The premise of the 25th season of The Ultimate Fighter is redemption, with fighters from previous seasons returning for another shot. But perhaps it is the show itself that needs redemption, with its rollercoaster ratings and soap opera feel. In some ways, it’s a catch-22: focus too much on the fights and viewers get bored. But focus too much on gritty soap opera-esque drama and fight fans lose interest. Luckily, this season seems to have a mix of both. With sworn enemies Cody Garbrandt and TJ Dillashaw coaching, the drama is sure to follow. But the seasoned fighters seeking another shot are definitely ready to throw down.
The episode began with a dramatic intro and a few minutes profiling various fighters who share a bit of their backstory about where things went south in their last foray on TUF. Then Dana White steps into the gym and offers fighters $10,000 for winning a fight, $5,000 for a finish, and $250,000 for winning the entire show. And there’s a bonus fight, so two guys who lose on the show can fight once again.
Dana White introduces the two coaches, whose drama we saw began to play out on TUF 22. And, all over the media. The coaches evaluate the fighters and choose their teams.
Team Dillashaw: James Krause, Jesse Taylor, Ramsey Nijem, Dhiego Lima, Joe Stevenson, Tom Gallicchio, and Gilbert Smith.
Team Garbrandt: Seth Baczynski, Mehdi Baghdad, Eddie Gordon, Héctor Urbina, Hayder Hassan, Julian Lane, and Justin Edwards.
Garbrandt gets to pick the first fight. So he decides to have his first pick, Baczynski, square off with Dillashaw’s last pick, Gilbert Smith. Dillashaw picks the second fight: his first pick, Krause, versus Héctor Urbina.
Unfortunately, Urbina needs to cut 24 pounds and only manages to lose six. For a guy who’s been fighting since 2006, you’d think he’d have this down. But trying to lose that amount of weight in a short period of time is a little bit ridiculous. He ends up pulling out of the fight and getting sent home. Garbrandt gets to call alternate Johnny Nunez to tell him that he gets to fight Krause, while Dillashaw has the fun task of telling Krause that he cut weight for no reason.
The producers chronicle Smith and Baczynski. This included a heartbreaking clip of Baczynski talking about how his little sister was murdered. They also show some footage of him in his gym and hanging out with his wife and five kids at home and on their farm.
Gilbert Smith is a bit self-conscious about being picked last on his team and first to fight, and insists on telling some of his housemates how big a mistake their team made. When Smith tells his teammates the following day that he’s beaten people better than Baczynski—including some who had beaten him—Baczynski overhears and the drama starts a-brewin’. Smith seems to want to apologize and is far less confrontational, but everything escalates at weigh-ins, somehow leading to Garbrandt grabbing Dillashaw by the throat. Then we get to weigh-ins, where Baczynski is spouting off while Gilbert refuses to even look him in the eye.
When they square off, Baczynski circles and works his jab, while Smith throws a leg kick. He then lands a right hook and another kick, but Baczynski clinches in and pushes Smith against the fence. Smith manages to break away and work in some striking, then shoots for a takedown which Baczynski easily stuffs. There are some back and forth strikes and overall it seems that Smith is landing more shots, but Baczynski has more Octagon control. Eventually Smith gets a takedown and gets Baczynski’s back. He fights for a rear-naked choke while Baczynski works his defense.
In Round 2, Smith works some kicks and gets a takedown. But Baczynski works his way up and eventually gets a guillotine, dropping to his back to try to finish the submission. Smith eventually escapes and lands some short strikes until Baczynski gets back to his feet. That sets him up for another takedown, and Smith works some ground and pound until the fight ends, screaming “hard work” with every punch. Smith wins the fight by unanimous decision.
Naturally, there’s some more drama between Garbrandt and Dillashaw until the next fight is called: Eddie Gordon versus Tom Gallicchio.
What did you think of the first episode of TUF 25? Which fighter do you believe will win it all at the end? Sound off below!