Fourteen fighters returned to The Ultimate Fighter in search of redemption. Did any of them find it?
In the cage, probably not. James Krause has been solid, but we expected that from a guy who’s on a two-fight UFC win streak. Dhiego Lima and Ramsey Nijem look ready to step back into the Octagon. Jesse Taylor also looks OK as long as you ignore all his submission losses in the last three years. It’s hard to know what to make of semifinalist Tom Gallicchio, who has this Cody McKenzie-esque quality of submitting people even when they know that’s exactly what he’s trying to do.
The rest may have found their redemption outside the cage. They’ve come across as decent guys. You’d be happy to sign up for classes with them or to see them coaching your kids, as I did when I walked into my kids’ afterschool martial arts program and saw them doing a wrestling session with the Prince of Persia, Kamal Shalorus. Great guy.
Some of these guys don’t look like they need to be fighting any more. Gilbert Smith has already made the reasonable decision that he’s not going back to smaller shows -- if the UFC offers him decent money, he’ll make another run, but other than that, he’s got better things to do.
So tonight, we’ll see who faces Lima in the final, and we’ll see if the producers can make any of these guys do something dramatic.
We’ll also see the triumphant return of…Dr. Gregory Hsu! Once a staple of stitching up fighters on this show, the Nevada opthalmologist will pop up to check out Krause’s eye. The promos tell us an eye injury has put Krause’s participation in jeopardy, but the commenters on last week’s TUF recap effectively put together some clues from those promos and figured out Krause should be good to go.
T.J. Dillashaw, whose team has wiped out Cody Garbrandt’s team like Serena Williams against a qualifier at Wimbledon, brings in Tim Elliott, The TUF 24 winner and UFC flyweight already knows Krause and will help coach Krause in the final, if he’s cleared.
Back in the house, Nijem and Joe Stevenson are playing chess. With a chess clock. That’s hard-core. Seth Baczynski, though, is focused on the prospect of replacing Krause in the final, which will be a surprise to anyone who watched his lackluster performance against Gilbert Smith in the season opener.
Finally, we’re off to see Krause meet Hsu. The eye doc says 80% of Krause’s eye skin was taken off, which sounds really bad unless you’re a hockey player who’s used to this sort of thing. If it doesn’t heal properly, it can cause some permanent vision loss.
And it doesn’t look good at first. Krause seems to be struggling with something during the exam. Then Hsu says, “Well … (dramatic pause) … you’re cleared to fight.” It’s blurry, sure, but that’s normal. Krause shows little emotion but happily bro-hugs the doctor.
So we’ll get the promised matchup between Krause and Taylor. Team Garbrandt can go back to playing volleyball. Having spoken to some TUF alumni, I can say it’s probably better to have no fighters in the competition at this stage than one. Being the last guy standing on a dispirited team is apparently not a great training environment.
Back to the house for the long-promoted drama between Elliott and others. It starts with Krause, Elliott and a couple of unnamed guys at the fire pit while a bunch of eliminated fighters pound beers in the hot tub. Alcohol apparently makes Baczynski’s voice go up a couple of octaves, and he’s lobbing incoherent insults toward the fire-pit group. Elliott returns fire, bragging that the fire pit is the winner’s circle.
Julian Lane -- who, until this point in the season, had demonstrated newfound maturity -- takes offense and hurls a water bottle from the tub to the fire pit. Krause thinks the bottle would’ve hit him in the face if someone else hadn’t blocked it.
The fire-pit crew decides to remove themselves from the situation by going inside. But the hot-tub crew follows them in and surrounds Elliott. The flyweight revels in the negative attention and starts taunting Lane with his TUF 16 catch-phrase, “Let me bang, bro!”
Lane gets in a couple of good shoves, and we’re treated to a couple of minutes of general chaos. Finally, Elliott and the other non-cast members are invited to leave. Elliott gets a good laugh outside the front door: “Man, that was awesome! I got pushed twice!”
Not sure “awesome” means what he thinks it means.
So that’s over…no, wait, it’s not. Baczynski, who barely appeared on camera after his first-episode loss, keeps griping that Krause was able to be reunited with his training partner. Krause’s buttons have been duly pushed, and we get a standoff and a shove. Jesse Taylor, who might stand to gain if Krause gets tossed off the show or hurt, is the lead peacemaker.
Krause storms off through a high-roofed room with a bunch of columns. Are we in the TARDIS now? Where did this room come from? We really haven’t seen much of the house this season.
Weigh-in is uneventful for a change.
Fight begins with Krause shooting for a takedown because he’s trying to subvert mainstream society like Chumbawamba members wearing makeup to stick it to the stuffy Brits. Krause is quickly on defense and has to establish guard. Taylor can’t do much, though, and Krause reverses. Taylor seems stunned, and he eats a hard elbow. We get a scramble, and Krause briefly has Taylor’s back. But Taylor flips around and gets back to a much better position from which he lands a couple of elbows of his own. Krause gets to his feet but is off balance, giving Taylor an easy takedown to get him back down. Taylor should take Round 1.
Round 2 starts with Taylor immediately shooting for another takedown, and Krause unwisely following him to the ground. Resume “wrestler has top control but can’t get through bottom fighter’s defense with any substantial ground-and-pound, and no one goes for submissions from the top any more” loop.
After a couple of minutes of that, Taylor makes a bold bid to get mount. Krause takes advantage and gets on Taylor’s back and bleeds on him for a bit, like the Black Knight fighting back against King Arthur after losing a limb or two. Krause tries to make something of the position, but Taylor simply flips over and is back on top against a clearly frustrated and tiring Krause. And it’s getting a little easier for Taylor to land punches, enough that this round is getting close to 10-8 and Krause needs a Hail Mary in Round 3.
Krause opens Round 3 with a kick. Taylor responds with a harder kick and a takedown. And we’re back. Krause looks done. Taylor gets his legs over and sinks a choke that puts Krause to sleep. Dana White snaps his fingers to show how quickly it happened.
“I don’t wanna leave!” Taylor shouts after the fight. He’s 7-0 in the TUF gym.
White teases Taylor, reminding him that he has to get through tonight without a replay of the drunken rampage that got him kicked out of the TUF 7 final. Taylor says he’d have to be a (bleep) to do that again.
After the Garbrandt-Dillashaw staredown, which tests John McCarthy’s patience, we get the promos for Friday’s final matchup between two guys who qualified for the final in their previous seasons as well. Lima lost. Taylor never got there.
They don’t announce the rest of the fight card, but TUF Talk confirms the “third-place” battle between Krause and Gallicchio.
And that’s it. Next Wednesday, I’m going to bed at 9 p.m. Thanks for reading through the season with me.