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 fsrom 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 for the seventh episode.
This fight was such an incredible back and forth battle, with both guys giving it their all through all three potential 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. With both fighters being roommates prior to coming to the TUF house, this was certainly one with a lot of heat on it.
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.
Unfortunately, Miles suffered a knee injury during the fight camp, though he kept his eye on the competition. After an MRI, the doctor revealed that it was a Grade 2 tear in Hunsinger’s MCL, but left the decision about competing up to Miles, with a warning that he could further injure himself if he did compete. After talking it over with his coaches, Miles elected to remove himself from the competition to deal with the injury. An alternate was called in, with Dana White being impressed by Micheal Gillmore (6-3). He was turned down as a competitor for the show, but elected to stay in Las Vegas in case an opportunity showed up, which he had to foot the bill for.
The fight did not last too long, as Urbina scored a quick submission. In the opening seconds, Urbina powered for a takedown and quickly established back control. From there, he rode out position until a choke presented itself, where Urbina finished the bout with a rear naked choke.
Urbina will move onto the semi-finals with this victory, while Gillmore will remain in the TUF house to continue training.
This victory evened the scoreboard for Team Volaknvoski, with an even 4-4 split through the quarter-finals.
The episode rounded out with the deliberation of the semi-finals, with the following bouts announced to go down.
- Ricky Turcios vs. Liudvik Sholinian (BW)
- Brady Hiestand vs. Vincent Murdock (BW)
- Bryan Battle vs. Andre Petroski (MW)
- Gilbert Urbina vs. Tresean Gore (MW)
Following a quick recap of the last bout, the ninth episode, entitled “Clocked”, picked up right from where the last left off with a breakdown of both Gilbert and Micheal’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.
This episode showcases two of the Bantamweight semi-finalists, as Ricky Turcios and Liudvik Sholinian go head to head.
Ricky Turcios (10-2) is one of the most experienced fighters on this season’s roster, spending most of his career in the Fury FC promotion. Ricky has a fast paced style and he definitely uses his conditioning as a weapon. He succeeds well in a brawl or on the mat, where Turcios favors position. Ricky’s advantages come from his unorthodox style and adaptability, able to succeed wherever the fight goes. He advanced to the second round of the tournament by defeating Dan Argueta in a decision.
A veteran of promotions such as Bellator and M-1, Liudvik Sholinian (9-1-1) is a dominant force on the mat. He constantly moves forward with pressure, seeking to drag the fight to the mat. His top control is his signature weapon of note, masterfully controlling position. He defeated Mitch Raposo in his first bout on the show in a close decision.
This episode also featured some more back and forth between the two coaches, as they attempted to prank one another (with limited success). To poke fun at Ortega consistently being late to practice, Volkanovski and his team covered their locker room in clocks. Yeah, compared to past seasons, this really isn’t the A game.
With both fighters successfully making the 135 pound Bantamweight limit, there was nothing left to do but fight.
The first round of the fight saw a relentless starting pace, with both fighters opening up in the striking. Liudvik found success with crisp one-twos, while Turcios kept range with his jab and fired off kicks. As the round wore on, Turcios started to take over, piling up volume with combination striking. Though he shot for a takedown, Liudvik kept his footing and Turcios wore on him in the clinch for a little. After breaking free, Turcios began teeing off on Sholinian, raining a constant swarm of blows that clearly gave him the round.
The second round was more grappling heavy, but just as entertaining. Sholinian shot for a takedown early and succeeded, taking the fight to the mat. He was not able to do much with his position before Turcios regained his footing and they began opening up on the feet. Ricky still seemed to be taking the lead in the striking exchanges, though Liudvik was most certainly finding his shots. They reentered the grappling a few times, with the scrambling of Turcios keeping pace with the high level wrestling of Sholinian, as the pair battled through back and forth positions. The round came to a close with both sliding it out in the pocket, certainly making this a close round on the scorecards, though Ricky seemed to do more damage.
The final round was nothing but a nonstop striking war. The pair kept the volume up from bell to bell, putting everything on the line. Ricky pressed the pace with his cardio and superior striking variety, and he held the higher striking accuracy as well. Both fighters kept taunting each other while throwing ten punch combos with their hands down, making this an absolutely wild bout.
When the judges’ scorecards were read, Ricky received the unanimous decision nod, moving him into the Bantamweight finals. Sholinian has been eliminated from the competition, though he will remain in the TUF house to train.
The next episode will feature the first Middleweight final, with Andre Petroski taking on Bryan Battle.
Categories: The Ultimate Fighter