The first semifinal bout is in the books on The Ultimate Fighter, but there was a real shake up this week before another finalist could be determined.
As the episode started out, teammates Andrew Sanchez and Eric Spicely were ready to set friendship aside so they could battle it out for a spot on the live finale on July 8 in Las Vegas. Before they got the chance to square off, fellow teammate Cory Hendricks continued to deal with the fallout from his severely injured neck and shoulder that was still plaguing him days after his visit to the doctor.
Hendricks was told by the UFC physician that a pinched nerve was causing all of his pain, but it wasn't an injury that was severe enough to knock him out of the competition. Unfortunately, Hendricks couldn't get any real pain relief, so staying in the semifinals was dependent on his ability to endure the suffering so he could face Josh Stansbury with a chance to move into the finals in July.
During training over the week, Hendricks did his best to get back into a rhythm after sitting out for several days. He was forced to punch with only one arm and work out with only one side of his body due to the extreme pain he was feeling from his left shoulder and neck, which left him virtually unable to move before, during and after practice. At one point, coach Claudia Gadelha sat down with Hendricks on the mats and informed the light heavyweight hopeful that if he was suffering that much from the pain, then he probably shouldn't try to fight.
"The way he is going now, I don't think he can fight," Gadelha said.
To try and get the fighters minds off the competition for at least one night, UFC President Dana White treated everybody to an evening out in Las Vegas with bowling, food and even a trip on the world famous Ferris wheel that takes passengers high above the skyline in Sin City. The entire night bothered Gadelha because strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk tried to take credit for the whole trip as if she was the one who set up everything. In Gadelha's mind, this was Jedrzejczyk's attempt to make up for all the disrespectful things she did during the season and now she was trying to be everyone's best friend.
Regardless of Jedrzejczyk's intentions or Gadelha's reaction, the one thing that was crystal clear throughout the evening was poor Cory Hendricks suffering in silence. Throughout the night, Hendricks retired to his own corner of the world where he tried to deal with the injured shoulder and neck, but the pain was so severe that he couldn't do much of anything other than sit down and hold his head low, just wishing that he'd feel some relief, even if only for a few seconds.
The next day, Hendricks had to make the call that he was no longer going to be able to continue in the competition. It broke his heart to make the decision, but Hendricks knew that with the amount of pain he was suffering through, there was no chance he was going to give Josh Stansbury even half of what he deserved as an opponent in the semifinals.
So with Hendricks out, White made the call to bring back Khalil Rountree, who now faces Stansbury in the semifinals. White also told Gadelha to pass along word to Hendricks that despite dropping out of the competition, he would be given a shot in the UFC by fighting at the finale on July 8. Hendricks was ecstatic about the news while Rountree seemed less than enthusiastic about his chance to re-enter the competition.
Rountree and Stansbury had been training partners and friends all season long, and despite the ability to mix the matchups so one member from each team would be fighting someone from the opposite team, White decided to leave the pairings the same. So now Rountree will be forced to fight Stansbury with only one of them moving on in the competition.
After the new semifinal matchups were confirmed, it was time once again for the infamous coaches’ challenge, which this year involved giant dunk tanks and air guns to shoot at a target, with Jedrzejczyk and Gadelha firing at a bulls eye to score points and dump their opponent into a vat of freezing cold water.
It was a new twist to the coaches’ challenge, but just like things have been going all season long, Gadelha ruled the day with a quick 100-55 score while dumping Jedrzejczyk in the dunk tank several times throughout the competition. When it was over, Gadelha was awarded her $10,000 prize, with each of her fighters getting $1,500. Before it was all over, White stepped in with one more offer - he would give Gadelha three shots to hit the bulls eye and put him in the tank of water, and if she could do it, the Brazilian contender would get another $5,000 plus each of her fighters would get another $500.
And just like always this season, Gadelha was on the money with the first shot as she dumped her boss into the water and walked out a richer woman because of it.
Once the coaches’ challenge wrapped, it was time to fight, with Sanchez and Spicely squaring off in the first semifinal matchup of the season.
Despite both fighters being noted grapplers, Sanchez came out like a ball of fire, attacking Spicely with huge heavy bombs from the outside. During the initial exchanges, Sanchez cracked Spicely with a massive overhand right followed by a head kick. Sanchez didn't get everything into the kick that clocked Spicely, but it was clear that the combination stunned his opponent for a few seconds.
Sanchez quickly followed up with a barrage of strikes before Spicely wilted and fell to the ground as the referee swooped in to stop the fight. Andrew Sanchez was declared the winner and the first finalist of the season.
After the bout was over, Sanchez was struggling to deal with his own emotions after finishing Spicely in such a vicious manner. Sanchez struggled to comprehend how he could celebrate living his own dreams while crushing those of a friend at the same exact time. Regardless of the outcome, White said he saw the killer instinct in Sanchez that not only got him through the competition but that now makes him a finalist on the show.
With Sanchez moving on to the finals, it's time to turn our attention to the strawweights next week, as Amanda Cooper will take on her teammate Lanchana Green in the next semifinal round matchup. Who will win in this battle between two Team Claudia strawweights? Tune into The Ultimate Fighter next Wednesday night at 10pm on FS1 to find out.