TUF 24 Recap: Pantoja vs Kara-France

Episode eight of “The Ultimate Fighter 24: Tournament of Champions” begins with Dana White reviewing the opening round of fights and then moves to preview the first match up of Round 2 which pits Team Cejudo teammates Kai Kara-France against Alexandre Pantoja.

After a tough first round, both coaches decide to surprise their athletes with a mid-season house party. While coach Cejudo is mucking around in the pool, coach Benavidez decides to open up old wounds and make a comment about ‘being a role model’. Cejudo fails to take the bait and laughs off the remark.

At practice the following day, Coach Cejudo decides to step aside for the matchup between his 1st and 9th ranked team members. He will personally not provide any assistance to either fighter but will split the coaching staff evenly between Pantoja and Kara-France.

At the next Team Benavidez training session, world renowned Duane “Bang” Ludwig arrives as a guest coach for a couple of days. Benavidez decides to invite both teams to the training sessions on the condition that Coach Cejudo does not attend. Coach Cejudo unenthusiastically encourages his fighters to join but can’t help but feel insulted by the gesture. The next day, several members of Cejudo’s team attend the training session with Ludwig and seem to enjoy the class.

Both fighters come in under 126 pounds at the official weigh-ins and both fighters share an intense but respectful stare down.

Its fight day and the fighters head to the training centre for the first tournament quarterfinal matchup of the season.

No. 1 Alexandre Pantoja (16-2) vs. No. 9 Kai Kara-France (12-5)

Round 1 – The opening round starts with Pantoja missing a high kick that is followed by a scramble on the feet. Pantoja then shoots for a takedown and almost lands Kara-France on his back. However, he is able to struggle back to his feet but Pantoja grabs a hold of his leg and pushes him up against the cage. Kara France manages to break free and throws a few striking combinations that are blocked for the most part. Pantoja initiates another grappling attempt, shooting for a takedown and then moves onto his opponents back. The Kiwi is able to slip free but Pantoja never gives up and attempts to hang on. When Kara-France breaks free, Pantoja applies more pressure with a flying knee but is met with an overhand right. Pantoja is constantly trying to get inside and close the distance but Kara-France is doing a solid job of using footwork to stay in range. As the pace begins to steady, both men are willing to trade blows from the outside with Pantoja looking the more accurate and polished striker at this stage. Kara-France misses with a couple of consecutive high kicks which prompts the Brazilian to counter with another takedown but is stuffed as the bell rings.

Round 2 – The second stanza opens with an aggressive uppercut by Kara-France but is immediately countered by Pantoja unleashing another stinging kick to the body. Kara-France is aware that he needs to apply more pressure and comes forward but is backed up by a pair of hard punches and a grazing head kick. Pantoja seems to be finding his groove and is able to land multiple body kicks and numerous punching combinations. Kara- France looks quite tentative in the exchanges and cops some hard leg kicks whenever he attempts to close the distance. Pantoja is denied a single leg attempt and eats a short left hand for his trouble but seems to shake it off with ease. The two fighters exchange some punches in the middle of the Octagon with Pantoja looking a lot cleaner and efficient with his strikes. After another failed takedown attempt, Pantoja goes back to throwing some vicious leg kicks before cruising to the bell.

After two close, hard fought rounds, the judges are unanimous in their decision for a Pantoja victory. Dana White doesn’t seem to be happy with the performance claiming both men were very cautious in their approach.

Next week’s fight will be No. 5 Hiromasa Ogikubo taking on No. 13 Adam Antolin.