Just when it appeared that American Top Team might have a little breathing room on The Ultimate Fighter, the Blackzilians come along and suck all the oxygen out of their lungs, picking up another huge win in the first 100-point fight of the season.
Following a win by Hayder Hassan last week in the final 50-point fight, American Top Team had high hopes to go in and get a win in the latest episode, score 100 points and be tied with the Blackzilians despite losing more fights to them in the overall competition.
So with everything to gain this week, American Top Team owner Dan Lambert and the coaches decided to give veteran fighter Steve Carl another shot at redemption after he came up short earlier this season in his fight with Valdir “BB Monster” Araujo. Carl is a real veteran of the sport and a former welterweight champion in another promotion so he seemed like the perfect choice to bounce back from a previous loss and help his team regain control by tying the competition with a win.
The same pressure fell on the Blackzilians this week because their incredible run to amass a 6-2 record against American Top Team could have melted away with a loss this week, so their selection was just as important. While there are still several fights to go this season with just as much weight to shift or change the entire show, the first 100-point matchup was key for both teams. UFC President Dana White agreed when it came to the matchmaking both owners had to do this week.
"Choosing this next fight is pivotal," White said. "These guys have to be very careful in how they select this next fight."
To counter American Top Team, Glenn Robinson and his coaching staff decided to go back to Kamaru Usman, who helped them start the competition with a dominant win over Michael Graves back in week one. Usman is a top-level wrestler, and while his experience level was far less than Carl’s going into the fight, he has the kind of grappling and ground control that could give anybody on the show a ton of headaches.
Before Usman faced Carl, the teams got some much needed down time before the final four bouts kicked off to determine the winner of this season of The Ultimate Fighter.
American Top Team owner Dan Lambert got all of his fighters on a boat as they cruised around South Florida for a day in the sun to relax and get away from the house for a few hours. As nice as it is to live in a mansion, being trapped there for six weeks with the only reprieve coming from time spent at the gym is still tough for anybody to deal with, knowing they aren't allowed to go elsewhere.
Despite early troubles in the competition, Lambert still felt confident with the fighters he had left on the roster and the matchups they would have with the Blackzilians in the final few weeks. The losses mounted early for the team, but a couple wins could mean the difference to capture the title for the whole season.
"One hell of a comeback story, huh?" Lambert said to his team.
While Lambert opted for some fun in the sun, Blackzilians owner Glenn Robinson decided to keep things closer to home. He ended up bringing the fighters' families and kids in to visit with them for a few hours before the fights kicked off again. While the fighters only have a couple of weeks left to go living in the house, just getting the chance to see their wives and kids made all the difference in the world to boost morale and give everyone an extra shot of adrenaline for these final few fights.
"I was just so flooded with happiness, I couldn't cry," Jason Jackson said while seeing his family.
Following family night with the Blackzilians, it was finally time for the weigh-ins, where Usman and Carl found out they were fighting each other. The weigh-ins were a problem for Carl the last time he fought and it appeared he might have an issue again for this bout when he hit the scale at 171.25. Thankfully, a towel and some shorts being dropped put Carl under the limit and the fight was official for the next day.
While Usman's coaches admitted before the bout that the relative newcomer still has a long way to go when it comes to his striking, he came out guns blazing as soon as the fight with Carl started. Usman came right out of the gate and cracked Carl with a big right hand before sending the American Top Team fighter to the mat and out working him with superior control and ground-and-pound.
Round two went much the same, with Usman putting Carl on his back and keeping him there for large portions of the five-minute session. Carl is well versed in submissions off his back, but he just couldn't mount any kind of offense whatsoever and instead played defense as Usman passed his guard and nearly locked on an arm triangle choke at one point.
Usman didn't get the finish, but when the fight was over there was no doubt that he was the winner and he gave the Blackzilians back a commanding lead going into the final three fights. American Top Team now has to win all three fights left in the show to win the series.
"It is do or die time for Dan Lambert and the American Top Team," White said after Usman put the Blackzilians back ahead 400-100 in the competition.
It all comes down to next week for American Top Team. If they can't get it done and pick up a win, the show is effectively over and the Blackzilians will certainly put up their best fighter to try and seal the deal before the final two weeks approach.