Following an upset a week ago, where Adam Antolin knocked off Damacio Page, the trend continued in the latest episode with the biggest shocker of the season thus far as No. 15 seed Eric Shelton submitted No. 2 seed Yoni Sherbatov in the second round to move forward in The Ultimate Fighter tournament.
As the season started, UFC President Dana White noted that the gap between the No. 1 seed and the No. 16 seed in a tournament this deep wasn't all that much, and it was proven in the opening fight of the season as Brandon Moreno gave top pick Alexandre Pantoja everything he could handle. Pantoja got the win in the end, but it was clear that no one was walking into a fight already defeated just because they were facing someone with a higher number tacked onto their name.
It was clear that Shelton wasn't going to allow his ranking to stop him from putting on an outstanding performance while fighting for his family back home in Illinois. Shelton lives in a small town about three hours outside of Chicago, where he's helping to raise four children along with his girlfriend. Shelton first became a father at 15 and it took him a long time to finally understand what kind of responsibility it takes to raise a child.
Now he's fighting for something much greater than just glory or fame. Shelton is fighting to provide for his family, and winning the show would go a long way towards that goal of financial security. Sherbatov expressed a similar motivation as he got prepared for the fight with two kids already at home and a third on the way in November.
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Ahead of the fight this week, Joseph Benavidez and Henry Cejudo reminded their respective teams that the end goal isn't just winning the show this season - it's earning a shot at flyweight king Demetrious Johnson when the show is over. Johnson has been arguably the most dominant UFC champion over the past few years as he's racked up eight straight title defenses while laying waste to every 125-pound contender in his path.
As much as the fighters on the show need to worry about each other, the ultimate goal is to find a way to beat Johnson and win the flyweight title in December.
First up was Benavidez, who actually fought Johnson on two different occasions, including the first ever flyweight title fight in UFC history. As Benavidez dissected the footage, he explained to his team how he had become obsessed with the knockout in that particular fight and he kept chasing Johnson around while trying to land the big power shot to put him away. The constant exertion led to Benavidez slowing down and tiring a bit later in the fight, which allowed Johnson to rack up more points and earn a close decision victory. Tim Elliott - a former UFC competitor who actually lost to Benavidez before being coached by him on the show - felt like Johnson probably should have lost that inaugural title fight due to his constant evasion rather than engaging in a fight. Elliott didn't stop with his criticism either as he took shots at Johnson's style for being part of the reason why the flyweight division hasn't found as much success in the UFC as some other weight classes.
"He's point fighting and tuck tail and running," Elliott said.
Following that first fight, Benavidez then had to move on to his rematch with Johnson from 2013, which ended with a devastating first round knockout.
"Worst day of my life - here we go," Benavidez said as he started the film.
Benavidez noted that he actually had the best training camp of his life getting ready for the second fight with Johnson, but it only took one wrong move and one punch to change the course of history forever. Benavidez left his defenses open for a split second and Johnson took advantage with a big right hand that finished the fight.
Cejudo suffered through a similar experience in his lone bout with Johnson earlier this year, and he went over what went wrong in the fight as he watched the footage with his team. Cejudo explained that it was actually a short inside knee to the body that hurt him the worst, and from there Johnson just kept targeting the same spot over and over again. Eventually, Johnson's constant pressure and attack were just too much and Cejudo faded until he lost by TKO.
It was an educational lesson in just how dominant Johnson has been throughout his title reign and now one of the fighters left in this tournament will be tasked with solving the puzzle that neither Benavidez or Cejudo could.
YONI SHERBATOV VS. ERIC SHELTON
The matchup between Sherbatov and Shelton pit two very well rounded fighters against each other in what turned into a mad scramble over two rounds. Following a short counter right hand from Shelton, it was clear that Sherbatov didn't want to play around on the outside too much and so he started swooping inside to look for the takedown. Sherbatov's tenacious takedowns worked, but then he struggled to keep Shelton on the mat and the Team Benavidez fighter kept finding a way to escape and then reverse positions on the Russian. It was a back and forth battle of takedowns, scrambles and escapes throughout round one.
In round two, Shelton once again opened with a nice counter strike that had Sherbatov once again looking for the takedown. This time, Shelton caught him with a beautiful knee strike but Sherbatov wasn't going to be denied and he eventually got the fight to the ground. Unfortunately for Sherbatov, those constant takedowns that forced him to exert all of his energy seemingly zapped his gas tank. Meanwhile, Shelton kept coming back for more and he wasted no time scrambling off the bottom again and then taking Sherbatov's back against the cage. From there, Shelton sunk in a rear naked choke, but rather than tap, Sherbatov went unconscious until the referee stopped the fight.
It was a huge win for Shelton, who was one of the bigger underdogs coming into the tournament and he just picked up a win over the No. 2 overall seed.
"Anything can happen — seeds mean nothing," White said.
With Shelton through to the next round, the fight next week will pit Team Benavidez fighter Ronaldo Candido against Team Cejudo's Jamie Alvarez in a classic battle of striker versus grappler.
Don't miss the new episode of The Ultimate Fighter next Wednesday night at 10pm ET on FS1.