As the 17th iteration of The Ultimate Fighter kicks off, it doesn’t take long to realize that it’s different than the previous incantations. Besides the production value, and shooting style Dana tells us that this time around friends and family will be around for the elimination fights.
He then goes into the story of UFC 151, the Pay-Per-View that never was, and not-so-subtly states that Jon Jones was scared of Chael Sonnen. The two coaches walk into the gym and meet each other. Sonnen does his usual pontificating about whatever goes on in his head and Jones sits by and politely nods his head and smiles. On the confession cam, Bones tells us, “I don’t really like the guy.”
There are 14 elimination fights to see, and no other time is wasted. Here’s a rundown of the fights.
Jake Heun vs Adam Cella
Jake Heun is a former University of Hawaii football player who trains with Chris Leben. He has a unique view on the job of a mixed martial artist and tells us, “What I do is put my fist on people’s faces.” Adam Cella’s childhood fists were preoccupied with stuffing faces as he admits to us that he is a former fat kid. Heun comes out aggressively and swings wildly. Cella goes for a knee, but Heun grabs it and uses it for a takedown. Right away Cella works his guard and throws up an armbar attempt. Heun goes for a slam, but it’s not enough as he's forced to tap. Looks like Cella will be stuffing his face inside the TUF house.
Zak Cummings vs Nik Fekete
Nik Fekete describes himself as a “nightclub security guard.” Last time I checked they were called bouncers. Regardless of what he calls himself, he eats a huge right hand and gets bounced from TUF in about 5 seconds. Cummings crosses the velvet rope with only having to throw one punch.
Eldon Sproat vs Kevin Casey
Training out of his garage, Sproat ticks off two TUF must-haves -- Hawaiian and cowboy hat guy. Kevin Casey grew up in a single-parent house and looks to represent the Gracie family banner he’s trained under. He does the family proud as he easily scores the takedown and secures the rear-naked choke victory.
Scott Rosa vs Tor Troeng
Scott Rosa trains out of his buddy’s garage because, “It comes natural to me.” A Swedish engineer, Tor views fighting as only an engineer would -- a scientific problem to be solved. This time around, book learning beats out “The Natural” as Tor utilizes his ground game to earn the takedown and sink in the second RNC victory of the episode.
Clint Hester vs Fraser Opie
I really hoped Fraser Opie made the cut. Not only would it make every TUF episode feel like a Guy Ritchie movie, but I also have tons of relevant Andy Griffith show references to make. Sadly, fortune did not favor me (nor Opie) as Clint works over Opie with body shots, takedowns and suplexes en route to a decision win. Both coaches are very impressed with his ability and Jones believes he could be the top pick. When asked about how he thinks things will be in the house, Clint responds, “I’ve never been to federal prison, but it’ll feel like being in federal prison.”
Ryan Bigler vs Bubba McDaniel
From the tiny nation of Guam, Bigler passes the time leading up to the fight reading Churchill quotes. Bubba spends his reuniting with his sister and hoping that all the personal sacrifices he’s made have been worth it.The two spend a lot of the time against the cage and Bigler takes Bubba down in the first to possibly steal the round, but it won’t reach the judges' scorecards. In the second, Bubba secures a takedown of his own and utilizes ground-and-pound to get the finish. A teammate of Jon Jones, Bones doesn’t exactly heap the praise on
Bubba. For once, he’s in agreement with Dana White as the UFC president
seems less than enthused by Bubba’s performance.
Josh Samman vs Leo Bercier
Trying out for the fourth time, Josh Samman looks to finally find his way into the house. Standing in his way is Leo Bercier, who talks about his life growing up on a Native American reservation. Samman takes Bercier down quickly, THEN...YELLS...EVERY...TIME...HE...PUNCHES! It takes much longer than it should for Samman to finish Bercier with what Dana dubs “double-fisted goofy shots," but he finally (and mercifully) cinches up the TKO. Shockingly, Chael Sonnen enjoys Josh Samman and his antics. Jon Jones doesn’t appear to be as smitten, but says he might take Josh just to mess with Chael’s plan.
Kito Andrews vs Kelvin Gastelum
Raised on food stamps, powdered milk and SPAM, Kito Andrews looks at TUF as a way to provide for his sons, who he recently won custody of after a lengthy dispute. Kelvin Gastelum is a 21-year-old bail bondsman who doesn’t really seem to be a very good employee.
Initially it looks looks like Kito will walk all over the younger Gastelum. As the fight progresses, conditioning comes into play and that works to Kelvin’s advantage. He uses his superior cardio and wrestling to lock up the judges' decision.
Jimmy Quinlan vs Mike Persons
We learn that Quinlan is a former wrestler while Persons comes from Stockton, CA, aka Diazland, USA. Any hope for another Stockton superstar soon goes out the window as Quinlan quickly slams Persons to the mat. Jon Jones calls his wrestling “dominating” and Quinlan soon finishes the fight with a first-round TKO.
Uriah Hall vs Andy Enz
Every season of TUF, Dana picks out his favorite fighter on the first day. This season, that man is Uriah Hall. The UFC president can’t help but gush over Hall as he uses takedowns, submission attempts, power punches and spinning stuff en route to victory. Uriah Hall is the man to watch.
Gilbert Smith vs Eric Wahlin
As we meet Eric Wahlin, he’s down on his luck. Unable to pay his bills and with his house in foreclosure, Wahlin sees TUF as his final hope to get his life back on track. He realizes that he’s not the most athletic, but he has “nothing to lose.” Gilbert Smith, on the other hand, doesn’t seem that worried. He tells us, “Worse case scenario, I lose my fight and I go home to a beautiful wife, beautiful kids and a good job.”
Smith’s carefree attitude serves him well. He rushes Wahlin and pushes him up against the cage. Smith soon earns the takedown and smothers his opponent from top position. He slowly works for an arm triangle choke and locks it in tight. The muscle-bound Smith then squeezes to the point where Wahlin starts spasming.
Nicholas Kohring vs Luke Barnatt
Described as a “momma’s boy” by his mother, Kohring is a change of pace from the other fighters. In an episode filled with crying and emotional breakdowns, Kohring looks almost annoyed when his wife and girlfriend show up to wish him luck. All we find out about the 6’6” Englishman Barnatt is that his mother is a Jehovah’s Witness. That’s why I’m always polite whenever they come to my door: You never know which one has a giant MMA fighter for a son.
This fight is all Barnatt. Kohring swings for the fences, but just never finds a way around Barnatt’s reach advantage. The big Brit works Kohring over with a variety of punches, kicks, knees and a hip toss thrown in for good measure. Barnatt secures the decision win and Jones calls him a “top-three talent.”
Dylan Andrews vs Tim Williams
The Ultimate Fighter always showcases interesting personalities. One such person is Dylan Andrews -- a native New Zealander raised in a marijuana grow house. He’s not even the most intriguing person in his fight, though. That honor belongs to Tim Williams, who as Dana White puts it, “Looks like he’s got some bodies buried in a [expletive] basement.”
The closest fight on the episode, these two are very evenly matched. Williams opens the round with a double-leg attempt and eats a big right hand. He fights through it, and eventually scores the takedown. But he makes a tactical error when he goes for a lateral drop and allows Dylan to take top position. Andrews moves to full mount, throws some punches, and edges out the decision win.
Collin Hart vs Michael Jesper
The final elimination fight features another “nightclub security guard” named Collin Hart aka “The Dick” (seriously). His opponent is semi-pro quarterback Michael Jesper who will utilize his “mind and heart” upper hand. You always have to be suspicious of someone that says one of their biggest weapons is mind and heart...and this is no exception. Hart uses dirty boxing and a superior ground game to secure the first-round RNC submission.
That brings us to team selections. Chael Sonnen wins the coin toss and elects to pick first, nabbing lanky Brit Luke Barnett. The final rosters, in order each was selected, are:
Since Chael had first pick, that means Jon Jones chooses the first fight. He decides that he wants to send a message by taking out Chael’s #1 choice Luke Barnatt. The man he picks for the job is Gilbert Smith. Some members of Team Jones don’t agree with the choice, but more on that later.
As the episode ends, we get a glimpse into the upcoming season. How often is Chael Sonnen going to rhyme? Will Jon Jones alienate his team? Who produces one of the nastiest knockouts in TUF history? And how many times per episode will Chael casually mention Harley-Davidson? Looks like you’ll just have to tune into The Ultimate Fighter and find out!