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If there has been a running theme through the first two episodes of The Ultimate Fighter this season, it's to expect the unexpected.
Thus far, Team Dillashaw has earned two victories over Team Garbrandt, with each one of the matchups ending with a considerable upset.
It all started with Gilbert Smith eliminating bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt's No. 1 overall pick Seth Baczynski in the opening fight of the season, and the momentum carried into last week as Tom Gallicchio pulled off a stunning first-round submission over season 19 winner Eddie Gordon.
Former champion TJ Dillashaw has been loving the work his team has put forth thus far, especially considering he didn't get to pick either one of those fights, and yet both Smith and Gallicchio pulled off victories. Now this week it's finally time for Dillashaw to make the fight selection, as he chose season seven's Jesse Taylor to go up against season 22 competitor Mehdi Baghdad.
While everybody on this season of the show has a redemption story of one kind or another, Taylor may be the poster boy for what it means to return for a second shot at winning The Ultimate Fighter this year.
Taylor was a member of the season seven cast under coaches Forrest Griffin and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and he entered the show with a 6-2 record, still very young in his mixed martial arts career. Despite a lack of experience, Taylor used his superior wrestling and athleticism to win four fights during that season, including victories over Tim Credeur, Dante Rivera and Mike Dolce before making it to the finals.
Taylor was supposed to meet Amir Sadollah in the last fight of the season to determine the champion, but following a night out celebrating his appearance on the show, he had a few too many drinks and ended up causing a scene at the Palace Station Casino in Las Vegas. During his tirade, Taylor kicked out the window of a limousine before apparently harassing some fellow patrons in the casino before the security footage was returned to UFC President Dana White.
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White had no choice but to kick Taylor off the show and remove him from the competition due to his behavior outside the cage. It was a heartbreaking moment for Taylor, who never got the chance to compete for the title he earned by making it to the finals.
Eventually the UFC gave Taylor a second chance when he faced CB Dollaway back in 2008, but he fell victim to a first-round submission and that was the last time he appeared in the Octagon until now. While everybody on both sides of the competition this season has a reason for returning, it's hard to imagine anybody went through quite as much as Taylor to get back here for a shot at redemption.
As for his opponent, Mehdi Baghdad had high expectations when he joined The Ultimate Fighter season 22 as part of the European team coached by Conor McGregor. Baghdad made his way on to the show with a decision victory over McGregor's teammate, Artem Lobov, who eventually returned and made it all the way to the finals in the competition. Sadly, Baghdad didn't find the same success after an impressive outing in his first fight as he lost to Julian Erosa in the next round of the tournament by majority decision, putting an end to his run on the show.
Despite that loss, the UFC offered Baghdad a second shot by bringing him into the organization, but that didn't pan out for him either. Baghdad ended up losing both of his fights in the UFC to Chris Wade and John Makdessi before he was released from the organization.
Now Baghdad is back looking for new life as he tries to bounce back from two losses in the UFC as well as never quite living up to his full potential during his previous run on The Ultimate Fighter.
When it comes to the matchup between these two fighters, it really is a classic battle between striker versus grappler.
Baghdad is a decorated Muay Thai kickboxer with tons of power in his hands and feet and the titles to back up his claims as one of the best strikers on the show. Baghdad has spent time in the past working with UFC legend Anderson Silva as well as former light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida, so he's definitely worked alongside the best of the best as he tries to further his own career. Baghdad is quick and explosive on the feet, but one of his best weapons could be negated if he throws any kicks that could be countered by Taylor's wrestling.
Taylor is a powerfully strong grappler who wrestled at Cal-State Fullerton when he was in college. Taylor is a former junior college All-American as well, and he's used wrestling as his biggest weapon throughout his career. Taylor is also one of the bigger fighters in this competition, as he previously fought at middleweight before making the move down to 170 pounds. That weight cut could come back to haunt Taylor if he didn't properly prepare for the show, as viewers witnessed what happened to Hector Urbina during the debut episode.
Still, Taylor is a brutish fighter with some of the best wrestling in the competition, and there's no doubt Dillashaw made this fight specifically so he could watch him out grapple one of Team Garbrandt's best strikers.
Can Taylor keep the momentum going for Team Dillashaw as the former champion looks to go 3-0 during the competition? Or is it finally time for Garbrandt's team to pull off an upset of their own with Baghdad getting a win over one of Dillashaw's top picks in Taylor?
Tune in to The Ultimate Fighter: Redemption tonight at 10pm ET on FS1 to find out.