UFC: TUF 23 Finale (Prelims) Breakdown and Predictions

Li Jingliang (10-4) vs Anton Zafir (7-2)

Welterweight (170)

Li Jingliang: “The Leech” is at the forefront of a recent surge of  Chinese talent entering the UFC. Long considered among the best prospects in China, Jingliang is now showing the world that his fights are must see TV.

2-2 in the octagon, Jingliang has displayed an iron chin, excellent cardio and an incredibly high volume work rate. At only 27, Jinliang’s progress is very apparent each time he sets foot in the cage.

Jingliang will look to right the ship in this fight, after being submitted with a rear naked choke by Japanese veteran Keita Nakamura in the third round of a fight he was dominating.

Anton Zafir: Queensland, Australia’s Zafir, made his UFC debut in his home country on 11 days notice. Zafir got the call when his training partner Brendan O’Reilly went down with an injury.

Zafir was matched up against Tae Kwon Do specialist James Moontasri,  Zafir  had some early success scoring a take down and landing a few shots on top, but ultimately was finished in extraordinary fashion when Moontasri landed a spinning back kick to the ribs, followed by a spinning back fist that turned Zafir’s lights out.

Zafir trains at his own gym and has only been a pro fighter since about 2012. He is decent in all  areas but doesn’t stand out in any particular skill. Unless he makes the move to a larger camp, expect for his time in the UFC to be brief.

The Fight: Jingliang will be the more experienced and skilled fighter in this match up. Zafir has shown the ability to take his opponents down, but Jingliang’s sprawl has been looking better and better with each performance.

Jingliang will land significant damage on the feet, defend take downs and put an end to this one mid way through the second with strikes on the ground. Jingliang TKO 2nd

Kevin Lee ( 12-2) vs Jake Matthews (11-1)

Lightweight (155)

Kevin Lee: At 23 years old Lee is one of the brightest lightweight prospects on the UFC roster. 5-2 in the octagon Lee fought a wide array of opponents including a  decision victory over TUF champion Efrain Escudero at UFC 197.

The Vegas based Xtreme Couture fighter was given this bout on about a months notice, when Matthews’s original opponent Stevie Ray was forced to pull out due to Visa issues.

Lee is one of the fastest punchers in the UFC and has a 77 inch reach which is absurd for a lightweight. However in his 14 pro fights Lee has yet to finish a bout via TKO/KO, if he is able to add power to his arsenal he will be fighting division contenders very soon.

Jake Matthews: TUF: Nations vet Jake Matthews is also one of the divisions most promising stars. In his last bout Matthews rallied back from two rounds down to submit Johnny Case with :15 left in the third.

“The Celtic Kid” is 4-1 under the UFC banner, his only loss came from a guillotine choke at the hands of James Vick.

Matthews has the total package speed, power and cardio. If he decides to leave his dad’s gym and train with an elite camp, the sky is the limit for the young Aussie.

The Fight: This match up will decide which fighter can shed their up and comer tag and set foot into the contenders arena. With a combined age less than Dan Henderson’s, these two truly represent the next generation of the sport.

Lee will have a speed and reach advantage, while Matthews will have the power edge. Both have displayed high level grappling, but I suspect Matthews will be the one to looking to get it to the mat.

Matthews will lose early exchanges on the feet, but come on strong as the fight progresses. Matthews will be able to get the stoppage due to strikes on the ground in the third. Matthews TKO 3rd

Cezar Ferreira ( 10-5) vs Anthony Smith (25-11)

Middleweights (185)

Cezar Ferreira: TUF Brazil 1 champion Cezar Ferreira picked up a much needed victory in Tampa. Prior to April’s hard fought bloodbath with Oluwale Bamgbose, “Mutante” had been knocked out in the first round of three of his last four bouts.

Ferreira has not panned out the way many expected following his TUF victory. His chin has proven to be a major weakness and for a fighter who makes his money trading blows that could be a death sentence. However, he displayed excellent take downs and vicious ground and pound in his match with Bamgbose. A recent camp switch to Miami’s MMA Masters may be just the thing he needed to round out his game and keep him out of trouble on the feet.

Anthony Smith: Long time veteran of UFC, Strikeforce and Bellator, Anthony “Lionheart” Smith will be looking to extend his eight fight win streak, which includes his first UFC victory in February over Leonardo Guimaraes.

Smith fights with the all or nothing mentality that Dana White talks about. In his 36 professional bouts Smith has only left it in the hands of the judges two times. With that sort of finishing rate Smith will look to make a name for himself in the UFC as a fighter that is going to bring it win or lose.

The Fight: Smith is just a good enough opponent to test “Mutante” without extreme danger. Both of these guys are huge middleweights at 6 1″ and 6 4″ which will make for a very intriguing match up on the feet.

“Mutante” will have the advantage when he takes the fight to the ground. Ferriera will be the stronger of the two and be able to survive on the feet while doing enough damage within Smith’s guard to pick up the W. Ferreira Unanimous Decision

#6 John Moraga (16-4) vs Matheus Nicolau (11-2-1)

Flyweight (125)

John Moraga: Former Flyweight title contender John Moraga is one of the few 125 pound fighters that has the power to knock his opponents out as well as submit them on the mat.

Since his 2013 loss to Demetrious Johnson, Moraga has gone 3-2, but his losses have come at the hands of the perennial #1 and #2 challengers Joseph Benivedez and John Dodson.

The Arizona Combat fighter can place himself right back in the title picture in an extremely shallow Flyweight division, where a guy that can finish fights stands out in the crowd.

Matheus Nicolau: TUF Latin America 2 vet Matheus Nicolau’s UFC debut victory over fellow cast mate Bruno Korea must have made quite an impression on match maker Sean Shelby. With only one UFC fight under his belt Nicolau has been matched up with the #6 fighter in his division.

 23 year old  Nicolau is a prototypical Nova Uniao fighter great striking, excellent take down defense and dangerous submission skills. But the jump in competition from local brazilian talent to top 10 in the world is a big one, one that could potentially create a new star in the flyweight division.

The Fight: Matheus Nicolau will be a top 10 flyweight in the future, but not yet. He does not have nearly the amount of high level experience needed to succeed against a fighter of Moraga’s level.

Moraga will be the stronger of the two combatants which to go along with his All-American collegiate wrestling background will give him the ability to take this fight to the mat and control from there if he should chose to.

Nicolau will have a speed advantage, his best shot at victory would be to execute a stick and move game plan on the much slower and much older Moraga. However Nicolau has had troubles in the past creating his own offense and not waiting to counter his opponents. Moraga Unanimous Decision

Gray Maynard (12-6-1-1 NC)  vs Fernando Bruno ( 16-3)

Featherweight (145)

Gray Maynard: The descent of former title contender Gray Maynard has been an abrupt one. Nearly five years removed from his third fight with Frankie Edgar, Maynard has gone 1-4 since that unforgettable title bout, leaving many to question what went wrong?

Maynard will drop to featherweight for the first time in his career with hopes of getting back on the winning track, but at 37 it may be too late.

Fernando Bruno: Fernando Bruno made the most of his time on TUF Brazil 4. The Nova Unaio product was the last lightweight fighter to be selected and went on to compete in the tournament finale.

Bruno lost the finale match up to the much larger Glaico Franca via unanimous decision. Even though he came up short Bruno turned some heads with his TUF performances and has been rewarded a big name fight.

Now back at his natural 145 pound weight class Bruno will have a much easier time executing his grapple heavy fighting style.

The Fight: I am among the few that believes Gray Maynard still has something left in the tank. This fight will give us a clear cut answer to the question of Maynard’s abilities.

This match up is tailor made to Maynard’s skill set, Gray’s recent losses have come to larger opponents or high level strikers, neither of which Bruno is.

Maynard will be too strong in the clinch and against the fence. Without the fear of knockout Gray will sprawl and brawl his way to a decision victory. Maynard Unanimous Decision

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