A new season of The Ultimate Fighter is here and on the first episode of TUF 17 coaches Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen looked on as 14 fighters advanced into in their quest for a six-figure UFC contract.
“The Ultimate Fighter is the toughest tournament in sports,” said Sonnen during the introduction when speaking about what the contestants will have to go through.
“It’s like anything in life, if you want something you have to pay a price.”
Sonnen’s fellow coach — and the man he’ll fight at UFC 159 in April — Jones also knows that making it through TUF is a stiff challenge for the athletes.
“Fighting four times in five weeks, it’s going to be hell for these guys for sure,” Jones said.
Watch new episodes of TUF 17 Tuesdays on and visit Sportsnet.ca for weekly episode recaps
For the first time in the eight-year history of the popular mixed martial arts reality show, the fighters’ families and friends were in attendance for the first round of fights, as Sonnen, Jones and UFC president Dana White watched cageside.
Some left feeling happy for their loved ones, while others left proud but disappointed with the results.
– In the first bout, Adam Cella submitted Jake Heun, a teammate of UFC middleweight Chris Leben, with an armbar after a couple minutes of brawling.
– Zak Cummings, a veteran of Strikeforce and the Maximum Fighting Championship, knocked out Bellator vet Nik Fekete in mere seconds. Cummings landed a counter-right hand with the first punch he threw. It was one of the fastest fights in TUF history.
– Kevin Casey, who grew up around the infamous Gracie family, submitted Eldon Sproat with a rear-naked choke despite suffering a cut over his left eye.
– Tor Troeng smothered Scott Rosa with superior grappling and picked up a submission win that impressed both coaches.
– Clint Hester dominated Frasier Opie en route to a decision win. Hester displayed a well-rounded skill set and received some instructions from Jones during the fight, and praise Sonnen and White as well.
– Bubba McDaniel, a teammate of Jones at Greg Jackson’s gym in Albuquerque, N.M., picked up a TKO win over Ryan Bigler. It was not an action-packed bout and while not much happened inside the cage until McDaniel landed the finishing blows, outside of the cage Sonnen and Jones began chirping back and forth as Sonnen sarcastically complimented Jones’ tammate while White laughed.
– Josh Samman, who had auditioned for TUF on three separate occasions, beat Leo Bercier by TKO. Samman quickly shot in for a takedown and proceeded to land hard punches to the body before moving into mount, taking Bercier’s back and landing continuous ground-and-pound until the referee stepped in.
– Kito Andrews came out strong, but Kelvin Gastelum, who is the youngest contestant in TUF history at age 21, picked up a close decision win.
– Jimmy Quinlan manhandled Mike Pearsons with superior wrestling and power and won by first-round TKO.
– Uriah Hall defeated Andy Enz by decision in an entertaining fight that had both coaches and White impressed. Hall picked Enz apart with quick, crisp strikes as well as mixing in takedowns in the first round and on the ground he locked in a tight triangle choke at one point, but Enz escaped and the fight went to a second round. Momentum shifted a few times but Hall inflicted the most damage and controlled most of the action.
– Gilbert Smith choked Eric Wahlin unconscious with an arm-triangle. Wahlin was slammed by Smith hard early but then began to work his jiu-jitsu. However, Smith was simply too strong and when he gained a dominant position he quickly locked in the finished hold.
– Luke Barnatt of England beat a scrappy Nicholas Kohring by decision. Barnatt, the tallest of the TUF hopefuls at 6-foot-6, used his length and was more technical which ended up being the big difference.
– Dylan Andrews edged out a decision over Timothy Williams in a tightly contested bout. Andrews dropped Williams with the first punch he threw, but Williams fought back even though he eventually fell short.
– Collin Hart quickly submitted Mike Jaspar with a rear-naked choke in the final matchup of the premiere episode.
Following the fights to get into the house both coaches selected their teams.
Sonnen won a coin toss and had the option to pick the first fighter or select the first preliminary matchup. Sonnen chose to take a fighter and picked the lanky Brit Barnatt first overall.
Below are the final team rosters in the order in which each team was selected:
Team Sonnen: Luke Barnatt, Uriah Hall, Zak Cummings, Tor Troeng, Jimmy Quinlan, Kevin Casey, Kelvin Gastelum
Team Jones: Clint Hester, Josh Samman, Bubba McDaniel, Gilbert Smith, Collin Hart, Adam Cella, Dylan Andrews
Jones made the first fight selection and the light-heavyweight champion elected to have Smith take on Sonnen’s No. 1 pick Barnatt.
On the next episode of TUF 17, Smith and Barnatt battle for a spot in the quarterfinals and the fighters enter the TUF House.
Since there are only 14 fighters on the show, the UFC decided to bring back a wild card spot used in past seasons.
Following the preliminary round, the seven winners will be joined by the wild card, who will be chosen by the coaches and White based on their performance in their losing effort.
Fighters will receive $5,000 for every submission or knockout they earn during the show and at the end of the season $25,000 will be award to the fighter(s) that have the best fight, KO and submission of the season.