The finals of The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America 2 are set after the last bout took place in the lightweight division this week. But before Enrique Barzola and Cezar Arzamendia squared off, the competitors still had a few more days of living in the house and training at the gym.
It's been a long six weeks, but an educational month and a half for the fighters on the show, as they were able to train in world-class facilities with every possible need met, whether it was coaches, doctors, or nutrition. And while it was certainly rough to be locked away from family and friends a long way from home, it's an opportunity that may never come up again.
With Barzola as the last man standing from the lightweight division on Team Escudero, coach Efrain Escudero pulled all the stops out this week to get him prepared for his showdown with Team Gastelum's own knockout artist in Arzamendia. One of the best parts of the episode this week was watching Barzola get all the help he needed from his teammate Horacio Gutierrez, who was the fighter most likely to emulate Arzamendia with a similar background in Muay Thai striking. The reason why it's interesting is because Gutierrez is already in the finals after winning his bout two weeks ago, but he didn't hesitate for a moment to help his teammate get ready for his fight, even though a win meant they'd have to meet each other in battle on November 21.
An additional source of knowledge this week came from former lightweight champion Benson Henderson, who stopped by for a day of training at the behest of his teammate Efrain Escudero. Henderson is not only one of the best fighters in the world while competing at both 155 and 170 pounds, but he's become a real team leader at his home gym in Arizona, the MMA Lab. Henderson brought some of those leadership skills to Team Escudero this week while sparring with some of the guys as well.
At one point, Henderson was doing some mat work with Alvaro Herrera and he tagged him with a body shot while sparring on the ground. It wasn't the hardest punch in the world and Henderson wasn't going full strength, but the short shot stunned Herrera and left him moaning on the mat, unable to get up for a few minutes. He recovered and continued training, but Henderson's shot showed just how effective a punch to the body can be when it's perfectly placed, no matter how hard it's thrown. Keep that in mind ahead of the final fight this week.
Henderson reminded the fighters that learning in the gym is never easy, but those hard lessons will prepare them for the war ahead when they actually step into the Octagon.
"The lessons best learned are the ones that hurt the most," Henderson said. "That's the idea behind sparring."
While Barzola works with Henderson and the coaches on Team Escudero, Arzamendia wraps up his final training session with Team Gastelum while everybody shares one last meeting on the mats before going their separate ways in a few days.
It's an emotional goodbye for several of the fighters, including Wilmer Fernandez, who is brought to tears as he says a heartfelt goodbye to a group of guys he considers family now. The same can be said for Arzamendia, who thanks everyone for their help getting him ready and for the friendship they've all forged over the last six weeks. Finally, it's Kelvin Gastelum's turn, as the head coach even turns on the waterworks as he prepares his last fighter for battle this season before saying farewell to everybody.
The emotional outpouring continues back at the house as well when Escudero and his staff bring over a last dinner for everyone on their team to share. It's filled with a few more laughs than the goodbye meeting at Team Gastelum, but in the end, the sentiment is the same as these eight fighters went from strangers to brothers while living and training together for the last month and a half.
As the fight fast approaches, both Barzola and Arzamendia share thoughts about their significant others left back at home.
For Barzola, this experience was especially tough because he just got married about eight months ago and his wife, who is a podiatrist back home in Peru, is anxiously awaiting his return so they can begin work on her new medical practice. While he's been away, Barzola has kept a journal of all his experiences so he can gift it to his wife when he returns home and she can see what he's been doing for the last six weeks. Meanwhile, Arzamendia's head is filled with as much doubt as it is happiness because while he loves his girlfriend very much, her family doesn't approve of him or his choice of profession. Arzamendia has been dealing with some backlash from his girlfriend's family, who believes her ex-boyfriend was more stable with his job, as opposed to a professional fighter trying to make it in the UFC.
Baroza and Arzamendia have plenty waiting for them back at home and so it's no surprise that they left it all in the cage when they met in the final bout in what had to be one of the best rounds of the entire season.
Arzamendia displayed his power early with a hard punch that clipped Barzola and sent him staggering backwards, but didn't put him down on the mat. Barzola showcased an incredible chin through the early going as Arzamendia went head hunting, looking for the knockout. Barzola maintained composure by looking for the takedown, and while he couldn't quite land it, Arzamendia had to be aware that his opponent was searching for a way to put him on the mat.
That little bit of doubt gave Barzola the perfect opening to land a straight punch that rocked Arzamendia, and a few seconds later the Team Gastelum fighter was hoisted in the air before being sent crashing back down to the mat. Barzola didn't let up after landing the takedown, as he opened up a barrage of strikes in an unrelenting assault on Arzamendia, who had nowhere to go and no plan to get out of there.
Finally, with Arzamendia flat on his back, Barzola connected with one hard punch to the midsection and that was it - the Team Gastelum fighter tapped out and it was just like Henderson showed him earlier in the episode.
Barzola celebrated the win before facing off with his friend and teammate Horacio Gutierrez, who he will now meet in the all-Team Escudero final at UFC Fight Night in Mexico on November 21. Meanwhile, the welterweights will be all Team Gastelum with Erick Montano facing off with Enrique Marin in another tough matchup. Kelvin Gastelum will also be in action on the card when he faces Neil Magny while Efrain Escudero takes on Leandro Silva in a lightweight bout.
It all goes down on Saturday, November 21 from Monterrey, Mexico and airs live on FS1.