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The Canadian team came to a hard realization following Olivier Aubin-Mercier's win over Jake Matthews in last week's episode - as the semifinals approach, at least two welterweights on the squad will be forced to face each other in the next round of the tournament. Kajan Johnson, Chad Laprise and now Mercier have all advanced to the next round, with only Richard Walsh representing the Australian side. So the Canadians know at least one of them will be in the finale come April 16, but it will come at the cost of one of their teammates.
On the upcoming episode of The Ultimate Fighter Nations, as the final middleweight bout approaches, which could land Team Canada in the same exact position again, coach Patrick Cote sits down with his team to discuss the ramifications of the next round of the tournament. For the entire season, the Canadians have rallied around each other and supported every fighter going into a bout, but soon at least two of them will be forced to become enemies, at least for a few hours.
The stakes are even higher in this situation because making it to the finale means a chance at earning a six-figure contract with the UFC and putting their name alongside other great Ultimate Fighter champions like Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans, Michael Bisping and Nate Diaz. Losing in the semifinal round means that fighter may not even get a call to come compete on the finale at all, so it's going to be a tough road ahead for the Canadians in the next round.
On the other side of the gym, the Australians are also coming to a harsh realization. The weight of the world now falls on Vik Grujic's shoulders to even up the odds, in the middleweight division at least, as he approaches his fight against Canadian Judo expert Luke Harris. Grujic was one of the most vocal fighters in the house last week when Kajan Johnson was perceived as being cruel and insensitive to their fallen teammate Dan Kelly after he suffered a loss and a serious knee injury in his fight with Sheldon Westcott.
Grujic's emotions are running red right now, and that could mean good things or bad things come fight time.
To ensure that his team is ready for the last preliminary round fight, coach Kyle Noke will bring in a special secret guest for the week's training session. Now for those that aren't aware, Noke is one of the longest standing members of Team Greg Jackson in New Mexico, and has been working there for several years. In other words, Noke has a wealth of fighters and coaches he could bring in to motivate his troops. There are leaders like Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn, and then there are fellow fighters like light heavyweight champion Jon Jones or Carlos Condit, or is it possible Noke could pull the ultimate trickery and make a call to his old friend Georges St-Pierre, who was also a mainstay at the New Mexico gym once upon a time. Talk about a knife into the sides of every Canadian fighter if the greatest champion from their country came to help out the Australian team. Noke has plenty of options, and tuning in will be the only way to find out.
Once the special guest is finished working with Team Australia, Grujic and Harris will face off, with the final spot in the semifinal round up for grabs.
Harris is a Judo expert, who was specifically avoided when Dan Kelly was fighting because they matched up with such a similar skill set. Harris isn't keeping a secret with his strategy going into the fight either, as he's already predicted that Grujic will be the 11th fighter he's submitted in his professional career. Harris has a varied attack on the ground as well, with fights being ended by guillotine choke, rear naked choke, armbars, arm triangles and other finishes as well. Harris works best from top control, so Grujic has to stay away from the ground if it means he's stuck on the bottom.
Grujic, on the other hand, is a powerfully strong striker with dynamite in both hands and a never say die attitude. Some fighters are fueled by emotions, other hindered by it. Judging by Grujic's demeanor these last two weeks, it's a safe bet to say he's going to be motivated even more following Kajan Johnson's disrespectful words towards Dan Kelly and the fact that he's been sitting on the sideline for weeks now, just waiting to fight.
Grujic doesn't have the same experience as Kelly, but he's not far away from it either. The one area where the Australian fighter has struggled, however, is on the ground with a suffocating submission fighter. He actually has a loss to his teammate on the show, Zeib Saliba, and his other career loss came by submission via guillotine choke. Grujic has to be patient and not over aggressive, or he could be going for a ride straight down to the mat.
On the other hand, Grujic is a strong fighter, devastating and fast. Harris may not want to engage much with him or he could wake up staring at the lights wondering how he got there in the first place. The last thing Harris can do is let Grujic control the pace of this fight, or to take him down and land on top. If Grujic gets there, his fists and elbows could force Harris to give up a bad position or, at best, just lose both rounds.
Given the fiery look in Grujic's eyes, he's got to be a slight favorite going into the fight just based on his desire to go in and tear apart the final Canadian standing in front of him. He knows Team Australia needs a win to ensure that the Canadians don't have two guaranteed finalists, and Grujic seems like the type of fighter who performs well under pressure and adversity. Harris ended up fighting last, and that could backfire against a fighter like Grujic when he's so fired up from the last few days in the house.
When this episode is over, Team Australia and Team Canada may very well be knotted up at two wins a piece in the middleweight division as they streak towards the semifinal matchups that are only a week away.