Tim Elliott ran the 16-man gauntlet on Season 24 of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series. His reward: a meeting with perhaps the most dominant champion in all of mixed martial arts.
Elliott will challenge undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship flyweight titleholder Demetrious Johnson in “The Ultimate Fighter 24” Finale main event on Saturday at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas (online betting). Flyweights are also set to tangle in the co-headliner, as Joseph Benavidez squares off with 2008 Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo. The rest of the six-fight main draw features a welterweight clash pairing Jake Ellenberger with Jorge Masvidal, a light heavyweight tilt pitting Ion Cutelaba against Jared Cannonier, a women’s bantamweight affair matching Sara McMann with Alexis Davis and a flyweight battle slotting Brandon Moreno opposite Ryan Benoit.
Let us take a closer look at each matchup at “The Ultimate Fighter 24” Finale, with analysis and picks:
UFC Flyweight ChampionshipDemetrious Johnson (24-2-1) vs. Tim Elliott (13-6-1)
THE MATCHUP: Johnson is simply running out of men to beat. The flyweight champion’s winning streak stretches back to June 2012, and each of his 10 straight wins seems more impressive than the last. Desperate for fresh meat for its least popular but most dominant champion, the UFC has elected to bring in the winner of “The Ultimate Fighter 24” to face “Mighty Mouse.” As fate would have it, the challenger is a man the UFC cut less than two years ago, though he is now riding a three-fight winning streak -- not including his four exhibition wins on the reality show.
With his hunched posture, erratic footwork and creative takedown entries, you would not be remiss to call Elliott a sort of blue-collar Dominick Cruz. True, Elliott does lack many of the subtle nuances that make Cruz such a beguiling opponent, and he has yet to learn whatever Jedi mind trick that allows Cruz to employ his style without slowing for five straight rounds. In exchange, however, Elliott has aggression, power and one hell of a mean mug.
Because Cruz was the last man to defeat Johnson, let us examine more closely the differences between Cruz and Elliott. I hope it is not too much of a spoiler if I point out that many of these differences explain why Elliott will struggle where Cruz did not. First, Elliott carries his hands very low, just like “The Dominator.” Instead of Cruz’s calculated slips and rolls, however, Elliott tends to simply duck his head when he senses a strike coming for his chin, taking his eyes off the target and exposing himself to counters. Elliott also tends to come roaring out of the gate, starting every fight with a series of aggressive rushes -- a far cry from Cruz’s constant in-and-out. That means Elliott is more susceptible to counters and easier to tie up in the clinch, the latter being a specialty even for the famously well-rounded Johnson.
Elliott’s striking is not to be overlooked. His awkward rhythm and strange angles make him a formidable if vulnerable kickboxer, and his punches, like all the best ballpark dogs, do not lack for mustard. Wrestling, however, is Elliott’s strong suit. He scored three beautiful takedowns on Joseph Benavidez before succumbing to the veteran’s patented guillotine, and in his two UFC wins, Elliott took down his opponents six and seven times, respectively. Though he can himself be taken down, he is an excellent scrambler with a dangerous submission game.
The challenger’s penchant for aggression raises one question: How will he deal with an opponent who pushes right back? Johnson may be known for his flighty footwork and constant movement, but more often than not, the champion pressures his opponents these days. Using the fence to his advantage, Johnson is extremely dangerous when he can tie up his opponent and go to work with knees and elbows in the clinch, all of which play beautifully into his wrestling. Whether pressuring or riding his bike, Johnson pushes a mind-bending pace for 25 minutes and does it so easily that he could probably do another 25 immediately after. No one in MMA can claim better stamina than that which “Mighty Mouse” possesses, and no one combines that endurance with expert timing and intelligent, systematic offense like Johnson.
THE ODDS: N/A THE PICK: Elliott is odd enough and aggressive enough to give Johnson two of the toughest rounds the champion has seen in some time. Unfortunately, Elliott cannot maintain his usual pace for more than 15 minutes, and his stamina will, like everyone else’s, pale in comparison to Johnson’s; and because he is Tim Elliott and not John Dodson, even two good rounds will not give him the kind of momentum he needs to win the fight. In other words, Elliott may take down Johnson more than anyone else, but he will not do the kind of damage he needs to really swing the fight. Expect Johnson to figure out Elliott’s grappling for a round or two before reverse engineering it and doing his usual thing; and since his “usual thing” seems to be late finishes, that is my prediction. The pick is Johnson by fourth-round submission.
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