It’s the penultimate episode of the season, and American Top Team is on the comeback trail.
Team captain Nathan Coy got the ball rolling for ATT last week with a decision win over Valdir Araujo, but they still need to win the final two bouts to catch up to the Blackzilians’ point lead and claim the $200,000 team prize. As it stands, the Blackzilians are ahead on the scoreboard by a total of 300-200 with two 100-point bouts remaining.
Following Araujo’s loss, Glenn Robinson gives his squad an earful in the locker room. The Blackzilians owner feels like some members of the team have checked out, and fighters Kamaru Usman and Jason Jackson agree. “I felt like a couple of my teammates, they done checked out, like everything’s all done,” says Jackson. “Some of them lost their hunger. They feel like this is all over. But, me? I’m hungry for every little thing.”
Jackson will have a chance to back up his words, because Robinson -- along with coaches Jorge Santiago and Tyrone Spong -- has decided that the Jamaica native is next up for the Blackzilians. Earlier in the season, Jackson picked up an impressive decision win against experienced Brazilian Marcelo Alfaya. Teammate Vicente Luque calls Jackson a “sure win” for the Blackzilians and says his standup will make him a tough matchup for anyone on the other team.
Fighting for the second time in the season means Jackson will be eligible for a spot on “The Ultimate Fighter 21” Finale in Las Vegas, but the 6-foot-1 welterweight says he isn’t concerned with that.
“I’m here for one reason, and that’s to win,” says Jackson. “I don’t care about TV time, and I don’t care about trying to secure a spot in the UFC. I’m just here to win that whole tournament. I don’t care about nothing else.”
Meanwhile, American Top Team boss Dan Lambert meets with his coaches to select their next representative. They discuss Michael Graves, who lost to Usman in the first bout of the season and apparently developed a drinking problem in the house afterward. Still, Lambert calls the 24-year-old “ultra-talented” and capable of competing if he can get his head on straight. Graves tells his coaches that he’ll be able to make weight, and the decision is made.
“I think Michael Graves trains to be well-rounded,” says ATT head coach Ricardo Liborio. “He’s got wrestling. He’s got striking. He’s got ground. The biggest thing about Mike right now is he’s a very young guy, and this is a big stage. I really think he will be up to the task... but, we’ll see.”
Next, it’s time for that old “TUF” tradition, the coaches’ challenge. This season it’s the owners’ challenge, and it’s a relay race between the teams with $10,000 going to the winning owner and $1,500 for each of the winning team’s fighters. The owners run the anchor leg, and even though Jackson passes the baton to Robinson with a decent lead, the taller Lambert charges back to win the race for ATT.
“I guess it was fun,” says Lambert. “You can’t really take a lot of pride when you beat Glenn at something physical.”
Back at the house, Usman confronts ATT’s Sabah Homasi, who irked the Blackzilians team captain by mentioning that Usman was grabbing the fence during his fight with Steve Carl. Video replay shows that Homasi is correct and that Usman was repeatedly warned for fence grabbing. Unfortunately, they don’t have monitors in the fighter house, so it’s just a lot of shouting and arguing.
The next day, it’s time for the fighters to weigh in. Graves hits the scales first and comes in at 170 pounds on the nose, while Jackson checks in at 170.25 pounds. ATT’s Liborio is excited for the fight, calling it a great matchup for Graves. Robinson thinks the same for Jackson, whom he says has already beaten “a high-level black belt” in Alfaya.
The night before the fight, Graves hits an awkward takedown during training and feels a “pop” in his back, underneath his shoulder blade. ATT immediately ices down the injury, but Graves complains that he can’t put his chin down. He says the same injury occurred during a wrestling match when he was a teenager, and that he wrestled through it and still won the match. Nonetheless, Lambert and Liborio look less than confident.
The fight begins with Graves landing hard kicks to Jackson’s chest and lead leg, then sliding backward to evade the longer man’s probing punches. Fifty seconds in, Graves goes to throw a push kick just as Jackson is sending a leg kick high and inside. Jackson’s leg kick lands on Graves’ cup, but because of the awkward clash, it goes unnoticed by referee Jorge Alonso. Graves staggers backward and drops to his knees near the fence, then shoots for a takedown when Jackson moves in to swarm with strikes. Jackson stuffs the shot, clubs Graves with heavy punches and holds him down to deliver knees to the body while the referee looks on from nearby. Still on his knees, Graves is eating heavy leather and even heavier body blows as Jackson stands over him, doling out the punishment. The bout looks like it could be stopped at several points, but referee Alonso allows Graves every opportunity to get back in the fight.
Two minutes into the round, after absorbing massive damage, Graves rolls from his knees to his back, then sits up and picks the ankle of the standing Jackson. He turns Jackson against the fence and completes a takedown, then climbs onto the Blackzilian’s back and locks up a body triangle. Graves pulls Jackson backward to the mat and begins hunting for a rear-naked choke. After a brief struggle, Graves gets his right arm underneath Jackson’s chin, secures the RNC and forces the tap at 3:01 of the opening round.
The American Top Team gym explodes with cheers at the incredible comeback win, while Robinson jumps up on the cage and screams at referee Alonso for not stopping the fight sooner.
“That fight was f--king bulls--t!” Robinson shouts. “The guy can’t even get up!”
Indeed, Graves is shown stumbling around the cage on unsteady legs after the finish, bleeding from his mouth. Unfortunately for Robinson, the fight is over and there’s nothing to be done, and his complaining only serves to annoy the representatives of the Florida State Boxing Commission. Liborio talks some sense into Robinson and gets him to calm down, but the Blackzilians owner goes outside the gym to wait for the ref.
“You wanna talk about the fight?” Robinson asks as Alonso walks by, ignoring him. “Either way, we’re gonna talk about it one day, because I’m gonna put this up on the Internet with your picture.”
With that, the season is tied. American Top Team and the Blackzilians head into the final bout with 300 points apiece. Next week’s matchup will determine which squad gets the $200,000 team prize, and the decisive matchup will be fought on ATT’s home turf.