Like it or not, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) kicks off its 30th numbered season today (Tues., May 3, 2022) on ESPN+ with bantamweight rivals Julianna Pena and Amanda Nunes serving as coaches this time around, leading squads of Heavyweights and Flyweights through the familiar tournament format.
Here are the respective teams; check the bottom of the post to see who’s been eliminated so far.
Heavyweights: Mohammed Usman, Zac Pauga, Jordan Heiderman, Bobby Maximus
Flyweights: Helen Peralta, Juliana Miller, Hannah Guy, Chantel Coates
Heavyweights: Eduardo Perez, Chandler Cole, Mitchell Sipe, Nyle Bartling
Flyweights: Claire Guthrie, Brogan Walker, Kaytlin Neil, Kathryn Paprocki
We will recap every episode, each week that it airs, in this thread.
Episode Three - “Boiling Point,” May 17, 2022
This week’s fight pits Kamaru Usman’s brother, Mohammed, against Mitchell Sipe, who believes Usman faked an injury to get out of a fight when both men competed on the regional scene.
We start with Team Pena’s Chantel Coates, who admits she woke up that morning at 154 pounds. She vows to fix up her diet and do extra cardio and tells the camera that she suffered through COVID, the flu, and a miscarriage ahead of filming. Teammate Usman offers a pep talk, bringing up the death of his young son in 2019.
The camera offers a rather insensitive close-up on his face as he tears up.
Time for his home video. He, like Kamaru, was born in Nigeria and raised in Texas, but has now settled in Denver. We get to see some home cooking from his parents, plus some highlights of Kamaru’s TUF 21 run and rise through the Welterweight rankings. The champ offers an inspirational FaceTime session, after which Usman recounts his college football career and subsequent transition to MMA.
Over to Sipe’s preparation. He once again recounts his near-miss with Usman, while coach Nunes praises Sipe’s mobility and calls him a well-rounded, superior fighter. He’s very confident in his chances.
Time for the home video. Sipe tells us about his Native American heritage and his difficult upbringing in Oklahoma. He’s now based in Las Vegas, where he trains out of former super bantamweight boxing champ Clarence “Bones” Adams’ gym. He went from wrestling to BJJ to kickboxing en route to his pro debut, and we get a chance to see him end his most recent bout in just 97 seconds.
We also see his unsuccessful 2018 Contender Series bid against Don’Tale Mayes.
Usman’s prep now. Pena relays that Usman’s frustrated with Sipe’s antics and is advising him to focus on straight punches to counter Sipe’s heavy overhand. Usman’s confident that Sipe’s going to come out with no gameplan, dismissing his ground game and asserting that Sipe’s just going to throw bombs at him.
“The Motor” is, in his own words, preparing for war.
Over at the house, Sipe tries to wind Usman up while getting a haircut. Usman dismisses him as a bum, while Sipe leans on the tried-and-true “bitch” approach. Usman brings up the Mayes fight, which Sipe insists he was winning.
Less than 20 minutes into the episode and we’re already hitting the scales — 265 on the dot for Sipe, a trim 238 for Usman. Forrest Griffin gets between them during a predictably chippy weigh-in.
Flashback time. This time, it’s the drunken confrontation from Season 8. Eventual winner Efrain Escudero dismisses a shove from Shane Nelson with a smile, then polishes him off in the cage with a mounted triangle. He then taps Nelson’s partner-in-crime Junie Browning before winning it all.
Honestly, was kinda hoping for the jizz sushi.
Fight Day. The fact that we still have half the episode to go suggests to me that we’re not getting the fast-and-furious grudge match the buildup promised.
265 lbs.: Mohammed Usman (Team Pena) vs. Mitchell Sipe (Team Nunes)
Round one: Trading jabs to start. Counter right lands for Sipe, who follows with some showboating. Solid lead right, counter from Usman soon after. One minute in. Both really leaning on the overhand rights. Straight right this time from Sipe two minutes in. Not a whole lot happening for how much bad blood there was. Quick exchange in center cage. Suddenly, Sipe floors Usman with a heavy 1-2 and sprawls on his shot. They separate and reset with two minutes to go.
Usman tries a reactive shot, knocks him over/down with an uppercut in transition, then tries to bomb away. Back to the feet. One minute to go. More taunting from Mitchell, little actual action. 10-9 Sipe.
Round two: Usman trying to jab. Counter right lands as they exchange. Sipe jab a minute in. Usman wades in with a body shot. Body shot to uppercut. Overhand right. Nunes pleading with Sipe not to showboat. Two minutes in. Jab exchange. Body kick from Sipe, his first significant strike of the round. Usman lands a pair of stiff jabs in return. Sipe low kick. Two minutes to go.
Sipe continuing to try and goad Usman but he’s not actually doing anything. Quick blitz from Usman. Forrest and Dana are entertained by the shenanigans, at least. One minute to go. It’s amusing in a grim sort of way to hear Nunes beg Sipe to throw leg kicks. Overhand right by Usman, stiff jabs behind it and a body shot. Both throw some profoundly ugly shots at the bell. 10-9 Usman.
Round three: Now Sipe goes to the low kicks. Head kick attempt. Usman to the body, quick exchange in the center. Heavy Sipe low kicks. One minute in. Both falling short with jabs. Now Usman lands a couple. Two minutes in. Overhand right from Usman. Another. Sipe’s clearly still got energy but there’s zero urgency. They slug in center cage. Two minutes to go.
Sipe lead right, Usman counter hook. Neither man stepping into range. Usman to the body. He blitzes with a minute to go. Usman counters a straight right with a left hook. Sipe body kick. Usman cracks him with an overhand right as they trade. 10-9 Usman.
Final result: Usman def. Sipe by unanimous decision
Sipe claims its BS, but he threw that fight away. Usman gets a hero’s welcome in his locker room, where he breaks down in tears and dedicates the victory to his late son. Sipe’s team gives him an honest assessment of his performance, with Nunes gently chiding him for playing with his food.
Nunes once again gets control of the fight picks, electing to pit Team Pena’s Chantel Coates against Brogan Walker. Coates is confident in her speed, Walker in her preparedness.
The previews show Walker injuring her right knee and Coates struggling through a nearly 30-pound cut, so it shouldn’t be short on drama.
Same time next week!
Episode Two - “Time to Eat,” May 10, 2022
Pena’s next matchup pits her first Flyweight pick, Helen Peralta, against Team Nunes’ third in Kaytlin Neil. Peralta is confident in Pena’s assessment of the matchup, while Neil’s leaning on her experience.
We start in the house, where a still-despondent Bartling gets some kind words from a teammate. He and Pauga are in good terms, at least, as Pauga laughs about gassing himself out trying to finish Bartling.
Back inside, Neil explains how she feels a bit betrayed by Pena, a longtime acquaintance, using her as fodder for her top pick. A teammate advises her to think of it as Pena fearing her.
Time for Neil’s backstory. She has a super cute FaceTime session with her extended family as she explains her sheltered upbringing in Utah. She calls herself the black sheep slash crazy aunt of the family, as she’s both a cage fighter and the only unmarried one among her siblings.
The home video takes us through Syndicate MMA, including cameos from TUF veterans Roxanne Modafferi and Joanne Wood.
Over to Peralta’s fight prep. Pena speaks highly of Peralta’s versatility and tells her that she sees Peralta ending things with one clean shot. Peralta’s convinced that Neil’s going to try to take things to the ground, calling herself the superior striker.
Peralta talks about being part of a fight club growing up in the Dominican Republic and explains how Holly Holm’s head kick finish of Ronda Rousey served as her inspiration for becoming a mixed martial artist.
As for the prep itself, Pena drills her on sprawling and getting back to her feet when taken down.
Fast-forward a couple days, when Nina Nunes and daughter Raegan visit Team Nunes. The emotion’s enough to make Neil cry, so Nina and Amanda go backstage to help her through it. It turns out that Neil’s estranged father passed away, and the tangle of feelings combined with the stress of fight week to understandably set her off.
Back to the grind. Nunes is confident that Neil’s lengthy striking and ground game are sufficient to overcome Peralta, and Neil confirms that picking her spots at a distance before shooting under Peralta’s haymakers is the plan.
Neil explains that while she’s 5-4 overall in her pro career, she’s 4-1 in her last five, and we see her dispatch a foe with ground-and-pound in her fight footage. She’s extremely confident in her chances.
Some timelapses of Vegas later, we see Peralta chatting with some housemates. She’s of the opinion that Nunes wanted to pick her and was initially angry that Pena did so but now believes that Pena intentionally did it to undermine Nunes. She’s more than a little buzzed, and describes herself as “petty as f*ck” in the interview.
Over to her home video in Fairfield, IA. She calls herself a “starving artist” who walked away from her job in order to train full time. We get to see her super-spartan Ground Zero gym, where she works with her trainer exclusively in private lessons.
In a particularly unpleasant segment, we see her hop into a frozen pond for recovery purposes.
Halfway through the episode’s runtime and we’re already at the weigh-ins. Something tells me we’re going to a decision. Forrest Griffin is the master of ceremonies. Neil looks fit at 126, as does Peralta. Brogan Walker and Bobby Maximus have high praise for their respective teammates, and Kathryn Paprocki approvingly refers to both of them as “monsters.”
Time for the Ultimate Fighter flashback. This time, it’s TUF: Live, specifically how Michael Chiesa learned of the death of his father while on the show before going on to win it all.
Time for fight day.
115 lbs.: Helen Peralta (Team Pena) vs. Kaytlin Neil (Team Nunes)
Round one: Neil sitting at range, Peralta advancing flat-footedly. Neil puts her on the fence with double unders. Jockeying for position, solid right from Peralta inside. One minute in. Elbow on the break. She catches a kick and hauls Neil to the fence. Both land in the clinch. Peralta digs in some solid body shots as Neil looks for knees. They separate two minutes in. Peralta wings some haymakers before Neil ties up. More dirty boxing before they separate. Two minutes to go.
Peralta barrels into the clinch, landing punches as Neil fires knees. Still locked up with a minute to go. Peralta lands some good punches on the break. Solid double-leg attempt from Neil, denied. They trade in the clinch in the waning seconds. 10-9 Peralta
Round two: Neil prodding with her left hand. Body kick, hook kick attempt. Peralta falls short with punches. Jab to low kick from Neil. Peralta still coming up short. Solid 1-2 from Neil two minutes in. She’s not doing a ton but it’s still more than Peralta’s doing. Another 1-2. Head kick attempt. Peralta tries to come back with a combo. Overhand right, counter jab, another overhand before Neil takes her to the fence. Two minutes to go.
Separation. Neil still cruising along outside of Peralta’s reach. One minute to go. More 1s and 2s from Neil as Peralta plods along. Nice double-leg in the waning seconds that Peralta tries to answer with a guillotine. Going to a third round. 10-9 Neil.
Round three: Neil opens with a clinch. Jockeying for position on the fence. They separate a minute in Stiff jab from Peralta. Overhand right. Neil 1-2, Peralta right hook. Side kick and jabs from Neil two minutes in. Peralta comes back with a jab. Neil 1-2s. Peralta body jab. Two minutes to go.
Peralta jab, 1-2-1 from Neil. Solid double left by Neil, who absorbs an overhand right before trying an unsuccessful shot. Front kick met by looping hooks from Peralta. One minute to go. More straight punches from Neil, who slips after taking a glancing right. Peralta denies a late shot and lands a knee before eating an elbow. 10-9 Neil.
Final result: Neil def. Peralta by split decision
Pena admits her frustration with Peralta’s disinclination to really let her hands go, but is confident her charge won the first and third rounds. Nunes speaks highly of Neil’s toughness and gets just as teary as Neil in their post-win huddle. Peralta says she’s disappointed in herself for not doing more in the fight, though she seems to take it on the chin.
Nunes gets to choose the next fight, and she elects to set up the grudge match between Mitchell Sipe and Mohammed Usman. The animosity seems a bit one-sided in origin, but beef is beef. The episode preview predictably focuses on the two without spoiling much.
See you next week!
Episode One - “Road to the Rematch,” May 3, 2022
We start at the hotel, where Juliana Miller has a teary FaceTime conversation with her grandmother. Then we go to TUF 2 competitor Bobby Maximus, who’s confident that his experience will help his endeavor to become the oldest tournament winner.
Over to Nyle Bartling, who makes one last call to his partner before the producers confiscate his phone. Kathryn Paprocki does the same.
Meanwhile, Pena and her team are strategizing and doing research on the competitors. She’s leaning towards big-show experience over pretty records. Nunes has her own brainstorming session going; in a nice segue, we go from her mentioning Mohammed Usman to a scene of the man in question calling his brother, UFC champion Kamaru.
After a few more snippets of the coaches’ discussions, we finally get the title card proper. A slow-mo montage of everyone entering the gym follows, then a monologue from Dana White over footage of Pena’s and Nunes’ Octagon accomplishments.
In the gym itself, Forrest Griffin shows up to give a pep talk, praising the virtues of taking chances in life. He flips the coin, which gives Nunes first pick.
Coates and Maximus are the final picks, and they take it in different ways. Coates is unhappy, while Maximus just sees it as an opportunity to prove people wrong.
The teams get their first introduction to the house, resulting in a mad scramble to claim rooms. Neil seems confident that if a fight breaks out, it’ll be between a Flyweight and Heavyweight thanks to the latter’s freedom to eat whatever they want without worrying about weight management.
Sipe grouses about Usman pulling out of a fight with him in favor of fighting a “bum” three weeks later. Miller commiserates, complaining about her recent decision loss to Guthrie.
Team Pena gets the first training session. She decides to have the men and women train separately due to the size difference. She also describes her training style as “aggressive.” Coates is a fan, at least.
We don’t go too in-depth, instead switching over to Nunes’ squad. Sipe gives her a positive review, then it’s off to the fight announcement.
Pena gets to decide the first matchup, so she elects to pit Zac Pauga against Nyle Bartling.
We start with Pauga’s prep. He’s a former “senior criminal investigator” who quit just five months before the show after struggling with UFC veteran Markus Perez in his most recent fight. His home video shows off his very cute family as he explains that he does the cleaning in exchange for his wife supporting him quitting his job.
Pauga was actually a member of the Houston Texans who then went to rugby before financial concerns led him to law enforcement. The closest gym wound up being Elevation Fight Team, and we see him training with UFC contender Curtis Blaydes alongside footage of him mashing faces in the cage.
Over to Bartling. Nunes is confident in the matchup thanks to Bartling’s wrestling prowess. Bartling confirms that pressure and takedowns are the plan.
Rather than go into his home video and backstory, though, we go back to Pauga. Pena’s very aware that Bartling wants to grapple, as is Pauga, who says he can win “any kind of way.”
Okay, now we get to see Bartling’s story. He’s a small-town pig farmer from Nebraska and, to my delight, we do get footage of newborn piglets. His home video includes a lovely Valentine’s Day party his girlfriend put together, plus some night hunting with his brother Dylan.
Bartling explains how he accidentally shot himself in the foot in April 2020, complete with a deeply unpleasant photo. This, we explains, was the impetus for him to fully commit himself to MMA.
Over to the weigh-ins. Bartling hits the scale at 245, which is about par for the course in his career. Pauga, a longtime 205er, isn’t much smaller at 241.5.
Our first Ultimate Fighter Flashback of the season is, unsurprisingly, the legendary first clash between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar.
We’re already at fight day with 20 minutes left in the episode, so I’m thinking this one may go the distance.
265 lbs.: Zac Pauga (Team Pena) vs. Nyle Bartling (Team Nunes)
Round one: Lots of feints early. Bartling low kick, Pauga body jabs. Bartling shoots behind an overhand right, no dice. One minute in. Jab from Bartling, chopping right from Pauga. Bartling left hook, shoots, denied. Pauga with a nice knee on the break and he follows with combinations, moving to turtle when Bartling shoots. Some solid punches before they separate. Trading shots near the fence. Huge overhand right stings Bartling, who shoots in response two minutes in. Pauga initially defends with the whizzer, then uses the fence to try and stand. Jockeying for position. Two minutes to go.
Pauga opens up on the break. Clean jab and he sprawls on another shot. Both try to throw in the clinch and Pauga slips, allowing Bartling to take top position. Scarf hold for Bartling, landing punches. One minute to go. Pauga turns to his knees, eats a knee, lands his own on the break. Pauga tries to rush before the bell. 10-9 Pauga.
Round two: Bartling shoots early, rebuffed again. Both jab the body. Right cross by Pauga, eats a leg kick in return. One minute in. Pauga 3-2. Better shot from Bartling, lands a left on the exit, eats a right. Pauga goes low-high with 3-2s, then eats a nut shot. Big overhand right by Bartling when they resume and he walks into counters trying to follow up. Low kick connects, jump knee does not two minutes in. Labored overhand right to level change rebuffed again. Bartling lands an overhand right, shoots, denied. Body kick lands for him. He’s actually outworking Pauga here. Two minutes to go.
Solid counter right from Bartling into another shot. Pauga sprawls and fires hammerfists. Bartling left hook on the way up. Another overhand right to a shot and this time Pauga drops some heavier shots as he defends. These boys is gassed. One minute to go. Awkward stalemate that ends when Pauga stands and drops more shots. Bartling looking like a dead fish and he surrenders half guard. 10-9 Pauga.
Final result: Pauga def. Bartling by unanimous decision
Pauga praises Bartling’s toughness ahead of a standing ovation from his locker room. Bartling’s taking the loss poorly and seems close to a breakdown out of disappointing himself and, he fears, those behind him. His teammates are there for him, at least.
Highlights for the rest of the season include hatchet throwing, silly string, Stipe and Usman beefing, one of the huskier lads landing a wheel kick, and somebody getting diagnosed with a “complete tear.”
See you next week!
Heavyweights: Mohammed Usman, Zac Pauga, Jordan Heiderman, Bobby Maximus
Helen Peralta, Juliana Miller, Hannah Guy, Chantel Coates
Heavyweights: Eduardo Perez, Chandler Cole,
Mitchell Sipe, Nyle Bartling
Flyweights: Claire Guthrie, Brogan Walker, Kaytlin Neil, Kathryn Paprocki