The Ultimate Fighter: Tournament of champions returned last night to Fox Sports 1, with episode two of the 16-man competition, coached by UFC flyweight contenders Joseph Benavidez and Henry Cejudo.
In the first episode, the contestants were split into two teams of eight and seeded in a tournament format. The final two fighters will meet at The Ultimate Fighter 24 Finale on December 3, 2016, which will be headlined by Benavidez and Cejudo. The winner of TUF 24 will meet current UFC flyweight champion, Demetrious Johnson at a later date.
In the opening two bouts last week, No.1 seed Alexandre Pontoja (Team Cejudo) defeated No.16 Brandon Moreno (Team Benavidez) via submission and No. 9 seed Kai-Kara France (Team Cejudo) knocked out No.8 Terrence Mitchell (Team Benavidez) to put Team Cejudo up 2-0.
UFC president Dana White opens this week’s episode by hyping the match-up between #5 Hiromasa Ogikubu, who holds the Shooto flyweight title, and #12 Nkazimulo Zulu of South Africa’s Extreme Fighting Championship. Inside the fight house, attention is brought to Zulu’s cultural differences and how housemates have found it hard to get along with the more reclusive character. Tensions rise when Damacio Page and Zulu get into an argument over the use of the kitchen sink. Page, along with other fighters, feel the South African lacks respect and proper etiquette when living inside the house.
Zulu begins preparing for his upcoming fight with Team Cejudo and is praised by White and his coach for possessing some of the best striking in the competition. With heavy hands and devastating knees, Zulu has managed to force a stoppage in six of his last seven fights, but his coaches want to work on defence. Cejudo acknowledges holes in Zulus takedown defence and Jiu Jitsu, so he works to help fix any issues before the fight.
The attention then shifts to Japans Ogikuba, who trained karate from age five but is well known for his grappling prowess. Hailing from a small town outside of Tokyo, he explains his motivation for winning the competition is to provide for his young family.
At the official weigh ins, both coaches begin to throw verbal jabs as Cejudo reminds Benavidez of the competitions 2-0 scoreboard thus far.
“You’re talking (expletive) about two guys losing?” Benavidez says. “I think everything you say you think you’re supposed to say and that’s why you say it. Everything you say.”
As the argument begins to heat up, Benavidez reminds Cejudo that he has notoriously missed weight and been pulled from numerous fights throughout his career, and tells his future opponent to ‘shut up’ until he makes weight for their match up at the TUF finale on December 3rd in Las Vegas.
Both Zulu and Ogikubu make the 126-pound weight limit and the third tournament fight of the season is official.
#5 Hiromasa Ogikubo (15-3-2) vs. #12 Nkazimulo Zulu (7-2-1)
Round 1 – Both fighters open up the bout by exchanging body kicks and looking to find their distance. Zulu seems to be noticeably faster with his punches and is able to connect as he moves in with quick combinations. Ogikubu tries to walk the South African down but takes some shots off the counter. Ogikubu’s attempts his first takedown but Zulu is able to shake it off reasonably well. Ogikubu then transfers to a body lock and is able to put Zulu on his back. Ogikubu is able to land some big shots in half guard but Zulu is still defending well and able to push him back into guard. From his back, Zulu is able to land stinging elbows and cut up his opponent. Ogikubu then attempts to pass to half guard by stepping over the leg and gets himself into mount. Zulu immediately rolls over and gives up his back and Ogikubu fiercely attempts to get his arm under the neck for the rear naked choke. He is able to tuck his forearm under the neck and tries to squeeze to finish the technique but somehow Zulu manages to desperately escape the choke until the bell.
Round 2 – Zulu recognises he is behind on the score sheet and comes out charging with hard punches. Ogikubu shoots for a takedown but is easily stuffed by Zulu’s sprawl. Zulu lands a hard straight right hand and knocks Ogikubu to the canvas. Ogikubu stands straight back up and scores an easy takedown and plants Zulu on his back. Ogikubu, in half guard again, looks to pass to side control or mount. Zulu is very offensive off his back and lands multiple elbows instead of looking to get to his feet. This allows Ogikubu to posture up and score with severe short punches and elbows. Similar to the first round, Ogikubu is able to get to mount and this time has more time on the clock to sinkin the rear naked choke. He finally locks up his arm around the neck of Zulu and finishes the fight by submission.
Team Benavidez earns its first victory of the season and ends Team Cejudos two fight win streak. The next episode will see the final match-up of Bracket A take place: #4 Damacio Page of Team Benavidez will attempt to even up the score when he meets #13 Adam Antolin of Team Cejudo.
TUF 24 airs each week on FOX Sports at 8pm.