To be honest, I only really knew Brookins from the preseason legal issues with Bellator and from being the second person Aldo destroyed in the WEC. Brookins (GSP’s second pick) was dominant on the show, using his wrestling in securing wins over the Armenian delegation by RNCs and then a dominant unanimous decision victory over Kyle Watson in the semifinals.
Michael Johnson (GSP’s first pick) has not had an easy road to the finals. His fight with Wilkinson could have gone either way before the last round, his fight with ‘Bruce Leroy’ Alex Caceres went to a dominant decision, and his bout with Phan could have gone either way as well.
On Saturday, their matchup comes down to a few things. One, the wrestling battle typically this favors the bigger man and as Brookins has spent almost his entire career at 145-pounds, leaving Johnson with a size advantage. However, Brookins height and smaller weight cut could even the score, plus Nam Phan, another featherweight, was able to escape from under Johnson. That said, takedowns could be the deciding factor in this fight and I like Brookin’s flow better than Johnson’s speed and power.
The second part is the striking battle. Whenever you have two guys who like to use wrestling in their attacks there is always the chance they could cancel each other out and striking becomes the name of the game. In that aspect, I like Brookins technique better than Johnson’s brawling style. In the end, this is an even matchup of GSP’s top two picks that will most likely end in the judges’ hands where it could go either way.
Co-headlining the card is a light heavyweight matchup between grappler Igor Pokrajac and the always entertaining Stephan Bonnar. Both are coming off wins, but need wins in a bad way. The bout comes down to Stephan Bonnar’s takedown defense, and if he is able to get Pokrajac off his legs he should be able to grind out a decision victory. If he allows Pokrajac to take him down, he will be in danger of Pokrajac’s ground and pound and submission game.
Next, we have a bout between Demian Maia and Kendall Grove. Clearly, Grove’s best bet is to use his reach advantage to keep the Judo and BJJ nightmare at length. The key will be how aware Grove is about not throwing too many kicks. Throwing too many kicks exposes you to being taken down and that will decide this fight. If this fight hits the ground Maia takes this fight easily, but if Grove can turn this into a boxing match and utilize his reach, he has a chance to score the upset. That said, keeping Maia off you is easier said than done.
We also have the fight that this writer is most excited for between rising welterweights Rick Story and Johny Hendricks. Hendricks has arguably the best wrestling pedigree in MMA, being a four time All-American at Oklahoma State and a two-time national champion, and his striking has been ever improving: just ask his opponents and this ESPN machine at the UFC Fan Expo. Besides having a great nickname, Rick “Horror” Story has put together a strong showing in the Octagon at 4-1 and will look to use strong takedown defense and some very efficient boxing to try to stymie the attack of Hendricks. That will be easier said than done and unless he is able to deliver extensive damage to Hendricks, particularly while Hendricks looks for takedowns, he could be in trouble. This will be a fight to watch, as the winner of this bout will place himself in the contender picture at 170.
Finally, we have the conclucsion to the mysterious case of the Leonard Garcia’s “injury.” Turns out Garcia was pulled to face TUF semifinalist Nam Phan and I must say that I am not disappointed. Garcia has a “go for broke” style that appeals to many fans and provides exciting finishes, while Phan is more technical and can at times get overwhelmed by a free-swinger, which plays to Garcia’s advantage. This has “Fight of the Night” written all over it, as the technique of Phan will be put to the test against the power and almost reckless attack of Garcia. Expect fireworks in a bout that could leave both fighters a bit richer than expected and, at the least, in need of a vacation.
The Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale airs live tomorrow on Spike TV from The Palms in Las Vegas beginning at 9pm ET.