This Wednesday night on Fox Sports 1, The UFC is ending one season of The Ultimate Fighter and beginning another, as TUF Nations: Canada vs. Australia looks to crown its welterweight and middleweight winners, and The Ultimate Fighter Season 19 debuts immediately following the event. The card, which takes place in Quebec City, Canada, features the middleweight finale between Elias Theodorou and Sheldon Westcott, as well as the welterweight finale between hard-hitting Chad Laprise and rear-naked choke specialist Olivier Aubin Mercier. The season’s coaches, Kyle Noke and Patrick Cote, will square off in a welterweight fight, and the event will be headlined by a grudge match between middleweight contenders Michael Bisping and Tim Kennedy.
Fightline.com spoke with UFC commentator and former fighter Kenny Florian to get his thoughts on the two headlining fights, as well as the upcoming season of TUF.
The fight between Noke and Cote is taking place at welterweight, where there is currently an influx of top contenders looking to get a shot at newly crowned champ Johny Hendricks, but there isn’t much room for guys who aren’t showing improvement fight over fight. Florian told Fightline that both fighters are aware of the need to perform well on Wednesday night.
“It’s a very important fight,” Florian said. “Not only winning at 170 pounds, but staying exciting in your performances. I think these guys realize that your job is never safe. You see a guy like Jake Shields who has been a star at 170 and 185, and he was just cut by the UFC, so I think they understand how important this fight is.”
On the feet, Florian gives the edge to Cote.
“It’s a good fight, and I think this is a division that is right for both of these guys,” Florian said. “I think Noke is a guy who really has a lot of talent, especially in the striking department. I think on the ground he’s struggled a little bit there. Cote is kind of similar in that regard. He has a lot of punching power. He maybe has a little bit more punching power in his hands than Noke does.”
The fight with Noke will be Cote’s fifteenth appearance inside the Octagon, and his tenure dates back to UFC 50 against Tito Ortiz. He’s had several UFC runs at middleweight, and Florian thinks that the move to welterweight might have revitalized the career of ‘The Predator’.
“Cote has been around in this sport for a long time, and I think motivation has been a little bit of a factor for him in past fights with his training and approach. I think he’s focused though. I think he’s finding his resurgence here at 170 pounds. I think he understands the importance of this event, especially coming off of the ultimate fighter. I think he’s going to be motivated.”
He also noted the impact that a win would have for Kyle Noke, who will undoubtedly be looking to stay on the forefront of fans’ minds after a long layoff and his TUF coaching stint.
“I think this is a huge opportunity for [Noke], representing Australia and being on the show, I think he can really capitalize on a lot of momentum here.”
Michael Bisping and Tim Kennedy have been calling each other out on twitter for the better part of two years. The trash talk really ramped up after Kennedy’s knockout win over Raphael Natal at Fight for the Troops back in November. Florian noted that this isn’t anything new for the polarizing Bisping, who has been a lightning rod for criticism for most of his UFC career.
“ [The build-up to this fight] has been nuts. I’m not surprised by it. I’m sure Bisping isn’t that surprised by it. He’s been a common call out for a lot of guys at 185 pounds. I think Bisping has such a big name, the biggest name over in the UK as far as mixed martial artists go, so I think it’s something that he’s used to. Kennedy, we’ve seen some talk from him in the past, but not at this level.”
Florian also noted how quickly Kennedy’s name would become part of the title conversation with a win over Bisping.
“I think Kennedy understands how important this fight is. To beat a guy like Bisping, who has been one of the top middleweights for a long time, would be huge for him. This puts him on the path to fight for the title in the very near future. So I think Kennedy was willing to do whatever it took to get this fight, and now he’s doing his part to promote the fight.” I also think this grudge is pretty real. Bisping does not like Kennedy, that much is clear. And Kennedy doesn’t like Bisping. I think this all goes back to the Jorge Rivera fight that happened a few years ago. Kennedy being a part of Ranger Up, I think this is a fight that he’s wanted for a very long time.”
Florian thinks that the key to success for Kennedy is going to be in the grappling department, as Bisping will have the advantage on the feet.
“I think Bisping is going to be a bit more of a sharper striker. His footwork and angles make him a difficult go for Kennedy on the feet. Kennedy has power, man. He’s got power and pressure, both of these guys are going to come in very fit, and I think Kennedy has the advantage on the mat. I think his wrestling is very good, and it’s underrated. His ground skills are underrated as well. Look at his ability to defend against submissions against guys like Souza, and Roger Gracie show that he’s legitimate. It’s going to be a very interesting fight. I think [Kennedy] needs to move his head a lot, pressure him, and Bisping is going to have to stay on his bike, and look to out-point Kennedy.I see this being a five-round, very close decision.”
The next season of The Ultimate Fighter will be coached by Frankie Edgar and BJ Penn, both of whom are former UFC lightweight champions, and will be fighting for a third time at the end of the season in July. Florian thinks that the experience both men have will be very useful for the fighters on the show.
“Frankie Edgar has a great group of coaches around him. Look at the improvements he’s made throughout his career when he first got into the UFC to where he is now. He’s one of the best champions at 155 pounds. Even the losses that he’s had in the UFC have been very questionable, so Frankie Edgar will certainly go down as a legend. Everything BJ Penn has done has made him a legend. He’s been around the game for a very long time, one of the biggest names in the UFC, and of course has worked with so many great coaches and has a lot of knowledge to impart on the fighters coming up. I think it’s going to be a great season and a huge benefit for all the fighters on both teams.”
The main card of the TUF: Nations Finale airs live on Wednesday, April 16th at 7PM ET, followed by the premiere of The Ultimate Fighter Season 19 at 10 pm on Fox Sports 1.