The Ultimate Fighter: American Top Team vs. Blackzilians airs Wednesday at 10pm ET / 7pm PT on FOX Sports 1.
This season on The Ultimate Fighter, for the first time ever, the show shifted from an individual competition to a battle between two of the best teams in the entire sport of MMA, as American Top Team went to war with the Blackzilians for half a million dollars in prize money, and not surprisingly, there was a whole lot of pride on the line.
It's not enough that these two gyms are considered elite facilities where some of the world's best fighters train, but there was a river of bad blood flowing between American Top Team and the Blackzilians before the season even started.
It all goes back to the beginning, when four members of American Top Team quit the gym and joined up with Glenn Robinson to found their own team that would eventually become the Blackzilians. Not only did the Blackzilians start with a seed that was born at American Top Team, but their facility was a short 20-minute car ride away from the front doors of American Top Team, which meant Florida was about to become a warzone as these two teams vied for the very best talent from around the state and the world.
When this season kicked off, both teams selected eight welterweights to square off in a series of 12 fights with an escalating point scale throughout the tournament determining the eventual winner, which would take home the title of champion and a $200,000 grand prize. The first four fights of the season were worth 50 points each, and right away the Blackzilians set the tone with wins in each of those fights as they took an early lead over American Top Team. Luiz “Buscape” Firmino, Valdir “BB Monster” Araujo and Carrington Banks all walked away winners as American Top Team searched for answers.
Hayder Hassan brought American Top Team back in the fifth fight with a rousing knockout over Andrews Nakahara, but just as quickly as he won, the momentum immediately shifted back to the Blackzilians.
Jason Jackson outgunned Marcelo “Grilo” Alfaya over two rounds and Vicente Luque put down the American Top Team captain, Nathan Coy.
Once again, Hayder Hassan was called upon to keep American Top Team alive and he got the job done with a decision victory over Felipe Portela, but he remained the only fighter on the whole squad who could find a way to win as Usman defeated Steve Carl the following week to nearly bring the competition to an end.
With three fights to go in the season, the Blackzilians only needed one more win and it was all over. They put up such dominant numbers early that they could have closed the entire show with two more weeks still left to go, but unfortunately for them Nathan Coy pulled out a close decision victory over BB Monster to force the series into another fight.
No one could have predicted that Mike Graves would have to endure a low blow, shots to the back of the head and a fence grab to finally win in one of the most miraculous comebacks in Ultimate Fighter history, as he submitted Jason Jackson to tie the competition at 300 points apiece and bring the show to the final week with only one fight left to go.
It seemed virtually impossible a few weeks back that American Top Team would still have a chance to make it this far, much less that they'd have the momentum going into the final fight. It couldn't have been written any better that the Blackzilians went up huge early and then, through sheer willpower, American Top Team fought back and tied the competition, so it all comes down to one last fight.
While every week has been important in regards to the selection of each fighter from the two respective teams, it doesn't get any bigger than this, as American Top Team and the Blackzilians will have one last showdown, with the winner taking home the $200,000 in prize money for the season.
The Blackzilians have backed themselves into a corner now with only one fight left to go when they had two previous chances to close the door on American Top Team and couldn't get the job done. The good news is that they have several choices when it comes to fighters who could represent them in the final week.
Kamaru Usman has been fairly dominant through two fights and has a wrestling pedigree that's unmatched by anybody else on the show. It might not be the most crowd-pleasing way to win, but Usman could probably grind out a decision over virtually anybody. There's also Vicente Luque, who took out Coy earlier this season and may have had the strongest performance of anybody on the Blackzilians. He was strong in his stand-up, takedown defense and submission attempts, which eventually ended the fight with Coy.
The Blackzilians haven't called upon Luiz “Buscape” Firmino or Carrington Banks since they fought earlier this season as well, so they could possibly choose them as a surprise, but it likely comes down to one of two choices for them.
On the other side of the competition, American Top Team would seemingly only have one name on the list and that's Hayder Hassan.
He's been the thoroughbred for the team all season long and the only reason he wouldn't be the choice for the final fight would be if the wear and tear from his first two performances are slowing him down. Otherwise, if Hassan is healthy, there's little doubt he'll be the choice for American Top Team to try and secure a victory in the final week.
Once the final fight is over and the team competition is decided, there's still one more bout to be announced before the season finale comes to a close.
Dan Lambert and Glenn Robinson will have to choose one representative each to go into the live Ultimate Fighter Finale on July 12 in Las Vegas with the winner taking home $300,000, a brand new Harley-Davidson motorcycle and the Ultimate Fighter trophy for the entire season.
Who wins the competition? Who will represent the two teams at the finale? Tune into the final episode of The Ultimate Fighter: American Top Team vs. Blackzilians this Wednesday night at 10pm ET on FOX Sports 1 to find out.