UFC president Dana White was so impressed by the quality of fights during TUF’s 17th season that he promised all of the cast members a UFC fight, a decision that paid off during the TUF Finale. After opening with a trio of exciting featherweight prelims, the undercard featured four middleweight fights, seven fighters from the season and three solid finishes.
Kevin Casey vs. Josh Samman
In the night’s featured televised prelim, TUF 17 middleweight Kevin Casey was TKOd in the second by Josh Samman and Samman’s relentless knees.
Casey threw a kick, slipped backward onto the mat, and Samman instinctively followed. In one of the craziest first minutes in UFC memory Casey locked in a triangle, Samman stood and slammed him, and Casey stayed put. Casey rolled, legs still locked around Samman’s head and arm, and Samman again stood to slam with no success. The Gracie black belt transitioned to an armbar, and this time, Samman slammed his way out. Casey landed in top position in the scramble, and then spent most of the rest of the round controlling things from Samman’s open guard as Samman struggled to reverse. As Samman finally made his way to his feet with a minute left, Casey threw a big knee to the body, only to have Samman return the favor – times a half dozen or so – in what was a sign of things to come.
In round two, Samman again got the Thai clinch and threw knees, and that was literally the story of the fight. Casey defended with uppercuts and body shots, but his power weakened over time, and Samman completely controlled the action. One series of knees against the fence buckled Casey, but he gutted his way back to his feet. Still, he was unable to break the clinch. Referee Herb Dean watched the action closely, waving it off at 2:17 after Casey fell to his knees a second time and then to the mat after one punch from Samman.
Samman’s official record now stands at 10-3, not counting the two opponents he TKOd en route to the TUF semi-finals. “He has me in a lot of trouble in the first thirty seconds of the first round, but I wasn’t going to go out like that," said Samman. "Not being in the finals was absolutely heartbreaking for me so I took that disappointment into training camp every day and it drove me to work harder." The Blackhouse-trained Casey falls to 5-3.
Collin Hart vs. Luke Barnatt
Cambridge, England’s Luke Barnatt used range and takedown defense to get a birthday win over Californian Collin Hart, earning the unanimous decision over three bloody-faced rounds.
Hart poured it on when the bell rang, backing up Barnatt and tagging him against the fence. He worked for a takedown, but it was Barnatt who got the trip, only to have his back taken on the way up. In close quarters and on exits from the clinch, the 6’6” middleweight Barnatt landed knees, but otherwise the close exchanges were won by Hart, who stunned Barnatt repeatedly with left hands, body shots and uppercuts. Barnatt, on the other hand, scored from the outside with long jabs and powerful strikes, using footwork to try and keep himself off the fence.
As the fight wore on, the TUF 17ers mixed up with with flying knee and spinning attacks and both men had their moments – Hart with a big suplex in round one; Barnatt rolling through a single-leg into a standing guillotine in the second, but the bulk of the damage came from the exchanges on the fence. Barnatt looked lighter on his feet in the third, eager to make space between himself and Hart’s increasingly taxing leg kicks. But Hart pressured forward as he had throughout , earning one more takedown in the process
Judges ultimately gave the bout to Barnatt, the first pick of Chael Sonnen on TUF 17, with scores of 29-28, 29-28 and 30-27, as the Brit remains undefeated at 6-0. "I thought Collin was going to be a little gunshy, so I expected him to tie me up and try to take me down," said Barnatt. "I was able to use my range and score points at distance." Team Jones’ Hart slips to 4-2-1.
Watch Barnatt's post-fight interview
Jimmy Quinlan vs. Dylan Andrews
It wasn’t exactly cops and robbers, but New Zeleand’s Dylan “The Villain” Andrews got away from Massachusetts police officer Jimmy Quinlan, winning via first-round TKO in a matchup of TUF 17 middleweights.
The undefeated Quinlan made no effort to hide his intentions, shooting immediately for a takedown and, after two minutes of struggling on the fence, finally peeling Andrews away by one leg, picking him up and dropping him. Quinlan went quickly from side control to mount, but Andrews just as deftly popped back up to his feet.
Quinlan shot again, and again worked at great length to get a takedown. A 22-fight veteran, Andrews used underhooks, armbar attempts and elbows to the head to stay on his feet until the referee re-started things in the center of the Octagon. From there, Andrews dropped Quinlan with a long right hand, punctuated it with an uppercut as Quinlan fell, and then delivered over a dozen follow-up shots to the turtled Quinlan before referee Chris Tognoni finally waved off the bout at 3:22.
“It’s so hard to try to explain the feelings I have right now," said Andrews. "I’ve only dreamed of this day. Being picked last on the show gave me the motivation to prove myself." The Team Jones member -- who made it all the way to the quarterfinals -- sees his record move to 17-5 (1 NC) in his UFC debut; the 26-year-old Quinlan falls to 3-1 in his fourth professional bout.
Watch Andrews' post-fight interview
Bristol Marunde vs. Clint Hester
Middleweights Clint Hester and Bristol Marunde started slow but brought the fight to a boil in the night’s first televised prelim, which Hester won via dramatic third-round TKO. Though only an inch apart in height, Hester owned an 7.5-inch reach advantage, and put it to good use.
Things started slowly as TUF 17’s Hester walked forward throwing feinting jabs and low kicks, with none connecting and the crowd growing restless. The action finally started mid-round, when Marunde caught a kick from Hester and dumped him backward, landing in his guard. As Hester threw elbows from the bottom, Marunde tried to get an armbar, giving Hester the opportunity to stand, and once he did, Hester clipped him, dropped him and ran in with hammerfists. Marunde survived by grabbing a single-leg and, after eating several shots, ended the round back in Hester’s guard.
The middleweights both came alive in round two, trading in the center, with Hester scoring big knees to the body in the clinch. When Marunde slipped after throwing a kick, Hester dove after him, punching his body and sprawling heavy on top until Marunde muscled his way into a reversal. From guard, Hester slapped on a triangle, but Marunde stood, then was dropped by an upkick. After that, the rest of the fight went as follows: The two trade, Hester cracks Marunde in the face or body until Marunde shoots, Hester sprawls and strikes from the top as Marunde turtles to recover, then stands again. The main variation was mid-way through the third, when Hester landed a flying knee with a terrifying crunch. Still, Marunde stayed in it, continuing the strike-shoot-cover pattern until what would prove to be the final exchange on the feet. Hester landed a walkoff short right elbow that staggered Marunde, who flailed his arms up and then fell in slo-mo cartoon style at 3:53.
"Bristol kept pushing me and never gave up," said Hester. "I started to get the timing on his overhand right late in the first and was able to counter with the jab." The TUF 17 cast member improves his record to 8-3 with his UFC debut—with seven of those wins coming by knockout. Marunde, a TUF 16 and Strikeforce vet, drops to 12-8.
See highlights of Hester's performance
Bart Palaszewski vs. Cole Miller
Two well-rounded veterans squared off in a hold-your-breath round before Cole Miller submitted Bart Palaszewski in the third of three featherweight bouts broadcast online in the TUF Finale prelims.
The rangy Miller started with long leg kicks, then Palaszewski pushed forward, trading testing strikes tit for tat. Despite a four -inch height and six-inch reach advantage, it was Palaszewski who found his range. He came forward through the round with body shots, chopping kicks and nasty overhand rights with increasing frequency, often battering Miller backward against the cage. But BJJ black belt Cole Miller stayed calm and, when he got an opening, got the takedown, putting Palaszewski on his butt. With one hook in and his prey pressed against the fence, Miller squeaked a hand under “Bartimus’” chin with a minute to work. He arced backward, drawing the tap at 4:23.
The win was Miller’s 19th overall, his 8th in the UFC and his first at featherweight since dropping down from 155 last year (he holds 7 career losses). “I wasn’t expecting another shot if I lost this one," said Miller, who lost his first two fights at 145 pounds. "To come here tonight with that much pressure after elbow surgery and a long layoff -- it just feels amazing to right my ship and get the win.” Palaszewski drops to 35-17.
Watch Miller's post-fight interview
Maximo Blanco vs. Sam Sicilia
Sam Sicilia brought his huge right hand, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the sturdy chin and four-inch reach advantage of fellow featherweight knockout artist Maximo Blanco. Blanco won via unanimous decision, getting the better of both the crowd-pleasing striking exchanges and the occasional visits to the mat.
Right away, Blanco threw a high kick, slipped, and found himself rushed by Sicilia. One the ground, Sicilia used hammerfists to set up an armbar, but Blanco fought his way to the feet. The rest of the round was a more quiet affair: Blanco came forward and made more contact throughout, scoring with leg kicks, left straights and left counters. Sicilia continued to headhunt with his right hand, but once Blanco ate an uppercut early in the round, he used footwork, his range and movement to avoid danger.
In round two, Sicilia showed why he puts so much faith in his right hand, tagging and dropping Blanco. He rushed into position with a guillotine, and after a brief struggle on the ground then against the fence, Blanco wound up in full mount. Blanco went for an arm-triangle choke, but Sicilia held him to neutralize it. Back on the feet, Sicilia connected with a huge shot – only to be answered back by Blanco’s crisp combinations. The two teed off against the fence, bringing the crowd to a roar and bloodying one another’s faces. Back in the center with 80 seconds left, Blanco showed his range, pointing with long lefts and a big shot as the tiring Sicilia rushed in.
Blanco came out in the third with a flying knee attempt that he turned into a Superman left hook. Sicilia’s right hand connected and the two had another wild exchange; Sicilia shot, but Blanco sprawled, dropped hammerfists and tried for a guillotine before Sicilia stood, tying up on the fence for a while. Blanco escaped and dragged Sicilia backward onto the mat, but the Oregonian popped up quickly and the two circled again in the center. As Sicilia worked for a single-leg after an exchange, Blanco sprawled heavily on the Spokane, Washington fighter, dropping hammerfists and body shots. When Sicilia stood, Blanco held on and threw knees to the head, sending Sicilia back to the mat. Sicilia managed to stand in the final seconds, but Blanco showed he still had energy by hurling a big head kick.
Judges had it 29-28 across the board for Blanco, a Venezuelan-born, Japan-based fighter whose first Zuffa win in three tries (one in Strikeforce, one in the UFC) brings his record to 9-4-1 (1 NC); TUF Live’s Sicilia now sits at 11-3. “In between rounds my corner told me that the man with the bigger heart would win the fight," said Blanco. "I tried to go out and leave my heart in the Octagon after that."
Watch Blanco's post-fight interview
Daniel Pineda vs. Justin Lawrence
After winning his first two UFC bouts then dropping the next pair, Daniel “The Pit” Pineda made an impressive return to the win column with a 95-second tapout of Justin “The American Kidd” Lawrence.
Lawrence, fluent in flashy kickboxing that he used in devastating fashion during his run on TUF Live, opened with a couple of his signature kicks, and Pineda clearly wanted no part of that. He backed up Lawrence and scored three takedowns inside the first minute. On the third go-round he kept Lawrence down, pinned him against the fence, and turned with a Kimura secured, forcing the tap at 1:35.
The win is the 18th of Pineda’s career (to 9 losses) and his 18th finish. "The goal was to use my wrestling because nobody has really seen those skills from me in the UFC," said Pineda. "I put him against the cage and secured the takedown. I’ve been working a lot on locking up submissions out of that position so luckily I was able to finish him." The 22-year-old Lawrence falls to 4-2, with both of the former lightweight’s losses coming at 145 pounds.
Watch Pineda's post-fight interview