The final preliminary round matchups for The Ultimate Fighter Nations are winding down, with the last welterweight bout in the newest episode featuring a showdown between grappler Olivier Aubin-Mercier and 19-year-old Australian prodigy Jake Matthews.
Before the final fighters at 170 pounds square off for entry into the next round of the competition, both Team Canada and Team Australia will have to deal with the fallout from last week's surprising finish, where Sheldon Westcott put away four-time Olympian Dan Kelly early in the first round of their middleweight matchup. Going into the fight, Westcott was a long shot at best, competing with a bum knee against one of Australia's top competitors.
The resulting fight was the exact opposite of what most predicted, as Westcott came out aggressively, put Kelly down and submitted him just seconds later. Following the surprising win, the Canadian team was elated with the victory because Westcott was a huge underdog going into the fight, and when you add on the leg injury, he was facing very tough odds.
The celebration from the Canadian team – particularly from welterweight contender Kajan Johnson – rattles the Australians because not only was Kelly a well-liked and respected fighter, but in many ways he had become the patriarch of the entire team. To watch his dreams expire while also suffering what could end up being a pretty serious knee injury to boot was heartbreaking for the Australians, and it was only compounded as the Canadians celebrated the moment with a huge ovation while possibly saying some disparaging remarks about Kelly along the way.
There's a showdown brewing between these two teams, and when you interject personal feelings and emotion, a volcano is just about to erupt. The Australians are out for revenge following Kelly's loss and the Canadian's subsequent elation about the moment, but will that pressure all mount on Jake Matthews' shoulders considering he's next up to compete?
Matthews steps into the fight as a 19-year-old fighter out of Australia with a 3-0 record overall and a world of possibilities in front of him. Matthews has been taken under coach Kyle Noke's wing in many ways, as such a young man aspiring to be a UFC fighter just like he was several years ago. Noke has been the most prominent mixed martial artist from Australia since he first hit the big stage in America, and it's possible he sees a bit of himself in Matthews.
Matthews is so young in the sport that it's hard to predict what kind of fighter he will become, but right now he's thrust into the spotlight with just three professional fights, and he's a bit of an enigma when trying to analyze his fight style because there's just not enough information about him to make an intelligent assessment. Matthews has never had a fight go out of the second round, and his wins have come twice via rear naked choke and once by TKO. It would appear at first glance that Matthews prefers the striking game, but his ground work is solid and has probably only improved under the guidance of wrestling coach Izzy Martinez while working on the reality show.
On the other side of the Octagon stands Olivier Aubin-Mercier, who has almost the same level of experience (he's 4-0 overall) but his skill set is a bit more defined than Matthews.
Mercier is a ground fighter who makes no bones about the fact that he idolizes former UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre and his style of competing inside the Octagon. Given those facts, Mercier is a wrestler who wants to get this fight on the ground, and while he may not be as multi-faceted as Matthews in how deep he can go in every avenue of the fight, his strongest weapon may still be superior to the entire arsenal the Australian is packing.
Olivier will look to get this fight to the ground as quickly as possible, and if he can put Matthews down early and keep him there, it could be a tough go for the young 19-year-old fighter to find an escape. Panic is the worst thing that can happy to a newcomer, so if Matthews gets frustrated or finds himself down on the cards after an ugly first round, it could lead to compounded mistakes as the fight moves forward.
The key ultimately comes down to Mercier's ability to drag this fight to the mat, and based on the success he's had thus far in his career, there's no reason to believe he won't at least get Matthews down once in this bout. Whether Mercier can hold him down is paramount, and how Matthews reacts is equally as important. The safe wager in this fight falls on Mercier due to his style and ground pedigree, but don't sleep on Matthews as the underdog. He's talented and scrappy and could give the Canadian nightmares if this fight doesn't hit the mat in quick order.
Once Mercier and Matthews battle it out, we will then prepare for the final middleweight bout for the preliminary round before the semifinal matchups get made. Can the Australians start to even things up in the team win totals or will the Canadians keep hold of their control with a vice-like grip?
The next two fights on The Ultimate Fighter Nations will tell the entire story as we speed towards the semifinals in just a couple short weeks.