Chael Sonnen is off to a rough start on this season of “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil.” Not only is his team down 0-2 in fights, they also failed last week to win a game of mud soccer which would have earned their coach the right to match the next fight.
Instead, it’s Wanderlei Silva standing in front of the fighters at the “TUF” gym, ready to select the next two middleweights who will do battle. From his own squad, Wanderlei sends his top draft selection, jiu-jitsu champion Ricardo Abreu. “Demente” will go up against Team Sonnen’s last-picked 185-pounder, another ground specialist, Guilherme “Bomba” Vasconcelos.
“I think that Bomba’s got the skills to win this whole tournament,” says Sonnen, “but Demente’s got some positions that he’s very powerful in.”
With the match set, the fighters head off to a challenge on the beach where each team must build a raft, row it out around a buoy and return to shore. The winning team will receive a “special gala dinner,” while the losing team has to prepare and serve said dinner. The race starts out close but soon turns into a blowout as Team Sonnen can’t seem to get their rowing down, and Ismael de Jesus -- “Captain Marmota” to his crew -- leads Team Wanderlei to yet another victory.
Back in the gym, Vasconcelos is training with hopes of putting Team Sonnen on the board, and he reveals that he trained with Abreu years before they entered the “TUF” house. Sonnen drills wrestling and submission defense with his guys, and his coaches specifically work with Vasconcelos on “techniques to stop Demente’s fury.” The game plan is to bait Abreu into takedown attempts, and then punish him with strikes.
Before that, however, Vasconcelos and the rest of Team Sonnen must open up their “TUF” restaurant and prepare dinner for their rivals. Sporting chef hats and waiter uniforms, the fighters treat Team Wanderlei to a candlelit dinner of fish and wine -- although one diner, de Jesus, gets a little more salt than he expected on his salmon.
Team Sonnen also presents Abreu with a cake in honor of his son Lucas’ first birthday, a gesture which reduces Demente to tears. Abreu reveals that, like many fighters, he got involved with martial arts as a way to channel his youthful aggression. Today, he fights for his family, who he says give him “supernatural drive, strength and will.”
At the official weigh-ins, both fighters are cleared, with Abreu checking in at 184.9 pounds and Vasconcelos at 182. Now, all that’s left to do is fight.
Abreu gets the upper hand early, sparking Vasconcelos with a right hook behind the ear before tripping him to the canvas near the fence. Bomba defends well from guard, fending off Abreu’s attempts at arm-triangles and guard passes to scramble back up. Demente keeps his man pinned on the fence but releases when Vasconcelos blocks a trip takedown attempt. The right hand of Abreu continues to land until midway through the round, when Vasconcelos floors him with a double-leg. Abreu takes only 30 seconds to escape from the situation and score another takedown of his own. Vasconcelos gets back to his feet in the final minute of the round and tries to chase down Abreu, with little success.
Round two begins with both men winging huge overhand rights and neither landing. After about one minute, Abreu times a punch from Vasconcelos, ducks underneath and floors him again. Vasconcelos nearly surrenders his back in order to stand, only to be taken to the mat again seconds later. Things start to look up for Vasconcelos when he explodes to his feet and begins marching forward on a suddenly tired Abreu midway through the round. Punches and leg kicks are scoring for Vasconcelos, and he succeeds in taking Abreu down with 1:45 left in the fight. Abreu stands right back up and reverses the position with a powerful double-leg right in front of his coaches; “We will win in a minute,” declares Wanderlei. Abreu doesn’t seem to do much damage with his final minute in top control, but he does stay busy with punches which keep Vasconcelos on the defensive until the last horn.
After two rounds, all three judges side with Abreu, who advances to the semifinal round. Coach Wanderlei could not be happier, and he takes the opportunity to throw a little trash talk back at Sonnen.
“We’re winning everything,” Silva gloats. “He’s just here to watch the show. Before he leaves, I’ll bill him a cover charge for the show that my team is putting on.”