The Ultimate Fighter and the UFC as a whole has always given reasons to not judge a book by its cover. The friendliest or most wholesome looking person can also be the same person that knocks someone out or takes you down in the blink of an eye. In the heavyweight final of The Ultimate Fighter: Heavy Hitters, that rings true once again.
The finale pits Juan Espino, a 6’4” powerhouse that looks exactly like someone you don’t want to make angry, against Justin Frazier, who was the last pick in the house. And yet, each fighter will have an equal shot to earn a UFC contract with a win on November 30.
Frazier was easily the biggest surprise of the season, but his wins weren’t flukes, and he displayed his work ethic and talent consistently.
“I like to be the best at everything I do whether it’s running, eating, swimming,” Frazier said. “I like to deer hunt a lot of course being in Arkansas, so I like to be the best hunter I can be. I like to be the best fighter I can be.
“I knew that I had the ability to fight, and I want to be the best fighter I can be, so put me in the house with seven other guys, I’m going to be the number one guy in the house. Put me in the UFC, I’m going to try to get to that number one spot. Right now, we’re fighting for the contract, so that’s what I’m after.”
Coming out of Arkansas, not much was expected from “The Grizzly Bear,” but he continued to turn heads while in the TUF house. The underdog role is nothing new to him, and the adversity he endured in the house was almost nothing compared to what he dealt with years ago away from the Octagon. Frazier said his son had a heart transplant at just two weeks old, and complications afterward led to a battle with cancer in 2012. The heavyweight said his son is six years old and “batting a thousand” now.
“There’s no one who’s going to take food out of my baby’s mouth,” he said. “That’s the way I look at it.”
Frazier getting to the final might have come as a surprise, but Espino looks the part and showed the skills to back up that assumption. His contentiousness with Maurice Greene while in the TUF house was well-documented, and he said he had to force himself to relax even more ahead of the fight.
With that past him and a UFC contract within grasp, “El Guapo” has his sights set higher.
“I want to prove what I’m capable of,” he said through a translator. “At the beginning, I didn’t know if I could make it into TUF, so I didn’t know my limits. So at this point, I want to get a contract by winning TUF, so I can get a top-15 maybe and go from there.”
Espnio prides himself on being a “very unpredictable” fighter who can mixup a strong standup with good grappling, and he knows he’s in for a challenge with Frazier, whom he called a “really good wrestler.”
“I want to do everything possible to win this fight and I respect Justin a lot,” he said.
Both fighters bulldozed their way to the final with first-round finishes. Frazier ended his fight with Michel Batista in a flurry, and Espino let out all his frustration with Maurice Greene out with a rear naked choke. Even though they’re coming off quick finishes, Frazier isn’t looking for a quick night of work.
“MMA is one of those deals, especially (at) heavyweight, one touch can finish a fight, and that’s fine and dandy.” He said. “It’s always an option, but when you have a three-round war and you guys absolutely go at it kind of like the (Anthony) Pettis (Tony) Furgeson fight, that’s why we fight.”
Most fighters would want to end a fight in quick and dominant fashion, but Frazier has different expectations for his fight, and if his bout with Espino meets those expectations, fight fans are in for a treat.
“A Fight of the Night bonus would be awesome,” Frazier said. “I hope that we beat the s*** out of each other for 15 minutes.”
Zac Pacleb is a writer and producer for UFC.com. You can follow him on Twitter @ZacPacleb.