UFC TUF 21 Finale Preview: 5 storylines to watch, betting odds & predictions

By Ryan Frederick for WrestlingObserver.com

The most-recent edition of The Ultimate Fighter wraps up this weekend with the finale live from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, capping off International Fight Week. The 21st edition saw a change in format to a team-versus-team format with Florida bragging rights on the line as American Top Team and the Blackzilians squared off. We will see the finals close out this season on Sunday night as FOX Sports 1 airs the main card at 9 PM eastern time. Preliminary action kicks off on UFC Fight Pass at 6:30 PM eastern time before moving over to FOX Sports 1 at 7 PM eastern time.

The main event of the card will be a five-round welterweight bout between long-time contender Jake Ellenberger and rising contender Stephen Thompson, who will be looking to notch the biggest win of his career. In the finals of TUF 21, it will be Hayder Hassan representing American Top Team against Kamaru Usman, representing the Blackzilians. Also on the card is the UFC debut of “The Karate Hottie”, Michelle Waterson. Let’s dive deeper into the fight card and look at five storylines to watch for at The Ultimate Fighter 21 Finale.

1. Can Stephen Thompson score the biggest win of his career?

The headline bout for The Ultimate Fighter 21 Finale will be a welterweight contest between perennial top-ten ranked 170-pounder Jake Ellenberger and rising contender Stephen Thompson, who will be looking to break into the rankings with a big win in the main event. Thompson is the winner of four straight bouts, and he has won ten of eleven fights in his career. His only career loss came to another perennial top-ten ranked welterweight in Matt Brown back at UFC 145 in April 2012. Thompson has been limited to just four fights in the three-plus years since then, but he has been impressive in those four wins.

Ellenberger rebounded from a tough stretch of three straight losses with a second-round submission win over Josh Koscheck at UFC 184 in February. Ellenberger was close to title contention before a July 2013 loss to Rory MacDonald, and back-to-back stoppage losses to Robbie Lawler and Kelvin Gastelum put him in a position to possibly be fighting for his Octagon future. Ellenberger has to beat Thompson if he has any hopes of getting back into that title picture.

Thompson is a gifted striker on his feet with excellent kickboxing skills. He has solid power and showing a good skillset in his win over Patrick Cote at UFC 178 in September, his highest-profile victory to date. He trains alongside Chris Weidman, so he will be at the top of his game. Ellenberger has strong hands and power, and he showed good submission skills to go with his stout wrestling. He is a tough match-up for Thompson and this has the potential to be a fireworks-filled fight, and is a solid five-round headliner. I like Thompson to take the victory in this fight.

2. Which team wins the finals of The Ultimate Fighter? 

This 21st season of The Ultimate Fighter brought a new concept in that as opposed to coaches squaring off and up-and-coming fighters competing for a six-figure contract, it was a team against team battle as the Blackzilians and American Top Team squared off for bragging rights. It offered TUF something new and fresh, and there was a different quality to the show with the new format. It may have not garnered the highest ratings to date for the show, but it was something new-and-different that had some decent execution. Many of the fights may have left much to be desired, but it all comes to a head on Sunday night in the Octagon.

The finals will be contested between Kamaru Usman, representing the Blackzilians, and Hayder Hassan, representing American Top Team. Usman fought twice on the show, scoring two decision wins. Hassan fought three times, scoring one knockout win and two decision wins, and he got the win in the final episode to get ATT the $200,000 top prize as they had the most points. These two will be battling for a $300,000 prize, a Harley Davidson motorcycle and the TUF trophy. I like Usman in this fight as he has solid wrestling and good conditioning, and Hassan is someone who can take a beating but wears down easily.

3. Speaking of Blackzilians vs. American Top Team, who wins between Jorge Masvidal and Cezar Ferreira?

Jorge Masvidal represents American Top Team and Cezar Ferreira represents the Blackzilians, and they will give a little prelude to the ultimate team battle beforehand when they square off. This is an interesting match-up as Masvidal is moving up from the lightweight division and Ferreira is moving down from the middleweight division as they meet at 170 pounds. It is an interesting move for both as Masvidal was wearing himself down in trying to make 155 pounds, even coming close to missing weight in his last fight. Ferreira was huge at 185 pounds, and it will be interesting to see if he can even make weight on Saturday for Sunday’s bout.

Masvidal is coming off a closely contested split decision loss to Al Iaquinta in April that is more remembered now for Iaquinta’s post-fight tirade. Masvidal was unhappy about the loss, and it ended his three-fight win streak and his quest for title contention. Ferreira won the first TUF: Brazil, but has gone just 3-2 in his five fights since then, including losing two of his last three by first-round knockouts. Perhaps the change in divisions will benefit both men, but Masvidal should have the speed edge being the lighter fighter. Ferreira will have the power edge. I like Masvidal in this bout.

4. Can Michelle Waterson establish herself as a contender at 115 pounds?

“The Karate Hottie” Michelle Waterson is making her UFC debut on the main card as the former Invicta Atomweight Champion transitions over to the UFC and moves up to 115 pounds in the process. She won the Invicta Atomweight Championship when she defeated Jessica Penne, the most recent challenger for the UFC Women’s Strawweight Championship, at Invicta FC 5 in April 2013, and she made one successful title defense before losing the title in December to Herica Tiburcio. That ended Waterson’s six-fight win streak and opened the door for her to move over to compete in the Octagon.

She gets a fight designed to build her up as she takes on Angela Magana. Magana has lost three straight fights and many thought she wouldn’t get another UFC fight after her loss to Tecia Torres in December, especially considering her brash Twitter personality. She seemingly was kept around to give Waterson a showcase win. Waterson might be a little undersized to compete at 115 pounds, but she should be able to make that up with her excellent skills. She trains at one of the best gyms in the world, the Greg Jackson team, and she is well-rounded and has scored ten of her twelve wins by stoppage. She should take care of Magana impressively.

5. What is there to keep an eye on in the preliminary card?

This is a short slate of preliminary action as the main card has six fights but the prelims feature just five fights. Darrell Montague and Willie Gates meet in a flyweight bout where both men could be fighting for their spot on the UFC roster. Montague has lost two straight and Gates is coming off a loss in his UFC debut. Maximo Blanco and Mike De La Torre meet in a featherweight bout as both look to keep win streaks alive. Trevor Smith looks to end a losing skid when he takes on Dan Miller, who returns to the Octagon after being out of action since March 2013. George Sullivan takes on the debuting Dominic Waters, who comes in on short notice for his UFC debut.

The highest-profile preliminary bout is a middleweight bout between Caio Magalhaes and Josh Samman. It is really surprising that this fight didn’t get put on the main card as both men are on win streaks heading into this fight. Magalhaes has won four straight fights, three of them by stoppage. Samman has won three straight, all by stoppage, and is coming in off an incredible head kick knockout of Eddie Gordon at UFC 181 in December that nabbed him a post-fight bonus. These two were scheduled to meet once before, and now they finally will and one man’s win streak will come to an end.

Full The Ultimate Fighter 21 Finale Fight Card, Betting Odds and Predictions

MAIN CARD (FOX SPORTS 1- 9 PM ET/6 PM PT)

Welterweights: Jake Ellenberger vs. Stephen Thompson
Betting Odds: Ellenberger (+180), Thompson (-220)
Prediction: Thompson by knockout in round 3

Welterweights: Hayder Hassan vs. Kamaru Usman
Betting Odds: Hassan (+145), Usman (-185)
Prediction: Usman by decision

Welterweights: Michael Graves vs. Vicente Luque
Betting Odds: Graves (-105), Luque (-135)
Prediction: Graves by decision

Welterweights: Jorge Masvidal vs. Cezar Ferreira
Betting Odds: Masvidal (-260), Ferreira (+220)
Prediction: Masvidal by decision

Women’s Strawweights: Michelle Waterson vs. Angela Magana
Betting Odds: Waterson (-600), Magana (+450)
Prediction: Waterson by submission in round 2

Bantamweights: Russell Doane vs. Jerrod Sanders
Betting Odds: Doane (-380), Sanders (+315)
Prediction: Doane by knockout in round 1

PRELIMINARY CARD (FOX SPORTS 1- 7 PM ET/4 PM PT)

Flyweights: Darrell Montague vs. Willie Gates
Betting Odds: Montague (-130), Gates (+110)
Prediction: Montague by decision

Featherweights: Maximo Blanco vs. Mike De La Torre
Betting Odds: Blanco (-145), De La Torre (+125)
Prediction: Blanco by knockout in round 2

Middleweights: Caio Magalhaes vs. Josh Samman
Betting Odds: Magalhaes (-145), Samman (+125)
Prediction: Samman by knockout in round 2

Middleweights: Trevor Smith vs. Dan Miller
Betting Odds: Smith (+110), Miller (-130)
Prediction: Miller by submission in round 3

PRELIMINARY CARD (UFC FIGHT PASS- 6:30 PM ET/3:30 PM PT)

Welterweights: George Sullivan vs. Dominic Waters
Betting Odds: Sullivan (-175), Waters (+155)
Prediction: Sullivan by decision

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