It's down to four fights left on The Ultimate Fighter: Team Joanna vs. Team Claudia, and thus far it's been a lopsided competition throughout the elimination round fights.
Team Claudia went a stunning 7-1 in the opening round, with only Josh Stansbury from Team Joanna making it into the next round of the tournament. As dominant as No. 1 contender Claudia Gadelha's team has been all season long, the downside of that many victories is that many of her fighters are going to be forced to square off with each other to make it to the live finale on July 8.
The first matchup pitting teammate versus teammate goes down this week as Andrew Sanchez looks to continue his incredible run through the competition against submission specialist Eric Spicely. All season long, Sanchez and Spicely have been key training partners for each other, but now they are going to be forced to prepare for a fight against one another. The toughest part might be the fact that only one of them can move on to the finale and the other is going to watch his dream get crushed by a friend and training partner.
This certainly isn't the first time a teammate versus teammate situation has come up on The Ultimate Fighter, but it never makes things easier. It's especially tough this year with the family atmosphere Gadelha and her coaches have fostered all season long to bring the team closer from each week to the next.
"Our team became a family and it's very hard to watch my fighters fight each other," Gadelha says going into the newest episode.
While Sanchez and Spicely prepare for battle, Cory Hendricks is still trying to rest and rehabilitate his injured neck and shoulder so he can still face Josh Stansbury in the semifinals. Hendricks hurt his neck several weeks back and he's been suffering through a mountain of pain ever since, barely being able to function in training, much less prepare for a fight.
Last week, Hendricks got his test results back from the doctor and it showed he was dealing with a pinched nerve that was causing extreme pain to his neck, shoulder and arm, but due to drug testing regulations, he couldn't take anything stronger than an over the counter medicine to alleviate some of the discomfort. The good news was that Hendricks could still continue in the competition because the injury he was suffering from wasn't something that would worsen during a fight. The bad news was Hendricks would still be feeling some severe pain, and at this point it was up to him whether he was going to be able to make it through the misery in order to fight in the semifinals.
Hendricks was clearly distraught at the idea of dropping out of the competition over the last two weeks while dealing with his neck and shoulder injury, but at what point does the pain become too much to overcome? Hendricks will do his best to get back into the cage this week as he starts to work with his coaches on a game plan to beat Stansbury and work through his injury. Very rarely does a fighter step into a bout at 100 percent, but Hendricks is at an even bigger disadvantage considering he has to live in the same house as his opponent, so Stansbury clearly knows what he's up against.
Can Hendricks push through the pain for the sake of one more fight to make it to the finale? We'll find out a lot more this week as he gets back into training and starts working out the kinks after sitting out these past couple of episodes.
This week also marks the latest edition of the famous coaches’ challenge, and the newest obstacle put in front of Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Claudia Gadelha might be one of the craziest and most ambitious in the history of the show. Considering some of the past challenges have included construction vehicle races, helicopter target practice and all sorts of other strange, random competitions, Jedrzejczyk and Gadelha are in for a treat this season.
Add on the extreme rivalry that's already fueling both of these competitors, and it's clear that the coaches’ challenge will only serve to up the ante for the fight between these two fearsome strawweights as they prepare for the finale on July 8 in Las Vegas.
Once the coaches’ challenge wraps up and one team walks away with a stack of cash and bragging rights, it's time for the first bout of the semifinals with Sanchez challenging Spicely.
Andrew Sanchez has looked ultra impressive through his first two fights this season, including his bout to get into the house, where he took out highly touted prospect Phil Hawes in what was considered a massive upset at the time. From there, Sanchez took out noted striker Myron Dennis with a suffocating performance over two rounds. Sanchez might be one of the smallest competitors on the show - routinely hitting the scale at around 200 pounds - but he might also be the most talented. Sanchez is a stifling wrestler with incredible ground control, and the fact that he's not cutting much weight could become an advantage as these two head into their third fight of the season.
As for Spicely, he's an undefeated prospect with a ton of ground credentials, as he's been touted as the best submission fighter on the show this season. Spicely submitted Kenneth Bergh with a first round rear naked choke to get into the house and then eliminated Elias Urbina by unanimous decision in a fight that left UFC President Dana White less than impressed.
In a battle between two ground specialists, it will be interesting to see who comes out on top. Sanchez will likely be the faster fighter on the feet while Spicely has to hope he can find a way to drag this to the ground and get on top of his much smaller opponent. Don’t forget just how well these two know each other as well after a season training together, and this promises to be a very intriguing semifinal round matchup.
Don't miss a minute of it as the semifinals kick off on The Ultimate Fighter tonight at 10:30pm ET on FS1.