The finals for the The Ultimate Fighter are set, as the light heavyweight and women’s strawweight divisions will crown new winners this Friday night in Las Vegas.
This season was filled with some of the best performances and most talented competitors the show has seen in recent years, with a slew of top prospects at 205 pounds and 115 pounds all vying for the shot to get into the UFC.
Coaches Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Claudia Gadelha may not have liked each other very much, but the two rivals did manage to help their teams all season long and, in the end, a slew of new prospects made it through the tournament and into the finals.
Up first this week were the ladies, as Tatiana Suarez took on teammate Kate Jackson in the first semifinal matchup, with the winner moving on to face fellow Team Claudia fighter Amanda Cooper. Actually, Team Claudia won every fight in the women's strawweight division this season, so it was going to be teammate versus teammate no matter how these fights turned out.
RELATED CONTENT: The Ultimate Fighter Finale on Friday | Full fight card | Jedrzejczyk happy for the rematch
Heading into the fight, Suarez was as ultra focused on her goal as she's been all season long. Throughout the course of the show this year, almost everybody in the house has been featured in some way or another during a few pranks or some hi-jinks that inevitably take place, but Suarez was nowhere to be found during any of it. She was on the show for one reason and one reason only, and that was to win the competition.
Suarez even called her shot ahead of the fight with Jackson.
"I'm gunning for a submission," Suarez said before the fight started.
As soon as she stepped into the Octagon, Suarez immediately put her wrestling game to work as she planted Jackson on the mat with a headlock takedown just seconds into the first round. Suarez was all about business as she tried to pass guard and start working for a better position but, to her credit, Jackson stayed patient and began working back up to the feet.
The effort was all for naught, however, because as soon as Jackson got back up, Suarez blasted her with a couple hard knees to the body. Jackson reacted to the strikes but in defending the shots to the body, she left her head and neck exposed and Suarez quickly snatched a guillotine choke. The fighters fell to the ground, where Jackson attempted to roll out of the maneuver, but Suarez only locked the hold on tighter as she moved into mount. A second later, Jackson was tapping out and Suarez was declared the winner.
"I belong on the big stage and I belong here," Suarez said after the victory.
Now Suarez moves on to the finals, where she faces teammate Amanda Cooper this Friday night.
In the men's light heavyweight division, teammates Khalil Rountree and Josh Stansbury were up next as they both looked for redemption after they each endured some tough losses. For Stansbury it was suffering through a broken leg that put an end to his fight on The Ultimate Fighter season 19 after winning the early part of his elimination round bout against Irishman Chris Fields. Stansbury was forced to bow out of the fight and then sit on the sidelines while he waited for his leg and his pride to heal.
As for Rountree, he looked phenomenal in his opening round fight to get into the house as he put on one of the most impressive performances of anybody in the competition, but then he was forced to fight teammate and friend Cory Hendricks in the next round. Rountree was one of the best strikers on the show, but none of that helped him after Hendricks took him to the mat and locked on a rear naked choke submission.
So Rountree knew that if he ever wanted to fight in the UFC, he needed to redeem himself against Stansbury.
As it turns out, both fighters got to put on a show in what ultimately became the best bout of the season.
Rountree and Stansbury came out of the gate swinging heavy shots at each other and it was clear these two were going for a knockout. Stansbury landed the first big shot as he clipped Rountree with a left hand that sent him staggering to the mat. Rountree recovered quickly and once he was back on his feet, he bit down on his mouthpiece and started winging huge bombs at Stansbury, who virtually abandoned his wrestling game in an attempt to stand and trade with his opponent.
The decision cost Stansbury in the end after Rountree uncorked a massive left hand of his own that blasted the Ohio native and sent him stumbling. Stansbury was on wobbly legs as he crashed to the mat and Rountree quickly followed up with a few more shots before the referee swooped in to stop the fight before things got worse.
Rountree had a subdued celebration while still checking on his friend and teammate, who had his own dreams crushed as a result of the fight. The good news for Rountree is that he'll now move on to the finals, where he faces Team Claudia's Andrew Sanchez.
Rountree and Sanchez should be another excellent battle between a striker and a grappler as each man tries to become the latest Ultimate Fighter champion.
Once the two semifinal matchups were finished, it was time for Jedrzejczyk and Gadelha to face off in the Octagon. It didn't take long for the strawweight champion and her top ranked contender to start jawing at each other and even UFC President Dana White had a hard time keeping them separated. It was clear that Jedrzejczyk and Gadelha would have been just as happy throwing down right then and there rather than waiting until July 8 to square off in the Octagon for real.
"Every time she gets close to me, I want to fight her so bad," Gadelha said.
She'll get her chance this Friday as Gadelha faces Jedzejczyk in the main event of The Ultimate Fighter Finale live on FS1, along with Cooper vs. Suarez and Rountree vs. Sanchez as the latest season of the show comes to a close.