The non-stop action from the opening round of The Ultimate Fighter Latin America tournament has now led to the quarterfinals that kick off this week. Sadly, a pair of deep cuts near his eye knocked Alejandro Perez from the competition and he was replaced by Team Liddell fighter John Bedoya. Now the teams are tied up, with four fighters on each squad moving into the next round of the tournament.
Two fights will be showcased this week, including one featuring Chuck Liddell's top pick Claudio Puelles, who he pegged right away as a potential star and arguably the most talented young fighter on the show this season. Puelles didn't disappoint in his first appearance inside the Octagon, as he knocked out Jose David Flores, and now he'll try to do the same to tough-as-nails Team Griffin fighter Pablo Sabori on the latest episode.
If there's been one criticism of Puelles throughout the show, it's his apparent overconfidence, as he's been a very outspoken fan of himself since arriving in the house several weeks ago. The fighters have all started to take notice of how Puelles seems very full of himself, but thus far he's showed off the talent to back up his cocksure attitude towards the other competitors. As he prepares for his second fight against Sabori this week, Puelles may have alienated almost everybody from both teams as he continues to showcase a brash nature in the gym and when he steps inside the Octagon.
That being said, Puelles' biggest enemy this week may not end up being Sabori, but instead his own struggles with mental readiness heading into the quarterfinals.
As teased at the tail end of last week's episode, Puelles seems to be the first fighter thus far this season to really start to buckle under the pressure of living in the house for six weeks, surrounded by 15 strangers and having no connection to the outside world. Of course, in the history of The Ultimate Fighter, Puelles isn't alone, as the isolation from the rest of the world without any kind of connection can be a very tough situation to deal with over the course of six weeks. Veterans with more experience than Puelles have struggled under the weight of the situation, but his ability to adapt and maintain his spot will be a key going into the next round of the tournament.
Puelles has all the tools to be the latest breakout star from The Ultimate Fighter Latin America, breaking the mold just like season one winner Yair Rodriguez has done throughout the early part of his career with the UFC. Still, Puelles will have to deal with mental hurdles throughout his career if he makes it to the UFC, and this is just the first of numerous tests he'll face as he grows older in the sport.
While Puelles seems to be the favorite going into his fight this week, Sabori is no slouch after he pulled off an impressive submission in his first bout of the season against Santiago Cardenas. He will also have a team full of fighters helping him prepare who don't seem to like Puelles or his attitude very much and that can certainly carry over into the training room. In other words, Sabori will have the full effort of everybody around him to make sure he's fully prepared for the quarterfinal showdown with Puelles.
Sabori is a well-rounded fighter and he actually has more in cage experience than Puelles going into their matchup, so he'll need to rely on that veteran experience to get the job done. There's no doubt he's the underdog just based on overall skill sets, but Sabori could certainly pull off the upset if Puelles isn't mentally ready for the fight or overconfident that he's just going to coast to the finals.
In the other quarterfinal matchup this week, Leonardo Rodriguez from Team Liddell will take on Walter Zamora from Team Griffin.
Rodriguez earned his way into the second round with a close decision over Yasser Castillo, and Zamora had to go through a similarly tough battle with John Bedoya to make the quarterfinals. Both fighters will be on even ground heading into this fight after they had to endure a grueling war in round one.
The biggest battle for Rodriguez going into this week might be the weight he'll be carrying as he gets ready to step on the scales ahead of his fight with Zamora. Rodriguez is one of the largest competitors on the show, and while that may help him in the fights, that doesn't mean it bodes well for him as he will have to make weight at least three times over the course of the season. Weight cutting during The Ultimate Fighter has been one of the reasons why so many smaller competitors will move up in weight for a chance to compete on the show and then move down a division after starting their careers in the Octagon.
Kenny Florian famously fought at middleweight during the first season of the show and he ended up competing all the way down at 145 pounds for his last title fight against Jose Aldo before his retirement. In other words, Florian was fighting 40 pounds lower than when he was on the show. So while Rodriguez is a natural lightweight with a lot of size, Zamora might be a candidate to move down to featherweight when the show is over.
Still, Zamora will attempt to use his speed and accuracy to hurt Rodriguez on the feet or potentially take this fight to the ground, where the long reach and power of his opponent will be negated. Zamora would also do well to push the pace in this matchup because if Rodriguez really does suffer through a tough weight cut, it could come back to bite him in the end if this battle goes deep into the second or a potential sudden victory third round.
Both fights will happen on the latest episode, as the quarterfinals kick off on The Ultimate Fighter Latin America tonight, only on UFC FIGHT PASS.