The protective barrier that provided safety and security to the previous winners of The Ultimate Fighter has been damaged, if not destroyed.
Having watched Season 8 lightweight winner Efrain Escudero get shown the door after splitting four fights in his post-TUF life with the UFC, those who believed their reality TV success secured them a place in the company now know otherwise. That’s why UFC 122 is a must-win outing for Season 7 winner Amir Sadollah.
While earlier winners like Kendall Grove and Ed Herman survived through middling performances due to a lack of overall depth in both the sport and the organization, that same state does not exist today. As likeable as Sadollah is on camera and outside of the cage, middle of the pack welterweights are widely available, and right that is where the former surgical tech currently sits.
Each time Sadollah has stepped up in competition, he’s been beaten back to the middle tier of the 170-pound weight class. Johny Hendricks ruined his UFC debut and Dong Hyun Kim outclassed him in his last outing, and wins over Phil Baroni and Brad Blackburn came between the two defeats, the former is far from being considered a threat and the latter was subsequently sent packing. A win Saturday night over Peter Sobotta is essential, and expected.
On paper, the former TUF winner appears to be superior to Sobotta, who is winless in the UFC in two tries. The German prefers to stand-and-trade with his opponents, a tactic that has yet to produce positive results, and plays into Sadollah’s hand this weekend.
In addition to working with his TUF 7 coach Forrest Griffin at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, Sadollah spends a lot of time in Holland working on his Muay Thai, and showed off his stand-up skills against both Baroni and Blackburn. Unfortunately for Sobotta, he is a closer comparison to the fighters the 30-year-old from Virginia has beaten than those who have bested him.
With the protective shield of scoring a six-figure contract on Spike TV proven to be removable, the prospect of a second straight loss should motivate Sadollah to come out aggressively against Sobotta on Saturday. Against Kim, he couldn’t muster any offense, getting stuck in the clinch and dragged to the ground repeatedly during the fifteen minute affair.
However, in both of his wins, Sadollah pressed the paced and delivered solid striking performances, at times looking as if he was in a well-lit and televised sparring session. That is the approach he needs to take again this weekend, establishing himself as the one dictating the terms of the bout and taking any talk of a two-fight losing streak out of the narrative as soon as possible. Looking at their resumes side-by-side, Sadollah looks like he shouldn’t have any problems doing just that.
That being said, we all know fights are contested in the cage, not the program, and when the cage door locks, anything can happen. Saturday night, Sadollah needs to ensure that he emerges victorious or risk following Escudero out the door.