International Fight Week in Las Vegas will come to a close on Sunday night with a stellar card featuring the best of the best from The Ultimate Fighter 19 as well as a cast of characters on the undercard including two outstanding light heavyweights from the show as well as a pair of bantamweight women looking to make an impact in a growing 135-pound division.
From top to bottom, the Ultimate Fighter 19 finale card is loaded with talent, but as we look ahead for the fantasy preview, it's the prelims that will get examined today as we break down a few key matchups, not to mention some of the rookie talent debuting on this show.
From Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu legends to potential champions, this undercard has it all, and these fights could be the difference between winning and losing in the upcoming fantasy game for the TUF 19 finale.
DAN SPOHN VS. PATRICK WALSH
It's Team Penn vs. Team Edgar in this matchup between former Ultimate Fighter hopefuls as knockout artist Dan Spohn takes on former Ohio State wrestler Pat Walsh.
Spohn was arguably the most talented fighter at 205 pounds while competing on the show, but he lost in an absolute war with finalist Matt Van Buren to get knocked out of the tournament. Still, Spohn showcased some seriously well-rounded skills during his time in the house, and he's a fighter who should flourish now that he's finally landing in the UFC.
Spohn is a creative dynamo when it comes to his striking, throwing big, heavy looping punches mixed with a fast kicking game. He compliments both parts with one of the best flying knee attacks you'll see in the sport, and he's been known to use it to finish a few opponents in the past. Spohn can also wrestle, and while his jiu-jitsu game probably isn't the strongest weapon in his arsenal, his defensive grappling is good enough to keep him out of any trouble.
Pat Walsh is a former Division I college wrestler with a small, compact frame, as well as deceptive speed and power on the feet. Where Walsh falls short, and what will likely cause his downfall in this matchup, is his tendency to strike longer than he should while holding his hands down around his waist. Walsh likes to bait his opponents in with a lacking defensive posture, but against a fighter like Spohn that's like putting your leg in a shark tank to tempt the Great Whites and thinking you'll still be able to walk away when the day is over.
Spohn is explosive from every angle and he's got true one-punch knockout power. He's also going to come into this fight with a chip on his shoulder after coming maybe one or two strikes away from beating Van Buren and competing in the finals himself. Spohn will try to overwhelm Walsh early, and chances are he'll find an opening to slip a punch or knee through to clip, catch and finish the Massachusetts native before the second round can even begin.
SARAH MORAS VS. ALEXIS DUFRESNE
Former Ultimate Fighter hopeful Sarah Moras will make her long-awaited UFC debut when she takes on one of the real prospects of the division in Alexis Dufresne, who makes her first appearance inside the Octagon as well.
Moras was a member of Team Tate on The Ultimate Fighter, coming out of Canada while facing some stiff competition in her early career as a professional. She has a win over show winner Julianna Pena and her one pre-TUF loss came by decision to future teammate Raquel Pennington while fighting in Invicta FC. Moras is a really solid wrestler with top-notch submission skills, which is how she finished Pena in their fight before the show.
She will definitely have her hands full in this matchup, however, as Team Quest fighter Alexis Dufresne makes her debut with a mountain of hype riding behind her.
Dufresne is a multi-time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu champion training out of the same camp in California responsible for MMA legend Dan Henderson. She's primarily a grappler, although her striking has made leaps and bounds of improvements as witnessed in her 45-second drubbing of Kim Couture in her last fight. Maybe the best thing about Dufresne is her overwhelming confidence and attitude, which will surely carry her a long way in the UFC as long as her performances inside the cage back up the chatter.
Moras will have an advantage when it comes to the wrestling game, but given Dufresne's love of the ground, it's not likely she'll want to test the waters in that area right away. On the feet this is much more of a tossup, but Dufresne throws with bad intentions every time she uncorks a punch and she's more than capable of putting Moras' lights out if she connects flush with any one of her haymaker-style strikes. Hopefully at some point this fight hits the ground because both women love to grapple, and the exchanges and scrambles alone could steal the show.
When it's all said and done, Dufresne should be the pick to win by decision, but if she shows any signs of nerves or if she's tentative early, it could be a sign that the talk trumped the talent and Moras is definitely good enough to capitalize and steal the victory from under her.
ADRIANO MARTINS VS. JUAN MANUEL PUIG
Third-time UFC fighter Adriano Martins will look to bounce back at the TUF 19 Finale when he takes on Mexican newcomer Juan Manuel Puig in a lightweight matchup on the undercard.
Martins is coming off a loss to Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone where he lost by head kick, but don't let that fight fool you into believing this Brazilian isn't still one of the most talented fighters in the division. Martins is a monster for 155 pounds, standing 5'10" tall, and by the time he rehydrates after weigh-ins, he's probably pushing 175 or 180 pounds. Martins is versatile with his offensive attacks, throwing hard, heavy strikes, and while not all that accurate (36.6 percent), his power punches can find their way through the best defense a lightweight can hope to offer up. Martins has perfectly executed all of his takedowns in the UFC, and his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu game is on point.
Not as much is known about Carreon, although he did compete in Jungle Fight, a well respected organization out of Brazil responsible for several notable UFC names over the years. Carreon is a submission specialist by trade, as he's finished seven of his 11 career wins on the ground. Carreon has been impressive, but where he's lacking is in big fight experience against quality opposition. Now, the regional circuit of MMA is the building block for every fighter to eventually come to the UFC, but Carreon's last two opponents have a combined record of 6-9. The bright spot on his record comes in a win over Akbarh Arreola, who is a real veteran of the sport.
It's just a bad luck of the draw that Carreon got matched up with Martins for his first UFC fight. Martins is a force of nature on the feet, willing to dole out punishment until his opponents quit or just barely answer the bell each round. On the mat, Carreon is no slouch, but he's also no Adriano Martins. The Brazilian has a fundamental game that isn't flashy, but it gets the job done and he'll get the work finished against Carreon.
Expect Martins to test the waters early to see what Carreon is willing to do to engage, but once he unleashes — look out. Martins by knockout would be the safe bet, but if Carreon is game and can hold on early, he may be able to drag this out by decision. Either way, Martins is coming away victorious.
ROBERT DRYSDALE VS. KEITH BERISH
The prospect watch for the Ultimate Fighter 19 Finale lands square on the shoulders of grappling ace Robert Drysdale as he makes his long awaited UFC debut against fellow rookie Keith Berish.
Drysdale is one of the best grapplers on the planet, bar none, and has taught his brand of jiu-jitsu to a who's who list of UFC fighters. With his prolific background haunting him from the day he started fighting, Drysdale has been handed no cupcakes as he's climbed his way to the UFC. He took out former Ultimate Fighter competitor Mike Nickels in his third pro fight, and took out MMA veteran DJ Linderman in his last bout from 2013.
Berish is primarily a Muay Thai fighter with better than average striking, although he can get a bit wild when the exchanges start firing. In this fight, he'll be fighting off the takedown more than anything else because Drysdale will want this one on the ground, and if it lands there, things will go south for Berish in a hurry. Berish's best bet is to stay on the outside, circle away and keep things in the center of the Octagon and drag Drysdale into deep water. The jiu-jitsu wizard has never been out of the first round through six pro fights, so why not test his conditioning?
Drysdale will eventually need to answer that question, but his fight against Berish won't be the time. Drysdale should be able to take this one down early, and slip on a fight-ending submission to bring the crowd to their feet and possibly earn him a $50,000 bonus when the night is over.