As the opening round of The Ultimate Fighter: Undefeated tournament begins to wind down, the last lightweight matchup will take place this week as Team Cormier's No. 1 overall pick Richie Smullen will take on dark horse contender Allan Zuniga from Team Miocic.
Last week saw Team Cormier return to the winner's circle after one fight away as Ricky Steele was able to use a superior striking game to take out Team Miocic's Suman Mokhtarian in one of the final two featherweight bouts.
Steele was another relative unknown stepping onto the show, but he had a very strong showing against Mokhtarian to make it into the second round.
Unfortunately for Steele, he also did a lot of damage to his body during the fight with Mokhtarian, including a serious problem with his left foot that left the Team Cormier fighter limping out of the Octagon following his win.
As witnessed in last week's episode, Steele revealed that he had actually suffered a broken left foot previously that required surgery and it was a recurring problem for him throughout his career. Primarily known as a striker, Steele never worries much about the damage done by throwing his left kick so frequently until after the fight is over.
Typically, that kind of injury wouldn't concern Steele too much, except this time around he's expected to compete in a tournament where he'll have to win several fights over the course of just a six-week period if he wants to earn his way to the live finale in July.
Following his win over Mokhtarian a week ago, Steele immediately left the gym and hopped into an awaiting car that took him to receive medical attention, including a planned x-ray on his injured foot.
As the latest episode picks up, Steele is feeling the after effects of that two-round battle with Mokhtarian that took a toll on his body. That means Steele is going to need some medical attention that couldn't possibly come at a worse time, considering there are only two fights left in the opening round and then the semifinal matchups will be made.
The competition has already claimed one competitor, with Luis Pena being knocked out of the tournament after he suffered a foot injury of his own in a win over Jose Martinez Jr. That injury already had fighters such as Jay Cucciniello and John Gunther asking UFC President Dana White for a second shot in the tournament.
Obviously, Steele is going to do everything in his power to prevent another spot opening up in the competition, but he'll need to hope the results of his x-ray and trip to the doctor offer him some good news this week.
When it comes to the actual matchup this week, Richie Smullen will face Allan Zuniga in a fight between the No. 1 lightweight pick and the fighter chosen last by his coach Stipe Miocic.
Smullen comes to The Ultimate Fighter this season out of Team SBG in Ireland, which is the
same gym responsible for former two-division UFC champion Conor McGregor. Smullen actually started training at SBG just for fun after spending most of his youth in some sort of martial art such as karate before eventually trying out boxing.
At the time, Smullen wasn't taking anything too seriously but rather just training for the enjoyment of it all. Eventually, the fun of training led to Smullen being a very good prospect, and after watching the professional fighters practice for several months, he decided he wanted to try his hand at it as well.
At that time, Smullen's teammate actually told him to seek out an amateur fight first rather than turning pro right away. What resulted was Smullen ended up with nine amateur fights on his record before he finally decided to turn pro.
Since that time, Smullen has gone 3-0-1 with all three of his victories coming by way of submission or TKO.
When casting for this season of The Ultimate Fighter first started, Smullen wasn't immediately interested but once he decided to go to the tryouts, it was actually one of his friends and teammates who just so happened to be a UFC veteran who funded his trip to the United States.
Artem Lobov, who is an Ultimate Fighter alum as well, gave Smullen the money he would need to travel to the United States so he could participate in the tryouts for the reality show. The plan paid off as Smullen was not only selected for the cast but he ended up as Cormier's No. 1 pick in the lightweight division.
As for Allan Zuniga, the 13-0 lightweight out of Costa Rica is much more of an unknown coming into this tournament, despite his experience advantage.
Zuniga has mostly fought out of his home country, which isn't exactly known as the biggest hotbed for mixed martial artists. Zuniga did travel outside of his home country for a few of his more recent fights, including a contest in Brazil where he picked up a win over UFC veteran Marcin Bandel.
Zuniga is a well rounded fighter with a mix of wins by knockout and submission, with a few decisions mixed in there as well. This tournament is definitely his biggest step up in competition, but Zuniga's ability to fly under the radar has kept him as a dark horse all season long and now he'll get his chance to shine.
Zuniga definitely has his hands full against a fighter like Smullen, who is a slick submission specialist with a huge arsenal of weapons on the ground, but this could end up being a sneaky favorite for the best fight of the season.
Of course, the teaser for this week's episode also revealed a huge, shocking twist that will turn everybody on their heads before the hour expires.
What exactly unfolds?
There's only one way to find out and that's by watching the newest episode of The Ultimate Fighter: Undefeated tonight at 10 pm ET on FS1.