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The quarterfinals of The Ultimate Fighter: Redemption tournament are underway after Tom Gallicchio got things started last week with an impressive first-round submission victory over Justin Edwards to become the first semifinalist and put himself just one win away from the finale on July 7.
Gallicchio's victory didn't come without some adversity, however, as he had to battle back after being tagged by several hard shots from Edwards, not to mention a near guillotine choke submission that nearly ended the fight. Still, the Team Dillashaw fighter persevered and made a comeback before finishing the fight just a few seconds later with an impressive rear naked choke.
With Gallicchio moving on to the next round, one of the most intriguing fights in the quarterfinals will unfold this week as Dhiego Lima takes on Gilbert Smith in a battle between two fighters from Team Dillashaw.
If there's a downside for the dominance that former bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw experienced by putting six fighters into the quarterfinal round, it's that he will now be forced to see four of his fighters square off with only two of them able to move on in the tournament.
The first of those matchups takes place this week, with Smith taking on Lima after both of them had fairly dominant wins in the opening round.
Smith is the oldest fighter in the competition at 35 and he's openly admitted that his career may have been near its end without an opportunity to return for the show. Smith stayed very active after his appearance on The Ultimate Fighter season 17, where he was coached by former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, but he failed to make it past the opening round of the tournament that year.
This time around, Smith entered the show with a whole new dedication to making one last run at a successful UFC career and he got started with a very impressive win over veteran competitor Seth Baczynski in the opening round. With his heavy-handed striking and strong wrestling background, Smith is going to be a tough out for anyone in this competition and he's got victory on his mind as he looks to push past Lima and get all the way to the finals in July.
As for Lima, he tasted a little more success than Smith during his previous stint with the UFC, but still ultimately found himself on the outside looking in. Lima was the finalist on season 19 but fell to fellow cast mate Eddie Gordon before being offered a contract to compete in the UFC. Unfortunately, Lima never lived up to expectations before he dropped a couple of tough fights and received his release from the promotion.
Lima definitely had to earn his way into the quarterfinals after bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt selected him to face off with knockout artist Hayder Hassan in the opening round. When Lima and Hassan aren't competing on The Ultimate Fighter, they are teammates at American Top Team in Florida, so it was definitely a tough fight for both of them to take, knowing that only one of them could move forward in the tournament. Lima got the win after two rounds, although Hassan did get a second chance with his wild card victory over Joe Stevenson last week.
With that being said, Lima still believes he's one of the most talented fighters on the show, but now he has to prove it by getting past Smith this week. Lima and Smith have been training together all season long, so how much did they learn about each other and what factor might that play in the fight? Even though they've only been teammates for a few weeks, those training sessions could definitely play a factor in the lead up to the fight.
While Lima and Smith will have to deal with fighting each other, Dillashaw also has to figure out how to put himself into this mix with both of those competitors on his team. Dillashaw has tasted a lot of success this season while showing off his coaching skills, but perhaps the toughest job will be figuring out how he will manage Lima and Smith in the final days before they face off in the Octagon.
During some past seasons of the reality show, coaches have actually stepped completely out of the picture when two of their fighters are about to square off in the tournament. It's an awkward situation for everybody because no coach wants to show favoritism to one fighter or another, especially when both of them have so much on the line.
Thankfully, Dillashaw didn't come alone this season and he brought along his own head coach Duane "Bang" Ludwig, as well as Eliot Marshall and Matt Brown, who have both fought and competed on past seasons of The Ultimate Fighter, so they know this game better than almost anybody.
Ahead of the fight this week, the competitors will also get a night out of the house to celebrate the quarterfinals with a trip to a local steakhouse in a party bus. Now it's safe to say mixing 14 fighters, alcohol, and a party bus together can be a dangerous combination, especially when the show is still at mid-season with a ton of fighting left to happen. Will the fighters who are still left in the competition be tempted to swerve off course with a little crazy behavior or will the prize at the end of the show still be enough to keep everybody in line?
The only way to know for sure is to tune into the latest episode of The Ultimate Fighter: Redemption tonight at 10pm ET as Dhiego Lima faces off with Gilbert Smith in the next quarterfinal fight.