Dear MMA gods: Remember when I thanked you for all the wholesomeness of The Ultimate Fighter 29 but asked you to maybe sprinkle in a little drama so as to fulfill the reprehensible needs of my fucked-up heart?
Well, that is not what I meant.
Right off the bat, we know some shit’s about to go down because the editing cuts straight to the fighter introductions. We start with Gilbert Urbina, a 25-year-old middleweight with six wins, a lone loss, and one amazing head of hair. Gilbert is the third Urbina man to make it to "The Ultimate Fighter,” after brothers Hector (TUF 19 and TUF 25) and Elias (TUF 23), and hopes to be the first one to win it.
"I've seen my brothers rise, I’ve seen my brothers fall, and it’s taught me nothing but lessons,” Urbina says, and as someone who has never learned a single lesson I can’t say I relate. He talks about once living in a migrant camp and sharing a small bedroom with his family, but what he remembers is that there was always love and food on the table. He now lives with his parents and little brother in Mercedes, Texas, and wants to make it to the top so he can bring them along. He shows off his mom and grills some stuff and says he looks up to his brothers. He has kind eyes and seems like the type of guy who would let you describe in detail that one weird dream you had and act interested, which pretty much places him at the top tier of the world's good people.
Again, can’t relate.
We’re then off to Urbina's competitor Miles Hunsinger, but don’t get too excited just yet. Before we can even get to the home-made videos and all the background stuff, we see something happen during training. Hunsinger goes for a switch kick and his knee hyperextends and rotates weirdly. We know it’s bad because there’s ominous music. Hunsinger is sent to get tests and later finds out he has a grade 2 tear of his Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL). He's then put in pretty much the worst possible position, when the doctor explains his injury isn’t bad enough for him to prohibit him from competing, but it also isn’t light enough for him to encourage him to go right ahead and not worry about maybe making things worse. Hunsinger now has a tough decision to make.
While the coaching team offers Hunsinger support as he struggles with this heartbreaking situation, Brian Ortega’s assessment to the cameras isn’t all that subtle. He says he’s been there before, talks about how fighters never compete at 100 percent, and believes that it's up to them to mentally overcome. He does tell Hunsinger what matters is his health, though, so I'm confused? In any case, Hunsinger knows it’s a call he has to make for himself and believes there’s no point in going in there only to get beat up. After trying out some movement with assistant coach Rener Gracie, he realizes his knee is too unstable and decides to withdraw. Thankfully, his decision is met with compassion and understanding by UFC president Dana White, who praises Hunsinger’s maturity in listening to his own body and choosing to preserve a pretty important joint and says doors are open once he heals up.
Except I’m kidding.
After asking Hunsinger to announce his decision in front of both teams, White goes on to tell everyone in the room that Hunsinger was in fact cleared by the doctor and made the choice not to compete because of a "sprain." Speaking to the camera later, he goes on his spiel about only the strongest surviving and being willing to do whatever it takes. Luckily for White, he’s got just the replacement opponent of his dreams in Michael Gillmore. After being picked as one of the season's alternates, Gillmore was eventually told to go home because there would likely be no openings for him that year. He decided to stay in Las Vegas on his own dime, however, in hopes an opportunity presented itself. He quit his well-paying job, too, because they wouldn’t give him the days off. That level of personal sacrifice seemed satisfactory enough for White, who gets goosebumps and assigns him the available spot.
There's also a bit of a spat between Ortega and Alex Volkanovski, who isn't pleased that Ortega withheld the information about Hunsinger's injury up until White's announcement. Volkanovski calls Ortega a "piece of shit," while Ortega says Volkanovski has "little guy syndrome" and has been trying to make him out to be the bad guy the entire season. Maybe one day after I'm over being bummed for Hunsinger I'll be able to look back on this moment and appreciate it, but I'm just not quite there yet.
With three submission losses on his record, Gillmore gets some intensive one-on-one training from Gracie in the two days he has to prepare for his match. Unfortunately for Gillmore, however, his gameness is not enough to stop Urbina, who wastes no time getting to his back and peppering in some ground-and-pound while working his way to a rear-naked choke submission. That means Team Volkanovski and Team Ortega are 4-4 as they sit down with White to determine the semifinal match-ups. It's a suspiciously smooth process that leads to the announcement of the semifinals (below) and its respective face-offs.
Ricky Turcios vs. Liudvik Sholinian
Vince Murdock vs. Brady Hiestand
Bryan Battle vs. Andre Petroski
Gilbert Urbina vs. Tresean Gore