The 25th season of The Ultimate Fighter saw 14 alumni return for a second chance at winning the UFC’s flagship tournament. Two former TUF champions, 3 runners-up and 1 active UFC fighter helped compile a seasoned cast with 68 UFC fights between them.
After last night’s semi-final, we now know that Jesse Taylor (30-15 MMA, 0-1 UFC) will take on Dhiego Lima (12-5 MMA, 1-3 UFC) in the finale on Friday.
The finale, however, is just the supporting act. In Friday’s main event, former WSOF lightweight champion Justin Gaethje (17-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC) finally makes his UFC debut, taking on Michael Johnson (17-11 MMA, 9-7 UFC) in what is undoubtedly the stiffest test of his career thus far.
Let’s take a look at the recent results of the two men in Friday night’s main event:
Johnson is 1-3 in his last 4 fights, though these 3 losses have all came to top-ranked lightweights (Nate Diaz, Khabib Nurmagomedov and Beneil Dariush). Prior to this spell, Johnson was on a 4-fight winning streak that included victories over Edson Barboza and Gleison Tibau, and he is still the only man to have defeated Tony Ferguson in UFC competition.
Gaethje will be the third former long-term WSOF champion, after David Branch and Marlon Moraes, to join the UFC in 2017. Whilst Branch and Moraes (as well as former Bellator lightweight champion Will Brooks) were given relatively unglamorous UFC bows, Gaethje, perhaps due to his exciting fighting style, has been given a high-profile debut more akin to the treatment Gilbert Melendez and Eddie Alvarez (both former lightweight champions from other promotions) received.
There’s not a huge amount to compare in terms of shared opponents (see right). Melvin Guillard is the only man to have competed against both Johnson and Gaethje, losing to Gaethje in a split-decision in November 2014 (a bout he missed weight for), just 8 months after a unanimous decision loss to Johnson. Johnson and Gaethje each hold a win over a Lauzon brother, just not the same one.
The Dwyer Score
Each event I calculate a ‘Dwyer Score’ for the card. It’s a simple way of giving a numeric value to the momentum of any one event. I do this by assigning a figure to each fighter’s current streak; a fighter on a five-fight winning streak contributes +5 to an event’s score, whilst a fighter on a two-fight losing streak contributes -2 to the score. A fighter coming off a No Contest, a draw, or a bout with another promotion has a streak of 0, and only UFC results are considered. When you tally up the scores for every fighter on a card, you get a total for the event, the ‘Dwyer Score.’ This score does not claim to predict or measure the quality or excitement of any one card, but it does give you an idea of the general momentum of fighters heading into a specific event. The graphic to the right displays some of the highest-scoring events of all time, to help give some context to this score.
TUF 25 Finale: Johnson vs. Gaethje has a Dwyer Score of -1. This ranks in joint-15th place of the 18 events in 2017 and is the fourth consecutive event that has failed to post a Dwyer Score above 0.
Here’s a look at how this score compares to other events’ scores over the past year:
This score falls way short of the +11.1 average for all events in the last year, as well as the +14.7 average for TUF finales in the same period.
Let’s take a look at exactly how this score breaks down:
The highest individual contributor to this card is Marc Diakiese (+3), followed by Elias Theodorou and James Krause (both +2). The lowest individual contributor is Jessica Eye (-4), with C.B. Dolloway (-3) just behind.
If Jessica Eye is unsuccessful against Aspen Ladd on Friday, she will join the likes of Steve Cantwell, Andrei Arlovski, B.J Penn, Josh Koscheck and Leonard Garcia as fighters who have lost 5 consecutive bouts in the UFC. It would also mark the third consecutive week where a fighter has dropped to a 5-fight losing skid, after Penn and Arlovski’s defeats in the last 2 events.
This season of TUF billed itself as Redemption and there really couldn’t be a more fitting term for Jesse Taylor’s story. A 26-year-old Taylor reached the TUF 7 final back in 2008, before a post-show drunken rampage in Las Vegas saw him removed from the finale all together. His submission win over James Krause in this season’s semi-final took his overall TUF record to 7-0.
Unlike TUF 4: The Comeback, there will be no title shot for Friday night’s victor, but there’s certainly something to be said for coming out victorious in the most experienced tournament in TUF history.