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Fighting smart versus fighting to be entertaining is an age-old debate in mixed martial arts, and as we look ahead toward episode four of The Ultimate Fighter 19, it's a theme that Team Penn's Dan Spohn is going to hear an awful lot.
Spohn put on a dominant, one-sided performance to beat Todd Monaghan from Team Edgar on last week's show, but he certainly didn't do himself any good when it comes to currying favors from the other fighters or even UFC President Dana White. Spohn took Monaghan down at will, controlled him on the ground, and really suffocated any kind of offensive attack he could have possibly mounted to try and win the fight. Spohn did what he had to do to move on to the next round, but following his first bout to get into the house, where he sent Tyler King crashing to the mat like a building going through demolition, the expectations were fairly high that he could do the same thing a second time.
The fighters in the house all have their own opinions on whether Spohn's strategy was smart and calculated or if he was just fighting not to lose.
Another major part of The Ultimate Fighter house is getting to know the participants a little more personally than you typically would from interviews or pre-fight packages as they get ready to compete. To quote Pulp Fiction, “personality goes a long way,” and in the case of The Ultimate Fighter, those traits - good or bad - have made or broken quite a few guys during the history of this show. Fighters like Chris Leben and Josh Koscheck carried the same reputations formed from their days on TUF throughout their entire careers.
This week on The Ultimate Fighter, three competitors go under the microscope as we learn more about Matt Van Buren and the middleweights who will face off at the end of the episode, Dhiego Lima and Tim Williams.
First up is Van Buren, who is an experienced middleweight training out of San Diego at the Alliance Training Center. It's the same gym responsible for a laundry list of top UFC fighters, including former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, Phil Davis, Jeremy Stephens and Myles Jury. Van Buren is a veteran with eight professional fights to his record, and one of the most interesting nicknames in the sport. He's the man they call “Gutter” and hearing how he earned that nickname is definitely a story worth watching on this week's episode.
From there we learn more about the fighters facing off in the middleweight division as both Lima and Williams get some camera time. Lima is a name that should be familiar to a lot of hardcore MMA fans given the pedigree of his team and his famous brother. Dhiego's older sibling Douglas is a top-level welterweight who has gained a reputation for being one of the best and most well-rounded fighters at 170 pounds. Dhiego has started to earn his own way in the sport, winning several big fights while competing in some of the most notable regional promotions in MMA, including a high-profile stint in western Canada. Lima trains out of American Top Team in Atlanta, along with his brother, and former UFC fighter Roan Carneiro. It's also the gym that used to house recently-retired former WEC champion and UFC middleweight Brian Stann.
As for Williams, beyond the fact that he bears a striking resemblance to UFC lightweight Joe Lauzon, his story was first documented during the opening episode of the season. It was two seasons ago when Williams tried out for The Ultimate Fighter season 17 with coaches Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen. Unfortunately, Williams came up short in his entry fight to get into the house when he lost to future UFC middleweight Dylan Andrews in the opening round. Williams got past that hurdle to get into the house, but now the real work begins as he attempts to make the semifinals and eventually the TUF 19 finale in July.
Coming into this fight, coach BJ Penn is very high on Williams, who looked like one of the most talented fighters coming into the show. A veteran from New Jersey, Williams has picked up wins in several different ways throughout his career, but he is best known for his ground work and a varied attack of chokes, including three finishes by rear naked choke. Lima is also a ground technician, but he prefers the stand-up game, so takedown defense will have to be his best friend if he hopes to make it to the next round of matches.
Lima is a long, rangy striker who hits like a truck, but has struggled in the past against physically strong wrestlers. He does have a slick triangle choke in his arsenal, so Williams has to be careful if he does take this to the mat. If Lima's hips start moving to the left or right and he is able to move his legs up above Williams' head, he could look to lock on the choke and finish the fight from there.
While the advantages seem to favor Williams, don't discount Lima's pedigree and toughness. Lima comes from a fantastic camp that surely got him ready for this show before it ever started, and once he arrived there's been no shortage of great minds to work with to help him prepare. The key to this entire fight really involves the takedown - if Williams can get them and hold Lima on the mat, he's got a great chance of taking home a decision win. If Lima can stuff those takedowns, which is something he's worked tirelessly on over the years, then he's got the chance to best Williams on the feet and tire him out until he lands the knockout blow.
The reality of this fight is that it could easily be finals of the entire tournament, but instead Williams and Lima will battle it out on Wednesday night with only one of them moving on to the semifinals in the middleweight division.