The Ultimate Fighter: Tournament of Champions is winding down, with only three fights remaining until one flyweight is left standing with a title shot against champion Demetrious Johnson awaiting them on December 3 in Las Vegas.
On the new episode, the two semifinal fights will both unfold, with No. 1 overall seed Alexandre Pantoja from Team Cejudo taking on Team Benavidez’ Hiromasa Ogikubo, who entered as the No. 5 seed in the tournament. In the other matchup, No. 3 seed Tim Elliott continues his quest to earn another shot at the UFC when he faces upstart No. 15 seed Eric Shelton. Both Elliott and Shelton come into the fight as members of Team Benavidez, which makes their bout that much more intriguing as the two teammates square off with only one able to move into the finals.
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For Pantoja, he will walk into his fight as the top overall seed, but also the only remaining fighter left from Team Cejudo this season. Former Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo has become very close with the fighters on his team throughout this season and there's no doubt he's going to pour every resource into getting Pantoja ready for this fight. Considering Pantoja is also the last remaining member from his team, he will also have everybody else supporting him to get ready for this semifinal matchup.
As for Ogikubo, he may have been the No. 5 seed entering the tournament, but there's no doubt he's quickly become one of the favorites to eventually challenge Johnson for the title. It's been a tougher road for Ogikubo than almost anybody else in the house considering he has a language barrier with all of his teammates, as well as his coaches, so receiving instructions throughout the season has been a challenge.
Still, Ogikubo has persevered and maintained a great relationship with his head coach Joseph Benavidez while tearing through the first two rounds of the tournament. It's not likely Benavidez will try to implement a new game plan for Ogikubo in the semifinals, which means he'll be looking for the takedown early and often against Pantoja.
Ogikubo will likely be evenly matched when it comes to his jiu-jitsu skills compared to Pantoja, but the Japanese fighter will likely enjoy a stronger wrestling base, which could be a huge factor in his favor in this bout. Ogikubo is a suffocating force when he lands on top of an opponent thanks to great control and an incredible base to keep the fight exactly where he wants it. That level of grappling could give Pantoja nightmares considering how much he enjoys throwing kicks. If Ogikubo takes away one of Pantoja's best weapons with the threat of the takedown, that could change the course of this fight in dramatic fashion.
In the other semifinal matchup, Tim Elliott looks to pick up another impressive victory as he takes on teammate Eric Shelton.
Elliott was certainly an odds on favorite to make it this far in the tournament, if not win the whole thing, after entering with a wealth of experience in high level fights, including his previous stint in the UFC. Elliott has run roughshod over the competition thus far, with two lopsided wins that saw him finish both of his opponents. Elliott made short work of Charlie Alaniz in his opening round matchup before dispatching Matt Schnell by submission in the quarterfinal round.
Thus far, Elliott is the only fighter to finish both of his opponents, so there's little doubt that he'll be fresh and healthy going into this showdown with Shelton.
As for Shelton, he's been a huge surprise in this tournament after pulling off an upset in his first bout against Yoni Sherbatov, who was ranked as the No. 2 overall seed when the season started. Shelton dealt with Sherbatov and put him away with a submission in the second round before facing teammate Ronald Candido in the second round. While Shelton wasn't able to put the Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist away, he did control the bulk of the action, which earned him a unanimous decision victory and a semifinal berth.
Shelton is a very well rounded fighter with a great wrestling base and extremely quick hands when striking. Shelton's ability to engage and win in the scrambles with Elliott is paramount to his chances of coming away victorious because the former UFC flyweight rarely does anything by the book.
Instead, Elliott likes to come after his opponents with unorthodox striking and grappling attacks that typically come from any direction without notice. That level of unpredictability has made Elliott one of the toughest matchups throughout this tournament, and that won't change going into his fight with Shelton this week.
Going into the semifinals, Elliott commented that Shelton was definitely his best training partner and the fighter he believed would push him the hardest if they made it this far in the tournament. Now they are matched up together, with only one of them able to move into the finals against either Pantoja or Ogikubo.
Don't miss either of these semifinal fights to find out who will compete in the finals next week, with flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson waiting in the wings on December 3.