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)
The first fight to go down was Turcios vs Sholinian, and the bout 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 first round opened with heavy offense from both fighters. Bryan was finding success on the feet with his range, picking Andre apart with his straights and deep kicks. Andre secured some ground control, but was unable to find much success with it. Almost two minutes into the fight, and the fighters started talking in the cage, so much that the referee broke them up. Andre was complaining over a headbutt from Bryan that caused a cut over his eye. Asking the referee to check the tapes for the illegal blow, it was shown that the shot was actually a knee to the head of Andre. With both fighters hurling insults at one another, the fight got restarted. After a small back and forth of the feet, Petroski started going heavy for the takedowns. He secured one, and gained back control. He rode out dominant position for the remainder of the round, ending in the mount position.
The second round began on the feet, as always, and Bryan’s advantage was once again clear. He was eating up the leg of Andre with kicks, and keeping his hands active as well. About two minutes in, Andre shot for a takedown and secured it, though Battle was on the verge of escaping. He quickly captured guard and leapt on a guillotine choke submission to force the tap.
Following a quick recap of the last bout, the eleventh episode, entitled “Snake Bitten”, picked up right from where the last left off with a breakdown of both Bryan and Andre’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.
Vince Murdock (12-4) is a veteran of the Contender Series and clearly held a massive edge in experience. His striking technique is much higher than Lampros, so the gameplay for Team Ortega is to keep the fight on the feet and pick Lampros apart. He almost had his career end in 2019 with a brain disease called Moyamoya, which delayed his entry to the UFC. His first fight on this season was a first round knockout over the undefeated Dustin Lampros.
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. His TUF win came over his roommate Josh Rettinghouse, where he won out a close decision in an absolute war.
This episode opened with a prank from the Ortega team, as they brought in a bunch of MASSIVE snakes and draped them across their competitors. As someone with a healthy fear of snakes, I’d say Ortega definitely won out in this season’s prank war after Volk’s lackadaisical performance with the clocks.
After both fighters successfully made the 135 pound Bantamweight limit, there was nothing left to do but fight.
The first round opened with Brady almost immediately pursuing the takedown. Though Vince put up a good defense at first and landed some clean shots, Hiestand was able to drag the fight to the mat and secure top control. He quickly transitioned, denying any of Murdock’s escape attempts, riding top position while unleashing hellacious ground and pound. The ref stopped the fight at 3:19 of the first round due to ground and pound from Hiestand, who completely dominated the fight.
Brady will move on to face Ricky Turcios in the Bantamweight final on August 28th, while Vincent has been eliminated from the competition.
The next episode will feature the final Middleweight semi-final, with Gilbert Urbina taking on Tresean Gore.