Ryan Benoit vs. Josh Sampo

Two flyweight UFC newcomers will square off against each other to propel the TUF 18 Finale card to a start. The highly anticipated fighter, Josh Sampo, brings his fast-paced grappling arsenal to the cage against the dangerous Ryan Benoit, who has 6 of his 7 wins by knockout.

This could very well be a “striker vs. grappler” match-up. That means this fight is going to come down to the takedowns, and whether Benoit can stuff them or not. After taking a look at what Sampo has to offer, it’s very clear that he knows what he’s doing when it comes to the grappling game, and means he should be the one dictating this fight. Unless Benoit can land strong counters and catch Sampo with something nasty, expect a submission win for Sampo in the 2nd round.

Josh Sampo via 2nd Rd Submission

Sean Spencer vs. Drew Dober

Another UFC newcomer makes his mark this Saturday as welterweight, Drew Dober, faces the two-time UFC veteran, Sean Spencer. Dober, from Omaha, Nebraska, comes from Mid-America Martial Arts and has some solid experience fighting outside of the UFC. Dober is primarily grappler, but interestingly enough, fights mostly as a lightweight. In this bout, he’ll be stepping up to 170lbs to face Sean Spencer, who ironically made his UFC debut at 185lbs. I think it’s safe to say that Spencer will enjoy a pretty substantial size advantage in this fight.

Expect Dober to be aggressive in trying to get takedowns. He’ll be at a large reach disadvantage as well, so it’s going to be very hard for him to get inside and wrestle the bigger, stronger man to the mat. Combine that with Spencer’s solid hands and power, and you have severely stacked odds. I’m picking Spencer to light Drew Dober up on the feet while avoid takedowns en-route to a 3rd round stoppage.

Sean Spencer via 3rd Rd TKO

Jared Rosholt vs. Walt Harris

The brother to former UFC-competitor Jake Rosholt, Jared Rosholt will be making his UFC debut int he heavyweight division against knock-out artist Walt Harris. Rosholt brings a hefty wrestling pedigree to the cage, and some serious athletic abilities. Rosholt, just like his brother, uses his takedowns to stifle opponents, beat them up, and even has the grappling skills to score submissions. With that said, Walt Harris looks like a very different fight. Harris is fairly inexperienced in MMA, but has won all but one of his bouts, and has won them all in the 1st round via knockout. Harris looks very much to be physically gifted as well, so look for this to be quite the explosive match-up.

This is really going to come down to whether or not Harris will let Rosholt dictate the pace. If Rosholt comes out aggressive and is able to keep Harris moving backward, that will allow Rosholt to pick and choose his takedowns and ultimately grind out the victory. What Harris needs to do is keep a steady jab, keep Rosholt’s timing off, and look for big power punches. Rosholt has the odds in his favor, I’m pulling for the underdog in Walt Harris here. I think his athleticism will cancel out Rosholt’s explosive nature, and once he feels comfortable enough to let his hands go, he’ll throw some nasty shots en-route to another first round knockout for Harris.

Walt Harris via 1st Rd KO

Rani Yahya vs. Tom Niinimaki

There are obviously a lot of debuting fighters on this card, but none of them are flying under the radar quite like Tom Niinimaki is. Niinimaki comes from Finland, and brings quite the impressive resume to the table. Very experienced, and very skilled, Niinimaki’s 20-5 MMA record shows that a first-time opponent like Rani Yahya really isn’t that overwhelming considering the opponents he’s faced (Hatsu Hioki, Chase Beebe, Walel Watson, Bendy Casimir). While Yahya remains one of the featherweight division’s best grapplers, Niinimaki could propose an argument against that this Saturday.

We know what Yahya is all about: speed, and submissions. However, the big “Achilles Heel” against him is strength and power, and that’s the type of grappler that Niinimaki is. Tom is very strong, he stays glued to his opponents, and he’s very methodical about his advancements. Usually, that’s a great gift to have, but against a guy like Yahya, I see his patience actually hurting him. Yahya is a very intelligent grappler who moves very quickly, and if you’re not keeping up with him on the ground, you’ll find yourself out-matched. I think Niinimaki will have a good showing and will most likely be the better striker of the two, but I see Yahya’s ground-work being just a little too much at this stage of Niinimaki’s career.

Rani Yahya via Unanimous Decision

Akira Corassani vs. Maximo Blanco

For the first time on the prelims, we have a bout that does not feature any UFC newcomers. The Swede, Akira Corassani, faces the Venezuelan, Maximo Blanco. This is a very interesting match-up because of their styles, and is a fight that could very well be a front-runner for Fight of the Night.

Corassani is a very talented striker; he’s technical, quick, and utilizes a variety of techniques. His opponent, Blanco, is very much a different fighter. Blanco fights his fights on the ground, but is not one to shy away from a slug-fest as he showed in his victory against Sam Sicilia. Blanco has a surprising amount of power, explosiveness, and if you combine that with his dangerous ground game, you have quite the full package. I’m predicting this fight to be won by the more well-rounded fighter – and that is Blanco. I like Corassani, I like his style and the way he fights, but I just don’t think it’ll be enough to stay ahead on points. Corassani isn’t known for having one-punch knock-out power, so expect some good volume from Corassani instead. But unfortunately for Corassani, it won’t be enough to keep up with Maximo’s pressure, power, and takedowns.

Maximo Blanco via Unanimous Decision