Contributor: Nolan Howell
After the last two episodes, Team Cormier is up 2-0 on Team Miocic, with Joe Giannetti choking out John Gunther with a guillotine choke in the first round during episode one’s lightweight fight and Brad Katona winning a majority decision over Miocic’s number one pick Kyler Phillips in the featherweight match for episode two.
This week, lightweights face off in the featured fight as Cormier selected fourth pick Luis Pena to take on Miocic’s fifth pick Jose Martinez Jr. The episode opened with Martinez’s fight prep, who says that he and Pena are friends and they are focusing on a pressure gameplan. Martinez gets into it with Dulani Perry in the van, who calls Martinez a broke boy and plays it up for the camera, while Perry says in an aside that Martinez is jealous. Jay Cucciniello plays peacemaker at the house and brings the two together for a handshake and Perry says he just plays around, squashing anything between the two.
Luis Pena talks about his resemblance to Bob Ross and we get a look at his life in Jefferson, Missouri, where Pena asks us to imagine the interactions he has in the conservative town as a “6’3″ Black man with a red afro.” Pena lives on an animal sanctuary with his burlesque dancer girlfriend, Tanis, who he says is one of the few people who understands a career in MMA. Pena trains at St. Charles MMA, where he once lived while training.
Jose Martinez talks about missing his daughter at the house and we go to Toledo, Ohio, where Martinez goes to pick her up from school. They train at the same gym and Martinez says he wants to give her a better future. Martinez talks about losing his father to a heart condition while watching Hulk Hogan vs. The Ultimate Warrior, but he trains along with his brother after picking up boxing from his dad.
Pena practices kickboxing with Cormier and gets frustrated working the moves, which Cormier objects to and Pena complains about his wrist getting turned down on a punch because of his gear. Cormier says it is wasted energy if he can’t change the situation and tells Pena to wear his gloves. This is an interesting look into the American Kickboxing Academy training style, which is somewhat injury-prone historically, but Pena works through practicing angling.
Pena is a little testy during his weight cut the morning of weigh-ins, getting into it with Team Miocic’s Suman Mokhtarian, who acts as sort of the house rooster in the kitchen with loud good mornings all around, but they shake hands after Pena attributes it to the weight cut. Both fighters make weight and we get the fight warm-ups leading up to the fight.
The pressure plan of Martinez is apparent early as Pena keeps his head straight up striking. Pena has a great technical advantage overall when Martinez isn’t throwing and settles at range. Martinez keeps looking to look for takedowns against the cage, but Pena uses his height to land sweeps and circle back to the middle. Martinez starts losing accuracy on his blitzes as the round progresses and gets dropped momentarily by a slapping lead hook. A straight left wobbles Martinez to end the round dominated by Pena’s kickboxing. Undercard scores the first round 10-9 Pena.
Cormier tells Pena to work the left kick to the body, while Martinez needs a bit more of a motivational speech from Miocic. Pena lands a front kick to the chin on Martinez in the first minute of the second round and it looks like Martinez doesn’t have anything to offer as Pena continues to pepper him at range. The rest of the round looks the same as Martinez lands one lunging punch for every three or four Pena chains together in a combo as Martinez approaches. Undercard scores the second round 10-9 Pena.
Luis Pena wins the fight by unanimous decision (20-18 on all three cards).
Pena demonstrated some pretty decent offensive striking and defensive standing grappling. “Violent Bob Ross” looks like one of the best strikers in the competition by that virtue, but his lack of head movement and not exceptionally quick feet in his footwork may get him into some trouble down the road. An impressive performance for what TUF is at this stage though.
Cormier selects a featherweight between his second pick Bryce Mitchell against Miocic’s sixth, Jay Cucciniello.
With that, the team rosters currently look like this going into episode four next week:
Featherweights: Kyler Phillips (ELIMINATED), Suman Mokhtarian, Jay Cucciniello, Dulani Perry
Lightweights: Mike Trizano, John Gunther (ELIMINATED), Jose Martinez Jr. (ELIMINATED), Allan Zuniga
Featherweights: Tyler Diamond, Bryce Mitchell, Brad Katona (ADVANCED), Ricky Steele
Lightweights: Richie Smullen, Luis Pena (ADVANCED), Joe Giannetti (ADVANCED), Thailand Clark
–Nolan can be reached at email@example.com or @nolanundercard.