Love him or hate him, the UFC needs fighters like Michael Bisping right now.

With a handful of its most popular stars stuck on the sidelines, the Zuffa roster doesn’t feature many fighters who elicit a reaction in the same way as “The Count.” The entire middleweight division seems determined to call out Bisping the second they enter the fringe of the top 10, and more often than not, the British middleweight is happy to reply to their challenge. Whether it’s a beloved veteran like Dan Henderson or a longtime gatekeeper like Jorge Rivera, Bisping makes sure the fans are leaning one way or the other come fight time.

When Bisping makes his return this week against Tim Kennedy in the main event of The Ultimate Fighter: Nations Finale, it will be the culmination of a long verbal spat between Kennedy, one of the most likeable fighters in the sport, and Bisping, one of the most villainous. With his military background and patriotic personality, Kennedy is an extremely easy fighter to cheer for, and he’s met his polar opposite in the trash-talking Brit. With a spot in the suddenly crowded middleweight title scene on the line, these two fighters have far more at stake this week than discovering who was right in their Twitter beef. One of them will put himself into the title mix with a win this weekend.

Bisping and Kennedy headline the TUF Nations Finale at Colisee Pepsi in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada this Wednesday night. The main card, which airs live at 7 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1, also features the fight between Team Australia and Canada coaches Kyle Noke and Patrick Cote, along with the finals of the TUF welterweight and middleweight tournaments. Four preliminary fights will air on UFC Fight Pass at 3 p.m. ET and the rest of the prelims will shift over to Fox Sports 1 at 5 p.m. ET.

The MMA Corner’s Brian McKenna, RJ Gardner and Vince Carey break down the entire card in this edition of the Round Table.

FW: Akira Corassani (12-3) vs. Dustin Poirier (15-3)

McKenna: Akira Corassani holds an impressive 3-0 record while fighting inside the Octagon, but he finds himself taking a major step up in competition against Dustin Poirier. “The Diamond” has knocked off some big names in the featherweight division and has really only come up short while fighting higher ranked fighters than himself. He should cruise to victory and win by his favorite submission, the d’arce choke.

Carey: This fight does indeed represent a sizeable step up in competition for Corassani, but after three straight wins to kick off his UFC career, a bout with a fighter like Poirier is well deserved. Any jump into the next tier in the division is going to be difficult for the TUF veteran to come by, however, as Poirier is one of the best featherweights alive and is streaking as well. Corassani is talented, but Poirier is just too much for him at this point in their careers. Poirier is likely to leave with a submission win. I’ll take “The Diamond” by d’arce choke as well.

Gardner: There is no doubt that Corassani has earned this bout and the step up in competition, but Poirier is the real deal. All three of Corassani’s losses have come by way of TKO, and Poirier has shown he can finish fights regardless of the situation. Look for Poirier to push the action and bring the fight to Corassani. Poirier wins via second-round TKO.

TUF WW Finals: Chad Laprise (7-0) vs. Olivier Aubin-Mercier (4-0)

McKenna: The time has come for a fighter hailing from Canada to exit the Octagon with the trophy, the contract and the title of The Ultimate Fighter. Sure, it was almost expected to have at least one Canadian fighting in the finals when a season between the two nations of Australia and Canada were set to square off with one another, but two Canadian welterweights stand in the finals, guaranteeing the crown be worn by a Canadian.

The fight will be between two completely different fighters. Chad Laprise gets things done on his feet with powerful strikes, whereas Olivier Aubin-Mercier has slick submissions on the ground. They showcased their abilities on the reality series, spotlighted by Laprise’s jaw-shattering knockout against hometown teammate Kajan Johnson.

This will be a fight that takes place on the ground. While on the show, Aubin-Mercier tried standing in front of his opponents and took things to the ground upon absorbing several strong shots. It will be a similar scenario on Wednesday. Laprise will tap from a choke in the second round, making Aubin-Mercier the first-ever Canadian winner of the promotion’s reality show.

Gardner: This match-up kind of reminds me of the epic battle between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar at the TUF season-one finale which launched the UFC into the stratosphere. Griffin was a striker, whereas Bonnar was a grappler, and that bout turned out to be one of the greatest back-and-forth battles in MMA history.

By no means do I think this bout will be what Griffin-Bonnar was, but there are similarities in the match-up. The difference in this one will be Aubin-Mercier’s ability to get the fight to the mat. As long as he can weather the power Laprise brings early, he will be the victor.

Unlike my counterpart, I don’t see this one getting out of the first round. Aubin-Mercier has finished all of his pro fights in the first frame by rear-naked choke. There’s little reason to think this ends otherwise.

Carey: Someone’s “0” has got to go, and I, like my fellow panelists, think Aubin-Mercer gets the win.

Laprise’s knockout win over Johnson was undoubtedly the highlight of the show, but I don’t see him having much of a chance to use that power against Aubin-Mercer, who is going to get him to the ground early. Brian mentioned Aubin-Mercer’s willingness to stand and take a few shots early in the fight while on the show, but with the TUF title on the line, he will be much more conservative and use the ground game that’s gotten him this far.

This one ends in the opening minute or so, when Aubin-Mercier locks in the rear-naked choke that’s been his bread and butter thus far in his career and earns the tap.

TUF MW Finals: Elias Theodorou (8-0) vs. Sheldon Westcott (8-1-1)

Gardner: Elias Theodorou is a grind-it-out fighter who looks to impose his will on opponents. He has looked tough en route to the finale, but he is going to have his hands full when he steps into the cage with Sheldon Westcott.

Westcott has looked phenomenal on the show, where he submitted both of his opponents in under a minute. With three career knockouts to his credit, he is just as good in the striking game.

Theodorou is going to look to stay off the mat, but it’s doubtful that he will be successful. Westcott looks like a fighter that is destined for greatness in the UFC, and he will put everyone on notice with a convincing win. Westcott via first-round submission.

Carey: No one has more momentum heading into the finale than Westcott, and he’ll look to ride that wave to a third straight stoppage win to go along with a TUF title.

Westcott’s quick finishes on the show provided fans a glimpse at how dominant in the cage he can be when the fight hits the floor, and he’ll have plenty of chances to get it there against Theodorou. Westcott, as RJ suggested, looked like a fighter destined for greatness on the show. Although I’m still going to need to see him compete against true UFC-caliber competition to sign off on that, there’s no doubt that the young Canadian displayed a ton of promise with his back-to-back submission wins.

Theodorou is going to have to try to drag Westcott into deep waters and test his cardio a bit if he wants to win this fight, but I have a hard time believing that he’ll last long enough for that to happen. I’ll take Westcott by quick submission. He’s definitely worth keeping an eye on in the future.

McKenna: Considering how dominant Westcott was throughout the course of the show, all the while battling legitimate injuries and not just minor bumps and bruises, makes it difficult to pick against him in the middleweight final.

Theodorou has impressed too. As difficult as it is to earn the quick stoppages the way that Westcott has, it is equally hard to grind out victories in the way that he did through the tournament. If, for some reason, the fight makes it to the third round, it should be Theodorou who has his hand held high because he will have likely controlled the pace of the fight exactly how he wanted to. However, it’s just not something I see happening here.

First-round submission victory for Westcott.

WW: Patrick Cote (19-8) vs. Kyle Noke (20-6-1)

Carey: Patrick Cote and Kyle Noke made successful UFC welterweight debuts the last time they hit the cage, and after spending weeks coaching against each other in the TUF gym, they finally go head to head at the finale.

Cote is always game for a good scrap. His massive size at 170 pounds should help him keep the fight upright against the vast majority of welterweights in the division. The Canadian thrives by throwing leather and getting into barnburners, which is exactly what he needs to do against a crafty grappler like Noke.

After a 3-2 run at middleweight to start his Octagon career, Noke made the drop down to 170 in late 2012 by steamrolling Charlie Brenneman in 45 seconds. He’s been stuck on the sidelines ever since. The well-rounded Aussie can give Cote a tough bout no matter where the fight takes place, but he’d likely have an advantage on the mat and he has the wrestling skills to get it there if he chooses to.

This has the potential to be a close fight, but Noke’s tenacity and takedown skills will get the fight to the mat for the majority of the bout. From there, he can work his ground-and-pound and submission game to work for a finish. At the very least, Noke can score an easy decision win.

McKenna: More often than not, the opposing coaches on The Ultimate Fighter find a way to get under each other’s skin throughout the course of the show, even if the two don’t have any beef with each other as they head into the show. This season of the show has been unique in the sense that Cote and Noke have been laid back and focused on the task at hand, which is to put all of their time and effort into making their fighters the best they can possibly be.

However, with the show coming to a close, they have shifted into their own camps, where they are now focusing their attention on themselves. At one point, Cote worked his way to a middleweight title fight against Anderson Silva, but he really at no point was considered a gangbuster at the time. This notion is backed by the fact that, after he lost that fight, he lost his next two bouts and was released by the promotion. He worked his way back to the Octagon, but he has continued in his mediocrity since rejoining the UFC roster.

Noke has been a middle-of-the-road guy, too. After starting his promotional career with three straight victories, he was humbled in two straight. Then came his destruction of Brenneman. But what will likely be the deciding factor in this fight is the fact that the Aussie is better-rounded than his Canadian counterpart. Of his 20 career victories, seven have been knockouts and eight have been submissions.

Because Noke is better all-around, I see him emerging victorious by decision in the co-main event.

Gardner: This is an interesting match-up between two fighters who are looking to establish themselves in the UFC’s welterweight division. Both men are well-rounded, and they are always up for an entertaining tilt.

Cote has the edge in striking, plus the much better chin. Meanwhile, Noke is the more accomplished grappler. Noke has more tools in his toolbox than Cote, but if he wants to win, he is going to have to take this fight to the mat. That will be a tough task. Cote is a monster at welterweight, and he has been in the cage with much better competition.

Look for Cote to fight off Noke’s takedown attempts and batter him on the feet. Noke is tough, so it’s unlikely Cote will be able to finish him. However, Cote should win this convincingly. Cote via unanimous decision.

MW: Michael Bisping (24-5) vs. Tim Kennedy (17-4)

Gardner: Currently riding a three-fight winning streak that includes a “Knockout of the Night” performance in his last outing over Rafael Natal, Tim Kennedy is hot right now. Michael Bisping, meanwhile, is 2-2 in his last four, including a win over Alan Belcher in his last fight at UFC 159.

Kennedy and Bisping are both solid and sound fighters, but neither really jumps off the page. Neither is a supreme knockout artist and neither is a world-class submission fighter, but they are both good at everything. That is what makes this bout so interesting. Both fighters excel at game-plan execution, and they have the ability to beat an opponent at their own game.

Bisping is the more technical striker, but Kennedy has the better ground game. Kennedy has more power, but Bisping has better cardio. In short, this one is a coin flip at best.

Although Bisping has been in the cage against better competition, I am leaning towards Kennedy. Kennedy is on a hot streak, and his ability to be a match-up nightmare for anyone will give Bisping fits.

Kennedy wins by unanimous decision.

McKenna: Although R.J. did a great job laying out a lot of the details of this fight, he left out the beef that these two have had. It is not uncommon for fighters to not get along with “The Count,” as he frequently finds ways to get under the skin of his opponents. The two fighters went back and forth on social media, hurling insults in what turned out to be a successful effort to get the fight booked.

Bisping has been an interesting talent for the promotion through the years. He is the UFC’s version of Sisyphus, the mythological man who was unable to ever push the boulder up to the top of the hill without letting it roll all the way back down to the bottom. Until his recent streak of trading wins and losses, he had built up impressive winning streaks only for them to topple, plummeting him down the rankings and away from what would have likely been a title shot. It is because of this that the British-based fighter may go down in history as the promotion’s best fighter to never fight for a title.

On the other hand, Kennedy has not really proven himself inside the Octagon just yet. He could change that with a victory on Wednesday night. His first two fights for the UFC came against Roger Gracie and Rafael Natal, and this third fight is a big step up in competition.

An additional factor to this fight is that Bisping has been on the shelf since last April, whereas Kennedy has been active. “The Count” suffered a detached retina after his last fight, which has kept him on the shelf for so long. The ring rust could be one of big factors in this fight, especially since this is a bout scheduled for five rounds. However, I see Bisping being able to battle through it. He rarely loses to fighters ranked lower than him. Despite the long layoff, he will find a way to emerge victorious.

Carey: Sweet, I get to be the tiebreaker.

In my opinion, this fight comes down to one thing: how much rust Bisping needs to shake once he hits the cage. A healthy and active Bisping is an extremely tough match-up for Kennedy in the stand-up game, and since Bisping’s takedown defense is woefully underrated, that’s likely where the majority of this fight is going to go down.

Bisping’s pace during his fights is ridiculous for a 185-pounder. While he may not finish the majority of his opponents, he certainly overwhelms them over the entire bout. Whether he can keep that up while avoiding the power shots of Kennedy is going to be the key here, but as long as he’s able to adapt to being in the cage, he should be fine after a few minutes.

Kennedy is tough, and it’s unlikely that Bisping pulls off a finish here. But unless “The Count” looks like a shell of his former self, he wins a fairly lopsided decision.

Preliminary Card
BW: Mitch Gagnon (10-2) vs. Tim Gorman (8-2)

McKenna: This fight will be Tim Gorman’s chance to officially prove himself after he earned a spot in The Ultimate Fighter 18 house, only to be removed from the show due to an injury. It came to nobody’s surprise that he knocked out his opponent to get into the house, as six of his career victories have been knockouts. I see the Iowan keeping submission specialist Mitch Gagnon on the feet and earning yet another knockout win.

Carey: I’m going to have to disagree with Brian. Gorman is undoubtedly tough. His only losses came against solid fighters in Jared Downing and L.C. Davis, so he’s going to be difficult to take out. However, Gagnon has demonstrated some serious finishing skills on the mat. He’ll add to that display in front of a partisan Canadian crowd. Gagnon by late submission.

Gardner: Gorman is tough. He is also a powerful striker for a bantamweight. However, Gagnon is the real deal, and he proved himself on the biggest stage. All 10 of Gagnon’s pro wins have come by way of submission. When he sees an opportunity to finish, he takes it. Gorman will get the better of him in the striking exchanges, but once this fight hits the mat it will be all over. Gagnon via second-round submission.

BW: Dustin Kimura (11-1) vs. George Roop (14-10-1)

Carey: Dustin Kimura has shown a few flashes of brilliance in his two UFC wins to this point, but he has a tough match-up in front of him in George Roop. As a submission specialist, Kimura is going to have to close the distance against the long and lanky Roop to get the fight to the mat. If he does, though, the UFC veteran is skilled there as well. Kimura pulls off a submission win here, but Roop won’t go down easy. Kimura is going to have to earn the biggest win of his young career.

Gardner: Roop is lengthy and tough as nails, but he also lacks consistency. Kimura is a talented young gun on his way up, and he will get the biggest win of his career over Roop. Vince is correct in suggesting that it’s not going to be easy, but Kimura will catch Roop once he gets the range figured out. Roop is dangerous on the feet, so Kimura is going to have to get it to the mat early. Kimura by first-round submission.

McKenna: Roop has been a disappointment of sorts. He has had big moments in his career, but he hasn’t been able to follow up on them. He knocked out “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung after his epic performance at WEC 48, only to lose in less than 90 seconds his next time out. He linked victories together with a big knockout over former champion Brian Bowles, but then struggled against Francisco Rivera. Like my two colleagues before me, I’m taking Kimura, but mostly because Roop is his own worst enemy.

LHW: Ryan Jimmo (18-3) vs. Sean O’Connell (15-4)

McKenna: Sean O’Connell comes in to replace Steve Bosse and take on Ryan Jimmo. Although “Big Deal” has gone 2-2 in his two fights inside the Octagon, he holds the psychological edge over O’Connell. He has fought on the big stage before, even if he only has a .500 record. But that record should drive Jimmo to realize that if he doesn’t win this fight, it could spell the end of him inside the UFC. That drive should propel Jimmo to victory via an early first-round knockout.

Gardner: O’Connell is dangerous simply because he has nothing to lose in this fight and everything to gain. That said, Jimmo is a beast when he is on. With his future in the UFC hanging in the balance, expect him to be on. Jimmo wins in impressive fashion via first-round TKO.

Carey: Picking the fighter with nothing to lose rarely works out in MMA, and there’s no reason to think any differently here. Jimmo has fought solid competition during his four-fight run, and this seems to be somewhat of a gimme fight in order for him to get back on track. Jimmo by quick TKO via ground-and-pound.

LW: Mark Bocek (11-5) vs. Mike de la Torre (12-3)

Gardner: It’s disappointing that Evan Dunham got injured, because the match-up with Mark Bocek had real sleeper potential to be an entertaining fight. Now, Bocek is slated to face UFC newcomer Mike de la Torre. All three of de la Torre’s losses have come by way of submission, and Bocek is one hell of a grappler, so expect this one to be over relatively quick. Bocek via first-round submission.

Carey: Not much to argue with there. De la Torre is getting thrown straight into the fire against Bocek, and taking the fight on less than a week’s notice is going to make things even more difficult for the American. Bocek may have been in trouble against Dunham, but this match-up is tailor-made for the Canadian. Bocek will take home the early submission win.

McKenna: Sometimes the best way to get your big break in the UFC is to get a last-minute phone call when someone falls out of their scheduled bout. That is the case for de la Torre. Unfortunately for him, Bocek on less than a week’s notice is a tough debut fight. The rookie will come strong out of the gate and put on a competitive first round, but once they get more than a minute deep into the second round, it should spell the beginning of the end. The Canadian will lock in a submission for the win.

Women’s BW: Sarah Kaufman (16-2) vs. Leslie Smith (6-4-1)

Carey: Leslie Smith is the third different opponent to be matched opposite of Sarah Kaufman on this card. Even though she doesn’t have the pedigree of the girls she replaced, the Cesar Gracie fight team member might be the most exciting of the bunch. After losing a controversial split decision to Kaufman in Invicta FC in 2012, Smith is getting the opportunity to make her UFC debut and attempt to rectify that loss all at once. Smith made the first fight close by putting on the pressure and forcing Kaufman to defend rather than counterstrike. She’ll need to replicate that game plan in order to defeat a much more experienced and technical fighter in Kaufman. Kaufman won the first fight and knows what to expect out of Smith at this point, but for some reason I’m feeling the upset here. Smith by decision.

McKenna: I understand that a lot of fighters walk around and say that they’ll fight anyone at any time, but Kaufman is living up to that code for Wednesday night. Smith is the third scheduled opponent to line up in front of the Canadian. She could have turned down the fight and cited too much change and confusion in the process, but she is opening the door to yet another fighter. Kaufman should be able to defeat Smith again, but mostly due to the fact that she will have had a full camp and will be in better shape headed into the fight. Kaufman will win by TKO in the third round against a tired opponent.

Gardner: I’m sure that Kaufman is just ready to get this fight over with and move on, because the lead-up has been a roller coaster with all the changes she has had to endure. It’s difficult to train and prepare when you don’t know who you are facing, and that really favors Smith here. Even though Smith is coming in on short notice, she has already proved to be a tough match-up for Kaufman based on their encounter at Invicta FC 5. Smith gets revenge in this bout and wins via unanimous decision.

LW: K.J. Noons (12-7) vs. Sam Stout (20-9-1)

Gardner: This one has “Fight of the Night” written all over it. K.J. Noons against Sam Stout is a match made in heaven for striking fans. Both guys are technically sound, both have power and both have good chins. Expect this one to be a bloody war of attrition between two gritty fighters trying to stay relevant in the UFC’s deepest division. Noons has the edge in technique, but Stout has the edge in heart, so that’s who I am going with. Stout by split decision.

McKenna: Yeah, this fight should be good. These two fighters are not likely to be ranked in the top 10 anytime soon, but they both love to stand and trade. This is a make-or-break fight for Noons, who has gone 2-5 in his last seven. With his back against the wall, I’ll take the technique over the heart. Noons via decision.

Carey: I smell a slugfest. This fight is going to be extremely fun.As good as both men are in the striking game, their ability to take a shot and walk through it is most impressive. This should be a close fight that could easily come down to a single judge, and Stout’s willingness to mix in a takedown or two in between punches makes me think he’ll take it home.

WW: Richard Walsh (7-1) vs. Chris Indich (5-1)

Carey: The Aussies had a rough run on this season of The Ultimate Fighter, but the UFC is giving two of its countrymen a chance to stick around on the roster when Chris Indich and Richard Walsh square off on Wednesday night. Walsh may have been able to stick around on the show a bit longer, but Indich showed some skills in his loss to eventual finalist Chad Laprise. I like Indich’s chances over a three-round fight. I’m not expecting a finish from either guy, but Indich showed a lot of heart when he was outgunned against Laprise. If he has the same tenacity, he can will his way to a decision win against Walsh.

Gardner: Neither Walsh nor Indich were able to make it to the finale, but both fighters showed real promise in their fights on the reality series. While the majority of both fighters’ career wins have come by way of stoppage, don’t expect this one to end before the final bell. Even though Indich is the better-rounded fighter of the two, Walsh’s power should be the difference. Walsh via unanimous decision.

McKenna: R.J. and Vince may disagree on the winner, but they agree that it will go the full 15 minutes, and I am on board with that. Neither one of these fighters will be able to finish the other, but by no means does that mean it will be a bad fight. The two men showed something on the show, it just happens to be that they both ended up running into tournament finalists at some point throughout the course of the season. I’m going to break the tie and go with “Filthy Rich” in this fight. He will control the pace of the bout en route to the win.

MW: Nordine Taleb (8-2) vs. Vik Grujic (6-2)

Gardner: This is an interesting fight, simply because it has already been announced that Nordine Taleb will also be featured as a cast member of the upcoming season of The Ultimate Fighter that will feature B.J. Penn and Frankie Edgar as coaches. It appears that the UFC really likes Taleb and the promotion is giving him every opportunity to earn a contract. That said, Taleb will have his hands full with Australian Vik Grujic. Grujic showed some fierce ground-and-pound in his victory over Luke Harris on the show. He has proven over his career to be quite adept at submissions. I am going to go with Taleb here because he is the better striker and he has fought better competition over his career, but I don’t feel great about this pick. Taleb via unanimous decision.

McKenna: I agree with RJ’s opinion that Taleb is a better fighter. After Grujic lost in the last fight on the show to Sheldon Westcott, he was clearly beaten up internally and was inside his own head. Even though the taping of the show ended long ago, the Aussie is still going to be stuck in that mindset, which will hurt him in the fight on Wednesday. It will be another Canadian victory, as Taleb takes the decision.

Carey: I’m going to have to make it unanimous for Taleb in this one. Grujic showed some potential on the show, but he could use a bit more polishing on the regional scene before competing against UFC-level talent. Taleb has fought better competition and he’s just a little more prepared for this moment at this point in their careers. Taleb’s getting the finish in this one, probably towards the end of the fight.