The Ultimate Fighter Season 18 finale takes place Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. The main event features a trilogy fight between two alumni from Season 5 of The Ultimate Fighter.
In addition, this season will crown two bantamweight winners in the men's and women's divisions.
Normally my TSN 1290 co-host Jordan Cieciwa (@FitCityJordan) gives his picks, but he's still away in Thailand. Instead fellow co-host “Big” Marvyn Timog (@BigMarv204) goes head to head with me (@LynchOnSports) in our picks.
Let us know which side you're on for The Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale, use the hashtag #TeamLynch or #TeamBigMarv on Twitter. Also feel free to leave you opinions in the comment section below.
Gray Maynard vs. Nate Diaz
James Lynch TSN.ca (@LynchOnSports)
While this main event trilogy doesn't have the same luster as say Velasquez vs. Dos Santos III, Maynard and Diaz should put on an entertaining display in their third encounter as they both strive for relevance in the lightweight division.
These two first met on Season 5 of the Ultimate Fighter in the semifinals, where it would be Diaz earning the second-round submission victory and eventually winning the show.
These two would meet again in 2010 at UFC Fight Night 20, where Maynard used his wrestling to edge out a split decision victory.
"The Bully” is coming off his second knockout loss in three fights, after Canadian TJ Grant finished in his last fight at UFC 160.
The Stockton native Diaz meanwhile suffered his first career knockout loss back in April against Maynard's teammate Josh Thomson at UFC on FOX 7.
A loss for either fighter could set them back even further from a title shot.
Since losing to Edgar at UFC 136, Maynard switched camps to American Kickboxing Academy, a place known for elevating high-level wrestlers.
Typically for Diaz, his kryptonite has been top level wrestlers, as evident in his losses to Benson Henderson, Thomson and Clay Guida.
There could be questions about Maynard's chin, but Diaz is known more as a volume puncher (as opposed to a power puncher) and has just three knockouts on his resume.
One area that could be interesting is on the mat, as the 28-year old Diaz has 11-submission victories through 25-fights. Maynard has never been submitted in his 15-fight career (outside of his exhibition loss to Diaz).
With all that said, I see Maynard winning a decision as I think he'll find a way to avoid Diaz's shots and keep him at bay through three rounds.
Maynard via unanimous decision
“Big” Marv Timog TSN Radio 1290 (@BigMarv204)
It's the third time they're entering the cage, yet it is hard for me to call this a “trilogy”. Trilogies are usually fights people want and need to see
In their first meeting, Diaz submitted Maynard in the first round on an episode of TUF season 5. Their second meeting was UFC Fight Night 20.
If you'll recall, after Maynard won via split decision, Dana White didn't feel like he showed him that he was ready to fight for the title. As a result, he gave the next shot at BJ Penn's Lightweight Championship to Frankie Edgar, a man Maynard had already beaten.
Fast forward to this Saturday and they will meet again.
This time both are coming off TKO losses and both needing this win.
Who will rise to occasion?
Usually in this situation, Diaz finds a way to prove his doubters wrong.
Diaz via unanimous decision
Julianna Pena vs Jessica Rakoczy (TUF 18 Women's Tournament Final)
For the first time in Ultimate Fighter history two women face off in a tournament final, as Team Tate's Pena battles Hamilton, Ontario born Rakoczy of Team Rousey.
The “Venezuelan Vixen” made a name for herself on the show when she upset 23-fight veteran Shayna Baszler in the quarterfinals. From there, she submitted Kelowna's Sarah Moras in the second round of the semifinals to earn her spot in the finale.
The Las Vegas resident Rakoczy had a similar path, upsetting 25-fight veteran Roxanne Modafferi in the quarterfinals and defeating Raquel Pennington in the semis.
Clearly Pena is the more well-rounded fighter between the two, with decent standup and an exceptional ground game.
The 36-year old Rakoczy has the clear edge on the feet, being a former WBA bantamweight boxing champion. In fact, during her tenure as a boxer she racked up an impressive 33-3 (1) record and if she's able keep this fight standing she very well could knock out the Team Tate member.
With that said, in most cases the ground fighter usually beats the striker and for this fight, I'm sticking to that philosophy.
Pena via second round submission
Pena is the right kind of crazy to be an ultimate fighter. Maybe it's the way they edited the show, but she's obsessive, emotional, and once they close the cage.
Julianna Pena is a BEAST. No one gave Pena a chance against Shayna Baszler and she choked her out. We thought she couldn't handle the ground game of Sarah Moras and Julianna ended up submitting her.
Then there is her opponent, Jessica Rakoczy. Last woman picked to a team, also underestimated in her two fights. She TKO'd veteran Roxanne Modafferi and out worked favorite Raquel Pennington.
If Pena is the right kind of crazy, then Rakoczy is the right kind of mindset to be an ultimate fighter, a single mother who fights smart and uses her championship boxing skills.
For this fight, I'm picking crazy over mindset.
Pena via second round TKO
Chris Holdsworth vs. Davey Grant (TUF 18 Men's Tournament Final)
Undefeated bantamweight Holdsworth faces off with scrappy UK fighter Grant in the second ever 135lb final in Ultimate Fighter history.
The 26-year old Holdsworth had a pretty clear cut road to the finals, submitting both Chris Beal and Michael Wooten in first round victories.
Grant's path was a little more complex. After Tim Corman had to leave the show due to injury, Winnipeg's Louie Fisette was slotted back into the show. The 27-year old would submit the Canadian Fisette and then earned a bye in the semifinals when Anthony Gutierrez missed weight.
While Grant has more experience, Holdsworth is undefeated with a perfect 4-0 record. In addition, the RFA veteran trains with one of the most prestigious camps in Alpha Male, which boasts a stable of fellow bantamweight standouts Urijah Faber and TJ Dillashaw.
Holdsworth should win this fight, as his exceptional ground game and superior wrestling will be too much in this bout. He has more tools to win this fight and we should see him earn a submission victory over the Brit sometime in the second round.
Holdsworth via second round submission
I thought the best person to ask who would win this fight would be Winnipeg fighter and TUF 18 cast member, Louis Fisette since he was the only one on the show to fight them both.
He tweeted back to me that if it goes to the ground then its Holdsworth and if it stays standing, then its Grant.
I'll buy into that, but this isn't the usual striker vs. grappler match up as both are very well rounded.
To get into the finals, Holdsworth had to beat Chris Beal and Michael Wooten, both of whom he submitted in the first round.
As for Grant, he beat Fisette in the first round of the tournament, but got a free ride to the finals because Gutierrez failed to make weight and got the boot.
I say that free ride puts a chip on Holdsworth's shoulder and add the fact that he trains in a camp of animals at Alpha Male, I say he takes it and ends it early.
Holdsworth via first round submission
Jessamyn Duke vs. Peggy Morgan
A pair of Team Rousey juggernauts faceoff in their official promotional debuts, as 5'11 Duke battles 6'0 Morgan in a bantamweight affair.
While losing in the quarterfinals, Duke is credited with arguably the best fight on the show this past season in her three-round, all-out war with Raquel Pennington.
Morgan meanwhile was submitted early by Canadian Sarah Moras in her quarterfinal matchup and is no doubt aiming for redemption when she squares off with her fellow Team Rousey teammate.
While Morgan arguably has the better gas tank, Duke is clearly the more well-rounded fighter and expect her to find her range in the second round for an impressive finish.
Duke via second round technical knockout
Duke is tough, well-rounded and can keep Morgan at length. I think she'll have no problems here despite the issues that Morgan poses with her cardio. Keep in mind Duke has been training with champion Ronda Rousey leading up to this fight and that will only serve her better in this bout.
Duke via unanimous decision
Roxanne Modafferi vs. Raquel Pennington
Former Strikeforce women's title challenger Modafferi faces off with Invicta veteran Pennington in a 135lb contest.
Clearly the 31-year Modafferi has the edge in experience, competing against the likes of Tara LaRosa, Marloes Coenen and former Strikeforce women's champ Sarah Kaufman.
With those fights also came the damage, including a brutal knockout slam defeat to Kaufman back in Strikeforce in 2010, similar to how Jessica Rakoczy knocked her out in their quarterfinal encounter on TUF 18.
Proof of her wear and tear has been the five-straight losses she's suffered prior to coming on the show. In fact her last win was back in 2010 in a closely contested split decision over Tara LaRosa.
Pennington, despite her 3-3 record looked very impressive during her tenure this season on the Ultimate Fighter, especially in her quarterfinal win over Jessamyn Duke. While she did lose to Jessica Rakoczy in the semifinals, she still hung in there despite a broken hand.
At just 25-years old, the future looks bright for “Rocky” and I believe she'll earn a second round knockout over the “The Happy Warrior” in impressive fashion
Pennington via second round knockout
Modafferi has so much experience but can get sloppy and careless inside the cage. While Pennington does not want people to remember her listless performance in the TUF 18 semifinals fight. I say Pennington brings beast mode to the cage and I'm picking beast over veteran
Pennington via unanimous decision
Lynch: Blanco, Yahya, Harris, Spencer, Sampo
Marv: Blanco, Yaha, Rosholt, Dober, Benoit
Also be sure to tune into the “Weigh-In” on TSN Radio 1290 Winnipeg every Saturday as myself, Jordan and “Big Marv” Timog go toe to toe discussing the hottest topics in MMA.