(Contributor: Nolan Howell)
The Ultimate Fighter: Undefeated returns for what could be its final season with another concept season, featuring a cast of undefeated lightweight and featherweight fighters vying for the title of The Ultimate Fighter under coaches Stipe Miocic, the UFC World Heavyweight Champion, and Daniel Cormier, the UFC World Light Heavyweight Champion. The coaches will face each other for Miocic’s heavyweight title to cap off the end of the season at UFC 226 on July 7.
Cormier and Miocic were greeted warmly by the fighters to open the episode, with Cormier bringing his American Kickboxing Academy coaches as his staff, including former UFC World Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez, while Miocic brought along UFC veterans Chris Camozzi, Dustin Jacoby, and current UFC lightweight James Krause. After evaluations and the coin toss by UFC president Dana White, Cormier won and picked the right to the first fighter. With Miocic getting the first fight pick, the teams shaped up as follows:
- Featherweights: Kyler Phillips (22 years old, 5-0), Suman Mokhtarian (25 years old, 8-0), Jay Cucciniello (31 years old, 8-0), Dulani Perry (31 years old, 4-0)
- Lightweights: Mike Trizano (25 years old, 6-0), John Gunther (32 years old, 6-0), Jose Martinez Jr. (27 years old, 4-0), Allan Zuniga (25 years old, 13-0)
- Featherweights: Tyler Diamond (26 years old, 9-0), Bryce Mitchell (23 years old, 9-0), Brad Katona (25 years old, 6-0), Ricky Steele (29 years old, 5-0)
- Lightweights: Richie Smullen (26 years old, 3-0-1), Luis Pena (24 years old, 4-0), Joe Giannetti (22 years old, 6-0), Thailand Clark (28 years old, 7-0)
Miocic selected his lightweight #4 pick John Gunther to face Cormier’s #5 pick Joe Giannetti. The training sessions differed a bit, as Miocic focused on techniques while Cormier went for full-speed grapping and strength and conditioning, as is the AKA style.
At the house, John Gunther got a personality profile about his job of sheering alpacas from state to state, living out of his van. Gunther fights at Strong Style MMA, home of Miocic, and grew up on a farm. Gunther has one of the more unique lifestyles in recent memory on the show.
Joe Giannetti’s profile is a bit less eccentric, showcasing his pets, though he says he has been homeless a few times and the pets lived with him out of the back of a van. He trains at Strong Style Sportfighting in Norwell, Massachusetts, outside of Boston and lives with his dad and sister.
Cormier offered Miocic an olive branch and requested they deal where the first pick fights the first pick and so on down the ladder jokingly. Suman Mokhtarian chimed in with an offer to fight Tyler Diamond and Diamond was not happy in his aside, with Cormier perhaps inadvertently starting the first rivalry of the season.
Both guys made weight and the fight was wrapped up early. Gunther pressured and shouldered Giannetti into the cage to look for a takedown, but Giannetti slide the right arm under the neck and constricted on the high-elbow guillotine until Gunther fell back unconscious. Giannetti asked Dana White cageside for a finish bonus, while Gunther just laughed off his loss wondering what happened. White said Giannetti got a finish bonus, while Gunther says all he remembers was fighting and then being woken up by lights and people.
Miocic chose his #1 pick, featherweight Kyler Phillips for Cormier’s #6 Brad Katona next week. This season’s video preview seemed to feature one potential problem child and one house fight, as per mandatory TUF storylines seemingly, but nothing extraordinary that we haven’t seen before really.
This feels like a lighter season tonally, with Miocic and Cormier in good spirits and high-fiving each other twice in the first episode alone. If you came for fights, you will likely be getting just that with minimal reality TV drama, for better or worse.
After a less than stellar opening rating, the lowest TUF has ever seen on Fox Sports 1, it seems like they could use that a little of that spice, but it should be an easy DVR watch with your thumb on the fast forward weekly if you’re into that sort of thing.
-Nolan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @nolanundercard.