The ninth episode of “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 15 opens with a shot of Team Cruz’s Mike Rio arriving at the UFC Training Center. Meanwhile, Rio’s opponent, Andy Ogle, hangs the flag of his native England in the Team Faber locker room as he readies for combat. Theirs is the final first-round matchup, and Team Faber holds a 4-3 lead heading into the bout.
Last week, Chris Saunders took a hard-fought split decision over Sam Sicilia, a bout that many -- including UFC President Dana White -- felt deserved a sudden-victory round. In the Team Faber locker room, Saunders twirls a pink T-shirt over his head in celebration.
Michael Chiesa leaves the celebration room to console a dejected Sicilia, his training partner outside of the show. Coach Dominick Cruz commends his fighter’s performance and assures Sicilia the fight should have gone to a third frame. Sicilia cracks a joke about using less technique next time, and everyone is ready to move on.
Next up is the coaches’ challenge, White’s favorite part of the competition. Sponsored by the U.S. Marines, this iteration of the challenge is an obstacle course on which the two coaches must climb ropes flip tires, carry training dummies and lug 35-pound ammunition cases on their way to four different shooting stations.
Initially, Cruz seems less than thrilled with the task at hand. After all, Jason Miller and Michael Bisping played air hockey on Season 14. A $20,000 cash prize helps to ease his concerns.
Cruz races out to an early lead, surging ahead of Faber on the ropes and displaying an aptitude for firearms in the process. Eventually, Faber closes the gap and passes his rival coach. The competition comes down to the final shooting station, and Faber proves himself to be more proficient than Cruz with a grenade launcher.
“I saw that [target] explode, and I felt like I was in war, man. I felt like I was getting close to winning the battle,” Faber said. “That last explosion was such a weight off my shoulders.”
Later, it is time for the Team Faber training session. Ogle informs the audience that everyone in his community grew up fighting, in part to ward off bullies. Faber wants Ogle to vary his attacks, using solid footwork and combinations to keep his opponent off balance. Faber expects Rio’s main objective will be to get Ogle to the ground, so he wants the Englishman to focus on getting up quickly when taken down. The former WEC star believes Rio does not like to get hit.
“I’m gonna be making Mike scared to shoot,” Ogle vowed.
In the opposing camp, Cruz wants Rio to focus on suffocating top control. Rio, a three-time national champion wrestler in college, describes himself as a boy scout with an intense devotion to wrestling. Growing up in Florida, there was no drinking or partying for Rio -- only training.
There is one minor concern leading up to the bout: Rio’s injured knee, which he suffered earlier in the competition. With five weeks since the injury occurred, Cruz does not expect it to be an issue.
“Usually with my wrestling, the second I get my hands on someone and get them down, I finish the fight. There is no second round,” Rio said.
White sits down with Faber and Cruz to begin preliminary discussions for quarterfinal matchups. Faber does a good job annoying Cruz while violating his personal couch space during the session, and White says he will take the coaches’ matchup
suggestions under consideration.
Both fighters make weight without issue. Then comes the usual pre-fight promos with both Rio and Ogle promising bad things, and, finally, it is time to fight.
Ogle sets the tone by connecting with an uppercut early, and a left hand from the Englishman finds its mark not long after that. Ogle controls the first half of the round with his striking until Rio shoots for a takedown and slams the Brit to the mat. Ogle quickly works his way back up, and the combatants break away from each other. Ogle lands a two-punch combo with less than a minute remaining and then finds a home for an overhand right. Rio shoots for a takedown with 10 seconds remaining and gets it as the round expires.
Ogle begins round two moving forward, but Rio gets off with the first significant offense. Rio continues to press forward, throwing punches with a greater sense of urgency before tying up Ogle and pressing him against the cage. Rio’s offense is short-lived, as a straight left from Ogle connects, and he continues to utilize movement and footwork to stay out of takedown range. Rio gets him to the mat with 3:30 to go, however, and he begins punishing Ogle with punches from half guard. Rio then takes his opponent’s back and hunts for a rear-naked choke.
Ogle escapes and moves into top position with a little more than two minutes remaining. From there, the Team Faber competitor moves to side control before taking his opponent’s back. He attempts a rear-naked choke of his own, and after a series of punches to Rio’s head, the Team Cruz product is forced to tap with 42 seconds remaining in round two.
“I knew that if I could stop Mike from taking me down then I’d be a happy man and the fight could be mine,” Ogle told Jon Anik after the fight.
Team Faber ends the opening round with a 5-3 edge. The first two quarterfinal matchups are officially announced by White from the Izod Center in New Jersey: James Vick will meet Joe Proctor, while Justin Lawrence will lock horns with Michael Chiesa.