First and foremost, an admission: I owe horses an apology.
After spending upwards of 4 (four) paragraphs of our little The Ultimate Fighter 29 journey explaining why they are nature’s biggest assholes, I got some sobering perspective when episode 11 brought us the pound-for-pound leaders in animal kingdom assholery: snakes. Snakes don’t have legs or wings and yet they self-transport. They don’t have arms yet they constrict. How do snakes even snake? It makes no sense. It’s not supposed to make sense. Snakes are untrustworthy, they eat cute little hamsters and also they have spiteful eyes. Why any sane person would ever introduce snakes to a previously snake-less situation is beyond me.
Alas, thanks to coach Brian Ortega, here we are.
According to my partner, who did a play-by-play of the situation as I squealed and waved my arms and asked repetitively whether they were gone yet, there was not one, not two, but THREE *giant* snakes that coach Ortega arranged to have placed in Team Volkanovski’s locker room. What they didn’t know, however, is that it would take more than enormous slimy reptilians to shake champ Alex Volkanovski — possibly, and I mean this as no disrespect to the beautiful people of just-as-beautiful Australia, because he is from a country that is actively trying to kill you.
After what feels like three years and a plethora of wasted T.J. Dillashaw joke opportunities, we move on to the gym, where Donald Cerrone is hanging out with Team Volkanovski. He gives them a speech about the importance of staying ready, being willing to adapt to situations, enjoying the ride and other concepts that are entirely foreign to those of who are made of neurosis and The Sads™. Seems like a cool way to live, though. I’d recommend it to people who aren’t me.
We are now back at the house, where Brady Hiestand is chatting with Mitch Raposo and Bryan Battle “Of Stalingrad” (the nickname is just a personal suggestion). They’re talking about Vince Murdock, who’s fighting Hiestand later on the episode, and they tell "Down To" Battle (just brainstorming here) about Murdock’s major health scare in 2019. As we’d discussed on Episode 4, Murdock was getting ready for his UFC debut when he was diagnosed with Moyamoya disease. The rare condition required emergency surgery and put his career on hold, but Murdock took his recovery so seriously that he was ready to compete less than a year later.
We cut to a conversation between Murdock and coach Ortega. Murdock opens up about feeling under-accomplished, which is nonsense because LOOK AT WHAT A BADASS YOU ARE VINCENT but also relatable. Ortega praises his trainee’s attitude despite facing so much adversity and shares some of his Very Serious Coach™ wisdom. Murdock then makes a casual comment about having a small tear on his MCL but being able to work around it, which is also relatable on a personal level because just the other day I was kind of chafed but still jogged for like three miles.
This little tidbit is also cool because we know damn well the editing wouldn’t just throw this injury-related comment out there for no reason and so we’re now left to play a little game of “guess how this injury is going to ruin everything for this poor guy” for the rest of the episode.
And spoiler alert: It is a long episode.
Next up is the coaches challenge, which is a game of cornhole. I say this casually so as to disguise the fact that I didn’t know what cornhole was. I was worried I wasn’t going to be able to keep up, but apparently you just need to throw objects in or around a hole? The more you know.
UFC president Dana White announces the prize, which is 10,000 dollars for the winning coach and 1,500 dollars for each of the winning team’s fighters. They play a 21-point game, which sounds excessive considering the whole scoring system is based on subtraction, but what do I know. They eventually get through it, at the expense of everyone’s youth, and Ortega wins. Before we move on, though, a wholesome twist: After his win is announced, Ortega asks White for an added 2,000 dollars. He then adds that to his 10,000, declines to take his share and instead chooses to give each Team Volkanovski fighter the same 1,500 dollars his own team is getting.
As it’s customary for semifinalists, Hiestand and Murdock get a chance to video-call home. Murdock talks to his wife, gets to see her baby bump and says all kinds of great things about her to the camera. As he should. I don't know her but I'm sure she's great. Hiestand calls his mom and his brother Bryson — who promptly asks if Brady has had a chance to roll with Craig Jones yet. I still can't properly express how much I love that they are brothers named Brady and Bryson. It's too cute. The entire family has these incredibly blue eyes which give me low-key Children Of The Corn vibes but like in a good way. Hiestand says nice things about his mom. Who I am sure is also great.
We’re now getting ready for the fight and that means the fighters saying motivational things to the camera. It’s cool because they’re both apparently nice guys who appreciate the good fortune of having amazing women in their lives but also sad because one of them has to lose.
From the snakes to the time they actually get in the cage it has been about four years, so we can kind of guess this isn’t going to be a long one.
And it isn’t. After a brief exchange, Hiestand is able to secure a takedown. Murdock is busy off his back at first, moving around and throwing some upward kicks, but Hiestand is eventually able to fully assume control on the ground. After several punches go unanswered by a somewhat reaction-less Murdock, the referee steps in to call the fight with more than a minute to go in Round 1.
A heartbroken Murdock addresses the knee situation, saying he’s been dealing with problems since he was 17. He says his knee “locked up" after they were on the ground and, unlike other times when that happened, he wasn’t able to “unlock” it. He cries and says he’s “fucking tired of losing” and FEEL YOUR FEELINGS VINCENT BUT JUST KNOW YOU ARE FOREVER A WINNER IN OUR HEARTS. He leaves in crutches and I can't comprehend why everyone isn't hugging him AND GIVING HIM ICE CREAM AND TELLING HIM HE IS AMAZING.
After a 0-4 start to the season, Team Volkanovski has now guaranteed three fighters on the finals. Hiestand is set to face One True Leader And Guiding Light Ricky Turcios for the bantamweights, while the next episode will determine whether it is Tresean Gore or Gilbert Urbina who will get a chance to face Bryan Battle for the season's middleweight crown.