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UFC TUF 22 Finale Mendes vs. Edgar: The Observer Picks Contest

Night 1 of our three day UFC orgy was full of plenty of great moments. From Rose Namajunas' star-making performance to Michael Chiesa busting down the lightweight gate to plenty of finishes, Thursday's show was a lot of fun. The stakes escalate a bit tonight for the TUF 22 finale show, headlined by an incredible featherweight fight that could determine the next contender for either Conor McGregor or Jose Aldo.

Our panel:

- Jack Encarnacao (105-42 | .714): Sherdog Rewind host, The Lapsed Fan podcast co-chair

- Steve Juon (98-49 | .667): AngryMarks founder, MMA Mania writer

- Mike Sempervive (96-51 | .653): Wrestling Observer Live & Big Audio Nightmare co-host

- David Bixenspan (95-52 | .646): Figure Four Weekly writer, Observer Daily Update writer, podcast host

- John Pollock (94-53 | .639): Fight Network personality, Live Audio Wrestling co-host, The MMA Report host

- Dave Meltzer (92-55 | .626): Wrestling Observer founder & writer

- Front Row Brian (91-56 | .619): MMA newsbreaker, Twitter personality, podcast host

- Mike Sawyer (88-59 | .599): Tough Talk MMA, 2014 picks panel champion

- Josh Nason (86-61 | .585): JNPO host, Wrestling Observer digital media and content guy, WON Twitter guy

*****

Frankie Edgar (19-4-1) vs. Chad Mendes (17-3)
Featherweights

The second best featherweight fight of the weekend is essentially for the #1 contendership, but you have to think that if Jose Aldo loses Saturday night, he’s going to get a rematch. After all, it’s been, what, a decade-plus since an ‘L’ went in his ledger? The 30-year-old Mendes has fought three times in the last two years with two title shots and lost them both, the most recent to Conor McGregor this summer. His fight against Aldo last year was incredible and he’s shown a propensity in recent years of dropping suckas cold.

Edgar basically earned the right to fight for the title Saturday night, but he’s not as brash as McGregor and doesn’t compel people to click ‘buy’ enough to warrant getting another opportunity without dispatching everyone in his path. Thus, we have this 25 minutes of awesomeness in front of us Friday. The 34-year-old Frank James Edgar has won four in a row, beating Charles Oliveira, BJ Penn, Cub Swanson, and Urijah Faber along the way. If he can top “Money”, there’s no one left for him other than the champion, is there?

This fight should be hot fire and a half. I don’t know what that means, but it will be that.

Edgar (slight favorite): FRB, Juon, Sempervive, Encarnacao, Pollock
Mendes: Nason, Meltzer, Bix, Sawyer

Edson Barboza (16-3) vs. Tony Ferguson (19-3)
Lightweights

Ferguson went from a guy that won TUF in 2011 to a force at 155 four years later. He’s 9-1 in the UFC and is riding a six-fight win streak, escalating the level of veteran he’s faced every time out. Thus far in 2015, he submitted Gleison Tibau and outclassed Josh Thomson via unanimous decision. Originally slated to battle Khabib Nurmagomedov in a battle of pure fire, Nurmy got hurt again but Barboza is no slouch.

Now in his sixth year of UFC competition, he’s 3-2 since 2014 and was last seen downing Paul Felder this summer. Every time he gets close to grabbing the brass ring, fighters like Donald Cerrone and Michael Johnson reach a bit further to snatch it first. Insanely talented, I wonder if he’s destined to be another one of those guys who never gets the opportunity compete for a title despite fighting nearly everyone in the division on their way to the gold.

Ferguson (favorite): Nason, Meltzer, Bix, FRB, Sawyer, Juon, Sempervive, Encarnacao, Pollock

Joe Lauzon (25-10) vs. Evan Dunham (16-6)
Lightweights

It’s crazy to think Lauzon is just 31 years old as we’ve been watching him compete in the UFC since 2006. After fighting just once in 2014, this is Lauzon’s third bout of 2015 and he’s coming off a summertime win over Takanori Gomi. He’s still a fan favorite, but he’s also unranked. Where does he fit in the UFC 155-pound landscape these days anyway?

The 33-year-old Dunham is riding a two-fight win streak, his first since way back in 2011-12. A three-fight losing streak against the upper echelon of the division (current champ Rafael dos Anjos, #1 contender Donald Cerrone, Edson Barboza) put him in his place, and at 33 years old, we ask the same question as we do with Lauzon: where does he fit in the division? Of note, he hasn’t finished anyone since January 2012, a span of three wins over seven fights.

Lauzon: Nason, FRB, Juon, Sempervive
Dunham (favorite): Meltzer, Bix, Sawyer, Encarnacao, Pollock

TUF Finals: Artem Lobov (11-10-1-1) vs. Ryan Hall (4-1)
Lightweights

I stopped watching this season of TUF around episode four or so, and after 20+ seasons, I might be finally out altogether. There’s so much quality (and non-quality) MMA on TV that I’m not sure what the draw is anymore. Even the prospect of seeing Conor McGregor every week wasn’t enough to keep me interested. Anyhoo, Lobov is McGregor’s boy and took advantage of getting a second chance to come back on the show after losing on the fight-in show. He doesn’t bring much of a record into the UFC while the 30-year-old Hall gets the opportunity that Saul Rogers gave up due to lying to the UFC about his visa...or something like that. Ugh.

Lobov (slight favorite): Nason, Meltzer, Bix, Encarnacao, Pollock
Hall: FRB, Sawyer, Juon, Sempervive

Ryan LaFlare (11-1) vs. Mike Pierce (17-6)
Welterweights

File this under ‘Interesting’. LaFlare took the first loss of his career against BJJ ace Demian Maia earlier this year and steps into the Octagon looking to improve on his 4-1 UFC record. The 32-year-old has gone the distance in all five of them, and I wouldn’t expect much different here from the man with the wrestling background.

You might remember Pierce from such hits as “I Almost Beat Josh Koscheck!” and “Rousimar Palhares Nearly Ruined My Career!” Yep, Mike Pierce is back! Out of action since Palhares jacked up his knee and ankle by (surprise) holding onto a submission too long in October 2013, Pierce is back two years later. To be fair, he was supposed to return in 2014 against Demian Maia but got derailed due to a broken hand. He’s 35 so there’s not much of a threat of a title run, but it’s good to see him back regardless.

LaFlare (favorite): Nason, Meltzer, Bix, FRB, Sawyer, Juon, Sempervive, Encarnacao, Pollock