Whether it was the production, the coaches, or even the fighters, the 17th season of The Ultimate Fighter will go down as one of the better seasons in the show’s history. The cast brought exciting fight after exciting fight, which was thought to be a difficult task immediately following a flying knee finish by Luke Barnatt in the first fight after teams were picked. But that was then one-upped by Uriah Hall, who landed a devastating spinning heel kick to more or less seal the “Knockout of the Season” honor. In fact, once the teams were made, only two of the fights went to a decision.

Not only were the fights throughout the season good, but there was a strong competitive balance. The only fight in the entire season that has ended up being a teammate versus teammate affair will be the finals, when both Hall and Kelvin Gastelum of Team Sonnen will square off for a custom-made Harley Davidson motorcycle, a six-figure contract with the UFC, and the title of “The Ultimate Fighter.” From the moment that the aforementioned kick was landed by Hall, he became a frontrunner to win the tournament. However, for Gastelum, this will be yet another time where he will enter the Octagon expecting to be defeated by a superior fighter. But being the underdog is right in his wheelhouse.

But that is only one of the five fights on the main card. Former TUF coach Urijah Faber will take on Scott Jorgensen in the main event in a fight that has major implications in the bantamweight division. The winner of the fight could very well find himself fighting for one of the 135-pound titles in the near future. Cat Zingano and Miesha Tate will battle in the second women’s fight in promotional history for not only a title shot, but also for the chance to oppose champion Ronda Rousey during the next season of TUF. Heavyweights Travis Browne and Gabriel Gonzaga will lock horns, looking to get fans’ blood pumping as this season of the promotion’s reality show comes to a close. And kicking off the action will be two fighters from this season, as Bubba McDaniel takes on Gilbert Smith.

All this and more as The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale takes place this Saturday, April 13, at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. The evening’s main card kicks off live on FX at 9 p.m. ET, while preliminary action takes place on Fuel TV at 7 p.m. ET, and on Facebook at 5:30 p.m. ET.

The MMA Corner’s Sal DeRose, Corey Adams and Brian McKenna got together to break down the card in this edition of the Round Table.

MW: Robert “Bubba” McDaniel (20-6) vs. Gilbert Smith (5-1)

McKenna: One of the early favorites for the 17th season of the reality television show was Jackson’s MMA product Bubba McDaniel. When the world was first introduced to him, his teammate and eventual reality series coach, Jon Jones, explained that there are days where he is the best fighter in the gym, but that there are also days when he struggles. As the season played out, it became apparent that the light heavyweight champion was dead on in his assessment, as McDaniel lost his fight against finalist Kelvin Gastelum, won the wildcard and then lost again to the other finalist, Uriah Hall.

On the other hand, Gilbert Smith wasn’t really given much air time after he was the first fighter eliminated from the competition following his entry into the house. It wasn’t that he was the first man out, it was that he was struck by a big flying knee after he was basically told by his teammates leading up to the fight that he wasn’t going to win. Nonetheless, he gets another chance to show off his skills when he fights in the opening bout of the main card at the finale.

This fight will be won by McDaniel, but where his career goes from here is unknown. The driving factor in this choice is that he will come in healthy off a full training camp with one of the best teams in the sport. Training and game-planning with the people at Jackson’s MMA will showcase exactly what can be done with elite training. Looking at his record, he beats the fighters that he should, but when the competition gets tougher, he fades, as evidenced by losses to Alexander Shlemenko and Gerald Harris.

Adams: I’m going to go with McDaniel as well, but that is assuming that the Bubba I have seen flourish is the one that shows up.

McDaniel has a ton of experience and skill, but sometimes he fails to perform up to his potential. He is on a six-fight winning streak outside of the TUF house, has submitted the majority of his opponents and should be able to take Smith to the mat.

But Smith, with four submissions on his resume, is the type of fighter who doesn’t mind a bit if this turns into a wrestling match. If you cancel out the ground games of both opponents, leaving it up to the striking, I give the edge to McDaniel.

McDaniel by late submission or unanimous decision.

DeRose: For the very reason that Brian pointed out at the beginning of his analysis, I have trouble picking McDaniel. He is very hot and cold when it comes to fighting, it seems, and some days it seems like he is the best fighter—in the Kevin Casey fight, for example—and others he is just very average, as he was in the Gastelum fight.

Fortunately for McDaniel, Smith seems to be very average all-around and the most air time he received was due to the rest of the house making fun of him being half naked all of the time. Yet, he wasn’t given a vote of confidence by his team members in his first fight, which suggests that they had to have seen something in practice.

McDaniel has a size advantage and a Jackson’s MMA camp advantage. I’ll take him to get the nod by decision.

HW: Travis Browne (13-1-1) vs. Gabriel Gonzaga (14-6)

Adams: The main card on FX features a heavyweight bout between two men with a combined 25 finishes in their careers.

Browne (R) (James Law/Heavy MMA)

On one side is Travis Browne, who, regardless of his TKO loss to Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva in his last fight, is a fighter with a lot of upside at just 30 years old. “Hapa” was previously 4-0-1 before October of the last year, with finishes of Stefan Struve and Chad Griggs. Against a Brazilian grappler like Gabriel Gonzaga, it’s safe to say Browne will look to keep this fight standing and deliver a knockout. The question is, after being handed his first loss, will he continue downhill or bounce back impressively?

Gonzaga is a guy who has made a living deliver highlight finishes, but when looking at the people he has beaten, the only names that stand out are Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic and Ben Rothwell, whom he submitted in January. The Brazilian is on a three-fight winning streak and has looked impressive. However, against a taller, more athletic fighter, Gonzaga will be at a disadvantage.

Gonzaga will look to take the fight to the mat early, but as long as Browne can sprawl and keep the fight standing, he should hand “Napao” his sixth knockout loss.

DeRose: I tend to agree with everything Corey said. I love the upside of Browne, and his last loss came against someone who now has a title shot. It was his first loss and not only that, but you can chalk that loss up to Browne’s hamstring injury during the fight, if you really want to debate it.

Gonzaga has beaten great strikers in the past, but despite his three-fight winning streak, Gonzaga is a little past his prime here and facing someone like Browne, who is in his prime, could be a tough go for Gonzaga.

Gonzaga’s last victory over Rothwell doesn’t amount to anything when we talk about this fight. Browne is in a totally different class than Rothwell and could very well have been in title talks had he defeated Silva.

Gonzaga (Sherdog)

Browne is going to sprawl-and-brawl here and defeat Gonzaga handedly. Browne by decision.

McKenna: Headed into the aforementioned fight with Silva, Browne was on his way to the top of the division, if you ask me. Sure, he didn’t have any marquee victories under his belt at the time, but a win there would have made him 14-0-1, and would have likely earned him a fight against a top-10 fighter. It is unfortunate that the injury occurred, but it happens fairly regularly in this sport, and you just have to deal with it. But how will “Hapa” come back from the injury and the defeat? Some fighters use their first career loss as fuel in the gym, to work harder and come back stronger than ever. Others get heady and go down a dangerous career path that can sometimes be hard to come out of.

Training out of Team Link, Gonzaga knows what it is like to be down. “Napao” fought for the title back in 2007, only to be dumped by the promotion three years later. The Brazilian was able to gather himself, work his way back to the promotion and win two in a row. A third consecutive UFC win would say big things about Gonzaga, and possibly even earn him a shot at the fight that his opponent was on the fringe of earning back in October.

As far as who wins the fight, I have to agree with both Corey and Sal and go with the Jackson’s MMA fighter. I don’t see Browne being able to sprawl as easily as it appears that they will, but a big statistic pops off the page at me: Browne has won nine fights by knockout, while Gonzaga has been knocked out five times. I see the fight going similar to the recent Ryan Couture versus Ross Pearson fight, where Gonzaga will grind out the first round and gain the early edge from it, only for Browne to keep a good striking range in the second and score the knockout.

Women’s BW: Miesha Tate (13-3) vs. Cat Zingano (7-0)

DeRose: This fight is going to be a tough one for Miesha Tate to just walk in and win. Tate’s best chance at winning comes with her taking down Cat Zingano and grinding out the decision or somehow catching Zingano with a submission when she makes a mistake.

Tate (R) (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Zingano has the striking to win this purely on the feet, and with the TUF coaching slot and the title shot on the line, that should give both fighters added motivation to bring the fight to their respective comfort zones.

On top of the striking, Zingano has a strength advantage going into this fight. So if Tate is going to get the takedown, she’ll expend a lot of energy going for and retaining Zingano on the ground.

From what I’ve seen, Zingano has pretty good takedown defense, and it is adequate enough to keep the fight standing. The fight begins on the feet and it shall end on the feet. I’ll take Zingano to win the fight by unanimous decision. Three hard-fought rounds for the title shot and the spot on TUF.

McKenna: I have to disagree with my partner’s pick here. A lot of what Sal has said is valid, but there are a lot of factors that haven’t been brought into consideration.

First, Tate has almost twice the amount of wins as Zingano has fights, giving Tate a major edge in experience. Second, it isn’t that the Washington native just has experience, but rather that she has experience fighting on the big show. Seven times in her career, Tate has fought in Strikeforce, which is arguably one of the top five American-based MMA promotions of all time. Zingano has fought once with Invicta, which is nice, but it’s a whole different ball game than the big show that Tate has experienced. Third, “Cupcake” wasn’t just a fighter in the big show, she was the champion of the women’s bantamweight division of the big show. She once wore the same belt that was wrapped around the waist of current UFC champion Ronda Rousey. Fourth, and finally, it was Rousey who took the title from her, and it is Rousey who she wants a rematch with.

Zingano (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Truthfully, I have never watched Zingano fight during live action, but have pulled up some tapes of her and she is every bit impressive as Sal described. But personally, I just don’t see her coming up big in this big spot. A composed Tate will overwhelm “Alpha,” resulting in a first-round submission victory by the former Strikeforce champion, earning her a rematch with the girl who took the belt from her.

Adams: When I broke down this fight, the first aspect I took into consideration is who has fought on the bigger stage. With both women making their UFC debuts on Saturday, it will come down to who is able to fight under pressure with a future opponent, Rousey, looking on from cageside.

Clearly, that edge goes to the former women’s Strikeforce champion Tate.

With Tate and Rousey having an ongoing rivalry, “Cupcake” will be very excited coming into this fight knowing she is one win away from getting her hands back on the now UFC champion. Tate showed in her last fight against Julie Kedzie that she still has what it takes to retain her belt, defeating Kedzie by armbar, and she will be looking for a submission against Zingano as well.

I, like Brian, haven’t seen much out of Zingano, but her record of 7-0 speaks for itself. Her last four fights have ended by knockout or submission, so Tate will need to stay on her toes to win.

As long as the same fighter who once held the belt shows up on Saturday, Tate will earn her rematch against Rousey by submitting Zingano in the second round.

TUF MW Finals: Uriah Hall (7-2) vs. Kelvin Gastelum (4-0)

McKenna: After Uriah Hall landed the spinning heel kick against Adam Cella in the first round of their opening round fight, he became the clear tournament favorite. To prove that the crushing kick wasn’t a fluke, Hall came out and made short work of Bubba McDaniel, and then methodically picked apart Dylan Andrews. The kid truly is the real deal, and he proved it time after time throughout the season of the show.

But that doesn’t mean he will just cruise to victory. Squaring off with Hall will be Kelvin Gastelum, who has been one of the underdogs throughout the course of the season. The Arizona-based fighter was the second-to-last fighter picked in the house, but he has come up big throughout the tournament. Like Hall, Gastelum has finished all three of his opponents after the team selection. Unlike his opponent, Gastelum has done it by knockout and submission. Not only did he display his striking and power, but he sank in two beautiful rear-naked chokes, both against opponents he was expected to lose to.

It is almost fitting that a bulk of this season took place during NCAA basketball’s tournaments, because this fight has a March Madness tournament feel to it. You have Hall, one of the early favorites, taking on a Cinderella in Gastelum. But to take a common saying from the collegiate tournament, the clock is about to strike midnight on this fairy tale. Hall is just better at all of the aspects of fighting than his opponent is, and he is built like a mack truck on top of it. Don’t be surprised to see the Arizona Combat Club fighter land a few good shots here or there, but Hall will land a TKO victory late in the first round to capture the title of “The Ultimate Fighter.”

Adams: When looking at the past seasons of The Ultimate Fighter, there may no one more dangerous than Hall. As soon as I saw him compete in the first episode to get into the house, I immediately picked him to make it to the finals. With an overall skill set of pure striking and that finish-the-fight mentality, Hall is the favorite to win the six-figure UFC contract.

Gastelum, as Brian said, is the Cinderella of this season, being the last fighter taken by Team Sonnen. If you’re referring to basketball, as Brian did, he’s what you’d call the Florida Gulf Coast of the season. But the 21-year-old showed in his fights that, like Sonnen said, he is just as dangerous as Hall in a sense. He may not have the highlight finishes Hall has, but he has a large frame, heavy hands and some jiu-jitsu skills in his back pocket if the fight hits the mat.

But I don’t see this fight going to the ground. Hall and Gastelum will slug it out until someone falls, and my hunch is it will be Gastelum that will drop. Hall by second-round knockout.

DeRose: After recapping each of his fights this season for The MMA Corner, I have become enamored with Hall. I like his abilities and feel that in this fight he has no weaknesses that Gastelum can exploit.

Sonnen was right to mention on the final episode that Gastelum is not great in any one area, but what he is great in is getting the win and finding a way to earn that victory. Gastelum has been a huge underdog the entire tournament, beating everybody he wasn’t expected to beat. At 21 years old and as the last pick this season, he has absolutely nothing to lose in this fight. Regardless, he has a tremendous upside.

I still think Hall’s striking is far and beyond that of Gastelum and will earn him the win. Hall by second-round knockout.

BW: Urijah Faber (27-6) vs. Scott Jorgensen (14-6)

DeRose: This is definitely a fight I have been looking forward to. It should be a good, scrappy fight between two guys who don’t really fit in the bantamweight division title picture right now.

Faber (James Law/Heavy MMA)

Urijah Faber is coming off an extremely impressive victory over Ivan Menjivar, but like most of Faber’s recent impressive victories, it comes right after a title-fight loss. Faber really doesn’t fit into the title mix right now or for the foreseeable future, considering how many shots he has earned lately.

In this fight, though, I think Faber has the edge in every area this fight can go. Wrestling, striking, submissions—I just think there isn’t anywhere that Scott Jorgensen is better than Faber. The closest department would be wrestling, where the two are pretty close to even. However, even there I would give Faber the slight edge, due to his defense—that guillotine choke of his, anybody?—and not to mention his powerful takedowns make him a formidable wrestler for anybody.

Add in the fact that Jorgensen has looked average against his recent top competition, with his last three losses coming against Dominick Cruz in a title fight, Renan Barao and Eddie Wineland. I’ll take Faber to get the unanimous decision victory or a submission by guillotine.

Adams: Jorgensen is the type of fighter that seems to always stay in the mix, but just can’t quite get over the hump. On the other hand is Faber, who actually could be put into title contention if he is able to win this fight on short notice.

I agree with Sal that Faber is certainly the favorite, if the same “California Kid” that defeated Menjivar shows up. Faber should be able to dictate where he wants this fight to go, which should be on the ground, as proven in his previous fights.

Jorgensen looked great in his last fight against John Albert, earning both “Submission of the Night” and “Fight of the Night” honors. But let’s be honest, Faber is on another level than Albert and has a lot more experience. As both Sal and I have already pointed out, “Young Guns” has failed to beat the top dogs in the divisions, and Faber is another one in his way.

Jorgensen (L) (James Law/Heavy MMA)

This won’t be an easy fight for Faber by any means, but he should earn the win on Saturday. If Faber isn’t able to force Jorgensen to submit, he’ll still earn the win on the scorecards.

McKenna: If there is one thing that Faber has established over the last couple of years, it is that he is the clear No. 3 bantamweight on the planet. For the most part, “The California Kid” has terrorized the bantamweight division since he moved down from featherweight. The problem, though, is that the two losses he has had at 135 pounds have come to the No. 1 and No. 2 bantamweights.

I have to echo what my colleagues have said in reference to Jorgensen. He is a solid fighter, but everything that he does, “The California Kid” does better. If you want to look at common opponents, they have a similar track record. The big difference that stands out, however, is that Faber defeated Eddie Wineland, whereas Jorgensen was knocked out by him.

Faber has been a longtime fan favorite, which has played its part in all of the title shots that he has earned over the years. He will win the main event this Saturday, but the question is whether or not he gets the next shot at the title. The title picture at bantamweight is foggy, considering that Dominick Cruz hasn’t defended his title since 2011, and Renan Barao already has his second interim title defend lined up.

Preliminary Card
FW: Sam Sicilia (11-2) vs. Maximo Blanco (8-4-1)

Adams: Sam Sicilia and Maximo Blanco made the move to the featherweight division in their previous fights, so one will prove on Saturday who has made the most all-around improvements. A knockout is likely here, with the two combining for 13 total. In the end, the TUF 15 winner will get his hand raised by TKO.

McKenna: Overall, Sicilia is the better-rounded fighter. He has proven that he can win by the three different methods, while his opponent, having been unable to make an opponent tap in defeat, hasn’t been able to do that. Like Corey, I’m taking the TUF veteran. However, I’m choosing a submission victory, rather than a TKO.

DeRose: I can’t see this fight not ending in a knockout. Both fighters have a tendency to finish fights that way. Sicilia, though, does have a better overall skill set, and like my other two colleagues, I’m taking Sicilia to win the fight by TKO.

FW: Justin Lawrence (4-1) vs. Daniel Pineda (17-9)

McKenna: Both of these fighters are looking to keep themselves out of jeopardy with the UFC as they head into the Octagon this Saturday. Daniel Pineda looked promising in his first two promotional outings, only to follow it up by losing the next two. Justin Lawrence has had an up and down life in the UFC too. He alternated wins and losses in his time both during and after TUF. It will come down to who is hungrier, and I’m going to take “The American Kidd,” Lawrence, by first-round knockout.

DeRose: Lawrence was heavily hyped coming off of TUF, but I always failed to see the tremendous amounts of potential people were saying he had. Lawrence may have beaten John Cofer, but when he received a step up in competition against Max Holloway, Lawrence crumbled. That being said, Pineda didn’t look terribly great in his last fight either, getting knocked out quickly by Antonio Carvalho. I’ll take Lawrence to get a split decision nod.

Adams: I will also go with Lawrence in this fight with Pineda, but I’m not overly confident. As mentioned, “The American Kidd” has been inconsistent, and Holloway exploited some holes in his game. Pineda is primarily a grappler, so if Lawrence can keep the fight standing, he could deliver a knockout midway through the fight to put him back on track.

FW: Cole Miller (18-7) vs. Bart Palaszewski (36-16)

Adams: Bottom line: this is a must-win fight for both men. Cole Miller and Bart Palaszewski have lost their last two bouts, and with the amount of cuts the UFC has made recently, they will look to win any way they can on Saturday. With that said, this fight should go the distance, and it will be a grinding fight that will be contested both standing and on the mat. In the end, Miller will edge out “Bartimus” on the scorecards.

DeRose: I’m shocked to see Palaszewski in the situation he is in, considering how high he was just two fights ago. Palaszewski was dominated by Hatsu Hioki on the ground, and Miller will do more or less the same thing in this fight. Like Corey said, this will go the distance and be a grinding fight with Miller in control for most, if not all of the fight. Miller by decision.

McKenna: Casual MMA fans will probably hate this fight, saying that it is one where the two fighters roll around on the mat for 15 minutes in an unexciting fashion. Grinding out victories, like Miller will do in this fight, won’t be the most exciting thing to ever happen. However, it may be a necessity to do just that in order to keep his UFC career alive. The longtime MMA veteran, Palaszewski, will likely receive his walking papers after his fourth loss in five promotional fights.

MW: Clint Hester (7-3) vs. Bristol Marunde (12-7)

DeRose: Clint Hester was a top pick this season. In his opening fight to get in the house, he displayed all sorts of great all-around skills. Hester couldn’t make a repeat performance against Jimmy Quinlan, and his ground game seemed to be lacking against the much better grappler. Bristol Marunde is a submission wrestler (and a TUF veteran), and I think he can bring Hester down and repeat the Quinlan fight here. Marunde by decision.

McKenna: Hester was caught in a mismatch of fights when he was paired up against Quinlan. This mismatch clearly exposed the Georgia native, which says to me that he has spent most of his training camp drilling that exact aspect of his fight game. Seeing how athletic of a guy that Hester is tells me that he will have been able to evolve on his ground game enough to survive in this fight, get back to his feet, and finish the fight there. Hester will earn a third-round TKO.

Adams: Sal laid this out perfectly. Marunde is an overall-game fighter, but as mentioned, he is a type of wrestler that can finish fights on the mat. Since Hester couldn’t compete with Quinlan, his grappling lacks from what Marunde brings to the table. Marunde by decision.

MW: Dylan Andrews (15-4) vs. Jimmy Quinlan (3-0)

Adams: If you had to pick one person that improved drastically this season, it would be Dylan Andrews. “The Villain” surprised many up until his semifinal fight, but fell to Uriah Hall. In this fight, Andrews will be the better overall fighter against a grappler like Jimmy Quinlan. For this reason, Andrews will win a decision.

DeRose: I agree with Corey about Andrews. He definitely showed vast improvement in the house in going from last pick to semifinalist. Andrews was just absolutely beaten by Hall, and there is no shame in that, considering Andrews was the only one in the house to last longer than a minute. Quinlan is a great grappler and a great wrestler though, and I think he can take Andrews down and get the decision. Quinlan by unanimous decision—a boring one at that.

McKenna: Not many people expected Quinlan to defeat Clint Hester, but not only did he beat him, he threw him around like a rag doll. I personally have seen Quinlan throw opponents around while he was fighting on the regional scene, and I was not surprised to see him throw Hester and Josh Samman around the way he did, even though he ultimately lost to Samman. Now that the toll of the tournament won’t be wearing down the bodies of the fighters, look for Quinlan to again throw his opponent around and open him up for a second-round TKO victory.

MW: Luke Barnatt (5-0) vs. Collin Hart (4-1-1)

McKenna: In a battle between two quarterfinalists, the biggest thing that stands out is the size advantage that Luke Barnatt holds over Collin Hart. The Brit stands tall at 6-foot-6, four inches taller than the Team Jones fighter. If you ask me, that reach advantage will be the tale of the fight as “Bigslow” outlasts Hart by decision.

Adams: I have to agree with Brian here and take Barnatt. The size will just be too much for Hart to overcome. Hart tends to rely on his jiu-jitsu a bit too much, so if it stays standing, Barnatt should get his hand raised by TKO.

DeRose: I thought that Barnatt’s size advantage would be a huge asset that would make for a Uriah Hall vs. Barnatt final. Unfortunately for Barnatt, a quarterfinals match with Dylan Andrews altered those plans. If Hart can get inside the reach like Andrews did and get the takedowns or just beat Barnatt in the clinch, I could see him winning. I still haven’t learned my lesson though from picking Barnatt to win in the house, and I’ll choose him to win by unanimous decision just due to the sheer difficulty of breaking Barnatt’s enormous reach advantage.

MW: Kevin Casey (5-2) vs. Josh Samman (9-2)

Adams: Kevin Casey will more than likely want to take this fight to the ground, as three of his five wins have come by submission. But Josh Samman is the better striker on paper and should be able to keep the fight standing if he can stop the takedowns from Casey. If so, Samman will win by TKO.

McKenna: Samman was one of the favorites to win the entire competition based on the fact that heading into his semifinal fight, he had finished every one of his opponents. The fact that he defeated Jimmy Quinlan after being out-grappled for nearly the entire first round shows his heart and that he is able of battling through adversity. There is a chance that the grappler, Casey, will get Samman to the ground, but look for him to get out of the hard situation and work for the TKO victory with his patented double punch from the top.

DeRose: There really isn’t much more for me to add here. Casey is definitely going to try to bring this fight to the ground, since that is where he holds an advantage. The fight starts on the feet though, and Samman has displayed some pretty good striking in the house. I thought Samman would be the other finalist of this season, and I’ll take him to beat Casey by TKO in the third.

Top Photo: Urijah Faber (James Law/Heavy MMA)

About The Author

Brian McKenna
Staff Writer

Brian McKenna was born and raised in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. A sports nut from as long as he can remember, he came to be a fan of Mixed Martial Arts from a roommate watching The Ultimate Fighter while attending Westfield State College. Brian came to writing by starting his own blog, Four Down Territory, which focuses on Boston based sports, life, and of course MMA.