Remember when I spent the first three episodes of The Ultimate Fighter 29 complaining there weren’t nearly enough broken doors, flying objects, drunken rants, or outward displays of the most questionable aspects of human nature in general?
Well, I’m still a horrible person and therefore I stand by my complaints.
I will, however, concede to the possibility that there might just be more to life than chaos, pain and destruction. As we leave the seventh episode of a "TUF" season that has so far been all about cool dudes being cool with each other, I find myself invested and beguiled enough to almost consider bettering myself and readjusting my dire outlook on life. Almost.
In case you forgot that Ricky Turcios and Dan Argueta are precious violence angels who need to be protected at all costs, episode seven starts with a reminder. As the two take stock of the injuries from the previous episode, they trade vows of respect. You know they are for real because they keep saying “for real." It’s beautiful. Argueta then appeals to everyone's millennial sensibilities by inviting Turcios to go “ninja turtles” on a pizza, which they briefly share with interlocked arms. Argueta proceeds to yell "Thanks for the stitches, dick" and the two laugh it off so as to further confirm that dudes do, as a matter of fact, rock.
From then we leap into another moment of male bonding, as Brady Hiestand tells Josh Rettinghouse this might end up being a very weird episode. As we’d learned in the previous episode, Hiestand and Rettinghouse are not only roommates in the “TUF" house but they are also both from Spokane, Washington, and happen to be friends.
Yet, here they are, cutting weight in the same tub as they prepare to rearrange each other’s whole faces. The friends-turned-temporary-foes dynamics are explored in several other bits of the episode, which makes sense because it's pretty fucking weird. I mean, I assume. While my friends and I have had experiences involving tears, vomit and that one minor diplomatic crisis in Croatia, I’ve never had any of their blood pouring into my broken eye socket as I attempt to push their elbow out if its natural angle. So, really, I can’t know for sure.
In any case, they’re both clear that their friendship ends when that cage door closes.
Rettinghouse tells coach Brian Ortega that he believes himself to be the better grappler of the two, and goes over his game plan. Ortega says his fighter is a technical man who likes to play “literal chess” in the cage, which is not how words work but I’m not going to harp too much on it because I told my therapist I was going to try harder not to be *that guy*. With 21 professional MMA bouts spanning more than a decade, Rettinghouse believes he’s better and more experienced than many UFC fighters and a bad match-up for not just Hiestand but everyone in the house. He’s very serene and says this with the assertive matter-of-factness of an airline attendant reminding you not to take flammables in your carry-on, so you know he damn well means it.
Hiestand, for his part, is only 5-1 in a pro career that began in 2018. He talks about trying a year of business school before realizing it wasn’t for him and deciding to dedicate himself fully to the two casual, not at all high-stakes occupations of fighting fellow humans and actual fires. He is a volunteer firefighter/paramedic and in fact currently lives at a fire station, which is objectively cool.
Hiestand doesn’t give us the gift of dogs, but he does give us the gift of a little fire drill, so he’s forgiven. Brady has a brother named Bryson and they’re close. They honestly seem like cool dudes who’d help you assemble complicated furniture and watch all the John Wicks with you afterward. Hiestand trains with UFC fighter Michael Chiesa, who says he is going to win the show. There’s also a scene with in his family ranch where Hiestand pets horses, but I forgive him again. He’s probably been brainwashed by mainstream media and big pharma and remains ignorant of the fact that horses are assholes. Give him time.
After a brief exchange with middleweight Miles Hunsinger, who honestly should be getting an extra check for his duties as the house’s conversationalist, we hear more about Rettinghouse’s job with a CPA firm. Regardless of what happens with his fighting career, Rettinghouse says, he has a pretty awesome life already, and while I personally find that hard to believe considering he spends 8-10 hours a day dealing with numbers, I’ve also told my therapist I'm going to try to stop making everything about me. Rettinghouse says auditing is kind of like fighting in the sense that it’s also a puzzle, and I have no option but to believe him, given I don’t even know what auditing entails. Rettinghouse sounds very smart, both because he does a very smart thing for a living and because he has a dog.
At 31, Rettinghouse believes this might be his last chance at the fighting thing, which may or may not have sent my 31-year-old self into a brief spiral of sadness and existential despair. But, again, this isn't about me. “I've been waiting 12 years for this moment,” he says, sounding exactly like the quiet science wiz who got messed with exactly once before fucking up a whole group of bullies and earning the school's quiet admiration forever, “and I’m not going to waste it.”
Hiestand and Rettinghouse engage in a friendly face-off before heading into their bantamweight bout. I can tell by the time left on the episode this might just go three rounds, but after last week’s barnburner I know better than to panic at the thought. And, indeed, I am not disappointed. After two rounds of mutual damage and some solid moments on both sides, Rettinghouse and a particularly bloodied Hiestand head into a third to untie their score. They both seem exhausted, but go for it anyway. The competitive fight fittingly ends in the first split decision of the season, which ultimately goes to Hiestand. Afterward, an exhausted Rettinghouse breaks down and says that if he was going to lose to anyone it had to be Hiestand and I’m not crying it’s just all the pollen and stuff.
Team Volkanovki is now one win away from tying Team Ortega. Next up we have the matching of the last middleweight bout of the season, between Hunsinger and Gilbert Urbina — who happens to be the third Urbina to make it onto “TUF.” The preview, however, indicates that Hunsinger is going to have knee problems and might not make it to the fight because we truly can't have nice things.