a good grappler. He has solid chokes and physical strength, which allows him to thrive in the clinch and finish fights when he grabs a neck.

    His striking is still coming along, and his submission defense is a bit of a concern. He does his best work on the ground, but he has been tapped out in two of his four losses.

    He does have a loss to his current teammate Felipe Portela. However, he owns a big TKO victory over current UFC middleweight Thiago Santos, who has found his stride in the UFC.

    Luque is definitely an underdog on this season.

Steve Montgomery

13 of 16

    Team: American Top Team

    Record: 8-2

    Strengths: Striking, size

    Weaknesses: Submissions

    We officially have it. Yes, Steve Montgomery is the first man to appear on both TUF and Fight Master: Bellator MMA—an interesting distinction to have.

    He comes into this show as the tallest fighter at an impressive 6'4". His height will often give him the reach advantage, which should go along nicely with his polished, powerful striking. 

    Montgomery is not just a puncher, as he has good kicks and effective knees. The Titan FC alum has seen clean knockouts over the likes of UFC vets Brock Jardine and Colton Smith, showing he can hang with tough talent.

    His ground game is the big question mark, but he has shown some solid takedown defense. If he's able to defend attempts at putting him on his back, Montgomery is going to be a tough man to beat in this competition.

Andrews Nakahara

14 of 16

    Team: Blackzilians

    Record: 4-2-2

    Strengths: Distance striking

    Weaknesses: Counter-wrestling

    Not long ago, Andrews Nakahara was a prospect that MMA fans were excited to see develop. However, some bumps in the road and an inactive schedule have greatly cooled off that aura.

    Nakahara, a black belt in Kyokushin karate, is a distance striker with excellent technique, as seen in his MMA fights. However, go back and try to find some of his karate competitions, and you can really see how talented he is as a striker.

    He has spent time working with Vitor Belfort, which explains his move to the Blackzilians. This has hopefully brought improvements to his game, as he was once a promising prospect coming out of Brazil before his time in South Korea cooled that off.

    Nakahara really needs to work on his counter-wrestling. He does have some skills on the ground, owning a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but his losses and draws have seen him get taken down and kept there.

    This show could be a good rebirth for Nakahara, who can use this to get fans excited about his prospects as a mixed martial artist again.

Felipe Portela

15 of 16

    Team: Blackzilians

    Record: 8-2

    Strengths: Submissions, toughness

    Weaknesses: Striking

    For a guy who goes by the nickname "Balboa," Felipe Portela does a lot of his work on the ground, not on the feet. Nevertheless, he does have the toughness of his namesake.

    Portela is a submission fighter known for his fluidity and technique on the ground. Of his eight wins, half have come by submission, including armbar, heel hook, triangle choke and rear-naked choke.

    His striking has been the root of his losses, as both Brian Melancon and Hayder Hassan (of Team American Top Team) beat him on the feet. That said, he actually holds a win over Blackzilians teammate Vicente Luque, which is kind of weird considering they will be on the same team.

    He has experience in both Strikeforce and Titan Fight Championship, which shows he has some experience under the bright lights. He will have to improve his striking here, though, or he could be at a big disadvantage in this tourney.

Kam Usman

16 of 16

    Team: Blackzilians

    Record: 5-1

    Strengths: Wrestling, strength, athleticism, explosiveness

    Weaknesses: Submissions

    You may have heard the hype, and it's warranted. Kam Usman may be the best prospect on the show.

    A natural athlete who was a collegiate wrestler, Usman uses his physical gifts, including strength and athleticism, to frustrate opponents. He can close distance quickly and snatch takedowns, where he then rains down punches in bunches on an overwhelmed opponents. 

    He uses his striking more or less to set up takedowns. His movement is important, as his quickness allows him to move in and out without getting tagged too much.

    Of course, on the ground, he is like Cain Velasquez in that he prefers ground-and-pound over submissions. That may be because he's not skilled enough for them or because he loves inflicting damage—that remains to be seen. 

    This guy should be a favorite, despite all the seasoned veterans appearing on this show. He has all the makings of a future star and a guy who can terrorize the UFC welterweight division.