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The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America 2 airs on UFC FIGHT PASS on Wednesday, November 11
It's all come down to this.
When The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America 2 started this season, 16 UFC hopefuls from thousands of miles away uprooted their lives to move to Las Vegas for six weeks for the chance to compete in the toughest tournament in combat sports and take a chance to make their dreams come true.
It's been a hard road and it certainly hasn't happened without a fair share of bumps and bruises, but the season will come to an end this week with the last semifinal bout in the lightweight division, as Team Escudero fighter Enrique Barzola takes on Team Gastelum's Cezar Arzamendia.
All of the fighters from both teams have become a tight knit group as the season progressed and as it's all about to end, everybody is excited to go home again but still sad that the experience is almost over. For most of the competitors on the show this season, they have been training full-time for the first time ever, and the improvements they've been able to make in just six weeks has been astounding.
To take his team to one final level before the season is over, Efrain Escudero invites his teammate and training partner Benson Henderson into The Ultimate Fighter gym to give his guys some tips and techniques as the final days rapidly approach.
Henderson is a former UFC and WEC lightweight champion with incredible credentials across the board while fighting a who's who list of former titleholders and top contenders. Henderson has even bumped up to 170 pounds recently to take fights, including his upcoming matchup against Thiago Alves in South Korea on November 28.
Henderson has a reputation for being one of the hardest workers in the sport, and he's rarely gone more than a few days without training throughout his entire career, so his work ethic will be a huge asset to the fighters on the show, who are probably tired and exhausted after six weeks of seeing the same four walls of the gym.
Henderson could be a huge asset for the last few sparring sessions for Barzola as he prepares to face Arzamendia this week. Barzola is a scrappy competitor with solid wrestling, decent hands and great heart, but he's facing one of the top strikers in the tournament, so working with the former lightweight champion, who is a tenacious fighter in all aspects of the game, but especially in the clinch and on the ground, could give the Team Escudero fighter an edge going into his matchup.
As the weigh-ins draw close, both Team Gastelum and Team Escudero prepare their fighters while also getting ready to say goodbye for the last time.
Kelvin Gastelum was just on the show a few seasons ago, so returning to coach was obviously special for him, especially considering how he's been able to influence the next generation of fighters while still barely scratching the surface on his own potential. When his season of the show was over, Gastelum stayed close with some of his coaches and even ended up at the same gym as Uriah Hall, who he faced in the finals during the season he won. Gastelum has passed along as much knowledge as he could to his fighters over the last six weeks, and they will show their appreciation in an emotional goodbye during the last episode.
Team Escudero isn't much different, and this is an example of the camaraderie shared between the competitors who give up so much to travel so far just for this opportunity. Efrain Escudero is also a former Ultimate Fighter champion, but he's much, much deeper into his career than Gastelum and he had to face the good and the bad during several tenures with the UFC. Lately, Escudero has settled into some much better performances and he was able to translate that into his coaching, as he has already watched one of his fighters move on to the finals and he hopes to add one more this week.
As far as the matchup goes, Arzamendia versus Barzola could go a number of ways, but it's fairly clear what the game plan will be for each fighter.
Arzamendia is a long, powerful Muay Thai striker with good leg kicks and dangerous hands. He's got size and reach for a lightweight and he showed off the kind of knockout power he possesses in his first fight, when he put away Oliver Meza with punches in the first round of the opening bout this season. Arzamendia has been champing at the bit ever since to get back in action as he’s watched all of his teammates get the chance to perform ahead of him.
On the other side, Barzola is a solid prospect out of Peru, who typically fights at 145 pounds, so it's no wonder he'll be giving up some size to Arzamendia in this matchup. Barzola doesn't do any one thing great, but he does all things fairly well. Since he's giving up reach to Arzamendia, the last thing Barzola wants to do is get into a fire fight, where he'll be more likely to start winging punches while his opponent can land at distance. Barzola might be better served to wade forward with strikes and then look for a takedown to negate Arzamendia's strikes, or at least threaten with wrestling to potentially stop him from trying to kick.
There's no doubt Barzola is facing a tough challenge, but the good thing about a scrappy fighter like this is that he won't quit until the final bell sounds, and that kind of attitude is ingrained and can't be taught.
Who will meet Horacio Gutierrez in the finals on November 21 in Monterrey, Mexico? Tune in to the final episode of The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America 2 this Wednesday on UFC FIGHT PASS to find out.