The UFC pay-per-views have been plagued by injuries in 2012, and it seems that The Ultimate Fighter couldn’t escape that fate either. Originally to be headlined by a big heavyweight showdown between Roy Nelson and rival coach Shane Carwin, the event saw Carwin withdraw, and Matt Mitrione step into his place.

TUF has been a show that has produced some of the best mixed martial artists in the world, and the Finale stands as a chance to witness the beginnings of greatness. Two men enter, but only one leaves with the UFC contract.

The Ultimate Fighter 16 Finale will take place on Dec. 15 at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The main card airs on FX beginning at 9 p.m. ET, with prelims on Facebook (at 5:30 p.m. ET) and Fuel TV (at 7 p.m. ET) prior to the main card.

The MMA Corner’s Gregory Chase, Dale De Souza and David Massey break down the entire night of fights in this edition of The MMA Corner’s Round Table.

LW: Melvin Guillard (30-11-2) vs. Jamie Varner (20-7-1)

Massey: At this point, both of these fighters are stuck as gatekeepers to contention in the division. Each can put together impressive runs against lesser competition, but they end up losing to the top guys. That won’t hold their careers back in the UFC because they are dangerous competitors that always put on a performance the fans can appreciate.

Guillard (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

Melvin “Young Assassin” Guillard is up against an opponent that has obtained half of his career wins by way of submission. Submissions have been Guillard’s Achilles’ heel, and two of his last three losses have come by rear-naked choke. Now, Guillard has shown improvement in that area since those last two submission losses. His only win in his last four was a measured performance that saw Guillard defending himself in bad spots against third-degree black belt Fabricio Camoes. A composed Guillard knows what to do when put into danger. Grappling and controlling the pace of the bout will be key for Guillard to keep a calm mind.

Jamie Varner starts off strong but burns up most of his gas tank by the time the fight reaches round three. His striking is always dangerous, as is Guillard’s, and at any moment a solid combination will change the course of the fight—something both will need to be on guard against. However, Guillard has a successful wrestling offense and mixing that into striking exchanges will be key in throwing Varner off his rhythm.

I think the outcome of this fight depends on whether Guillard wants to meticulously take a win or prefers to be exciting, which will work to Varner’s advantage. Both guys usually come out of the gate and create fireworks, but that didn’t end well for Guillard in his last fight with Donald Cerrone. Guillard should have reservations about going for broke this time. In Varner’s last fight against Joe Lauzon, an instant classic from UFC on Fox 4, Varner hurt him with different combinations, but eventually Lauzon brought Varner to the mat and wore him down with grappling. Guillard will want to do the same when Varner begins to connect.

Guillard has the tools to win, all he must do is keep focused on a game plan.

De Souza: We’ll have to consider the stories of Guillard and Varner as quite intriguing as we prepare to watch them fight in Las Vegas. On one hand, the knockout artist, Guillard, proves a tricky case in regards to the proverbial food chain at 155 pounds. Case in point: his easy handling of fighters such as Jeremy Stephens and Fabricio Camoes, both of whom contrast from losses to Joe Lauzon, Donald Cerrone and Jim Miller. Mind you, he did hand Evan Dunham his first true defeat, but really speaking, we can’t yet say a win over Varner reignites the same hopes of a title run that many thought would’ve come to fruition if Guillard had beaten Lauzon.

Of course, Varner knows about losing to Lauzon, because on the strength of handing Edson Barboza his first pro loss, Varner found himself struggling, albeit competing hungrily, with Lauzon. While questions surround Guillard’s chances of contending for gold, Varner’s mission came in the form of finding consistent success in the cage, considering the fact that he almost walked away from the sport before mounting his most recent career comeback.

Varner (R) battles Edson Barboza (James Law/Heavy MMA)

Simply put, Varner will win this fight. I mean no disrespect to Guillard, who serves as an example of why many love the sport, but he who doesn’t out-grapple Varner doesn’t beat Varner. Expect Guillard to rely predominantly on his knockout power in this one, and watch Varner catch him on the way in with a huge uppercut for a mid-first-round knockout, and in doing so he’ll claim the TUF 16 Finale’s “Knockout of The Night” bonus.

Chase: This one is an easy pick for me, in that Guillard will win it decisively. Not that Varner isn’t a challenge—he certainly is—but Guillard is the younger and more powerful fighter and has everything on the line here.

I have enjoyed watching Varner fight, and he looks great in his comeback so far, but Guillard is the more explosive fighter and I see him getting a finish in this fight. I don’t think Varner will be able to get him to the ground, which is where his best chances lie. Since the fight will start and stay standing in my prediction, Guillard will get the better of the exchanges and end this one early.

Guillard by KO/TKO in the first round.

HW: Pat Barry (7-5) vs. Shane Del Rosario (11-1)

De Souza: I find a bit of curiosity in this fight . Both men excite, and Pat Barry at this point appears to stay on the roster simply because that man and his animated personality make for one hell of a heavyweight tilt every time. Meanwhile, Shane Del Rosario also excites, and fans of Strikeforce will remember the battles he had in the promotion before moving to the UFC.

Pat Barry (TJ De Santis/Sherdog)

We know that the wrestling aspect appears as the spot in which Barry should maintain the edge over Del Rosario. After all, leaving Roufusport to train at DeathClutch resulted in Barry aiming to prove that he could find a victory without having to simply keep it on the feet. Only Stefan Struve proved a case of Barry taking down someone and still losing the fight.

Del Rosario gets something of a pass from me because he came off a lengthy layoff after sitting on the sidelines for much of 2011. When his UFC debut against Stipe Miocic came around, the over-a-year-long layoff did not show, as some argued for him winning the fight before Miocic made his comeback. Now that career-threatening injuries no longer threaten Del Rosario’s ability to fight honestly, one can expect him to have little to no trouble with getting his striking off first.

As a matter of fact, not a whole lot from Barry threatens Del Rosario on paper, but then again, fights rarely ever play out the exact same in real time as they do on paper. In other words, Barry may present something that none of us talked about prior to this fight, but unless he can do something reminiscent of what he did to Christian Morecraft or force the referee’s stoppage by way of leg kicks, then Del Rosario will break him down and submit Barry in the first round.

Chase: Barry has sort of been going up and down, but I can rely on him to either get a knockout or get knocked out. Del Rosario is coming off only one loss, but it was in his debut in the UFC. He went on a tear in M-1 and Strikeforce, but is looking to get a win in the Octagon. Barry should come out the more composed fighter, but Del Rosario will come out just as hungry.

As I first mentioned, I see Barry either getting a KO win or a KO loss. Sad to say, his chin hasn’t looked the best, and Del Rosario has shown striking prowess. This one doesn’t go the full three, nor do I think it will go even a full two rounds. Both men will come out and exchange, and this is set up to be “Knockout of the Night.” Both men have something to prove, and both are in bad positions to take another loss.

Del Rosario (R) delivers a head kick (Strikeforce)

I have to say Barry, and knockout, but will leave up in the air the “wins by” or “loses by.”

Massey: I’m willing to give Del Rosario the benefit of the doubt after he suffered his first loss to Miocic, because he did have him hurt at the end of round one before Miocic turned it around. He’s facing better competition than what he saw in Strikeforce, and he’s an exciting and diverse striker that fans should eventually come around to enjoy seeing compete. For now, he’s fresh enough to say that he is still finding his place in the UFC’s heavyweight division.

Barry, on the other hand, doesn’t inspire any confidence in me. He hasn’t been able to string two wins together since entering the UFC in 2009. He is a capable fighter, but when he makes mistakes, he usually pays for it in a big way. Where Gregory is unsure who will get the KO, I’ll go all the way and say Barry will be on the receiving end, if that’s how the fight ends.

However, Barry’s losses, which are spectacular, overshadow his great skill set. He doesn’t have to stand with Del Rosario. He can take him down and pound him out, much like Miocic did, but Barry’s shorter heavyweight stature might make that a tough proposition. Barry is a known striker with KO power, but his ugly defeats stick out in my mind more so than his strengths. Why should I believe that Barry will change his all-or-nothing approach with Del Rosario?

This should be an exciting striking affair that will most likely end in a finish. Barry is a great test to determine if Del Rosario can hang with the UFC’s heavyweights, but his inconsistency leaves me to believe he is nothing more than a warm, yet entertaining, body. I choose Del Rosario.

TUF 16 WW Final: Colton Smith (3-1) vs. Mike Ricci (7-2)

Chase: Colton Smith has been doing a great job so far on TUF, but I see more promise in Mike Ricci. I think he has an experience edge that will help him. Smith has submissions, and this is where he needs to take the fight. The ground game will be a challenge for Ricci if Smith can take it there, but Ricci is no slouch in that department either.

Ricci, however, is a more well-rounded fighter, in my opinion. His hands are better, and I think they will dictate and decide this fight. I see this one being a great technical battle, either going to a decision for Ricci, or a first- or second-round TKO.

Massey: I don’t see why fans complained about this season of TUF. Two of the most deserving guys made it to the end, and isn’t that why we watch—for the competition? Both guys stayed relatively drama-free in the house, but maybe fans wanted to see manufactured conflict played out, even if they won’t admit it.

Smith was one of the fighters criticized by UFC President Dana White for his “safe” performances. He’s a serviceable striker with a solid guard, and that helped him earn decisions all the way to the finals. Smith often took damage in his wins and, if he is to use the same approach, his game will need some fine-tuning to prepare for Ricci.

Ricci came in as a well-known MMA training partner with great jiu-jitsu. He surprised many—and probably himself—with his ability to end fights with his hands. From watching his performances on the show, I think Ricci will be able to stand with Smith and offer a decent counterattack. If Smith wants to put Ricci in his guard, then it will be to Ricci’s advantage as he works submission attempts.

Smith (Zuffa)

I see Ricci being able to edge out Smith with a cautious game plan. Smith will continue to come forward and could overwhelm Ricci on the feet, forcing him to adjust. Eventually the fight will go to the ground, and that’s when Ricci will turn the momentum in his favor. It will be hard fought, and Ricci will edge out a decision.

De Souza: I believe the Friday night timeslot played a role or two in the complaints of fans about The Ultimate Fighter 16. Actually, the season turned out a little bit better than I expected it to be in terms of the fights, though it still appeared as though the fighters found themselves a tad overshadowed by an opening or two to cast Roy Nelson in a somewhat less-than-friendly light.

Perhaps I looked too much into the editing for a moment, but regardless of one’s opinion on Nelson, former Army Ranger Smith definitely did not disappoint. From watching his fights, I do see the guard and the serviceable striking, but I also saw a wrestling game that not even Jon Manley could neutralize with his best efforts.

That said, Ricci didn’t just show up on TUF 16 so people could say “Hey, it’s that Bellator guy!” In reality, both Ricci and former Bellator welterweight Sam Alvey found themselves in the house. While Alvey fell out of the running for the contract early on, Ricci displayed his evolution and well-roundedness via his performances in the house. Most notably, Ricci scored arguably the best knockout of season 16 when he landed an elbow upside the head of Neil Magny.

Props to Smith, because he fights his heart out and proved himself as an overall good egg on the show, but Ricci will take this. Ricci doesn’t have the unpredictability of a welterweight version of Jon Jones, but Team Carwin’s most technically-sound asset will shine in showcasing his solid technique and earning a TKO win early in the third round.

HW: Roy Nelson (17-7) vs. Matt Mitrione (5-1)

De Souza: Roy Nelson had a nice fight lined up in the form of Shane Carwin, but an injury to Carwin paved the way for Matt Mitrione to fill in. Though some fans preferred Nelson vs. Carwin, Nelson and Mitrione can find a way to deliver some excitement to the crowd from bell to bell. However, like most of the fights on this card, we find ourselves asking quite a number of questions leading into this heavyweight headliner.

Nelson will have something to smile about, especially if Colton Smith beats Mike Ricci in the welterweight finals, but which Nelson will show up? Followers of Nelson will recall that in addition to the power in his hands, plus his size and his fantastically grizzly beard (there, I said it), “Big Country” possesses a solid Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu game. That said, the story of Nelson’s most recent outings surrounds the grit and durability he had to show in losses to now-champ Junior dos Santos, former champion Frank Mir and contender Fabricio Werdum. After Dana White questioned how seriously Nelson took his training, Nelson appears hungry to prove that he remains a serious problem for any UFC heavyweight aside from the champ.

Mitrione, a fellow TUF 10 alum, saw his five-fight unbeaten streak stopped by Cheick Kongo via a unanimous decision. Though Kongo did make the better use of the clinch against the cage, the fight itself proved a lackluster effort from both ends. Nevertheless, Mitrione seems to progress in rounding out his skill set with every passing fight. Though he will still need to answer some questions about his overall grappling and submission game, his strength and his power will look to provide some problems for Nelson, despite Nelson’s durability in fights.

Considering the X-factor of the short notice on which both men accepted this fight, this one has potential to bring a rather enjoyable and unpredictable heavyweight bout. With Nelson coming off of a win over Dave Herman and Mitrione having not competed since the Kongo fight, Nelson could come out the more polished of the two, but none must count out Mitrione, who remains as tough as they come in his own right. If we see something reminiscent of the “Nelson of old” in this one, however, Nelson will go the distance once more. But this time, he will earn a unanimous decision victory in the process.

Massey: Fans often get distracted by Nelson’s fat gut and sweet beard, forgetting, as Dale pointed out, about his well-rounded skills. The aging Nelson has performed relatively well in several grappling tournaments in the past and is as much a grizzled veteran in the MMA game as you will find. Mitrione oddly ducked a big fight with Daniel Cormier, but stepped up to take this fight with Nelson. Mitrione still has a lot to prove if he wants to move forward as a heavyweight, and we’re going to have to see a different “Meathead” this time out if we are to believe he is ready.

Mitrione built a name for himself by making four of his first five UFC opponents kiss the canvas. He wasn’t able to KO an always durable Joey Beltran, but he clearly won the fight. He earned a match with heavyweight gatekeeper Cheick Kongo, and both gave a performance that hurt their careers. I see Mitrione as being at a crossroads in his career. He can continue to try to be the guy that keeps it standing, hoping to counter and get a KO, or he can embrace the fight wherever it may go.

Roy Nelson (James Law/Heavy MMA)

Nelson is one of the most durable heavyweights period. Junior dos Santos couldn’t knock him out and Werdum put a beating on him that would make a sadist cringe. The point is, Mitrione is going to wear himself out before he weakens Nelson’s chin, and, I wonder, does he have a plan B if that doesn’t work? We’ve yet to see Mitrione’s full-fledged wrestling offense and that will be key for him to wear Nelson down.

Mitrione puts together deadly fast combinations, but Nelson can take it. Lest we forget, “Big Country” often ends fights with one winging right hand. However, I don’t see this being a KO contest. Both will test each other’s chin for the first round, but eventually Nelson’s grappling acumen will come into play. Nelson is going to drag Mitrione into deep waters and eventually secure a submission for the win.

Chase: Although it pains me to not see Carwin go against Nelson, Mitrione will still give him a good fight. I very much wanted to see how Nelson’s chin would do against a clean Carwin punch, but maybe Mitrione can bring something else to the table. Dale said it well: because of the timing of this fight coming together, we don’t really know how it will affect the performances in the fight.

Mitrione is coming off a loss as well, and Nelson has the better momentum from his big KO of Herman back in May. This is another factor for me, and like Dale said, Nelson will be more polished.

Mitrione is a hard guy to stop, and I think Nelson only takes this one by decision. It’s hard to assign one guy in favor of a KO, but I might give it to Nelson. Mitrione has the power, but Nelson has the chin to take it. I see this one going to a decision, and both men looking dead tired when they get to it!

Preliminary Card
FlyW: Jared Papazian (14-8) vs. Tim Elliott (8-3-1)

Massey: Jared Papazian is dropping down to flyweight hoping to find his first win in the Octagon. He may be giving up some size to do so and that will hurt him if Tim Elliott looks to swarm. Both guys like to stand and trade, and I give the advantage to Elliott, who was able to hang three rounds with No. 1 UFC flyweight contender John Dodson. Elliott can rely on his wrestling background from Oklahoma if things don’t go his way in stand-up exchanges, and that will be a big factor in the fight. Papazian was overwhelmed by Dustin Pague’s grappling in his last loss at bantamweight and Elliott can do the same to find his way to victory, but expect to see flashy stand-up from each.

Chase: Both men are coming off losses, but I think Papazian has his back against the wall more. Although Papazian has more experience in the cage, I think the better fighter here is Elliott. He doesn’t have a huge track record yet, but he has shown that he is a finisher with both his hands and his submissions. This is another great technical fight on the card, and Papazian will try to keep it standing up. As David said, Papazian wants to avoid the ground, especially since most of his losses have come by submission, including his most recent one. I will predict that Elliott takes this one by a late TKO, or he will gain a decision win.

De Souza: Traditionally, Papazian struggles against guys with good ground games, although Mike Easton stands as the lone exception to that tradition. Elliott does have the grappling to either outwork or submit Papazian, but I predict that the 125-pound version of Papazian comes in with a disciplined aggression, picks his openings to strike, and cements himself as a flyweight on the rise in earning a nice unanimous decision. Don’t be surprised if this turns in one of the night’s best fights.

LW: Mike Rio (8-1) vs. John Cofer (7-2)

Chase: I can see John Cofer taking this one by submission, or Mike Rio taking it early via TKO. Both guys are finishers, and I think we will see a stoppage before it comes close to a third round. I will take Rio by TKO in the first.

De Souza: I agree with Gregory here. Both of these prospects love to close out fights, but my biggest question for Cofer surrounds his ability to mentally recover from that head kick loss to Justin Lawrence. Rio rides a nice two-fight winning streak, only holds a loss to Efrain Escudero, and he has not won by the scorecards since September of 2010. I second the prediction of Rio ending this in the first, but I will say Rio gets all of the knockout, not just a technical one.

Massey: I’m with Gregory and Dale in choosing Rio as well.

BW: Reuben Duran (8-3-1) vs. Hugo Viana (6-0)

Massey: Hugo Viana is unbeaten with six decisions and has a well-rounded game, but he lacks the finishing instinct of his opponent, Reuben Duran. We saw Viana do enough to take a split decision in his last fight, but that approach won’t do him any favors here. Duran is a fighter that actively looks for better positioning and openings to end the fight. If Duran can’t finish the wily Viana, then his approach will do enough to impress the judges.

De Souza: I’ll have to agree with David here, but at the same time, I’ll disagree. Viana does need that killer instinct if he wants to beat Duran, but Duran can get outworked against an opponent with any ground game similar to that which Viana possesses. Plain and simple, Viana will win all three rounds in a unanimous decision victory if he can’t find the submission against Duran before the midway point of round two.

Chase: Viana is undefeated, but also has been gaining decision wins, like David pointed out. His killer instinct is the issue, and Duran has shown that he has it. Duran is the more well-rounded fighter and the better finisher. His experience is better, and he will take this one decisively.

WW: T.J. Waldburger (15-7) vs. Nick Catone (9-3)

De Souza: Nick Catone makes his welterweight debut against T.J. Waldburger here, so right off the bat, one must expect Catone to want to establish his size against Waldburger. Then again, Waldburger prides himself on finding comfort in any area of the fight, and although Brian Ebersole says otherwise, Waldburger already stands out as a guy who always seems to rack up wins when nobody sees it coming. I’ll take Waldburger by a late second-round submission.

Chase: It will be interesting to see Catone at welterweight, and I think it may do him some good. He hasn’t looked that great since coming to the UFC, and the move will help him. However, Waldburger is a submission beast. I have to go with Dale on this one and say a second-round submission victory goes to Waldburger.

Massey: I’m going to have to diverge with Dale and Gregory here based on one characteristic. When I interviewed MFC CEO Mark Pavelich, he explained that it takes toughness to be successful at the highest level of the sport. That is something that Catone has. Waldburger is very dangerous with submissions, but prone to being knocked out. Catone will not stop attacking unless the fight is stopped. He’ll weather the bad spots and find a TKO with the vulnerable chin of Waldburger.

LW: Vinc Pichel (7-0) vs. Rustam Khabilov (14-1)

Chase: Both men are taking the next step onto the big stage, and both have some momentum coming into this fight. Vinc Pichel is undefeated and has great hands, but I think the experience of Rustam Khabilov will take this one.

Massey: Khabilov is training at gyms like Jackson’s MMA and American Kickboxing Academy—he knows how to defend against good strikers. Pichel has punched out all seven of his opponents before the third round, but can he keep it up in the big show? I see this as a battle of technique versus power, and technique usually wins when we reach the higher levels of the sport. Khabilov has experienced several three-round wars, only losing one by way of split decision. That is the experience that Gregory is alluding to, and I agree that it will take him to victory.

De Souza: Let’s make it unanimous here. Nothing against Pichel by any means, but something about Khabilov just demands attention from the eyes and ears of the MMA world. Regardless of what strategy he works with, he will exhibit a solid game plan and find a way to use the technique David spoke of, as well as the experience Gregory mentioned, in taking a victory away from Pichel. Don’t be shocked if Khabilov’s win comes early by way of a pretty sweet TKO via Khabilov’s technical striking game.

BW: Johnny Bedford (18-9-1) vs. Marcos Vinicius “Vina” Borges Pancini (20-3-1)

De Souza: I find this one tough to call, but luckily, I don’t find it tough to the point of wanting a draw. Johnny Bedford is a TUF 14 veteran, but he will step into the Octagon for the first time since beating Louis Gaudinot at the TUF 14 Finale. Meanwhile, “Vina” returns after a successful UFC debut against Wagner Campos and should hold the edge on the ground. But while I’m tempted to see that happen, Bedford will make other arrangements for the Brazilian. Never underestimate a Brazilian in a fight, but let me take Bedford by a late first-round TKO against Pancini.

Massey: Like Dale said, this is a tough one to call between two bantamweights that are finishers. It appears that Bedford has worked on his submission defense, and Vina would be wise to test it. I’m going with the Brazilian.

Chase: I see this fight ending in a finish, or an amazing fight that goes back and forth. Both men are well-rounded, seasoned finishers. Both men are excellent at submissions, so I will have to side with Bedford because of his better hands. Bedford by TKO, or a “Fight of the Night” decision for either.

WW: Mike Pyle (23-8-1) vs. James Head (9-2)

Massey: These two share similar levels of skill, but the veteran Mike Pyle edges James Head out in most areas. Head will surprise his opponent if they are not fully prepared for his attack, as we saw in his wins over Brian Ebersole and Gerald Harris. Pyle, an Xtreme Couture product, is technically more sound than Head, and that benefits him wherever the fight will go. Pyle, the veteran with the mullet, is my pick.

Chase: Hands down have to go with Pyle in this one. Head is a very game opponent, but I think the experience and seasoned fighting nature of Pyle will show itself very clearly in this one. David hit it on the head (no pun intended) that Pyle’s technical ability is better, and that will be a problem for Head. This one goes to Pyle.

De Souza: I should declare myself the odd man out here, but I won’t. Head remains as bright a welterweight prospect as any, but like David and Gregory said, the technical aspects of the fight and the veteran experience favor Pyle. Besides, it sucks trying to get Pyle off of your back once he’s there. Let’s call it a sweep here: Pyle for the win by any way he pleases.

FW: Dustin Poirier (12-2) vs. Jonathan Brookins (13-5)

Chase: Both men are coming off of losses, but I think Dustin Poirier will come in much more determined and refocused after his loss to Chan-Sung Jung. He had great momentum prior to it, and I think he will carry some of that over and continue it against Jonathan Brookins. Poirier by decision.

De Souza: Hard to not sway towards Poirier here. Brookins brings a good skill set, but he doesn’t provide the skills needed to truly endanger Poirier, whereas Poirier defines the type of fighter who does not like to quit until he finishes on his terms. I too foresee Poirier by decision.

Massey: Brookins is a solid competitor but he will just be the first step towards another run at the title for Poirier. Poirier’s striking game is much more advanced than Brookins, and I see Brookins being overwhelmed by it. Brookins will find his back against the cage and Poirier will unload diverse combinations to win the fight by TKO.

Top Photo: Matt Mitrione (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

Gregory Chase
Staff Writer

Gregory Chase is an MMA enthusiast and aficionado. He is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report (MMA), a Featured Columnist at Sports-at-Work, a Contributor for The MMA Corner, and is the Connecticut MMA Examiner for Examiner.com. Chase also trains in MMA, focusing on a mixture of striking disciplines, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He writes to promote thought, give perspective and provide a coherent analysis on topics, while maintaining a smooth read and educating/entertaining. He lives by his motto of “MMA: Live it. Breathe it.”