The Ultimate Fighter: Season 30 (TUF) returned this week with the second and final heavyweight semifinal fight of the season to determine who will fight former NFL prospect Zac Pauga in the finale. Team Pena’s Mohammed Usman and Team Nunes’ Eduardo Perez will battle it out at the end of the episode, each fighter the prohibitive favorite on each of their respective teams.
Last week saw Team Nunes’ Brogan Walker scratch out a unanimous decision victory over Team Pena’s Laura Gallardo to advance to the women’s flyweight finals. Will lightning strike twice for Team Nunes, or will steamroll his way into matchup with teammate Pauga?
TUF 30 Episode 11 Recap
This week’s episode begins in the TUF House with all of the fighters making conversation while enjoying one of their last nights in the house. All of a sudden, in walks Head Coach Julianna Pena along with UFC Welterweight Champion Kamaru Usman, brother of Mohammed. Pena said she ran into the older (and smaller) Usman at a UFC Apex event that night and asked him to come by and impart some words of wisdom on her fighter, Mohammed.
“Not everybody gets a chance to have visitors in The Ultimate Fighter House, but not everybody is brothers with the UFC champion,” Pena said.
Mohammed mentions how surreal it is to his brother standing in the TUF House after watching him live this experience on Season 21: American Top Team vs. Blackzilians. Kamaru ran roughshod on the competition, going on to finish ATT’s Hayder Hassan with an arm triangle at the finale. Mohammed said being around his brother as a professional fighter has meant everything to him and he is so much stronger because of it. Kamaru called his experience on the show “a social experiment that can mess with your mind.” He adds that keeping a level head got him through his experience, and that while the competition seems 90 percent physical, that percentage flips with the mental side of things once the cage door closes. He preaches fighters staying mentally sound and keeping their composure as the key to success in the tournament. Mohammed then partakes in a candid conversation with his brother, opening to his younger brother about his insecurities in training versus performing in the cage, while Kamaru responds with memorable clichés such as “this is my show” and “you’ve got the rust off now.” Mohammed said he is “blessed to be an Usman” and he is out to make his family proud, while Kamaru believes his brother to be the headspace necessary to winning the tournament.
Should Usman be victorious in his next two fights, he and Kamaru will become the first tandem of siblings to win seasons of The Ultimate Fighter.
Back in the gym, Head Coach Amanda Nunes discusses her immense belief in Perez, thinking he has what it takes to not only become the next Ultimate Fighter himself, but become a UFC champion. Perez’ teammate Mitchell Sipe downplays Usman’s strength, implying that Perez can muscle him around. Sipe also suggested Perez mix in plenty of leg kicks, noting that Usman didn’t check any of the kicks he threw in their fight. Judging by the b-roll, Perez does appear to be one of the best athletes in the house along with Usman and Pauga, who are all coincidentally the only three male fighters still eligible to win the tournament. Perez praised his coach for her belief in him, adding that he believes he can beat Usman in any aspect of the fight.
Perez goes on to mention how when he fought Bobby Maximus in his quarterfinal fight he “didn’t even show a tenth” of what he could do due to having not fought for seven months. He adds that this is not an excuse, though this monologue ironically gives vibes of the welterweight Usman’s infamous “30 percent” promo after beating Emil Weber Meek at UFC Fight Night: Stephens vs. Choi. Nevertheless, Perez is excited to get to show what other tools he has in his tool box.
The action shifts back to the house where Usman is discussing the matchup with Perez alongside his teammates. The consensus seems to be that Perez is not going to make an effort to take the fight to the ground and Usman will be able to easily find his range from the pocket and land bombs. Usman also pointed out Perez’ lack of cage time as a reason he will have the advantage. Both fighters seem to be brimming with confidence, so the fight will likely come down to whoever is able to overlook their opponent the least. Usman closes by saying he wants to be part of the reason Team Nunes gets shut out of the men’s finale.
Usman then gets an opportunity to Zoom with his parents, catching them up on where he stands on the show. Speaking with his mother and father made Usman emotional, serving as a reminder for everything he and his family had to go through to reach this stage in their lives. Usman’s parents remind him to be strong as well as why he is there: to win.
As for the fight camp, Head Coach Pena seems to be focused on drilling what they perceive to be Perez’ weaknesses shown in the Maximus fight. However, Usman himself admitted earlier the sheer lack of cage time Perez has shown, while Perez claimed to not even be close to 100 percent, so it will be interesting to see if such a focused fight camp will end up backfiring. The game plan will be for Usman to impose his athleticism on Perez to get inside and land. Usman referred to Perez as just another giant he will have to slay, and that he is going to make his opponent feel his pressure until he’s able to secure the finish.
The next scene sees both fighters arriving to the gym for the official weigh-ins. Perez is first to weigh in, tipping the scales at 265 pounds. Usman ends up weighing in at a slightly leaner 238 pounds, but doesn’t appear to be too undersized at faceoffs. Pauga made a comment that Maximus laid out the grappling-based blueprint to beat Perez but that Usman told him he doesn’t intend on wrestling much. He called the fight “a pick ’em” at that point, citing Perez’ length and athleticism posing potential problems for his teammate. He adds that in the event he does face Perez in the finale, he intends for wrestling to be a focal point of his game plan.
This week’s flashback takes the viewer back to Season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter which saw not only the debut of Kimbo Slice in the UFC, but the rise of Roy Nelson into something of a mini-breakout star for the promotion. However, the narrator neglected to mention the most memorable fight of the season: Quinton Jackson vs. a wooden door.
Back in the house, it is Perez’ turn to speak with his family, communicating with them in Spanish. He refers to his family as his greatest support system before catching his loved ones up on the goings on in the house as is customary for these types of calls. He mentions how him being away must be hard on his family and that he is glad to be reaching the end of his journey. Perez’ family tells “Lalo” they believe in him and to keep doing what he is doing.
With fight time nearing, both fighters board the shuttle to the Apex. Usman references the quantity and quality of loss he has had to deal with on his journey to The Ultimate Fighter, and that now is finally his time to seize the moment. Perez uses the time to reflect on his relationship with his late grandfather who he refers to as something of a fighter himself. In fact, Perez showed a tattoo on his arm commemorating his grandfather so he could be in the cage with him every fight. Pretty cool stuff. Perez credits his opponent for making it to the semifinals with him but that he does not believe Usman to be on his level, at least not yet. Usman, on the other hand seems to be carrying a good deal of emotion with him into the fight, but that’s nothing new.
With both fighters in the cage, it’s time to get a look at the Tale of the Tape. Though Usman didn’t appear to be lacking quite as much size as the scale indicated, he will cede four inches of height to Perez along with four inches of reach, 27 pounds and a five-year age difference. Fans of the sport will know it is not too often the Tale of the Tape looks so one-sided, at least at this level of MMA.
Mark Smith is the referee. The size difference is certainly apparent in the cage, so perhaps Perez just has terrible posture, likes to slouch or has some combination of the two. The first minute of the fight seems to have Usman out to a slight lead in the round, able to land sporadically from close range, but Perez then fires off a nice calf kick that catches the attention of UFC President Dana White at cage side. Usman’s coaches told him in the build-up to try to limit his flurries to five per round in order to preserve energy in case the fight goes a full three rounds, but just as it seems he is about to let one rip, he seemingly attempts a level change but eats a knee from Perez on his way to backing the larger man up against the cage. Usman is then able to connect on a nice overhand right coming out of the clinch. Just as it seems Perez is able to find his range with the jab, Usman is able to work his way into range and land parts of combinations on him. Two minutes in, Pauga seems to be correct about this fight looking like a pick ’em.
Perez then lands a leg kick that grabs the attention of Usman, causing the smaller man to fire off a leg kick of his own that seemed to be more reactionary than deliberate. Usman is then able to muscle his way inside and land crisp shots to the head and body of Perez. Thus far, both fighters have had their best moments when advancing, so it should just be a matter of time before someone lands something extremely impactful. Still, it is a tricky round to score, because while Perez’ leg kicks look outstanding, Usman is still having success backing him up against the fence to land power shots. At that moment, Perez lands a nice check left hook that gets an immediate answer in the form of a straight from Usman, followed by another one of his brute-force combinations. Usman is able to land big again with 30 seconds left in the round with Perez having left his chin in the air following a brief scramble. Usman nearly misses with an overhand right, but is able to come with a nice straight with the other hand. He seemed to have his best success at the end of the round and seems to have the better hand speed of the two.
With the bell signaling an end to the first round, it is probably an Usman frame, though Perez’ leg kicks could certainly pay dividends the deeper the fight goes. Perez’ corner likes what they are seeing from his jab, but encourages to keep moving so he’s not such a stationary target. White also commented he believes Perez’ punching volume has begun to slow.
The first 30 second of the round appear to be Usman’s, answering anything Perez can muster with more force behind it, and with Perez currently on the back foot, the fight is currently in Usman’s world. Perez is able to land a nice crisp jab, however, causing Usman to take a step back to the center of the octagon. Usman is able to advance once again, however, this time over extending on an overhand right and falling perfectly into position for a single-leg takedown. As he scoops Perez in the air, referee Smith warns Perez to let go of the fence, and Usman is able to land some considerable volume on the larger opponent in the scramble. Perez appears to have an awesome chin, however, as he probably ate the cleanest right hand of the fight during the aforementioned exchange. Perez misses on a lazy left hand, allowing Usman to rip the body. However, Perez is able to start walking his opponent down again, bust just as he does, Usman unleashes a wild overhand right to get his opponent’s attention and get him moving back again. Nunes calls for a 1-2 from the corner, to which Perez obliges, landing flush on the face of Usman. Still, it is Usman who is able to land 90 percent of the power shots, at least through the first three and a half minutes of the round.
In a vacuum, Usman appears to be the fighter better leading the dance, as opposed to the other way around. His right hand is garnering a ton of respect from Perez, and now the Team Nunes member is beginning to bite heavily on the feint, sending him moving backwards every single time. With 15 seconds to go in the round, Usman is able to land a big leg kick of his own that gets a rise out of Perez, and it ends up being business as usual until the end of the round. Once again, fight fans were treated to another close round, but this seems like more of a clearer 10-9 for Usman, who may even out-landed Perez over the course of the round. The corner advice from both teams will speak volumes.
Pena’s corner encourages Usman to keep pushing and keep moving, while Nunes and her corner inform Perez the right uppercut is there for the taking, as Usman is repeatedly leaving his head on the line to be hit.
The third round begins with a slightly slower pace than the previous two, and for good reason. Usman comes out with a roaring overhand right that appears to land, but Perez taps his left should to imply he may not have gotten much of it. Usman lands a body shot to the left side before clipping Perez with a hook that once again catches his attention. The sheer physicality of Usman seems to be winning him this fight, as Perez seems to be the more technical fighter, at least on the feet. Additionally, Usman seems to be the fresher athlete of the two, now throwing roughly two strikes for every Perez strikes. Perez eventually tries the right uppercut on Usman, but misses wildly nearly two minutes into the final round.
While Usman does appear to be the fresher fighter, both seem to be breathing with their mouth open. Usman then rips the hardest body shot of the fight on Perez, to which Perez answered with a stinging jab, though he might need to throw more than one-punch combinations to get his hand raised at this point. Both fighters go tit-for-tat over the next two minutes or so before Perez lands a big left knee that Usman ducks into and is able to get off a clean left hand to the head before Usman is able to regain his range. The knee looked like it hurt, but Usman presses on, landing a right hook to the body that threatens a little south of the equator, prompting a warning from referee Smith to “keep the punches up.” With just under one minute to go, Usman lands a nice overhand right that draws a reaction out of White and Forrest Griffin from cage side. Perez is still throwing, but Usman continues to answer with the much harder shots, and with 10 seconds to go Usman is continuing to slip Perez’ punches while Perez’ footwork fell off a cliff in the second round.
It doesn’t take long for the judges to render their scorecards, declaring Usman the winner by way of split decision.
Mohammed Usman defeats Eduardo Perez via Split Decision
White makes a comment implying he did not agree with the split decision, a somewhat fair assessment coming from the man who just last week questioned why Walker wasn’t receiving credit for takedowns defended against Gallardo.
As it turns out, Pena’s gameplan worked perfectly, as Perez found himself on the back foot the entire time and was never quite able to find his rhythm. Nunes questioned why her fighter couldn’t let his hands go, and while fatigue may have played a factor, it is also true Perez had a tough time putting any combinations together. For as good as Perez’ leg kicks looked, they didn’t seem to inhibit Usman’s movement in any way, as his footwork, power and volume, in that order carried him to victory. Additionally, it turns out White believed Perez should have gotten the decision and that late flurries from Usman may swayed the judges, but the fact is Usman landed eight or nine of the 10 hardest strikes of the fight, which carries a ton of weight in the current scoring criteria.
Nunes said split decision can happen when fighters leave the fight to the judges, and Usman told Perez after the decision he would “see him at the top,” which will be sure to get a rise out of UFC lightweight Michael Chandler. Usman told the cameras he was blessed toe share the Octagon with Perez, while Perez mentioned how he hopes to secure a rematch with Usman one day. Expect to see both fighters in the UFC, regardless of outcome in the finale. Though he is not his brother from a skillset standpoint, Usman possesses three traits that can make him a winning UFC heavyweight: power, pace, and toughness. Perez on the other hand may not have given the best account of himself, but carries with him all the intangibles and combines them with sound technical ability on the feet. Physically, he compares very similarly to an in-prime Antonio Silva, and like Silva also carries top-15 upside with him.
Next week, both teams will celebrate the end of the competition with a night out on the Las Vegas Strip before Team Pena’s Juliana Miller fights Team Nunes’ Kaitlyn Neal for the last spot in the women’s flyweight finale.