The Ultimate Fighter returned with a bang with its new season airing on ESPN+. The 29th season has been titled “The Ultimate Fighter Returns” and features contestants from the Men’s Bantamweight (135 lbs) and Middleweight (185 lbs) divisions. Eight fighters from each division compete in a tournament, with the season’s two winners earning a contract and slot in the UFC roster. The season features coaches from the Featherweight division as champion Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega battling it out on the hit reality show before their fight in the cage.
Note: Spoilers Ahead!
The first episode saw the two teams picked, as shown below. From there, the teams settled into the house and began training before the first fight of the season. Per Ortega’s choice, this ended up being a Middleweight contest featuring Aaron Phillips (5-2) and Andre Petroski (5-1). Petroski finished the fight with a mounted guillotine choke in the first round, advancing to the semifinals.
The second episode featured a Bantamweight clash between Mitch Raposo (5-0) and Liudvik Sholinian (9-1-1), from team Volkanovski and Ortega, respectively. Raposo started strong, taking home the first round with his quick pocket boxing and defensive wrestling. The second round saw him struggle with Sholinian’s top control, sending them to the third round to even the draw. Sholinian won out, utilizing his wrestling and top control time for the decision win. This put Team Ortega up 2-0 over the champion’s team.
The next Middleweight bout was teased to headline the third episode, as Alexander Volkanovski matched up Ryder Newman (3-1) against Tresean Gore (3-0). Team Ortega’s Gore won a decision, dominating Ryder with his aggressive kickboxing.
The second Bantamweight fight was announced at the end of that episode, with Dustin Lampros (5-0) of Team Volkanovski and Vincent Murdock (12-4) of Team Ortega. The fourth episode saw those two get after it, with Vince Murdock finding a knockout victory just over halfway into the first round.The episode ended with a verbal back and forth between the coaches, with Volkanovski upset over Ortega’s late appearance. Ortega boiled it down to Volk just being pissed over his team’s four straight defeats, and the action is certainly picking up.
The fifth episode saw two Middleweights meet as Kemran Lachinov and Bryan Battle faced off. The second round saw more of the same, with an even higher pace from Kemran, as he sought to close the distance. He was unsuccessful for the most part, as he basically walked into Battle’s punches. He had little answer for Battle’s kicks either, particularly his leg kicks, and found little relief on the mat. The bout lasted the full two rounds, with Bryan winning on the judges’ scorecards with his striking volume and defensive wrestling.
The next fight in the sixth episode saw Bantamweights clash as the undefeated Dan Argueta fought Ricky Turcios. Wow, did this fight live up to expectations. The first thing of note was Turcios’ reach advantage, though Argueta parried it through his brute strength, which was clear whenever they exchanged on the mat. The fighters went back and forth throughout the first round, with Turcios finding success with his unorthodox, stance switching movement and constant jab. At the end of three rounds, Turcios won the decision with his pace and constant aggression.
This win appears to indicate a resurgence from Team Volkanovski, who have won two straight following a string of dominance in the form of four Ortega wins. The final Bantamweight contest of the quarter finals was announced at the end of the episode, pitting Volkanovski’s Brady Hiestand and Ortega’s Josh Rettinghouse on the docket next.
Following a quick recap of the last bout, the seventh episode, entitled “Friend or Foe”, picked up right from where the last left off with a breakdown of both Dan and Ricky’s emotions after their fight. Following that, we were shown training footage and a personal breakdown of each of the fighters competing in this episode, getting into interviews and videos from back home, learning more about the personalities of both athletes.
Brady Hiestand (5-1) has not fought much experienced competition prior to his entry into TUF. However, he has looked exceptional, scoring four finishes evenly split between knockouts and submissions. Brady is the youngest fighter on this season at just twenty two years old, but has trained since a child. “Bam-Bam” is also a volunteer firefighter and lives at a fire station. He is a heavy grappler, but has technical boxing in his back pocket.
Josh Rettinghouse (16-5) comes in with a well rounded and technical background, skillfully setting traps. He is by far the most experienced fighter in the house. “The Finisher” has twelve stoppages including eight by submission. He is a threat wherever the bout goes, but seems the most comfortable on the mat. With these fighters being roommates prior to the competition, they have previous experience against each other in grappling, where Rettinghouse believes he has the advantage. With that said, Rettinghosue has displayed the superior striking throughout his career, with a constant pressure and solid fundamentals.
The final Bantamweight preliminary fight was officially set to go following both fighters making weight.
The first round opened with a wild firefight on the feet and the mat, and that’s about how the fight went through the entire bout. The fighters engaged in wild back-and-forth grappling exchanges, with a close battle on the feet that I saw Brady’s aggression slightly take the edge on. With that said, Rettinghouse controlled the meat of the round with pocket boxing and swarming takedown entries, while Hiestand closed the round out with some heavy ground and pound from back control. This was certainly a close one on the scorecards, though I thought Brady edged the round with his relentless aggression and powerful striking.
The second round opened with an early blitz from Hiestand, competently parried by Rettinghouse. The. next minute saw Rettinghouse pressuring Brady on the cage, landing powerful uppercuts and hooks. The kicks and body shots Rettinghouse employed seemed to be taking a toll on Brady, whose output and aggression are nowhere to be seen. Hiestand came back, however, with a body lock to back control, forcing a takedown, He rode out top control for a while, before Josh regained his footing and delivered some efficient strikes. After two split rounds on the scorecards, the fight headed to a third round.
The third round followed suit with s violent back and forth on the feet before Hiestand attempted a takedown, only to be denied by Josh. After some more wild striking, including a persistent jab from Brady and sharp fundamental combinations from Josh, signaled Brady to re-enter with his grappling. He was able to settle into back control, and rode out control time from there. Transition to the floor, back to the cage, and finally onto the floor in the full guard of Rettinghouse, Brady maintained top position until the final bell, despite a last chance triangle from JOSH.
This fight was such an incredible back and forth battle, with both guys giving it their all in the third round. It was seriously hard to pick a loser here, with both fighters displaying their heart and versatile skillsets. When the judges’ scorecards were read, Brady Hiestand won by split decision.
Brady will advance on to the semi-finals, while Rettinghouse has been eliminated from the tournament. However, he will remain in the TUF house to train under Ortega for the remainder of the competition.
At the end of the episode, the final preliminary and Middleweight fight was announced. Gilbert Urbina from Team Volanovski will fight Ortega’s Miles HUnsinger in the next episode.
Categories: The Ultimate Fighter