The Ultimate Fighter began its 25th season tonight, with 14 veterans making up the cast. Every single welterweight this season has gone through the TUF system before, with varying results. Whether it’s TUF 22 first-rounder Tom Gallicchio or TUF 2 winner Joe Stevenson, every athlete is out for redemption – and a $250,000 grand prize. With UFC Bantamweight Champion Cody Garbrandt coaching opposite former champ and teammate TJ Dillashaw, sparks are guaranteed to fly outside the cage as well as inside. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the season premiere.
The Big Three Moments
1) The teams are picked – After being put through a workout, Coaches Garbrandt and Dillashaw selected their squadrons. Each team has seven fighters, with two losing fighters to be brought back for a wildcard bout to ensure even numbers going into the semi-finals. Team Killashaw took first pick of fighters, ending up with James Krause, Jesse Taylor, Ramsey Nijem, Dhiego Lima, Joe Stevenson, Tom Gallicchio, and Gilbert Smith. Team No Love ended up with Seth Baczynski, Mehdi Baghdad, Eddie Gordon, Hector Urbina, Hayder Hassan, Julian Lane, and Justin Edwards. Cody “No Love” then used his first fight pick to match Team Killashaw’s last pick, Gilbert Smith, with his first choice, Seth Baczynski. Dillashaw was given the book for the second fight, pairing James Krause with Hector Urbina.
2) Once a Middleweight… – While it was originally scheduled to be Hector Urbina taking on James Krause as the second fight of this 25th season. There was a slight problem though, as Urbina came into the competition weight north of 190 lbs. Coach TJ Dillashaw knew this, and wisely chose to pair his top seed against the TUF 19 vet in anticipation of a brutal weight cut. Dillashaw was proven more than right, though, as Urbina chose to pull out of the fight the day before weigh-ins. Why? After working the previous day with Team No Love assistant coach Danny Castillo, Hector only made it to 188 lbs. That’s right, he wouldn’t have even made middleweight. Dana White called a meeting with the fighters at the TUF gym, and showed Urbina the door. After a discussion between White and the coaches, Team No Love brought in Johnny Nunez to round their team back out.
3) No Love, No Self-Control – While The Ultimate Fighter has always shown a pro-challenger bias in its editing, Cody Garbrandt appears to be making that irrelevant. When interacting with Team Killashaw, “No Love” immediately jumps to schoolyard insults. Even worse, Garbrandt physically assaulted TJ Dillashaw – “I latched on him like an eagle!” he bragged afterwards – prior to the weigh-ins for the Smith/Bacyznski fight after the two competitors had sparred verbally. Long story short, Garbrandt is showing about as much self-control as drunken Jesse Taylor. This does not bode well for his reputation or for the well-being of his team moving forward.
The TUF 25 Stock Report
Stock Up – Danny Castillo. Team No Love assistant coach Danny Castillo showed early on that he will be a positive influence on his fighters. When he saw that Hector Urbina was struggling with his weight cut, he quickly stepped in to help the heavy fighter drop as much mass as he could. While the effort this time was for naught, Castillo’s presence will hopefully balance out the chaos of head coach Garbrandt.
Stock Up – Ramsey Nijem. It takes Mark Hunt-sized balls to negotiate with Dana White in front of cameras, but that is exactly what Ramsey Nijem did during the opening of the show. After White announced that fighters will be making $10,000 per bout on the show, Nijem then stepped up to wheel and deal a finishing bonus for the contestants. While he had initially pitched an additional $10K be paid out per finish, “Uncle” Dana split the difference and instituted a $5000 finishing bonus.
Stock Down – Hector Urbina. While the fighters on TUF 25 were given limited notice, that doesn’t excuse Hector Urbina for coming in way too heavy. The moment he received the call, he should have begun weight management. Not an out-right cut, mind you, but at least the process of reducing his weight to allow for a safe weight cut should he have to fight first. Barring that, he should have immediately gone to his coaches and asked for help in cutting the weight. It shouldn’t have been incumbent upon Danny Castillo to take control the day before weigh-ins. Thanks to his poor choices, Urbina has been bounced from the Ultimate Fighter a second time.
Stock Down – Cody Garbrandt. A head coach should be a stable presence for his team. Within the first week of competition, “No Love” has not shown the ability to provide that. Whether its the schoolyard insults like “fake” and “dork,” the childish attempts at intimidation, or physically assaulting TJ Dillashaw, nothing Garbrandt has done shows he can be there for his team.
Team Killashaw’s Gilbert Smith took on Team No Love’s Seth Baczynski in the opening fight of the Season 25 tournament. A lot of emphasis was placed on Baczynski’s reach by his head coach, despite the fact the 6’3″ fighter only having an extra 1/2″ of reach on the 5’9″ Smith. Both fighters were relatively equal on the feet, with Smith showing a bit more power. Starting halfway through the first round however, Gilbert’s superior grappling gave him a massive edge over “The Polish Pistola.” Smith took Baczynski’s back in the first, attempting several rear naked chokes en route to securing the round. In the second stanza, Smith continued taking the taller fighter down with ease, with a half-guard guillotine choke attempt providing the only threat from the Team No Love member.
Coach TJ Dillashaw’s wrestling-heavy team building paid off early, as Gilbert Smith took home the unanimous decision victory. Coach Garbrandt was given the matchmaker’s hat post-fight, where he paired 3rd rounder Eddie Gordon against Team Killashaw’s Tom Gallicchio. Barring injuries or craziness, that fight will take place on next week’s episode.
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