Following an episode filled with 16 elimination round fights, the competitors making up Team Joanna and Team Claudia will finally move into the house this week, and the tournament heats up with the first scheduled bout between Cory Hendricks and Khalil Rountree.
Before the fight begins, the competitors must first get to know their teammates and the coaches they hope will lead them to victory in each round before winning the entire tournament that comes to a close in July.
For strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk, this is a golden opportunity to shine in her first stint as a coach on the show. As the most dominant fighter in the world at 115 pounds, Jedrzejczyk has already defined her role as champion, but this will be an entirely new experience for her in front of the cameras, as she leads a team of hopefuls who all want to join in her in the UFC.
Training out of Poland, Jedrzejczyk doesn’t come from one of the more well-known fight camps from the United States or Europe, so this season will give her team a chance to show how they prepare for battle in the UFC. Jedrzejczyk has been a force of nature since joining the UFC and now she'll share the same trainers with her team in hopes of leading them to victory by the end of the season.
On the other side stands Claudia Gadelha, who trains out of Brazil with one of the most recognizable camps in the entire sport -- Nova Uniao.
That team is not only responsible for Gadelha, but head coach Andre Pederneiras leads an all-star squad of fighters that includes former featherweight champion Jose Aldo, as well as former bantamweight champion Renan Barao. Under his tutelage, Gadelha has quickly become one of the best strawweight fighters in the world, and outside of her razor close, split decision loss to Jedrzejczyk in 2014, she hasn't tasted defeat in her other 13 fights. Gadelha is a world-class grappler with a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and is the top contender vying for the strawweight title.
The title will play a big part in the upcoming episode, as Jedrzejczyk and Gadelha already have a tumultuous relationship at best, and putting the two of them in proximity of each other is like lighting a fuse and setting it next to dynamite. Rivalries have certainly heated up in the past on The Ultimate Fighter, but typically it takes an episode or two before the coaches devolve from niceties to nastiness.
No such luck with these two, because the upcoming episode will immediately put Jedrzejczyk and Galdelha eye to eye and nose to nose, sporting looks like they are just about ready to throw down with an audience that only includes the 16 fighters populating their teams. Jedrzejczyk has become quite the subtle trash talker since winning the belt, and she loves to laud her win over Gadelha any time the two are in the same room together.
Gadelha certainly gives as good as she gets, although she admits it's not going to be easy dealing with Jedrzejczyk during the six weeks they will be forced to be around each other while coaching on the show.
"I'm looking at her everyday like 'Oh my God, this girl again,'" Gadelha said.
Another aspect of the show that takes front and center on the second episode is the reality of the competition setting in for the fighters.
Stepping into The Ultimate Fighter gym for the first time can be an intimidating moment, but for almost everybody in the competition, the nerves fade away once that cage door closes and the referee starts the contest. That first fight comes with a ton of pressure, but it still feels like home for most of the fighters, who have only been in Las Vegas for a matter of days at this point.
Once those elimination round fights are over and the fighters are in the house, everything changes because that means the next six weeks could make or break someone's career. For one of the fighters, that reality check sends them into a panic attack and a near breakdown as he deals with the emotions of the situation. Between the nerves, being away from home and living in a house with 15 strangers with everything riding on victory, it gets to at least a couple of fighters every season and this one is the first.
When it comes time to fight this week, the competition already features one of the most intriguing matchups possible after Jedrzejczyk chose Khalil Rountree from her team to take on Cory Hendricks from Gadelha's squad. On paper, the fight made a ton of sense. Rountree finished his opponent with a brutal series of body kicks on the ground and he came away unscathed. Hendricks, on the other hand, had to battle for three hard rounds and left the cage with a foot injury.
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But the extra dynamic that makes this fight so interesting is that Rountree and Hendricks are teammates and training partners on a daily basis outside the show. That means they know each other very well and neither will be surprised by what the other is doing in the Octagon.
Rountree is considered one of the top prospects on the show, with a perfect 4-0 record and some of the most dangerous striking in the entire competition. Rountree hits with a ton of power, and even his glancing blows can do a ton of damage. Before turning pro, Rountree also racked up six amateur fights, so he's got plenty of experience under his belt as he looks to win this week.
Meanwhile, Hendricks is undefeated in his career as well with three wins, all of them coming by way of submission in either the first or second round. Hendricks is much more comfortable on the ground, and facing a striker like Rountree, that's probably where he wants to be anyway. The foot injury is definitely a concern, especially this early in the competition, considering he's had no time between the elimination round and the fight this week to rest and recover.
Can Rountree rack up another impressive victory like the one that had UFC President Dana White gasp for air during the elimination fights? Can Hendricks overcome his injury while trying to take out a friend and teammate at the same time? Tune into the new episode of The Ultimate Fighter tonight at 10pm on FS1 to find out.