The TUF 16 Finale inside the Joint at the Hard Rock brought one of the most jaw-dropping nights of fights in recent Vegas memory. Though a lightweight bout between Fight of the Night favorites Jamie Varner and Melvin Guillard was cancelled on the day of the fight due to Varner's illness, the rest of the card overdelivered, bringing knockouts in five weight divisions and finishes in nine of the night's 11 match-ups.
Roy Nelson vs. Matt Mitrione
After a controversial season of coaching on The Ultimate Fighter, heavyweight Roy Nelson had the last laugh: His team member won the season and he himself scored a quick knockout win over Matt Mitrione in the main event.
Mitrione, who was returning to the Octagon for the first time in over a year as a late replacement for Shane Carwin, did well early, landing kicks both high and low against his opponent, but Nelson rushed in and pinned Mitrione against the fence.
Back in the center, Mitrione stood in the pocket and watched and waited for Nelson’s combinations, countering with straights that tagged Nelson multiple times. But confidence proved no match for Nelson’s power in close quarters, and a left-right-left first clipped and then dropped Mitrione. As Roy followed up with huge, arcing blows, Mitrione turned away and the bout was waved off at 2:58.
Nelson’s knockout was the sixth first-round finish on the TUF 16 fight card and improved his record to 19-7. Mitrione’s loss – and his first by knockout -- moves his record to 5-2.
Colton Smith vs. Mike Ricci
Despite a promising cruise through the TUF 16 tournament that included the only knockout of the regular season, Team Carwin’s Mike Ricci had no answer for Team Nelson’s Colton Smith and his relentless wrestling. Smith outclassed the Canadian for three rounds to become the latest Ultimate Fighter.
Smith wasted no time in diving for a takedown, and Ricci answered with elbows to the side of Smith’s head in what was possibly the best striking sequence of the 15-minute fight. Smith completely controlled the round from there, pressuring Ricci against the fence, taking him to the mat multiple times and working at length to sink in a rear-naked choke.
After the two traded kicks early in the second, Ricci buckled over due to a seeming low blow. With referee Steve Mazzagatti not calling a break in the action, Smith rushed in to attack, and Ricci answered with a solid hook to the throat. Smith turned to Mazzagatti to see if it would be stopped, and after that bizarre moment, it was back to the Colton Smith wrestling domination show. Smith rode out the rest of the fight on Ricci’s back, both standing and on the mat, threatening with more rear-naked chokes but not finishing.
With less than a minute left, Ricci rallied, reversed, and took Smith’s back, transitioning from a rear-naked attempt to an armbar, but the time was too short and both fighters too slippery to pull off the Hail Mary finish.
Judges gave the fight to Colton Smith with scores of 30-27 twice and 30-26, as the Army sergeant’s record rises to 6-1. The Tri-Star trained Ricci, who normally fights at 155 pounds, slips to 8-3.
Watch Smith's post-fight interview
Pat Barry vs. Shane Del Rosario
In the first of the night's two heavyweight battles inside The Joint, renown strikers Pat Barry and Shane Del Rosario surprised fans with a ground war in the first, following up with the seemingly inevitable knockout right after.
The first round started with the promise of kickboxing as Del Rosario offered body kicks and Barry leg kicks. In the clinch, Del Rosario threw knees to Barry’s side and thighs, then continued the assault against the fence, where the two struggled for much of the first round. Del Rosario used his five-inch height and reach advantage and wrestling skills to control where the fight went, taking Barry down and threatening him with a rear-naked choke and a couple of armbars. Though Barry had little defense, he remained calm and escaped to top position at the end of the round.
In the second, however, Barry gave fans exactly what they expected and showed why his nickname of “Hype or Die” is wholly warranted. An overhand left stunned Del Rosario, and when Barry saw his opponent wobble, he charged forward with a series of punches, the last of which was a massive walkoff right hand that sent spit flying high above the Octagon and dropped Del Rosario. Barry’s eighth win (with 5 losses) came 26 seconds into the second round, while Del Rosario tasted defeat for only the second time in his 13-fight career.
Watch Barry's emotional post-fight interview
Dustin Poirier vs. Jonathan Brookins
Poirier and Jonathan Brookins opened the main card with an incredible,
rock-em sock-em round that brought the crowd inside The Joint to its
feet and raised both fighters’ star profiles.
TUF 12 winner
Brookins, an accomplished wrestler, showed improved standup, clipping
Poirier at the round open then hunting him down, unloading underhooks
throughout the bout with particular precision. As the two engaged, they
stood in front of one another and unloaded in pure heavyweight-brawler
style. It was actually Poirier who went for the first takedown, but had
to settle for resetting in a tie-up on the fence.
Back in the
center, Poirier finally began to close the distance on his six-foot-tall
opponent. A hard right backed Brookins off, as did a hard left soon
after. Poirier had found his range, and his shots found homes on
Brookins’ chin with increasing frequency. The roles reversed from early
in the round and Poirer moved forward with strikes, backing Brookins up
against the Octagon. A short elbow from close quarters dropped Brookins,
and as Brookins instinctively shot forward for a takedown, Poirier
slipped into position for an anaconda choke, then rolled to the ground,
earning the tap at 4:15 of the round.
Poirier’s win bounces him
back from his only UFC loss against Chan Sung Jung “The Korean Zombie”
in May and moves his record to 13-2, while Brookins is bumped to 14-6.
In his post-fight interview, Poirier said the win wasn’t just redemption
for his May defeat – which came via anaconda choke – but for the fact
that he applied but wasn’t cast on season 12 of TUF, which Brookins won.
Watch Poirier's post-fight interview
Full Nelsons: Big Country, Team Nelson Top Finale
By Laura Gilbert December 15, 2012