Four fights into The Ultimate Fighter: Redemption and it's been a shutout for Team Dillashaw after James Krause wrapped up a first-round submission over Johnny Nunez last week. With desperate times come desperate measures, so bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt pulled a bit of a shocker when he matched up heavy-handed striker Hayder Hassan against his teammate from American Top Team, Dhiego Lima, in the next matchup.
During last week's episode, Garbrandt began gauging the remaining fighters on his team to see who was ready to step into the Octagon to hopefully stop the bleeding after this four-fight losing streak. Hassan was more than ready to accept the challenge, but Garbrandt asked him about the potential of facing his teammate during the tournament. When they're not on The Ultimate Fighter together, Hassan and Lima are both part of the famed American Top Team academy, which represents a laundry list of great UFC competitors, including strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk and welterweight champ Tyron Woodley.
Hassan answered honestly that he tore through Lima during training sessions together at American Top Team, and that was all Garbrandt needed to hear to pull the trigger on the fight for the next round. Hassan hoped to avoid Lima at least during the opening round, but no such luck, as he now has to prepare to meet his teammate in the opening round of the tournament, where only one of them will be able to advance.
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Hassan's journey back to The Ultimate Fighter has been an interesting one, especially considering how he burst onto the scene during his original appearance on the show.
Hassan was part of the season that featured American Top Team vs. the Blackzilians in Florida, where each gym put up a group of welterweights with a fight each week that added up points until an eventual winner was declared at the end of the season. There were no tournament rules in place, so a fighter could compete as many as three times over the course of the six-week season.
In Hassan's case, he was the first fighter from American Top Team to get a win over the Blackzilians after they had lost several bouts in a row. Hassan showed off his frightening power in that opening round matchup before returning a few weeks later to give the team their second win in the competition. American Top Team eventually battled back to tie the Blackzilians with one final fight remaining in the season and it was Hassan who once again stepped up to help his team succeed. Hassan won the final fight and thus put American Top Team over the edge to win the competition. It was an insane run where Hassan fought three times over the course of 17 days, with two of those matchups going to decision, including the last fight of the season where he was forced to gut out a three-round war to get the victory.
Unfortunately, the highs of that series were as far as Hassan got during his brief stint with the UFC after he was submitted by Kamaru Usman in the finals before dropping another fight by submission prior to his release from the promotion. Hassan now returns, looking to show off the improvements he's made away from the UFC while hoping to reignite the same kind of run that he had during his first stint on The Ultimate Fighter, which was easily one of the craziest series of fights to ever take place on the show.
As for Lima, he's looking to make the most of his second shot in the UFC after a disappointing run of fights that started with The Ultimate Fighter 19 finale.
Following a run through his season of the show, where coaches Frankie Edgar and BJ Penn battled against each other, Lima looked like a real prospect on the rise but he suffered a brutal first-round knockout to teammate Eddie Gordon in the finals. The UFC opted to give Lima another chance by signing him to a contract, where he promptly turned things around with a win over Jorge de Oliveira.
That's as far as Lima made it, however, as he lost his next two fights by knockout and received his release from the UFC. Lima has always been viewed as a top prospect coming from a world famous camp and a family of champions in mixed martial arts, but unfortunately, he just hasn't been able to put it all together while competing on the biggest stages in the sport.
As much as it will probably break Lima's heart to have to go through his teammate to get to the next round of the tournament, he knows that this might be his only opportunity to earn his way back into the UFC.
From the day they accepted spots on the show, Hassan and Lima knew that meeting each other was going to be a real possibility, but it's likely they both hoped it would be in the finals rather than the opening round of the tournament. Still only one fighter can make it to the end of the show and that $250,000 grand prize, so there's no chance Hassan and Lima are going to pull any punches in this matchup.
Because they know each other so well, that could also present a very interesting dynamic, because as hard as sparring might be in the gym, it's still not an actual fight. This time around, Hassan will have to back up his words, where he told Garbrandt this would be an "easy fight," while Lima looks to hand the bantamweight champion a fifth straight loss while punching yet another ticket for Team Dillashaw into the next round.
It's teammate versus teammate when the new episode of The Ultimate Fighter airs tonight at 10 pm ET on FS1.