Recap and analysis for Episode 9 of The Ultimate Fighter 14
THIS WEEK: The always much-anticipated Coaches Challenge, plus a bantamweight semifinal fight between HeavyMMA blogger TJ Dillashaw and Dustin Pague.
The episode opens with a look at the gentler side of the sport. Team Miller bantamweight Dustin Pague asks the van driver to pull over en route to a practice session. He leans out and hands a man on the street a large Zip-loc bag filled with fruit and other food.
“My brother on the streets – we pass him every day,” Pague says. “I thought it would be cool to put some goodies in a bag for him, write him a little note of encouragement. We don’t get to do too much, other than train and pick on each other. So it was cool to do a little something for someone who is less fortunate. Hopefully it impacts him somehow and fills his stomach.”
Coach Mayhem Miller talks about Pague’s improvement in training, then says Pague will need to move his feet so he’s not standing in front of Dillashaw. Miller says Pague is well-prepared for the fight, even though on paper he is probably the underdog. “But for the select few in this training camp, we know how good he is,” Miller says.
Back at the house after the training session, Miller and his coaching staff arrive asking to be fed. During a backyard barbecue, Miller goes in search of some bugs for Pague to eat – and he does. He chomps the little guys up and is rewarded with $60 from his coach, who calls the “Fear Factor”-esque stunt “epic.
We move to Ghostbar at the top of The Palms, where the teams arrive to see an air hockey table set up. It’s the Coaches Challenge! UFC president Dana White is on hand to oversee the proceedings, and in a confessional Miller admits he hasn’t played air hockey since fourth grade. But coach Michael Bisping is more calm: “It’s air hockey. Let’s not get too technical,” he says.
White pulls wrapped stacks of bills from a plain brown box and announces that the winning coach will receive $10,000. Additionally, each fighter on his team will get $1,500 just for standing and watching. Mayhem wins the coin toss and will get possession of the puck first in a best-of-five series, with each game to seven goals.
We get underway as White reminds us it’s his favorite part of each season because “it’s the one day that (the fighters) get to show up and relax and have fun and let their coaches take all the pressure.” Bisping strikes first, just as White is letting us know that both coaches “suck” at the game.
Bisping takes a 6-0 lead in the first game, but then loses his controller, allowing Miller to avoid being skunked. But Bisping quickly scores to put Game 1 in the books with a 7-1 win. In a cut-away, Miller says he may have been hustled, since “the minute (Bisping) put that mallet in his hands he looked like a damned professional.”
As we start the second game, Bisping is shown scoring almost at will. “I’m just killing it, basically – I’m a natural,” Bisping says in a confessional. “I think I’m going to actually give up the UFC and be a professional air hockey player, because I couldn’t lose.”
Bisping takes Game 2, 7-4, and White says it looks like Bisping is going to sweep. But while Bisping is trash talking, Miller finds a way to win Game 3. It’s just a temporary reprieve, though, as Bisping takes Game 4 to win the challenge. He collects his money, then celebrates on top of the air hockey table. When he jumps off, though, he slips and lands on his back, which White says is going to hurt him later even if he won’t admit it. Miller says he’s bummed he couldn’t win the money for his fighters, “but the real coaches challenge is on Dec. 3, and that is when I smash Bisping’s face.”
We move to a Team Bisping training session, where assistant coach Tiki Ghosn talks to Dillashaw about what to avoid against Pague. In his confessional, Dillashaw says Pague is “a good guy, super nice. He’s a good fighter. Obviously he believes in himself, but he’s going to be so worried about my wrestling … I’ll end of taking him down and expose his weakness on the ground.”
Bisping says Dillashaw has a bright future, then tells his fighter he’s going to win this semifinal fight, then the finale.
TJ Dillashaw (135) vs. Dustin Pague (135)
Keith Kizer gets both fighters on the scale, and both are on the mark at 135 pounds. White gives his take on the fight: “Stylistically, it’s an interesting fight. Dustin’s got good standup, but TJ might be able to take him to the ground and submit him.” Dillashaw says he’s been in big fights before, and this is just going to be a normal situation for him. Pague says God has blessed him and he wants this fight more than any he’s ever had.
TJ DILLASHAW VS. DUSTIN PAGUE
Round 1: The two bantamweights touch gloves and begin looking for openings. Dillashaw lands a nice right uppercut that Pague notices, then ducks under and lands a soft takedown. On the ground, page looks for an armbar, but Dillashaw wriggles out and into Pague’s guard. Dillashaw looks for ground-and-pound opportunities as Miller tells Pague to work his way back to his feet. Bisping tells Dillashaw to turn Pague away from the cage to prevent him from wall-walking, and he does. Pague briefly gets Dillashaw off the top of him, but can’t scramble up and falls back into guard. Pague again gets out, but again can’t fight his way back to his feet. With 30 seconds left, Pague finally gets back up and throws a knee that lands. Dillashaw shoots for a takedown, but Pague defends. The late bit of offense from Pague isn’t enough to give him the round, though.
Round 2: The two trade some fairly hefty leather, but 25 seconds in Dillashaw picks Pague up for a takedown against the fence. It’s much the same as the first round, with Dillashaw looking for short punches and elbows from the top. Dillashaw passes to side control and pushes Pague away from the fence. Bisping encourages Dillashaw to look for the crucifix position, and Miller implores his student to get out of the bad position on the ground. Pague gets back to full guard, but eats more elbows. But Pague is nearly helpless from the position on his back. Dillashaw is actually cut and bleeding onto Pague, but it’s been Dillashaw with nearly all the offense.
Round 3: Pague knows he’ll need a finish to win the fight and advance to the finals. He throws a nice knee, but then eats some punches. And what do you know? Dillashaw picks him up and scores the easy takedown 45 seconds into the round. And we go right into more of the same – Dillashaw landing short punches and elbows, Pague struggling to find a way to defend and having no success escaping. Bisping yells to Dillashaw to put Pague away, noting he’ll win an extra $5,000 for the finish. He can’t finish, but dominated the fight except for a few nice shots from Pague that landed early in the rounds.
Winner: TJ Dillashaw def. Dustin Pague, unanimous decision (30-26, 30-27, 30-26)
Bisping says he expects Dillashaw to win the bantamweight finale and go on to a nice career in the UFC. “Being in the finale is not the end of it for me,” Dillashaw says. “I’m there to win it, and I want that belt.”
Pague is disappointed, but respectful of his opponent. “God’s will was done today,” Pague says. “Congratulations to TJ – he’s a tough dude, he’s going to do very well in the UFC and wherever he goes.” Miller tells Pague he’s proud of his performance, then says in a confessional that his fighter will bounce back. “Dustin Pague does not need to concern himself with this loss,” Miller says. “Just use it as fuel for his fire, because he has a bright future.”
We get a preview of next week’s two-fight episode, which will feature semifinal bouts between bantamweights John Dodson and Johnny Bedford and featherweight favorites Diego Brandao and Bryan Caraway.