‘TUF 26’ Recap: Episode 6

By TJ De Santis Oct 4, 2017
While the score is nearly even between Team Alvarez and Team Gaethje heading into the sixth episode of “The Ultimate Fighter 26,” the winners thus far have not exactly advanced according to seeding.

No. 1 seed Roxanne Modafferi, No. 4 seed DeAnna Bennett and No. 6 seed Montana Stewart moved passed their opponents with relative ease, but No. 12 seed Sijara Eubanks and No. 14 seed Nicco Montano turned the tournament upside down; Montano defeated No. 3 seed Lauren Murphy and Eubanks took out No. 5 seed Maia Stevenson. In the latest episode, the 15th-seeded Gillian Robertson was given the opportunity to author the biggest upset of the season against No. 2 seed Barb Honchak.

Episode 6 opened with Team Alvarez running strength and conditioning drills with assistant coach Rick Pohler. Former Ultimate Fighting Championship and Bellator MMA lightweight titleholder Eddie Alvarez credited the drills for helping him endure some of the toughest battles of his career. Speaking of battles: Alvarez continued to have issues with Murphy. While the final cut of a reality show can be slanted and crafted in any manner the producers see fit, Murphy either does not get along with her coach or just happens to give editors perfect ammunition to paint her character. It has been two weeks since the former Invicta Fighting Championships titleholder was upset and eliminated from the competition, but her displeasure with how Alvarez runs his practice and treats his fighters remains an ongoing narrative. Murphy scoffed at Alvarez’s views on overtraining being a myth and points to the drills as an example of him not knowing the fighters who comprise his roster.

Beyond the Murphy-Alvarez noise, Honchak has returned to active competition for the first time in nearly three years. Once regarded as the top women’s flyweight in the world, she must now prove herself to a wider audience. Meanwhile, Robertson has her sights set on the upset. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt met with coach Justin Gaethje, who told her he had watched some of her fights. While the former World Series of Fighting champion compliments Robertson’s skills, it becomes clear that he wants her to change her approach to fighting, especially as it pertains to Honchak. He urged Robertson to believe in her striking and to up her aggression. The youngest competitor on the show, Robertson cringes when Gaethje starts to assess her skills. Even so, she seems open to his critiques and soon starts hitting pads with striking coach Phil Nurse.

Honchak is the oldest fighter in the competition and one of its most established. She claims to feel better now than she did a few years ago, as she used her time away from the sport to restore her health. Whether or not Honchak can overcome ring rust remains to be seen.

Referee Mark Smith started the bout, as Honchak met Robertson in the center of the Octagon. Robertson heeded Gaethje’s advice and looked to exchange with the former Invicta champion. Honchak was game and landed strikes of her own. In the clinch, the two women exchanged positions with their backs to the fence. Honchak executed a takedown and applied her ground-and-pound inside her counterpart’s closed guard. Robertson quickly isolated Honchak’s arm, and the veteran responded with some hard strikes to cement a 10-9 round in her favor.

Alvarez between rounds implores Honchak to finish the underdog. Though overmatched through the first five minutes, Robertson remained composed on the stool, with Gaethje providing words of encouragement.

Honchak sprawled out of a takedown to start Round 2, assumes top position and ultimately advances to full mount -- a position from which she targets Robertson’s left arm. She sold out for a straight armbar, only to be swept by Robertson. However, Robertson failed to maintain top position. A quick adjustment from Honchak put her back in full mount. She focused on strikes from there, as punches and elbows prompted Smith to intervene and sent Honchak to the quarterfinals.

On Episode 7, No. 7 seed Melinda Fabian, of Team Alvarez, faces the 10th-seeded Rachael Ostovich-Berdon for the right to meet Honchak for a spot in the semifinals.


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