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Forrest Griffin addresses flyweight and heavyweight contestants ahead of team picks on the 30th season of The Ultimate Fighter. (Richie Banks/Pilgrim Media Group)
The Ultimate Fighter

Episode 1 Recap | The Ultimate Fighter: Team Peña vs Team Nunes

Recap The First Episode Of The 30th Season Of The Ultimate Fighter Where Team Peña vs Team Nunes Fight To Determine The Next Stars Of The UFC Flyweight And Heavyweight Divisions

Las Vegas is bustling once again as Season 30 of The Ultimate Fighter gets underway at the contestant hotel, with Juliana Miller speaking with her grandmother and mother via FaceTime, outlining her plan to advance to the finals and explaining that her grandmother’s health is in decline.

Next we’re introduced to Bobby Maximus, a 43-year-old Canadian who was on Season 2 of the Ultimate Fighter when he went by his given name, Rob MacDonald. He’ll be the oldest competitor ever on a season of The Ultimate Fighter, and believes his previous experience on the reality TV competition gives him an advantage over the other competitors.

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Nyle Bartling makes his final call to his loved ones before the producers confiscate his phone and personal effects, with former Dana White’s Contender Series competitor Kathryn Paprocki following suit right after her heavyweight housemate.

At the Coaches’ House, UFC bantamweight champion Julianna Peña goes over selection strategy with her team of assistant coaches, identifying Bartling as an early target, and Pena advocating for Kaytlin Neil before explaining how things will break down between the two teams. Zac Pauga draws some attention because of his experience, with Pena explaining that shiny records are not what she’s looking at most, given that her own record wasn’t outstanding when she competed on Season 18 and claimed victory.

Over at the Team Nunes house, former bantamweight champ and current featherweight titleholder Amanda Nunes outlines who she’s identified as the people she would like on her team and how she arrived at her conclusions. Her focus with the heavyweights was seeking out fighters with big power, touching on Mohammed Usman, the brother of reigning welterweight kingpin Kamaru Usman.

Cut to Usman checking in with his brother, who successfully navigated Season 21 of The Ultimate Fighter to gain entry into the UFC and hasn’t stopped winning since. The younger Usman explains that his brother’s success is not his success, and that he’s out to prove that he deserves to compete on the biggest stage in the sport on his own merits.

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The two coaches continue to look over the hopefuls, giving their thoughts on Helen Peralta, laying out the ideal version of how their respective teams would come together, and getting ready to get the competition underway.

The coaches and contestants assemble at the UFC APEX, and UFC President Dana White outlines his excitement and expectations for this season, and how Pena and Nunes have a ton of history together and do not like each other.

Flyweight and heavyweight contestants for the 30th season of The Ultimate Fighter are chosen to teams. (Photo by Richie Banks/Pilgrim Media Group)

Flyweight and heavyweight contestants for the 30th season of The Ultimate Fighter are chosen to teams. (Photo by Richie Banks/Pilgrim Media Group)

“There is definitely bad blood between these two,” White says in a solo commentary interview. “Amanda wants her belt back, and they’re gonna face off as soon as this season ends, in one of the most anticipated fights of the year.”

“I got the call to do The Ultimate Fighter,” begins Nunes, in her own solo sit-down. “This is the first step to beating Julianna and getting my belt back.”

“For me to coach against Amanda, it’s great; I like that we’re going to be able to build up for the rematch this summer,” offers Pena in her own solo interview. “However, I’m just focused on my fighters and getting their hand raised, and that’s all I really, truly care about.”

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White explains that to celebrate the 30th season of the show, he decided to have Season 1 winner Forrest Griffin be a part of the season.

Griffin takes on White’s customary role at the outset of the competition, explaining the mechanics of how things will work — winners fight at the live finale, winners there will earn UFC contracts — and explains his path to joining the cast for the historic inaugural season of the show 18 years ago. He encourages the competitors to make the most of the experience, and now it’s time to pick teams.

Team Nunes gets the first pick, and selects Claire Guthrie, who acknowledges in a confessional interview that being the first pick certainly puts a target on her back.

Pena selects Helen Peralta, and we’re off to the races, with the two coaches alternating picks and divisions. Nunes selects Eduardo Perez as the first heavyweight off the board, while Pena follows by selecting Usman.

UFC bantamweight champion Julianna Peña discusses picks with her coaching staff during the 30th season of The Ultimate Fighter. (Photo by Richie Banks/Pilgrim Media Group)

UFC bantamweight champion Julianna Peña discusses picks with her coaching staff during the 30th season of The Ultimate Fighter. (Photo by Richie Banks/Pilgrim Media Group)

Chantal Coates ends up as the final flyweight selection, admitting in her confessional interview that it pissed her off, and promises to prove them both wrong. “Nunes for not picking me, and Julianna for picking me last,” she says, adding, “It’s giving me motivation to work harder.”

Nyle Bartling is the last heavyweight selection by Team Nunes, leaving Bobby Maximus as the final fighter selected for Season 30.

“I knew there was a chance that I would because of my age, honestly,” says Maximus in a confessional interview, “but to tell you the truth, I really didn’t give a s**t. I just thought about one thing and one thing only — just about the opportunity to prove a bunch of people wrong.”

With the selections made, the teams line up like this:

Team Peña

Heavyweights: Mohammed Usman, Zac Pauga, Jordan Heiderman, Bobby Maximus
Flyweights: Helen Peralta, Juliana Miller, Hannah Guy, Chantel Coates

Team Nunes

Heavyweights: Eduardo Perez, Chandler Cole, Mitchell Sipe, Nyle Bartling
Flyweights: Claire Guthrie, Brogan Walker, Kaytlin Neil, Kathryn Paprocki

Griffin explains that the fighters are off to the house, telling them that it really comes down to what room they get, drawing a laugh from the assembled teams. The following day is the first day of training and the first fight will be selected as well.

Welcome to Season 30 of The Ultimate Fighter.

The vans pull up to the house and the fighters all file in, some hustling more than others to check out their new surroundings and select their room for the next several weeks.

After everyone selects their rooms and figures out where they’re staying, Peralta starts exploring the bar setup, while a couple of the heavyweights start making food.

Kaytlin Neil explains in a confessional interview that if a fight breaks out in the house, “I think it will be between a flyweight and a heavyweight because of what the heavyweights choose to eat in front of the flyweights.”

Usman explains that he’s living in Denver while dining with his teammates, while Mitchell Sipe tells Miller that he’s Kamaru’s brother and they were previously supposed to fight.

“Me and Muhammed were supposed to fight about three years ago,” Sipe says, kicking off a confessional interview. “He pulled out and then three weeks after he pulled out, he fought some bum. He knows he’s not ready for this because he’s always trying to fight bums.

“I don’t get it,” he continues. “I’m down to fight anybody.”

Miller explains to Sipe that she previously fought Guthrie, Nunes’ first overall selection, calling her decision loss “bull****” and suggesting that if they were to cross paths again, “It would be an absolute war.”

Back at the UFC APEX for the first day of training, and Team Pena is first on the mats.

Pena explains that she wasn’t expecting to have polar opposites in terms of team composition — heavyweight men and flyweight women — and lets her team know they’re going to separate practices, with the coaches switching between the two groups for each session.

Coates sings the praises of the bantamweight champ following their first training session, appreciating Pena working with her one-on-one before the TUF 18 victor explained that she’s ultra-competitive and invested in her team members winning, in part, because it’s a reflection on her.

Team Nunes enters the building for the first session, with Nunes saying hello to Pena has she exits, ribbing her to “finish on time next time.”

Nunes puts the whole team through its first training session, doing the warm ups alongside her charges, before they shifted into drilling techniques, with Nunes and the coaches looking on attentively.

Now it’s time to select the first matchup of the season. Since Nunes won the first selection, Pena gets to make the first fight, and she selects Zac Pauga to face Nyle Bartling, pitting her second heavyweight selection against Nunes’ final pick in the big boy division.

Get To Know Heavyweight Zac Pauga | The Ultimate Fighter: Team Peña vs Team Nunes
Get To Know Heavyweight Zac Pauga | The Ultimate Fighter: Team Peña vs Team Nunes

“I’m really looking forward to the matchup,” Bartling says in his confessional interview. “I know that he’s never been beat, he’s a grinder, and he’ll be a really good test. What a better way to start out than to come out and fighting a guy that is undefeated, never had a loss. I’m really gunning for a win.”

Pauga says he knows Bartling is going to bring it based on the two facing off, and with that, the competition is officially underway.

Back at the house four days before the fight, Bartling and Pauga learn a little more about each other, with Pauga explaining that he was a police officer, advancing to being a senior criminal investigator for the Denver District Attorney’s Office. He left the job five months ago to train full time, explaining that his last fight was against a guy that just left the UFC —Markus “Maluko” Perez — and it made him realize he needed to be doing full training camps.

Footage rolls on Pauga’s introductory video at home in Denver, where he rolls on the floor with his two young kids — his four-year-old daughter Moana, and his two-year-old son Jango — before introducing his wife and chief supporter, Jess.

Pauga explains his path to fighting, which started on the football field. He was signed by the Houston Texans, but failed to stick, leading to a move to professional rugby. From there, he went into law enforcement and walked away from athletics. He signed up for jiu jitsu and Muay Thai at the gym closest to his house, which happened to be where Elevation Fight Team trains.

The coaches asked him to come in and spar with Curtis Blaydes and Alistair Overeem, and the rest is history. He’s fought 10 times — five as an amateur, five as a pro — and has yet to suffer a defeat, most recently beating Perez at Cage Warriors 130 in San Diego last October. Normally, he competes at light heavyweight, so he feels ultra-comfortable moving up to compete at heavyweight.

“Go do what you were born to do, and I will take care of everything here,” his wife tells him as she drives him to the airport.

“It’s easy for celebrities to say, ‘Chase your dream,’ but people don’t talk about how hard it is; about the hard work, the time away from your family,” says Pauga. “I want this more than anything. I think I am The Ultimate Fighter.”

Get To Know Heavyweight Nyle Bartling | The Ultimate Fighter: Team Peña vs Team Nunes
Get To Know Heavyweight Nyle Bartling | The Ultimate Fighter: Team Peña vs Team Nunes

Bartling goes through his fight prep at the UFC APEX with Nunes, who thinks it’s a very good matchup because of Bartling’s wrestling experience. The Team Nunes heavyweight echoes his coach’s sentiments, acknowledging Pauga’s quick finishes, but fully confident that he’ll be able to get the fight to the ground and find a finish.

Now it’s Pauga’s turn to go through his fight prep, where he draws rave reviews from Pena for his movement and speed. She explains she wants Pauga to be sure to cover up because of Bartling’s big right hand while fully expecting him to wrestle.

She speaks one-on-one with Pauga, explaining that while he’s a Muay Thai stylist primarily, Bartling will be looking to catch any kicks he throws and turn them into takedowns, reminding him to be quick with them if he’s going to use them in their fight.

“He’s a good wrestler, but that’s all he does,” Pauga says of Bartling. “I can win any type of way. I can knock him out. I can submit him. I’m just going to neutralize the one thing he’s trying to do, and let my game open up.”

Two days before the fight, Bartling explains that his family is in the hog business, building a bond with Perez, whose family is in a similar line of work.

Bartling’s home video footage comes from Unadilla, NE and kicks off with the TUF 30 heavyweight cruising down a gravel back road in the small farm town that sits roughly 30 miles east of Lincoln.

“I think the population sign is 294,” says Bartling, who explains that he grew up on a family farm where they have 3,500 sows, extolling the virtues of growing up on the farm before tracing his athletic journey to The Ultimate Fighter.

“I started wrestling when I was five and I just fell in love with it,” he says, as the video shows him going through a strength and conditioning routine. “I wrestled into high school, I won a state title, and I started MMA before I went away to college.

“In my first fight, I fell in love with it,” he adds, before arriving home to a surprise meal and gifts from his girlfriend, Payton, whom he credits with keeping everything together for him.

Bartling shifts to speaking about his older brother, Dylan, and how they hunt game, showing off a wall of trophy bucks, before getting into a story that instantly makes him start to choke up.

“On April 26 of 2020, we were going to go hunting that evening, and I was gonna use my brother’s gun, and it had jammed,” he begins. “We took it back to my dad’s place, and I was in the garage, and I rested it on my foot because I didn’t want to scratch up the barrel of the gun.

“And the gun went off, into my right foot,” he continues, with a close up of his foot appearing on the screen. “It was a huge unknown at the time — they were super-worried about infection. I didn’t lose my foot, but when you have time to think on stuff like that, that’s when I decided that I was really going to commit myself to becoming a fighter.”

Bartling explains that he’s 6-0 as highlights from his victories on the regional circuit roll.

“I’m excited to compete against the best in the country,” he adds. “Considering what I’ve been through in life, I know I can win this competition.”

The teams file into the UFC APEX for the first weigh-in of the season. Bartling gets on the scale first, fully clothed, coming in at 245 pounds. Pauga follows suit, weighing in at 241.5, making the fight official.

Chandler Cole of Team Nunes suggests that a lot of people are sleeping on Bartling, calling him a dark horse in the heavyweight competition and the guy that no one is going to see coming.

Bobby Maximus shares his thoughts on the pairing, giving the edge to his teammate Pauga because of the diversity of skills he brings to the cage.

Heavyweight contestant Zac Pauga is chosen to Team Peña on the 30th season of The Ultimate Fighter. (Richie Banks/Pilgrim Media Group)

Heavyweight contestant Zac Pauga is chosen to Team Peña on the 30th season of The Ultimate Fighter. (Richie Banks/Pilgrim Media Group)

Ultimate Fighter Flashback: Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar clashed on the live finale, going toe-to-toe for three grueling rounds in an instant classic, with Griffin coming out on top.

It’s Fight Day!

The fighters arrive at the UFC APEX, go through their warm-ups and final instructions in the back with their coaches, and head out to the cage, ready to take the first step towards achieving their goal of becoming the latest addition to the roll call of Ultimate Fighter winners.

Griffin sits alongside Dana White outside the cage, explaining that Bartling has all finishes, while Pauga has mostly decisions and fights primarily at light heavyweight.

Round 1

Touch of gloves and we’re underway. Both men take their time out of the gate, trying to find their range behind jabs, with Bartling looking a little nervous and awkward in his movements, while Pauga is far more fluid.

Barlting drives forward looking for a takedown, and Pauga defends well, extracting his leg from Bartling’s clutches along the fence and circling into space. Bartling missing with a looping right hand and Pauga sticks him with a counter inside of it. Good jab for Bartling scores, but Pauga against counters with a right hand over the top, showing his speed advantage.

Bartling again looks for a takedown, but gets rebuffed, with Pauga landing a knee to the belly that hurts him. Pauga tries to chase him own and Bartling dives on an ankle pick, which Pauga defends easily, swimming around to land hammerfists to the side of Bartling’s head. Referee Mark Smith cautions Pauga about shots to the back of the head twice before Bartling works his way back to his feet.

Nunes is hollering for Bartling to circle and take time to reset, but he’s trying to stand in there with Pauga, missing on labored punches while he still tries to recover and catch his breath. Pauga lands a clean overhand right that draws a loud, shrill cheer from Pena, and prompts Bartling to once again look to get the fight to the canvas.

Bartling spills Pauga to the deck and tries to climb onto his back, but Pauga defends well, rising to his feet and reversing the position. As they separate, they trade heavy punches, with Pauga getting the best of it once more. Bartling again chases a telegraphed takedown in space, which Pauga stuffs easily, sprawling well and controlling the head.

Each man looks to land a knee as they get to their feet, and Pauga slips to the canvas, landing on his back. Bartling quickly climbs on top, landing in side control before working to a scarf hold position and landing short punches. Bartling begins to work for a choke, trapping Pauga’s arm against his neck, but the Team Pena member works free and gets back to his feet.

Bartling looks noticeably tired in the final 30 seconds before each man retreats to his respective corner at the end of the round.

Zac Pauga Discusses His Win Over Nyle Bartling | The Ultimate Fighter: Team Peña vs Team Nunes
Zac Pauga Discusses His Win Over Nyle Bartling | The Ultimate Fighter: Team Peña vs Team Nunes

Round 2

Pauga comes forward, backing Bartling up and just missing with an overhand right. Bartling again tries to change levels behind a wild, flailing right that is nowhere close, and Pauga has none of it. Everything Bartling does seems quite forced and labored, and Pauga looks to capitalize, coming forward and picking his shots.

Each time Bartling throws and misses, Pauga is there with a counter, and the next time he shoots, Pauga again sprawls out and lands the better shots as they clamber to their feet and trade. Pauga pushes forward behind his hands and Bartling clips him in the cup with a knee, prompting a momentary pause in the action.

On the re-start, Bartling looks a little more lively, connecting with his two best punches of the round, and a solid calf kick. He once again tries to change levels following a looping overhand right, but Pauga again sniffs it out and avoids his clutches. After resetting, Bartling finally connects with one of his flailing right hands, but he still can’t get in deep enough to complete a takedown.

Bartling comes forward and lands a kick to the body, but Pauga just pushes him aside, which seems to frustrate the fatiguing Team Nunes representative. Bartling connects with a right as Pauga comes forward and finally gets deep on a single leg with just under two minutes to go in the round. Pauga defends well, attacking with hammerfists to the side of the head, forcing Bartling to bail on the leg.

Julianna Peña Reacts To Zac Pauga's Win Over Nyle Bartling | The Ultimate Fighter: Team Peña vs Team Nunes
Julianna Peña Reacts To Zac Pauga's Win Over Nyle Bartling | The Ultimate Fighter: Team Peña vs Team Nunes

He tries once more and Pauga again sees it coming, hammering him with short, clean shots to the side of the head, bringing Smith in for a closer look and first instructions to defend himself and move. He responds, trying to drag Pauga to the canvas, but ends up right back in the same position, eating more hammerfists.

Pauga topples Bartling onto his back and chases him to the canvas, mashing elbows into his face as the final 10 seconds tick off the clock.

Both fighters go to their corners, trying to recover in case there is a third round, but we’re going to the scorecards.

Official Result: Zac Pauga defeats Nyle Bartling by unanimous decision

The coaches and Dana White recap the fight, before Pauga celebrates with Team Pena in the locker room.

Amanda Nunes Reacts To Nyle Bartling's Fight With Zac Pauga | The Ultimate Fighter: Team Peña vs Team Nunes
Amanda Nunes Reacts To Nyle Bartling's Fight With Zac Pauga | The Ultimate Fighter: Team Peña vs Team Nunes

“Nyle is a great fighter and I just put it on him,” says Pauga. “It lets me know where I am.”

Bartling gets words of encouragement from his teammates as he’s emotional in the back, fighting off tears. Chandler Cole comforts his teammate and tries to lift his spirits, showing real leadership and commitment to his fellow heavyweight.

Now it’s time to pick the first flyweight fight, and Pena announces that it will be Team Pena’s Helen Peralta against Team Nunes’ Kaytlin Neil.

The two face off and the episode ends with a look at what’s on tap for Season 30 of The Ultimate Fighter.

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