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The preliminary round matchups are now complete as The Ultimate Fighter: A New World Champion prepares to move into the quarterfinal matchups to crown the first ever UFC women's flyweight champion.
In the latest episode, Emily Whitmire faced off with Christina Marks in a classic grappler versus striker fight, with the winner moving on to face No. 1 overall seed Roxanne Modafferi in the quarterfinal round.
Of course, Whitmire has been dealing with a rib injury for a big part of this season after falling victim to a tough grappling session that ended with her writhing on the mats in pain. The UFC Performance Institute helped Whitmire get back on track with some much needed therapy following the injury, but due to the compact nature of the reality show's filming, she was still dealing with some discomfort in her preparation for the fight with Marks.
Thankfully for Whitmire, she had plenty of support around her this week as close friend and former UFC women's bantamweight champion Miesha Tate stopped by the gym to help her during those final days leading into the fight. Whitmire grew up near Tate in Washington before relocating to Las Vegas, where she trains alongside the recently retired fighter on a daily basis.
Just before The Ultimate Fighter started filming this season, Whitmire actually moved out of her apartment with no new place set up just yet, so she put everything she owned into storage and left to pursue her dream to become the first ever UFC women's flyweight champion.
As for her opponent, Marks comes to the show from California, where she's faced a lot of ups and downs during her career but really started to put things together after moving to the flyweight division. Working with coach Eddie Alvarez, Marks didn't want to over strategize for the fight with Whitmire, but she knew that this could come down to stopping the takedown and using her Muay Thai kickboxing to do damage in return.
Alvarez noted that like many of the top strikers he's seen during this season of the show, Marks doesn't have the best ground game, but he wasn't going to try to reinvent the wheel with her in the days leading up to the fight. Instead, he played to her strengths and just got her ready as best as possible to face off with Whitmire.
Meanwhile, this week also saw the fallout continue between Alvarez and team member Lauren Murphy, who has expressed her displeasure with him ever since her fight ended earlier this season. Murphy suffered the first upset loss of the tournament when she fell to Nicco Montano in the opening round, and she opted not to attend practice the next morning while she tried to get her mind right after suffering a devastating loss.
This week saw Murphy decide that she would rather train with Team Gaethje and cut ties with Alvarez altogether. She told her teammates what was happening before going to the gym to pull Alvarez to the side, where Murphy explained to him why she was asking to train with the other team instead of working with him any longer. Alvarez didn't seem to take the news very well and ultimately just made an abrupt announcement to the team while Murphy was clearly not happy with the way things unfolded as she attempted to make a clean break with as little drama as possible.
Afterwards, Alvarez explained his frustration with Murphy while seemingly signing off on her transfer to Gaethje's team after trying to make the most of training with her for several weeks.
"If you don't see value in what we're doing, and I've been putting my heart and soul into this, then pardon my words, but f*** you," Alvarez said. "She's a hell of a fighter. Her problem isn't technical. Her problem's up here [in the head]."
Justin Gaethje was happy to welcome Murphy to the team, where she provided an extra body in training as he got his team ready for this final fight in the elimination round as well as the quarterfinals starting next week.
The latest episode also showcased UFC President Dana White's favorite part of the season - the coaches’ challenge. This time around, Alvarez and Gaethje were matched up in a swim meet for an 800-meter race, which equals out to 16 laps back and forth inside the pool. Both fighters admitted that swimming wasn't their strong suit, but with $10,000 on the line, along with $1,500 for each fighter on the winning team, Alvarez and Gaethje were going to give it their best.
Gaethje actually jumped out to a huge lead in the opening seconds as he outraced Alvarez, who was at least a full body length behind him to start. Unfortunately, Gaethje didn't pace himself, and after about two laps, he was already slowing down and unable to keep up with the pace. Alvarez cruised to victory after that, although a very determined Gaethje still finished the race, albeit long after his upcoming opponent reached the finish line.
With Alvarez pocketing the grand prize, it was then time for everybody to turn their attention to the fight between Whitmire and Marks to determine the last quarterfinalist in the tournament.
EMILY WHITMIRE VS. CHRISTINA MARKS
Marks barely gets a punch thrown before Whitmire ducks under and grabs a double leg takedown to plant her on the mat. Whitmire does a good job of finding her position on the ground before transitioning to begin looking for the submission. Marks does a good job kicking off the fence to try and reverse the position, but instead she rolls and it allows Whitmire to begin taking her back. Unfortunately, in the quick exchange on the ground, Whitmire gets too high on the back and Marks is able to escape, but not without leaving her arm dangling for a submission. Whitmire grabs on to the arm before arching her back to put pressure on the elbow as Marks attempts to roll again to break free. This time, Whitmire locks up the armbar from the ground and continues to extend the elbow looking for the finish. With nowhere to go, Marks is forced to tap out to the submission.
Emily Whitmire def. Christina Marks by submission (armbar), Round 1
With Whitmire moving on to the quarterfinals, the second round of the tournament is set with the following matchups.
Roxanne Modafferi vs. Emily Whitmire
DeAnna Bennett vs. Sijara Eubanks
Barb Honchak vs. Rachael Ostovich-Berdon
Montana Stewart vs. Nicco Montano
There will be no delay in getting the quarterfinals started as next week's episode will feature two fights, with Roxanne Modafferi taking on Emily Whitmire while DeAnna Bennett faces off with Sijara Eubanks. It all goes down next Wednesday night when The Ultimate Fighter returns at 10 pm ET on FS1.