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There is a subtle art when it comes to The Ultimate Fighter and the coin toss to start the season. The winning coach has the choice of picking the first fighter or selecting the first fight in the house. Traditionally coaches usually go for the first pick to make sure they get the fighter highest on their pick chart, but that also puts the fight selection in the hands of the other coach.
As evidenced by several past seasons of the show, the coach picking the first fight usually has the option to start with a bout pitting his / her strongest competitor against the other team's weakest link. Of course that's not a testament to how fight selections go, but it always seems to be a popular theme on the show. Setting the tone with wins in the first few fights might be the better way to go, especially considering the small sample size the coaches receive when watching these guys compete for the first time on elimination day and then going directly into team selection.
Frankie Edgar chose to go with the first pick, which gave fight control to BJ Penn, and with his first choice he was able to move Cathal Pendred into the second round after the Irishman beat the last middleweight selected, Hector Urbina. For his second choice since he retained control, Penn chose his top light heavyweight pick Dan Spohn, to go against Team Edgar's Todd Monaghan.
Monaghan is an interesting addition to the cast of TUF this season. In his opening round matchup, the Iowa native was getting pummeled by second-time Ultimate Fighter hopeful Jake Heun. The bigger, stronger Heun was absolutely unloading on Monaghan and even thought he had a knockout at one point in the fight, but he failed to follow through and get the stoppage and it cost him. Monaghan was able to pull out a late armbar submission to get the win, but everybody has to be curious what kind of threat he actually presents to Spohn in this next matchup.
As we look ahead to the next episode, Monaghan is also a devout preacher and man of God, and he brings that into the Ultimate Fighter house. Now fighters are routinely banned from bringing any personal belongings into the house, but they are allowed to use notepads to write down their thoughts and a Bible or other religious texts if they so choose. Monaghan decides this episode to introduce a little old-time religion into a house full of fighters, and there's no chance that couldn't spawn some controversy, right?
It was back in season two when coach Matt Hughes decided to inject a Bible story into his coaching, and the backlash happened almost immediately from the fighters involved with the show. As Linus once said during the famous Peanuts Halloween special, "There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin." The Great Pumpkin might be okay in this house, but politics and religion could serve as a fuse for the powder keg of adrenaline flowing through 16 alpha males. As witnessed in the preview for the episode, Cathal Pendred has issues with Monaghan's preaching, and things could go sour in a hurry depending on how this plays out.
As for the training this week, coach Frankie Edgar has a litany of fighters and coaches he's able to bring in from his extended family in New York and New Jersey. The former lightweight champion trains most of the time out of Ricardo Almeida's academy in New Jersey, but the retired UFC welterweight comes from a larger team owned and operated by legendary coach Renzo Gracie.
Renzo Gracie is the man responsible for teaching jiu-jitsu to Almeida as well as former UFC welterweight champion Matt Serra. A legend and icon in the sport, Gracie has been studying Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and fighting since the time he was a kid, and now as a sixth degree black belt, he has plenty of knowledge to pass along to Team Edgar. Gracie also happens to be one of the funniest people on the planet, with some of the best stories in the world, so chances are he'll be teaching and keeping the guys on Edgar's team laughing the entire time.
When it comes to fight time, on paper this seems like a fight Penn picked specifically to weed out the most lacking chess pieces on Edgar's team, and he's pegged Monaghan as a pawn. Penn is also using one of his strongest assets to do it too, because Spohn may forever be remembered for his knockout of Tyler King in the opening round of the elimination fights, but he's also one of the most experienced and dangerous fighters on the show. Spohn is extremely well-rounded, with a good arsenal of submissions in his back pocket, as well as his knockout power. Being 6'4" and 205 pounds, Spohn is one of the true light heavyweights on the show, not someone bumping up from middleweight to reduce the stress on his body cutting weight.
Monaghan is a self-professed striker, despite the submission he pulled off in the elimination round against Heun. Fighting under UFC heavyweight Ben Rothwell, Monaghan has most of his wins by knockout or TKO, but that may not be a game he wants to play with Spohn in this fight. Certainly, Monaghan has power in his hands, but he needs to fight a tactical boxing game if he wants to survive Spohn's attacks in this fight. Monaghan's best choice may be to mix things up with his hands while throwing crisp combinations and avoiding any big exchanges. He also needs to avoid being put on his back for this fight, considering that Spohn's submission and top game are very good.
The fact is that this is an uphill climb for Monaghan to win this fight, but just as he proved in his first bout in the Octagon, anything can happen.