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TUF 30 results, Ultimate Fighter recap (Ep. 12) | ‘Pena vs. Nunes’

The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) continues (and wraps) this week with Episode 12 of Season 30, featuring women’s bantamweight champion Julianna Pena and former titleholder Amanda Nunes serving as coaches this time around, leading squads of men’s heavyweights and women’s flyweights through the familiar tournament format.

Here are the respective teams:

TEAM PENA
Heavyweights: Mohammed Usman, Zac Pauga, Jordan Heiderman, Bobby Maximus
Flyweights: Helen Peralta, Juliana Miller, Hannah Guy, Chantel Coates Laura Gallardo

TEAM NUNES
Heavyweights: Eduardo Perez, Chandler Cole, Mitchell Sipe, Nyle Bartling
Flyweights: Claire Guthrie, Brogan Walker, Kaytlin Neil, Kathryn Paprocki

We will recap each episode as it airs every Tuesday. Today’s final offering (July 19) features the women’s flyweight showdown between Kaytlin Neil (Team Nunes) and Juliana Miller (Team Pena). The winner will advance to fight Brogan Walker (Team Nunes) in the live finale on Aug. 6 at APEX in Las Vegas!

Let’s discuss:

Episode 12 - “Life or Death,” July 19, 2022

Today we get to find out which flyweight will move on to fight Brogan Walker in the live finale. Ep. 12 features Team Nunes’ third pick Kaytlin Neil battling two-time Invicta fighter Julianna Miller from Team Pena. Neil is talking about how Team Pena is “full of nerds” but guess what, it’s also full of winners when you look at who’s been eliminated so far in the competition. Miller promises to enter the fight a “killer” which may explain why she’s nicknamed Julianna “Killer” Miller. She also thinks Neil will “touch and circle” like a point fighter and “clinch a lot” — which she expects to work in her favor because of her “badass jiu jitsu moves.” Miller believes this semifinal bout is “life or death,” hence the title of Ep. 12. Since UFC President Dana White knows the end of the season is near, he gives both teams permission to spend a night tooling around Las Vegas. Team Nunes goes for dinner at some dumpy Brazilian restaurant, probably because Nunes is Brazilian and thinks that’s a big deal, then gives her team autographed action figures of ... herself. Holy cow Nunes is completely out of touch and her squad looks like they are forcing to smile for the cameras. Team Pena, meanwhile, hits up the nearby Jabbawockeez concert and everyone is grooving to the music. Sorry “Lioness” but I think “The Venezuelan Vixen” won that round. Zac Pauga says “If you can’t dance, you probably can’t fight.” Um ... not sure about that one because there is no way Deney Terrio could kick anyone’s ass. At the official weigh ins Neil tips the scale at 125.5 against 125 for Miller. Walker, who will meet the winner in the live finale, expects Neil to give Miller a “run for her money.”

Let’s find out.

125 lbs.: Kaytlin Neil (Team Nunes) vs. Julianna Miller (Team Pena)

Round 1: No touch of gloves and Miller comes out super aggressive, walking Neil down, getting in her face and initiating the clinch. They tie up in the middle of the cage and toss each other to the floor. A brief scramble ensues and they get back to their feet. Miller snaps Neil’s head back with a jab. Miller charges and runs Neil into the cage, then drags her to the floor. Neil works her way back up but Miller pulls her right back down. Miller has her back and is working for the choke. Neil looks to block the chin and gets punched in her face. Miller looking to secure a tight body triangle. Neil muscles her way free and gets to her feet but Miller switches stances and trips her back down. Miller in mount. Neil getting beat up via elbows. Neil tries to roll out of danger and rolls right into an armbar. 45 seconds to go. Miller softening her up with punches but Neil keeps her arm locked, then breaks free and lands on top with punches until the bell. 10-9 Miller.

Round 2: Neil opens with a kick. Miller answers with one of her own. Miller rushes forward with punches and Neil gets on her bicycle. Miller chases her down and shoots but gets denied. Coach Nunes tells Neil “that’s all she has.” Miller walks Neil down and pushes her into the cage. They battle for position and Neil gets tripped to the floor. Neil tries to roll out but gives up position. Miller back in mount. Miller postures and drops bombs. Neil sticks her arm up to defend and Miller latches on and cranks a fight-ending kimura. Ouch.

Final result: Miller def. Neil by submission

Here’s where we stand heading into the live finale:

265 lbs.: Mohammed Usman (Team Pena) vs. Zac Pauga (Team Pena)
125 lbs.: Brogan Walker (Team Nunes) vs. Juliana Miller (Team Pena)

See you on Aug. 6!


Episode 11 - “Time To Come Alive,” July 12, 2022

Today we get to find out which heavyweight will fight Zac Pauga in the live finale and the odds-on favorite heading into Ep. 11 is Team Nunes first pick Eduardo Perez. He’ll battle PFL veteran Mohammed Usman, brother of UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, and as you might expect, “The Nigerian Nightmare” — himself a TUF graduate — is on location to help motivate his brother. Perez planished Bobby Maximus to earn his spot in the semifinal while Usman outlasted Mitchell Sipe. Nunes has taken a liking to Perez because they both had a similar upbringing. Sipe is talking mad shit about Usman and how ineffective he is, perhaps forgetting Usman defeated him earlier in the season. At the official weigh ins, Perez tips the scale at 265 pounds against 238 for Usman, who will also enter the cage at a significant disadvantage in both height and reach. Will it make a difference?

Let’s find out.

265 lbs.: Eduardo Perez (Team Nunes) vs. Mohammed Usman (Team Pena)

Round 1: No touch of gloves as Usman crawls out to the center of the cage like his brother. Lots of bobbing and weaving for the first 30 seconds then Usman gets things started with an overhand right. Perez answers with an outside leg kick. UFC President Dana White, cageside with TUF legend Forrest Griffin, comments on how nice the kick was because everyone wants Perez to win, based on the narrative of the show. It was a routine kick with minimal impact Dana, calm down. Another 30 seconds of bobbing and weaving go by and my Jordan Heiderman PTSD from earlier episodes is flaring up. Usman shoots for a takedown but gets stuffed and they clinch against the cage and it becomes apparent how small Usman is for a heavyweight. The extra pounds come from his thick frame and big muscles but he should probably slim down and be competing at 205. Two knees find their mark for Perez and Usman backs off. Overhand right for the Nigerian sails wide. Perez with a leg kick. Usman trying to jab but he’s too short and too far away so he overcompensates by rushing in with his head down while flinging wild punches. Perez tenderizing the leg then backing off every time Usman loads up. Perez slips the canvas and Usman pounces but can’t turn water into wine. Round ends with Usman swinging for the fences. Perez looks to be moving a step slower, notes White. Griffin nods in agreement because the boss is always right. 10-9 Perez.

Round 2: Usman opens the round with a thudding leg kick. Perez returns fire. Coach Pena screaming at Usman to “double up” and he responds by doing exactly what he did in Round 1: blitzing with punches in bunches, most of which get blocked. Usman may not be Floyd Mayweather but he’s the busier fighter and walking Perez down, who spends the first two minutes of this fight in reverse. Usman lurches forward and shoots for the takedown. A Perez fence grab — which draws a referee warning — keeps him upright for a moment but then he tumbles to the floor. Usman tries to jump on top but Perez is too big and muscles his way back to his feet. On the advice of Coach Nunes, Perez gets off the cage and opens up his hands and Usman eats half a dozen shots, but then Perez holsters his sidearm and goes back to defense. Strange gameplan. Usman with a leg kick. I don’t know how these guys fight with 12 different people yelling 12 different instructions. “THROW THE TWO! GO INSIDE THEN OUT AND DOUBLE UP!” The whenever someone lands even the slightest of blows you have a chorus of “AYYYYYYYYYYY!” Perez doing more damage with his kicks than his hands. The size advantage really hurting Usman in these exchanges but for the overall favorite to win the show, this is not a performance that Perez should be bragging about. 10-9 Usman.

Round 3: Usman gallops in and closes the distance then does ... nothing. 30 seconds go by and Usman throws a leg kick that finds purchase. Usman getting busy but most of his punches are looping overhand rights followed up by left hooks from the inside. Sixty seconds in and Perez has yet to get out of first gear for the third (and final) frame. Usman bouncing around on his feet which is uncommon for a heavyweight this late in a fight. Perez whiffs on a leg kick. Coach Nunes tells Perez to keep the center of the cage instead of constantly going in reverse. Usman spoils that plan with his tried-and-true bumrush. Usman follows up with a half-hearted takedown attempt that gets shucked. Then another. Perez finds a home for the jab. Usman backs him off with a right. Coach Nunes pleading with Perez to get busy. Referee briefly halts the action to warn of dick punches though it’s not immediately clear who the culprit was. I’m guessing Usman who was working the lower body. 10 second clacker and Coach Pena wants a late takedown. Usman prefers to sling the right hand instead. We go to the judges’ scorecards for a decision in what proved to be a very close fight. White shouts “Good fight, kid” to Perez, who is resting on the cage. I had Round 3 scored 10-9 in favor of Usman.

Final result: Usman def. Perez by submission

Perez is shaking his head but he should be pissed at himself, not the judges, because he didn’t really do anything for 15 minutes and let Usman stay busy (and on the offense) for all three rounds. A disgusted White starts talking shit about Usman’s performance after the fight ... maybe he bet on Perez? Back in the locker room, Perez says his mind was there but his body “got stuck a little bit” during the fight. Brogan Walker tells him “he left it all out there” ... um, no he didn’t.

Here’s where we stand heading into Week 12:

TEAM PENA
Heavyweights: Mohammed Usman, Zac Pauga, Jordan Heiderman, Bobby Maximus
Flyweights: Helen Peralta, Juliana Miller, Hannah Guy, Chantel Coates Laura Gallardo

TEAM NUNES
Heavyweights: Eduardo Perez, Chandler Cole, Mitchell Sipe, Nyle Bartling
Flyweights: Claire Guthrie, Brogan Walker, Kaytlin Neil, Kathryn Paprocki

Stay tuned next week as Kaytlin Neil (Team Nunes) collides with Juliana Miller (Team Pena) in women’s flyweight semifinal action. The winner earns a spot against Brogan Walker in the live finale!

See you in seven!


Episode 10 - “Throw Nasty Stuff,” July 5, 2022

The semifinals are currently underway and last week we saw Zac Pauga advance to the live finale with his destruction of Jordan Heiderman. This week the ladies take center stage as late replacement Laura Gallardo from Team Pena looks to keep her Cinderella story alive at the expense of Team Nunes standout (and fellow southpaw) Brogan Walker. The episode opens with Team Nunes taking a break in the Nevada mountains, swinging knicker knockers over their heads. I know it has an official name in Guam called “Acho Atupat” but c’mon, “knicker knockers” is so 1980’s and that era is cool again (thanks Stranger Things). Walker FaceTimes with her sister and tells her “the cage is my home.” Gallardo also gets a chance to call home — which goes against the TUF rules of yesteryear — and has some weepy-sobby “I LUV U” moments with her boyfriend. The weigh ins pop off early for this episode which tells me we’re going all three rounds (as opposed to two rounds for the elimination fights). 126 pounds for Walker and 124 for Gallardo, who is expected to rely on her wrestling for this bout. The height difference becomes apparent (in favor of Walker) during the staredowns and considering Gallardo came into the season late, I don’t like her chances.

Let’s fight.

125 lbs.: Brogan Walker (Team Nunes) vs. Laura Gallardo (Team Pena)

Round 1: No touch of gloves. Leg kick by Gallardo followed by a stiff right that wobbles Walker. She recovers. Gallardo drives forward for a takedown and pushes Walker into the cage. They battle for position. Walker muscles her way out of it and they go back to the center of the cage and strike. Gallardo bobs and weaves a bit and then charges in for another takedown. The cage wall keeps them upright. Guillotine threatened by Walker. They struggle for a bit and Walker breaks free. Hard leg kicks from Walker. Coach Nunes wants her to “find her timing.” Gallardo fakes a takedown but Walker reads it. Another leg kick lands for Walker. Jab sneaks through for Gallardo who follows with a takedown attempt. Coach Pena tells her to “pull that carpet out” but Walker is too strong and postures against the fence for defense. Ten second clapper and both fighters go for broke swinging wildly.

Round 2: Round two opens much like the first with both combatants looking to throw hands. Walker appears a little more dialed in. Gallardo dodges incoming fire and shoots but Walker tangles her up and works a Thai plum. Gallardo breaks and they both swing like crazy. Stiff jab lands for Walker. Gallardo returns fire then slips going backward. Walker can’t capitalize. The action slows down and becomes a staring contest. Coach Nunes tells Walker to “mix it up” and reminds her that she too, can initiate takedowns. Exposed fingers warning for Walker. Gallardo finding a home for her jab and inside leg kick. Coach Pena shouts, “Nice job babe!” Coach Nunes wants Walker to walk forward. She does and Gallardo catches her around the waist but again cannot complete the takedown. Dana White is cageside and comments on Walker’s takedown defense. Walker drops down and sort of flops on top of Gallardo and likely stole the round with some late top position.

Round 3: Both gals upright to kick off the third and final frame. Gallardo aggressive with strikes and Coach Pena tells her, “You’re right back in the party.” I’m not sure she ever left considering how close this fight is. Coach Nunes wants Walker to use her left hand and “mix it up.” Walker eats a teep kick. Another finger warning levied by the referee. Walker lands a left and Coach Nunes screams, “The left is there all day Brogan!” Walker opens up her hands and Gallardo panic wrestles but Walker stuffs her like towel in a laundry basket. They break apart and Walker eats a jab but answers with one of her own. Walker starting to take over the fight (or at least the round) on sheer volume. Gallardo lands a jab but isn’t throwing enough of them. Fake takedown by Gallardo followed by some sloppy strikes. The round ends and Coach Pena tells Gallardo to walk around the cage with her hands held in the air like that somehow will convince the judges she won the fight but hey, MMA habits are hard to break. Dana White gave the fight to Walker three-zip. Let’s see if the judges agree.

Final result: Brogan Walker def. Laura Gallardo by unanimous decision

Here’s where we stand heading into Week 11:

TEAM PENA
Heavyweights: Mohammed Usman, Zac Pauga, Jordan Heiderman, Bobby Maximus
Flyweights: Helen Peralta, Juliana Miller, Hannah Guy, Chantel Coates Laura Gallardo

TEAM NUNES
Heavyweights: Eduardo Perez, Chandler Cole, Mitchell Sipe, Nyle Bartling
Flyweights: Claire Guthrie, Brogan Walker, Kaytlin Neil, Kathryn Paprocki

Stay tuned next week as Eduardo Perez (Team Nunes) collides with Mohammed Usman (Team Pena) in heavyweight semifinal action. The winner earns a spot in the live finale!

See you in seven!


Episode Nine - “Bring Your Lunchbox,” June 28, 2022

We kick things off with a recap of last week’s episode where Brogan Walker captured a majority decision victory over Hannah Guy. More importantly, we get another look at the semifinal matchups, which includes this week’s showdown between Team Pena heavyweights Zac Pauga and Jordan Heiderman. If you’ve been following along then you know how annoyed I was with the non-performance from Heiderman in Episode 7, though he was able to secure the win when Chandler Cole burned himself out with his fancy spinning shit. It will be interesting to see if Heiderman finds the gas pedal now that he’s got a fight under his belt — or does more of the same against Pauga. Before we can get to that titanic tilt, the producers have to drum up some drama to fill the remainder of the episode. Fortunately for them, Helen Peralta does all the heavy lifting. Or in this case, all the heavy drinking. Coach Pena claims she can smell the booze from a mile away so she tries to confront Peralta and perhaps prevent a small problem from becoming something much larger. Peralta admits she’s been hitting the bottle to ease the pain of getting eliminated from the tournament while also conceding it probably wasn’t the best move to hit the gym drunk. Back at the house, Peralta finds out Laura Gallardo snitched on her and they end up arguing about it.

After I watched TUF 9 wild man Junie Browning treat his liver like Shinji Takeyama treated his small intestine, I found it hard to get riled up over Peralta’s pre-gym boozing.

We turn our attention to the upcoming heavyweight contest and Pena won’t be coaching either fighter because they come from the same squad, so their own personal coaches from outside the show are being flown in for the semifinal fight. Pauga wants to keep the fight on the feet but won’t commit to a certain style, insisting he’s a “cage fighter.” Heiderman expects a “war” and believes Pauga may be the best heavyweight in the house. Heiderman also says he’s “pretty slick everywhere” and brags about his diversity, perhaps forgetting his fight against Cole just a few weeks back. Speaking of impending showdowns, we get the axe throwing coaches challenge between Pena and Nunes. The goal is to see who can prevail after five rounds (with three throws per round). Axe throwing is not unlike darts: launch a weapon at a round target with numbered sections for points. Winning coach banks $10,000 and each member of her team walks away with $1500. Pena looks like a deer in the headlights but Nunes insists she’s confident. Unlike their first fight, “Lioness” performs like a dominant champion and crushes “The Venezuelan Vixen” by a score of 24-10. Turns out today is Pague’s 34th birthday so the team throws him a party. Since he’s a heavyweight, he can eat cake and not worry about blowing up the scale. Not surprisingly, both combatants make their marks without incident. 244 for Pauga and 247 for Heiderman.

Now it’s time to fight.

265 lbs.: Zac Pauga (Team Nunes) vs. Jordan Heiderman (Team Pena)

Round 1: Quick touch of gloves and Heiderman pumps a pair of jabs from 10 feet away in a hilarious replay of his first fight. Sigh. Pauga marches forward and shows him how it’s done, landing a stinging jab of his own before connecting on a 1-2 upstairs. Heiderman wakes up and tries to return fire but for every punch he whiffs, Pauga connects. Heiderman gets scolded by his coach for swinging wild and tells him to “set up a Denver,” whatever that means in secret fight talk. I guess a “Denver” is standing still and not throwing any punches because that’s what Heiderman does for the next 30 seconds. Pauga cautiously approaches then lets his hands go and once again they find purchase. “Beautiful, bubba,” says Pauga’s coach. Heiderman finally shoots for a takedown and after a brief struggle manages to drag Pauga to the floor. Pauga quickly pops back up and now it’s a battle for position against the fence. Pauga muscles free and uncorks a head kick that sails wide. Less than a minute to go and Heiderman’s coach calls for a takedown and gets ignored. Pauga lands a spinning back fist followed by a knee to the bread basket. 10-9 Pauga.

Round 2: No gloves are touched. Heiderman opens with his striking pantomime. Pauga walks forward and melts him with a monster left hook. Heiderman hits the floor and the fight is stopped.

Final result: Zac Pauga def. Jordan Heiderman by knockout

Here’s where we stand heading into Week 10:

TEAM PENA
Heavyweights: Mohammed Usman, Zac Pauga, Jordan Heiderman, Bobby Maximus
Flyweights: Helen Peralta, Juliana Miller, Hannah Guy, Chantel Coates Laura Gallardo

TEAM NUNES
Heavyweights: Eduardo Perez, Chandler Cole, Mitchell Sipe, Nyle Bartling
Flyweights: Claire Guthrie, Brogan Walker, Kaytlin Neil, Kathryn Paprocki

Stay tuned next week as Brogan Walker (Team Nunes) collides with Laura Gallardo (Team Pena) in flyweight semifinal action. The winner earns a spot in the live finale!

See you in seven!


Episode Eight - “Make It Ugly,” June 21, 2022

We kick things off with a recap of last week’s fight, where Team Pena’s Jordan Heiderman overcame the wheel kick of doom to upset Chandler Cole of Team Nunes (scroll down to last week’s recap for that fight breakdown). Cole hopes his highlight reel almost-knockout was enough to impress promotion president Dana White and get him called back to the big show. With that contest out of the way, we look ahead to the flyweight collision pitting Brogan Walker (Team Nunes) against Hannah Guy (Team Pena). Walker injured her leg in training and will need to overcome the physical and mental challenges of competing with a bum knee. Coach Nunes predicts this fight will take place primarily on the feet because “Hannah will be afraid to go to the floor with Brogan,” who “Lioness” considers the better ground fighter. The 32 year-old Walker — a first grade teacher in Guam — tells the camera her plan is to work the distance, maintain constant pressure, and win the little battles inside the cage by way of “killer instinct” or “release the beast” as she puts it. Working pads with trainer John Wood has boosted her confidence. Walker is 7-2 as a pro with one finish.

Coach Pena recruits friend and training partner Brady “Bam-Bam” Hiestand, who fans may recognize from Season 29, to help coach Guy and the rest of her squad. The gameplan for Guy is to “make the Octagon smaller” by cutting off angles and securing takedowns. No word yet on what happens when Plan A fails. Guy also claims Walker’s jiu-jitsu — good enough to secure a black belt from parts unknown — is “not that good” according to gossip emanating from the MMA henhouse. It should be noted that Walker preciously told UFC.com she “beat black belts” back when she was “a wee little blue belt.” Sounds a little suspicious for a pro fighter who only sports one submission in seven wins. The 26 year-old Guy, fighting out of Columbus, Miss., is 4-1 as a pro with one knockout and two second-round submissions. She lives in a converted ‘91 Ford ambulance and trust me when I tell you it looks exactly the way it sounds. Guy is also dating one of her longtime coaches which is probably not the best idea if you’ve been paying attention to recent headlines. Walker will enjoy a considerable height and reach advantage for their two-round banger.

Let’s see if it makes a difference on fight day.

125 lbs.: Brogan Walker (Team Nunes) vs. Hannah Guy (Team Pena)

Round 1: Quick touch of gloves and Walker opens with a heavy left. Guy returns fire. Both ladies working from a low, wide stance. Walker the busier striker but whiffing on most of her strikes. Coach Nunes tells her to “find her timing.” Guy striking intermittently in an attempt to find the right opening to clinch and work the takedown. Coach Pena shouts, “You see everything!” Shibabawa would be proud. Walker lands the bout’s first low kick but gets a right hand for a receipt. Doesn’t stop her from throwing another. Then another. Superman punch falls short. Guy seems content to get hit and counterpunch. Walker snaps Guy’s head back with a stiff jab. Guy stunned with a looping hook. She needs to get something going here or this round will fall to Walker. Guy rushes in for the clinch but gets bucked. High kick sails wide. Walker plants a right. Coach Pena orders Guy to “keep that pressure” — so she rushes in with her hands down and chin up only to get floored with a big left. Walker pounces for the kill but Guy gets her bearings and muscles her way back up. Walker secures a standing guillotine which she uses to drag Guy to the floor. Knees from Walker. Pena screams “Big Chest!” and I know that means something fight related but I chuckle anyway. Guy sitting with her back to the fence getting kneed in the breadbasket. 10 seconds to go and Walker is unloading. Round over. 10-9 Walker.

Coach Pena tells a rattled Guy it’s time to “make it ugly.”

Round 2: Gloves are touched and we’re right back to the standup. Guy eats a 1-2 and drops to her knees. She quickly regains composure but Walker is right up in her face and drives her to the cage. It’s a battle for position and Walker wins, tossing Guy to the floor and working for position. Guy scrambles and gets free but gets tagged against the fence. Coach Pena tells Guy to “stick her ass out and use those whizzers.” Okay then. Guy flops to the floor and Walker kicks her right in the ribs. Guy stands up and gets two more bombs to welcome her. This fight is all Walker. Coach Nunes wants her to “calm down” so that her aggressive pace doesn’t empty her tank in a fight she’s comfortably winning. Finger warning from referee Mike Beltran. Walker content to mug Guy against the fence. Referee wants to see some action. Walker breaks away and strikes from range. Guy chasing her across the cage with wild strikes. Sloppy takedown attempt from Guy gets rejected. Guy charges and manages to get some limbs around Walker, who grabs the fence for leverage and gets properly scolded by the referee. Guy expertly uses her weight and positioning to crumple Walker to the ground. Walker tries to roll out but gives up her back. The tempo of this fight has changed dramatically in the span of 30 seconds. Guy looking for the choke. Coach Nunes screaming “One minute!” in hopes that Walker can hang on. Since there is still 15 minutes left in the episode I like her chances. Guy reigning down punches. Walker tries to stand and gets yanked backwards. Walker fighting the hands. The round ends with Walker in a very precarious position. Guy steals that round 10-9 on my unofficial scorecard. Judges disagree and award Walker the majority decision. Team Pena is stunned.

Final result: Brogan Walker def. Hannah Guy by majority decision

After the fight, Pena pleads her case with Dana White and Forrest Griffin, who were cageside spectators. She gets no sympathy from either. A weepy Guy admits she needed to do more and risked the fight by letting it go to the judges. With all the opening round fights completed, White will meet with Nunes and Pena to decide the semifinal matchups.

Here’s what we get:

125 lbs.: Brogan Walker (Team Nunes) vs. Laura Gallardo vs. (Team Pena)
125 lbs.: Juliana Miller (Team Pena) vs. Kaytlin Neil (Team Nunes)

265 lbs.: Zac Pauga (Team Pena) vs. Jordan Heiderman (Team Pena)
265 lbs.: Mohammed Usman (Team Pena) vs. Eduardo Perez (Team Nunes)

Here’s where we stand heading into Week 9:

TEAM PENA
Heavyweights: Mohammed Usman, Zac Pauga, Jordan Heiderman, Bobby Maximus
Flyweights: Helen Peralta, Juliana Miller, Hannah Guy, Chantel Coates Laura Gallardo

TEAM NUNES
Heavyweights: Eduardo Perez, Chandler Cole, Mitchell Sipe, Nyle Bartling
Flyweights: Claire Guthrie, Brogan Walker, Kaytlin Neil, Kathryn Paprocki

Stay tuned next week as Zac Pauga (Team Pena) collides with Jordan Heiderman (Team Pena) in heavyweight semifinal action. The winner earns a spot in the live finale! Also next week is the long-awaited coaches challenge!

See you in seven!


Episode Seven - “Crush Your Dreams,” June 14, 2022

We kick things off with a recap of last week’s fight, where Team Pena’s Juliana Miller defeated Claire Gutherie of Team Nunes. With that contest out of the way, we look ahead to the heavyweight collision pitting Jordan Heiderman (Team Pena) opposite Chandler Cole (Team Nunes). Heiderman, who quit his job as a factory welder to pursue his UFC dream, bills this bout as “wrestler vs. wrestler” and “banger vs. banger.” He licks his proverbial chops over the potential “war” that lies ahead and admits he’s excited for the two-round showdown (a byproduct of exhibition fights). He then makes a lot of grunty-screamy noises while pumping iron inside the TUF gym.

Hey, whatever gets you amped up, I guess.

We switch gears to focus on Chandler Cole, a small-town kid who is now a corrections officer in Virginia. He tells his fellow housemates that he aspires to be a UFC superstar to help legitimize his rags-to-riches success story. I’m sure getting out of the daily prison grind would be a nice benefit, as well. Viewers may not recognize “The Hammer” but he was part of the PFL promotion back in June 2021, but lost to Ante Delija by way of technical knockout and did not return. Cole is also trying to recover from an elbow injury suffered in Episode 5 and asks Coach Nunes for special exemptions during practice.

“Lioness” suggests Cole may be looking for excuses.

Cole, who is a little rounder than most of the other contestants, says he “looks like a whale” but “moves like a shark.” His professional record is 8-3 with all three losses coming by way of knockout. Heiderman is undefeated at 5-0 with four of those fights coming under the LFA banner. His last appearance was a disqualification victory (illegal kick) over Chad Johnson in Sept. 2021. Standing at just 5’10”, Cole will give up considerable height and reach against the 6’3” Heiderman. That said, Cole definitely has the weight advantage, tipping the scale at 264.5, nearly 20 pounds heavier than the 247-pound Heiderman. UFC President Dana White predicts a “very fun fight,” perhaps forgetting why everyone in the MMA blogosphere hates heavyweight headliners. Cole has a very Gore Vidal-ish tattoo that reads, “In order to fulfill my dreams, I’m willing to crush yours.” Sounds like a nice guy.

Let’s see if he can get it done.

265 lbs.: Chandler Cole (Team Nunes) vs. Jordan Heiderman (Team Pena)

Round 1: Quick touch of gloves and Cole opens with a low kick that lands. Then another. And another. His coach screams the leg is there ”all day” and Heiderman does nothing to prove him wrong. Cole winds up with a huge overhand right but Heiderman reads it and blocks. One-way traffic so far. 90 seconds go by and Heiderman has thrown one punch and one kick. Not sure what the gameplan is but it’s not a good one. Lots of bobbing and weaving on both sides before Cole explodes with punches in bunches. Heiderman fires back and circles out. Heiderman lands a solid low kick then ...l does nothing. Low level heavyweight fights are so frustrating. Just as I type that, Cole lands a crazy spinning wheel kick that drops Heiderman, but he waits too long to follow up and Heiderman recovers. Cole getting cocky now and dropping his hands and taunting a la Anderson Silva. Heiderman makes him eat a 1-2 for it. Heiderman lands a push kick in the last 10 seconds and both fighters look out of gas.

Round 2: Heiderman comes out aggressive but is jabbing from 10 feet away. More spinning shit from Cole which impresses the peanut gallery but does little damage. Heiderman eating low kicks like Laffy Taffy. 30 seconds of bobbing and weaving and I can’t help but wonder what happened to all that “wrestler vs. wrestler” talk before the fight. Takedowns have been placed on administrative leave. Heiderman finds a home for his jab but refuses to parlay it into bigger and better things, despite the desperate pleas from Coach Pena. Cole seems content to land the occasional leg kick then whiff on the big right hand. 90 seconds left. Pena screaming at Heiderman to do something (maybe he forgot this way a fight?) but he ignores her. More bobbing and weaving. Cole seems content to fight in cruise control but Coach Nunes orders him to finish strong. She will also be ignored. 10 second “clack clack clack” and neither fighter seems to care. Time expires and I guess judges scored that one for Heiderman because we are going to a third frame.

Round 3: Quick touch of gloves and Cole comes out the aggressor. He fires punches and kicks that have Heiderman in reverse. Nowhere to go so the punches start coming fast and furious from both sides. Cole lands heavy and gets walloped in return, so he panic shoots but Heiderman sees it coming and flops on top of him. Cole seems content to turtle and eat a dozen head strikes until the referee calls it off. What a crazy turn of events.

Final result: Jordan Heiderman def. Chandler Cole by technical knockout

After the fight, Pena gives credit to Cole for the nicest spinning wheel kick she’s ever seen, which tells me she never saw Edson Barboza stiffen Terry Etim at UFC 142. Heiderman comes back to the locker room to high fives and butt slaps but I’m not sure that was a performance to celebrate. Or maybe I’m just a curmudgeon after writing these damn recaps for the past 30 seasons. Cole breaks down in tears in the Team Nunes locker room and is probably equally mad at the judges for giving round two to Heiderman as he is at himself for letting that fight slip away.

Here’s where we stand heading into Week 8:

TEAM PENA

Heavyweights: Mohammed Usman, Zac Pauga, Jordan Heiderman, Bobby Maximus

Flyweights: Helen Peralta, Juliana Miller, Hannah Guy, Chantel Coates Laura Gallardo

TEAM NUNES

Heavyweights: Eduardo Perez, Chandler Cole, Mitchell Sipe, Nyle Bartling

Flyweights: Claire Guthrie, Brogan Walker, Kaytlin Neil, Kathryn Paprocki

Stay tuned next week as Brogan Walker (Team Nunes) collides with Hannah Guy (Team Pena) in flyweight action.

See you in seven!


Episode Five - “Face the Boogeyman,” May 31, 2022

We get started inside the TUF house and it’s high fives and butt slaps for Team Pena, thanks to Laura Gallardo’s upset victory over Kathryn Paprocki. Gallardo was an alternate who got called back on just four days’ notice after Chantel Coates was booted from the competition over weight-cutting issues. Paprocki is moping inside her dorm room, as expected, but expresses her disappointment in the coaching from Team Nunes. Paprocki also admits she didn’t do a very good job of advocating for her own skills and strengths prior to the fight. Either way, it’s too late to do anything about it at this point.

Lesson learned?

Now it’s time to see if Team Nunes can get back into the win column with heavyweight phenom Eduardo Perez, who tries to spoil the Cinderella story of returning veteran Rob MacDonald, who now goes by the callsign “Bobby Maximus.” MacDonald is the oldest competitor in TUF history at age 43 (yikes). Maximus tells fellow cast mate Mohammed Usman that he operates best when he’s the underdog and approaches MMA like a sport (and not a life-or-death situation). On the other side of the house, Perez can’t seem to wrap his head around the fact that Maximus has not competed professionally since early 2009, which if you’re keeping score at home, was a knockout loss to Chuck Grigsby at VFC 26. No question anything less than complete destruction would be considered an embarrassment for Perez.

We get the requisite backstory for Perez, who grew up in California’s Bay Area and commutes to American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) in San Jose. Turns out his grandfather was a legendary street fighter so fighting may be in his DNA. He got the name “Boogeyman” from a former opponent who confused his name with a local translation and Perez decided to roll with it. Standing 6’5” Perez is certainly an imposing fighter and looks a little jiggly around the middle but appears to have knockout power in both hands. Perez promises to showcase his “Mexican fighting pride” like his longtime heroes, Cain Velasquez and Julio Cesar Chavez. The means to that end is getting past the submission game of MacDonald, who makes it known that he will (try to) take the fight to the floor and hunt for limbs.

Team Nunes hits the TUF gym for practice and Chandler Cole pops his elbow during grappling circuits. He’s sent to the sidelines with a bag of ice but promises he’ll be ship-shape on fight day regardless of his injury — which an MRI later reveals to be a tear of the ulnar collateral ligament. The usual recovery window is four weeks but that’s not gonna fly in the time allotted for Cole to compete. The doctor won’t stop him from fighting but warns the young heavyweight he will enter the cage injured. Coach Nunes promises to work around it.

With that drama out of the way, the cameras can force feed us MacDonald’s feel-good story about coming back to MMA at age 43, which is being pushed so heavily part of me thinks he’s going to lose spectacularly (which is why producers are milking every last drop of his comeback tale). MacDonald was a contestant on TUF 2 way back in 2005, getting bounced by eventual finalist Brad Imes in his first fight. His subsequent UFC career ended with a 1-2 record with both losses coming by way of submission. He quit MMA in 2009 to focus on being a father but felt the fire get reignited when it was announced that TUF 30 would feature heavyweights. MacDonald claims his age is an advantage because he’s not a young, dumb rookie who doesn’t know whether he’s coming or going. We get the teary goodbye with his kids and the soft piano music to remind us this is a sentimental moment. Glad to see TUF never changes.

Let’s see if it was all worth it.

265 lbs.: Eduardo Perez (Team Nunes) vs. Bobby Maximus (Team Pena)

Round 1: Quick touch of gloves and we go to war. Perez weighed 266 for this fight against 237 for Maximus. Maximus sticks the jab and rushes in for the takedown. Perez backpedals but his feet get tangled up and both fighters crash to the floor. Maximus has the much bigger Perez pinned against the fence but does not have the strength or position to keep him there. Perez turns him around then gets turned around himself. Maximus uses his opponent’s weight against him to score a nice trip takedown. This time Perez doesn't have the cage to support his weight. Maximus all over him and Perez scrambles in panic. Maximus briefly takes his back but Perez muscles his way up and spins free. Maximus maintains the bearhug and pushes Perez to and fro looking for the takedown. Knee from Perez. Maximus allows too much separation and Perez lands a huge knee to the breadbasket. Maximus stunned. Perez tags the chin and Maximus instinctively shoots. It’s slow and sloppy and Perez defends. Maximus back to his feet but he’s bloody and wobbly. Perez a picture of composure. More desperation shots from Maximus and he eats a knee for his efforts. Coach Pena screaming instructions. Maximus just kind of throws his body at Perez who in returns sits on him, then spins into top position. Blows start coming fast and furious and the referee warns Maximus to defend. He can’t (or won’t) and the fight is called.

Final result: Perez def. Maximus by technical knockout

After the fight, we get reactions from both sides. UFC President Dana White claims the “young, tough, and durable” Perez fought “as near a perfect fight as you can,” which has me convinced he was playing blackjack on Draft Kings instead of watching the opening frame. Perez shouts to the camera “Viva Mexico” before getting his congratulatory hugs backstage. MacDonald tells Coach Pena he believed he was destined to win the fight after landing those first two takedowns. Sorry Bobby, but you looked 43 in there.

Here’s where we stand heading into Week 5:

TEAM PENA
Heavyweights: Mohammed Usman, Zac Pauga, Jordan Heiderman, Bobby Maximus
Flyweights: Helen Peralta, Juliana Miller, Hannah Guy, Chantel Coates Laura Gallardo

TEAM NUNES
Heavyweights: Eduardo Perez, Chandler Cole, Mitchell Sipe, Nyle Bartling
Flyweights: Claire Guthrie, Brogan Walker, Kaytlin Neil, Kathryn Paprocki

Stay tuned next week as Claire Guthrie (Team Nunes) collides with Juliana Miller (Team Pena) in flyweight action.

See you in seven!


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!


WHO’s Left?

TEAM PENA
Heavyweights: Mohammed Usman, Zac Pauga, Jordan Heiderman, Bobby Maximus
Flyweights: Helen Peralta, Juliana Miller, Hannah Guy, Chantel Coates

TEAM NUNES
Heavyweights: Eduardo Perez, Chandler Cole, Mitchell Sipe, Nyle Bartling
Flyweights: Claire Guthrie, Brogan Walker, Kaytlin Neil, Kathryn Paprocki

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