Check out the latest episode of The Ultimate Fighter Latin America on UFC FIGHT PASS on Tuesday at 12am ET
Four weeks into The Ultimate Fighter Latin America, and outside of a three-round fight between Alejandro Pena and Fredy Serrano, Team Velasquez has been absolutely dominating the competition. The Mexican side of the tournament was stronger from the very first day they entered The Ultimate Fighter house, and it's clear the losses that are piling up are starting to bother Latin America head coach Fabricio Werdum.
Last week when Humberto Brown went down after a lackluster and tentative performance, Werdum unloaded and let his voice be heard to the team that he was not only disappointed but that they needed to step up to win a fight or this competition could be over before it ever really begins. So this week, Werdum puts Marlon “Chito” Vera in the Octagon against one of Team Velasquez's strongest fighters, Henry Briones.
Before the fight picks up this week, the Mexican team continues to make living inside (and outside) The Ultimate Fighter house an adventure. If the team was not successful to this point in the competition, it would be easy to deride them for not taking things seriously with such a tremendous opportunity in front of them. Instead, the fighters from Mexico are loose, having fun and training hard while beating up everybody from the Latin America side of the competition.
The Mexican team opts for some more drinking this week while also requesting a tent to do a little Las Vegas camping. Now the most memorable time somebody slept outside on The Ultimate Fighter was all the way back in season one when a highly inebriated Chris Leben crashed outside after a raucous night of debauchery left him in no mood to deal with his roommates any longer. When Josh Koscheck decided to prank Leben while he slept, things got nasty in a hurry when he woke up.
Thankfully, Team Velasquez doesn't go full Leben this week, but they do manage to get some camping done before the fight.
The bond of the Mexican team is also on full display this week with the friendship between two of the fighters who first got acquainted when they started training together in Tijuana several years ago. The team spirit that's been shared all season long has helped Team Velasquez tremendously as the fighters who have known each other longer, trained together longer, and competed with and against each other longer has given them advantages over the Latin American squad.
That means the onus to turn things around lies squarely on the shoulders of Team Werdum fighter Vera.
With a 6-1 record, Ecuador’s Vera is one of the more experienced fighters on the Latin America squad. Vera has a lot of weapons in his arsenal, including a vicious heel hook, which he used to finish his last fight before coming on The Ultimate Fighter. Vera also has a daughter at home who is afflicted with a nerve disease that we'll find more out about on the upcoming episode of TUF: Latin America. Needless to say, Vera is fighting for more than just a UFC contract.
On the other side of the Octagon stands Briones, one of the most experienced and dangerous fighters on all of Team Velasquez. Briones holds a 13-4 record overall, and in the last year he started traveling from his home in Tijuana, Mexico to work with Team Jackson-Winkeljohn in New Mexico. Briones should benefit greatly from working with the top-notch team from Albuquerque that has several top fighters in and around his weight class, including his countryman, Erik Perez.
Briones possesses really solid top control when he gets an opponent on the mat, and his striking isn't bad either. His wins have come in varied ways, but Briones seems to prefer to finish fights with punches rather than submissions. When examining his record, it's clear Briones has only lost to the very best fighters he's faced, including three opponents who have fought in the UFC including No. 7 ranked lightweight Bobby Green. Briones fell to Green back in 2008, but he was also competing two weight classes higher than he is on The Ultimate Fighter, and if MMA teaches us anything, size does matter.
While the need for a victory from Team Werdum is at an all-time high with them already down 4-0 in the competition, there's no doubt that Vera has a tall order to tackle in his fight. Briones was expected to be a favorite to potentially win the entire competition, so it's not likely he's going to lose in the opening round. Then again, with the confidence brimming on the Mexican side, maybe Briones takes Vera lightly and thinks he can just cruise into the semifinals without much effort.
Chances are Briones will escape and make it to the next round, but never doubt a team and a fighter desperate for a win. Team Werdum needs this to stop the complete shutout they've faced thus far and Vera needs this to help get one step closer to providing the kind of life he wants to give his daughter back in Ecuador. With those kinds of stakes, there's no telling who will walk out victorious in this next matchup on The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America.