Preview, Picks and Betting Tip – The Ultimate Fighter Finale: Jedrzejczyk vs. Gadelha

Joanna Jedrzejczyk Gadelha

In what’s looking like being the busiest week in the history of mixed martial arts, it will be the MGM Grand Garden Arena which plays host to the madness on Friday night as ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ finale takes place in the fight capital of the world, Las Vegas.

After another pretty drab season of the well-and-truly outdated reality show we finally have some light at the end of the tunnel as coaches Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Claudia Gadelha face-off for the second time. Unlike the last outing, though, the UFC strawweight strap will be on the line, adding even more spice to an already feisty rivalry.

A native of Olsztyn, Poland, Jedrzejczyk is still relatively new to MMA having made her debut in 2012. Prior to that, the Pole was a dominant striker with multiple world titles in both kickboxing and Muay Thai. And it told. Within two years Jedrzejczyk had blasted her way to six consecutive wins, the last of which came over veteran Rosi Sexton at Cage Warriors 69 and earned her a place in the UFC.

Wins over Juliana Lima and, Firday’s opponent, Gadelha (a fight which we’ll get to in a moment) followed that to earn her a title shot against Carla Esparza. That was expected to be a tough task for Jedrzejczyk against a fierce wrestler but it turned out to be easy pickings as she destroyed the first ever Strawweight champion in two rounds. Since then Jedrzejczyk has defended her title twice with Valerie Létourneau and Jessica Penne the victims, but it was always Gadelha who was seen as her biggest challenge.

Like Jedrzejczyk, Gadelha was also a decorated combat sports athlete outside of the cage with national and world jiu-jitsu titles under her belt. In 2008, the Nova União trained fighter stepped into the cage for the first time and showed off that grappling ability with six submission finishes in her first seven fights.

Wins over Valérie Létourneau and, in her Invicta FC debut, Ayaka Hamasaki followed that before Gadelha was signed by the UFC in 2014. As it turned out, that debut was an historic one as Gadelha defeated Tina Lähdemäki in the first ever strawweight bout inside the UFC’s Octagon. The aforementioned loss to Jedrzejczyk followed that before a win over Jessica Aguilar, who was long considered the best strawweight in the world, earned her a rematch against the Polish ace.

So let’s get to that first fight. And what a close one it was. As expected, Jedrzejczyk was the better on the feet and Gadelha controlled much of the grappling with both women also holding their own in the opposing realm. In the first round, Gadelha had lots of success but a big uppercut from Jedrzejczyk with seconds remaining almost finished her and stole the round. In the second, Jedrzejczyk looked comfortable on the feet for four minutes with a late takedown from Gadelha not enough to take the round. In the third,  Gadelha was able to implement her will with a dominant five minutes of clinching and striking.

Over five rounds on Friday, the likelihood of something similar happening, insofar as both women have purple patches, is quite high.

Since that first fight, both Jedrzejczyk and Gadelha have improved significantly. Having fought three times, as opposed to one for her opponent, Jedrzejczyk’s changes have obviously been easier to see. As always, her striking has been on point but it’s her takedown defence which has taken her to a new level. As a result, she is now more confident on the feet and can add diverse kicking techniques to her always technically masterful jabs, straights and hooks from her hands.

For Gadelha, the improvements have come in her striking. Against Jessica Aguilar she looked much more at home fighting out of the action-packed muay thai style closely associated with her home gym. Her jab was especially effective but the way she was able to time her power right hands was also much more crisp.

Like the first fight, though, this one will come down to who can implement their game the better. If it’s a dogfight on the ground and against the cage, Gadelha will win. If it’s a striking battle, Jedrzejczyk will win.

From the start, you would expect this one to be very close again. Gadelha will be very cautious about taking any damage early and might look to lock up against the fence rather than going for the more low percentage takedowns. That’s still where Jedrzejczyk’s greatest weakness is, and they both know it. Her job is to win the battle to stay on feet and then circle to get Gadelha’s back against the cage before disengaging.

Once it’s in the open, Gadelha will be looking to land big shots and change levels for takedowns, especially as the rounds are ticked off, while Jedrzejczyk will go to work at what she excels at. Expect her to walk Gadelha down by smashing her lead leg with kicks, jabbing her in the face and working the body. In the past, Gadelha’s cardio has been an issue and, as she did in the first fight, Jedrzejczyk will target the gas tank with liver kicks, teeps and hooks to the body. That could play a huge part in not only winning the fight for Jedrzejczyk, but also taking away Gadelha’s ability to grind as a grappler.

For me, I see Jedrzejczyk’s improvements as just too much for Gadelha to handle. Remember, in their first fight, Jedrzejczyk was a two year pro with one UFC fight.. and still won. Now, she is two years more developed with a gold belt on her shoulder. That experience change can’t be understated. I think this one will be close early but Jedrzejczyk will eventually pull away and retain her strap.

Jedrzejczyk, though, isn’t the only champion on show this Friday as the man who left Bellator as the lightweight champion, Will Brooks, debuts in the UFC against Sunderland striker Ross Pearson.

Training out of American Top Team in Florida, Brooks made a name for himself in May of 2014 when he stepped up on short notice and beat Michael Chandler to win the Bellator interim lightweight title following an injury to Eddie Alvarez. In his next fight, he took the interim portion away as he beat Chandler again following Alvarez’s signing to the UFC. Like Alvarez, though, Brooks was also very much set on a move to the UFC and got his wish following two title defences in 2015.

Many thought such a decorated fighter would be put right in at the top but that’s not the case here as he meets the 19-10 (1 NC) unranked Ross Pearson.

Nevertheless, this one should be fun to watch. Brooks is from the new age of very well rounded guys with a strong wrestling base, excellent ground and pound and solid striking. Pearson’s wrestling game has improved a lot over the years but it’s unlikely to be enough to stop Brooks. Expect this one to be interesting on the feet for a while before Brooks takes it to the floor and dominates.

Aside from that, the TUF finale fights should be somewhat interesting while names like John Moraga and Gray Maynard, and uber prospects Doo Ho Choi and Jake Matthews will make this one very watchable throughout.

FULL FIGHT PICKS

Joanna Jędrzejczyk vs. Cláudia Gadelha – Close early fight turns into a big Jedrzejczyk win
Andrew Sanchez vs. Khalil Rountree – Sanchez decision
Amanda Cooper vs. Tatiana Suarez – Cooper via KO
Ross Pearson vs. Will Brooks – Pearson puts up a good fight but Brooks wins
Doo Ho Choi vs. Thiago Tavares – Choi via stoppage
Joaquim Silva vs. Andrew Holbrook – Holbrook
Gray Maynard vs. Fernando Bruno – Maynard
John Moraga vs. Matheus Nicolau – Moraga
Cezar Ferreira vs. Anthony Smith – Ferraira
Jake Matthews vs. Kevin Lee – Matthews
Li Jingliang vs. Anton Zafir – Jingliang

BET OF THE NIGHT

5/2 treble of Choi, Brooks and Jedrzejczyk.

START TIMES

Early Prelims – 12am on UFC Fight Pass
Prelims – 1am on UFC Fight Pass/BT Sport 2
Main Card – 3am on BT Sport 2

Podcaster, lead MMA writer and analyst for SevereMMA. Host of the SevereMMA podcast, out every Sunday. Economics and Mathematics graduate from UCC. Also write for Sherdog. Previously of hov-mma and fightbooth. As heard on 2FM, Red FM, Today FM and more. Follow me on twitter for updates @SeanSheehanBA and on Facebook Facebook.com/seansheehanmma