The 19th season of “The Ultimate Fighter” begins with the customary round of elimination fights.
UFC President Dana White reminds viewers that this iteration of the show will feature middleweights and light heavyweights competing for a six-figure UFC contract and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
Coaches B.J. Penn and Frankie Edgar shake hands and reacquaint themselves. They previously spent 50 minutes with each other in the Octagon, and now they will square off as coaches before climbing back into the cage for a 145-pound duel. The coaches are cordial in conversation. Penn thanks Edgar for agreeing to a third fight after winning the first two, and Edgar admits that he actually tried out for “TUF 5,” which featured Penn coaching opposite Jens Pulver, in 2007.
Former NFL hopeful Tyler King towers over Daniel Spohn in the episode’s first preliminary bout, but Spohn quickly cuts him down to size. As King closes the distance, Spohn wrecks him with a counter right hook, causing the larger man to fall flat on his face. Spohn jumps on him and drives two more coffin nails into his skull, much to the horror of King’s mother, who is sitting cage-side.
“You know, this is a rough sport. This is a hurting sport,” says Penn. “Sometimes, maybe, you shouldn’t bring your mom to something like this, because anything can happen.”
Next, Hector Urbina is relentless in his attempts to take down Adrian Miles, but the man from Mississippi is scrambling his tail off to continually pop back to his feet. Finally, Urbina snatches a standing guillotine and forces the submission.
Jake Heun will now square off with evangelist Todd Monaghan. Heun dominates the early going and floors his man with a dynamite right, but Monaghan somehow fights back to his feet. However, Heun soon hits a takedown and bombs away with ground-and-pound before threatening with a north-south choke. Somehow, Monaghan recovers guard and swivels for a slick armbar, forcing Heun to tap out and completing a miraculous comeback.
Next, Dana White reveals that 26-year-old Irishman Cathal Pendred will receive a bye into the quarterfinals. According to White, all of his prospective opponents kept coming up injured, and so only 15 fights will be contested during tonight’s premiere.
New father Roger Zapata now faces Tennessean Tyler Minton at 185 pounds, and Zapata has little trouble taking care of business, using superior boxing to bloody Minton and eventual stop his man inside the distance.
Former Bellator welterweight champion Lyman Good now locks horns with two-fight pro Ian Stephens, who does his best Ben Askren impression en route to a unanimous decision win. White seems pleased, and both the UFC boss and Stephens take shots at Good’s status as ex-Bellator champ.
Later, Josh Stansbury tees off on Chris Fields with a dynamite overhand right, but Fields weathers the early knockdown and survives. However, Stansbury later pops his knee while executing a takedown, and the fight is waved off.
Afterward, 23-year-old Anton Berzin makes quick work of fellow light heavyweight Cody Mumma, ensnaring the 29-year-old in a beautiful triangle-armbar to force the submission.
Tim Williams next recounts how he overcame a brain aneurysm and a failed attempt on “TUF 17.” He adds Serbian talent Bojan Velickovic to that list of conquered obstacles by scoring a third-round TKO over his exhausted opponent.
Chris Weidman training partner Eddie Gordon roughs up finisher Matt Gabel, continually cracking the Iowan with hard punch combinations en route to a unanimous decision victory.
Later, Kentuckian Josh Clark taps John Poppie, catching his bi-polar opponent in the episode’s second triangle-armbar to earn his entry into the fighter house.
Doug Sparks trots to the cage wearing a small set of furry, white ears atop his head -- a fashion choice that has apparently been in place for some time.
“My father was on an expedition in the Arctic Circle, and he knocked up a polar bear,” Sparks says. “So, I’m half human.”
The ears provide little help in the Octagon for Sparks, who is slammed violently to the mat and then submitted with a kimura by former Ohio State University wrestler Patrick Walsh.
Next, Matt Van Buren uses some Travis Browne-esque elbows to briefly render Daniel Vizcaya unconscious as the father of two hunts for a takedown against the cage. Referee Herb Dean halts the contest, and the video replay indicates it was a good call.
Afterward, Lincoln College wrestling coach Corey Anderson uses superior cardio to outpoint NCAA Division II All-American Kelly Anundson, and lauded prospect Dhiego Lima shows off excellent hand speed en route to a unanimous decision victory over Adam Stroup.
Former Ring of Combat champion and “TUF Nations” veteran Nordine Taleb next battles Mike King. The middleweights put on a tremendous, back-and-forth fight, prompting White to voice his regret that both men cannot gain entry into the fighter house. Taleb floors King to start round three, but the American counters with a beautiful, unorthodox kneebar attempt that turns the tide and garners him the decision win.
The coaches head back to the locker rooms to evaluate the performances they just witnessed and to plan their fight picks. Upon returning to the training center’s main room, White informs the surviving fighters that $25,000 bonuses will be awarded to the fighters who earn “Knockout of the Season,” “Submission of the Season” and “Fight of the Season.”
Edgar wins the coin toss and elects to make the first fighter pick, choosing Anderson. The rest of the light heavyweights are then divvied up; Edgar selects Walsh, Van Buren and Monaghan, while Penn chooses Berzin, Clark, Spohn and Fields. At middleweight, Edgar picks Stephens, Lima, Gordon and Urbina, and Penn takes King, Williams, Pendred and Zapata.
Penn then chooses the first matchup, pairing Pendred with Urbina. Next week, those middleweights will collide, and the 16-fighter cast will move into the “TUF” house.