The Ultimate Fighter Finale: Can Usman take a step closer to a title shot?

Welterweight contenders take centre stage in the spiritual home of the UFC in Las Vegas on a fantastic Friday fight night...

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Kicking off a double-header of UFC action this weekend is the finale of The Ultimate Fighter: Heavy Hitters, and while we will learn the identity of the latest hopefuls to earn a UFC contract in the two tournament finals, the main focus will be on the established stars set for action in Las Vegas on Friday night.

 

The main event

The UFC’s welterweight division is stacked, and with a host of names vying for a shot at Tyron Woodley’s UFC welterweight title, the main event has particular significance for the 170lb weight class.

Former UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos has looked excellent since moving up from the 155lb division, and only defeat to Colby Covington in an interim title bout has slowed his momentum since his switch.

He’s one of the most seasoned, well-rounded mixed martial artists in the welterweight division, and is a tough proposition for anyone in the UFC. But in Kamaru Usman, he’s facing a man who has legitimate title aspirations of his own.

“The Nigerian Nightmare” is himself a previous winner of The Ultimate Fighter, having entered the tournament as a 5-1 prospect back in 2015. And since joining the UFC roster, he’s been perfect inside the octagon, winning all eight of his contests as he’s surged into welterweight contention.

His most recent win, against former two-division title challenger and grappling ace Demian Maia, proved that he has the credentials to be among the best in the world at 170lbs, and victory over dos Anjos could position him for a shot at the belt in the New Year.

Usman’s 12-fight undefeated streak and dominant wrestling game has him as the clear odds-on favourite for the bout, with the Paddy Power oddsmakers setting him as a 1/3 chance to win on Friday night. Brazilian dos Anjos, meanwhile, is a 2/1 shot.

Bantamweight battle

Two of the best grapplers in the UFC’s bantamweight class will face off as Brazil’s Pedro Munhoz takes on American Bryan Caraway.

Caraway is looking to prove he can still mix it at the highest level after issues away from the cage have restricted him to just one fight since the summer of 2016.

That single bout, a split-decision loss to Cody Stamann, ended a two-bout win streak and set him back in his quest to earn a shot at the bantamweight title, but victory over Munhoz, who has sat in or around the bantamweight Top 10 for the last couple of years.

Victory for either man will push their claims for a contender bout in the New Year, with Munhoz the 4/11 favourite to take the win in Las Vegas on Friday night. Caraway is considered a 15/8 chance.

Knockout artists go head to head

A glance at Edmen Shahbazyan’s career record tells you everything you need to know about his exciting fighting style.

Seven fights, seven wins, seven knockouts and seven first-round finishes (including a win on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series) have propelled him into the UFC, where he plans on making his octagon debut a memorable one in Las Vegas on Friday night.

Standing in his way is Britain’s Darren “The Dentist” Stewart, whose UFC career is now gathering momentum after back-to-back second-round TKO finishes of Eric Spicely and Charles Byrd.

This one looks almost certain to end with someone staring up at the arena lights, but who will be victorious?

Shahbazyan (8/11) has an incredible record, but he hasn’t faced UFC-level opposition yet. And though Stewart (Evens) took a few bouts to find his feet in the octagon, he’s now in a great position in his career. He’s also never been stopped by strikes in his career.

So, something’s got to give. It should be a superb matchup.

Look out for…

Antonina Shevchenko. The little sister of UFC flyweight title challenger Valentina Shevchenko earned her spot in the UFC with victory on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series and is ready to unleash her special brand of Muay Thai-based violence inside the octagon on her UFC debut.

Shevchenko will take on South Korea’s Ji Yeon Kim, who has stepped in at short notice after Shevchenko’s original opponent Ashlee Evans-Smith was forced off the card through injury.

Ji is riding a two-fight win streak in the UFC, courtesy of back-to-back split decisions. She’ll provide stern opposition for Shevchenko’s debut, but the Kyrgyzstan-born debutant should have the clear advantage in the striking exchanges.

“La Pantera” is the 1/3 betting favourite to claim victory on her debut, with Ji Yeon Kim an 2/1 shot.

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* All odds correct at time of posting.