Season 29 of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) rolls on tonight (Tues., June 8, 2021) on ESPN+ as featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski and top contender Brian Ortega attempt to guide their respective squads to victory.
Last week’s debut saw both coaches pick their teams; as Volkanovski selected both the first bantamweight and the first middleweight, while Ortega got control of the first two matchups. He used one to pit his No. 1 middleweight Andre Petroski against Aaron Philips, resulting in a dominant first-round submission for the former, and the other to send bantamweight Liudvik Sholinian against first-overall-pick Mitch Raposo.
The current lineups:
Bantamweights: Mitch Raposo, Dustin Lapros, Ricky Turcios, Brady Hiestand
Middleweights: Ryder Newman, Gilbert Urbina,
Aaron Phillips, Bryan Battle
Bantamweights: Dan Argueta, Liudvik Sholinian, Josh Rettinghouse, Vince Murdock,
Middleweights: Andre Pretoski, Tresean Gore, Miles Hunsinger, Kemran Lachinov
After a standard recap and fancy new intro, we start with Volkanovski cooking his squad some really good-looking grub as they watch UFC 261. Volkanovski and his sous chefs get a standing ovation afterwards, while Gilbert Urbina, the third Urbina to compete on TUF, talks about being inspired by Rose Namajunas’ success.
Over to Team Ortega, who are giving Sholinian a pep talk. We get some highlights from the Ukraine-based Armenian’s career as he describes himself as a pressuring wrestler. He certainly looks the part in the LFA footage and he enjoyed a lot of success in the cage, though he admits that his 9-1 record doesn’t matter in the house.
During the fight prep, Ortega explains how he’s getting past the language barrier through his motions, which appears to be paying dividends. “T-City” diagnosis Raposo as someone who only throws a handful of strikes at a time and shoots when pressured, claiming Sholinian will shut down his wrestling and beat him on the feet.
Back to the Volkanovski squad as Raposo talks about growing up with the sport. The 22-year-old shows off his home video, featuring his family and painfully cute Old English Bulldog. His friends are super supportive of him as well, which is super heartwarming. We also get to see him training, which includes working with UFC standout Rob Font.
Volkanovski speaks highly of his pupil, who enjoyed success in Cage Titans and CES. Interestingly, he’s convinced that Sholinian will be the one initiating the wrestling.
This, kids, is what we call dramatic irony.
Sholinian’s turn for a home video, though it’s a Vegas house he’s renting for TUF instead of his home in Ukraine. A former national wrestling champion in Ukraine, he now trains at Xtreme Couture, and even gets a FaceTime shoutout from fellow Armenian Edmen Shahbazyan.
Weigh-in time over at the Performance Institute. Sholinian weighs in at 136 and looks very relieved when he hears the number, while Raposo looks comfortable at 135.5.
We pause for an “Ultimate Fighter Flashback” of Rampage Jackson obliterating a door, then it’s on to fight day.
Bantamweight Quarterfinal: Mitch Raposo (Team Volkanovski) vs. Liudvik Sholinian (Team Ortega)
Round one: Sholinian immediately starts advancing, as expected. Raposo staying mobile, neither man landing clean yet. There’s a good hook from Raposo a minute in. Sholinian having issues getting inside, takes another left hook as his kicks fall short. Hard right hand in combination for Raposo. Sholinian continuing to march forward. Good right hand from Raposo two minutes in. Sholinian shoots, sprawled on, separates. There’s the Raposo left hook again; he keeps landing it at the end of three-piece combos. Sholinian slips throwing a high kick. Two minutes to go.
Another left hook. Raposo’s speed and footwork are too much for Sholinian so far. Sholinian tries to open up on the fence, appears to land a glancing right soon after. One minute to go. Another Raposo left hook. Good three-piece. He easily denies a shot with underhook. Sholinian head kick nearly catches him leaning. 10-9 Raposo.
Round two: Nice body shot from Raposo on the counter. Sholinian still struggling with the speed, eats a low blow but shakes it off. Another counter body shot and jab from Raposo, who’s really found a groove. Now Sholinian shoots a minute in and manages to drag him down against the fence. Raposo works his way free and stands 40 seconds later, landing more left hands. Two minutes in. 3-2 lands for him. Again, going low-high on the counter. Sholinian stalking aggressively, denied. He shoots again and this time gets a body lock, dragging Raposo to a knee and looking to take the back. Two minutes to go.
Raposo stuck on a knee against the fence. Short punches from Sholinian, denies an attempt to stand with a minute to go. More punches and heavy control. 10-9 Sholinian and we’re going to a third round.
Round three: Sholinian shoots right away and muscles Raposo to the fence, completing the takedown despite eating some elbows along the way. Back to that one-hook control. One minute in Raposo tries to move and ends up on the bottom in half guard, then guard. Short elbows from Sholinian two minutes in. Punches as well. Raposo with a lovely scramble and he manages to take Sholinian’s back with two minutes to go.
Raposo hunting the choke but loses the angle, ending up on the bottom in guard once again. Back to the short, grinding blows for Sholinian. One minute to go. Ref stands them up with 30 seconds to go. Sholinian shoots and Raposo tries to lock up a guillotine, but loses his grip. 10-9 Sholinian and that looks like a 2-0 start for Team Ortega.
Final result: Sholinian def. Raposo by unanimous decision
Team Ortega is proud of their charge, while Raposo’s fighting back tears, admitting that his lack of experience left him unfamiliar with how to respond in certain situations.
Volkanovski has control of the next matchup and elects to send his top Middleweight pick, Ryder Newman, against Tresean Gore at Newman’s request. It’ll be a hugely credentialed wrestling standout against a striker out of ATT Georgia.
See you next week!