Just like any tournament in sports, the latest season of The Ultimate Fighter was bound to see a few upsets, and the first major twist took place during last week's episode as No. 11 seed Adam Antolin knocked off No. 4 seed Damacio Page to move into the next round while also giving Team Cejudo a commanding 3-1 lead over Team Benavidez.
Antolin's victory, while somewhat controversial due to a poor stoppage by the referee, showcased that nobody is safe in this tournament just because a fighter has an impressive record or a top number next to their name. Page was arguably the most experienced veteran on the entire show, and now he's going home empty handed after Antolin handed him a loss in the opening round of the tournament.
That victory might have to serve as inspiration for this week's matchup as No. 15 seed Eric Shelton from Team Benavidez attempts to get a win over No. 2 seed Yoni Sherbatov from Team Cejudo.
Sherbatov comes to the UFC from Canada after he was born in Russia. The 5-foot-2 flyweight was only four years old when his family migrated to Canada and he's grown up with martial arts in his blood. Sherbatov actually owns one of the largest MMA training facilities in the country - Sherbatov MMA - and he holds his title out of Canada as well while sporting a 5-0-1 record. Sherbatov is an impressive finisher with knockout power in his hands and a very versatile ground game with an arsenal of slick submissions at his disposal.
Perhaps the best part of Sherbatov's game is his tenacity whenever he steps into the cage. He's a very aggressive fighter with a ton of heart, and he hopes to make his family proud by making it to the finals of the show this season. To get there, Sherbatov is going to have to knock off Shelton, who might be one of the dark horse picks to make it deep into the tournament if he can get past this first round.
Shelton comes to the UFC out of Iowa, where he's fought for a big part of his professional career. Shelton turned to MMA just after he was a teenager while trying to find the best way to provide for his growing family. Shelton actually had his first child when he was only 15 years of age and now that he's 25, he's a father of four, with his oldest almost 10 years old already. Shelton admits that he did a lot of crazy things growing up but eventually he realized that it was time to settle down so he could provide for his family and it turns out that fighting was the best way to do that.
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Once Shelton got his act together, he actually traveled to the Quad Cities, where he began working at the famed Miletich training camp, headed up by UFC Hall of Famer Pat Miletich. During his prime years, Miletich was the coach of champions while working with several title holders in the UFC, including Matt Hughes, Jens Pulver and Tim Sylvia. Miletich is also a former UFC champion himself, and he put together a very impressive resume during his fighting career. Miletich fighters are known for being incredibly tough and nearly impossible to put away and that's the kind of effort Shelton will need if he hopes to knock off the No. 2 seed in the tournament this week.
In terms of the matchup, Sherbatov is the obvious favorite given his devastating style inside the cage, where he can out strike and out grapple a big portion of the fighters in this competition. Sherbatov may not be large on size, even for a flyweight, but he makes up for it by packing a serious punch. If Sherbatov finds a way inside Shelton's reach in the early going, he could make it a miserable bout for the Team Benavidez fighter. To win, Shelton has to keep Sherbatov away from him and not give up takedowns when the Russian-born fighter swoops in to drag him to the mat.
Shelton will likely be the bigger, stronger fighter, but that doesn't mean Sherbatov is at a disadvantage. Sherbatov makes up for his size with incredible technique, and he's the kind of fighter that digs deep for a takedown and doesn't give up until he gets his opponent to the mat. That being said, Shelton is very good on the ground, with a crafty triangle choke at his disposal, and if he starts tossing up submissions on the mat, he could give Sherbatov pause to take the fight there again and again.
One big advantage Sherbatov has over Shelton and many of the fighters in the house is the fact that he's a southpaw. Left-handed fighters are notoriously tough to game plan against, but it's even harder now because Shelton only has a matter of days to make adjustments with timing and footwork to avoid Sherbatov's power hand coming at him from an unfamiliar direction. Preparing for a southpaw under the best of circumstances can still be difficult, but Shelton literally has a few days to make sure he's ready for the kind of attack Sherbatov is going to throw at him.
Outside of the fight this week, coaches Joseph Benavidez and Henry Cejudo will lead their respective teams through some video study.
While all 16 fighters - or less, now that a few have been eliminated – are gunning for a win in the tournament, they can't lose sight of the bigger picture. In this case, one of these fighters is not only trying to win the show, but they will eventually move on to face Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson with the flyweight title on the line later this year. Getting through a tournament of the best flyweights in the world is tough enough, but whoever does get the victory then has to get ready for Johnson, who is arguably the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter on the planet.
To help them prepare, Joseph Benavidez and Henry Cejudo will take their teams through some very unique film study as one of them gets ready to fight Johnson in December. Of course all the film in the world won't substitute for hard work and dedication and that's what Sherbatov and Shelton will look to show when they meet in the latest bout on the new season of The Ultimate Fighter.
Check out the latest episode of The Ultimate Fighter tonight at 10pm ET on FS1.