Jesse Taylor dominates to remain unbeaten in the training center’s cage, and Team Dillashaw takes a 3-0 lead. Cody Garbrandt remains surly.
Catching you up to speed on TUF 25: Redemption …
Cody Garbrandt: Snake!
T.J. Dillashaw: Real original.
Urijah Faber: Liar!
Fourteen fighters returning to TUF: Hey, we’re here, too!
Hector Urbina: I’m not. I wasn’t even close to making weight.
Speaking of weight, you may have heard that TUF 26 will crown a women’s flyweight champion. Starting that weight class is overdue, but here’s the issue: The TUF format skews weight classes. Fighters who can easily cut to 125 once every couple of months are not the same fighters who can cut to 125 three or four times in six weeks. TUF contestants often scoot down a weight class (or two) after the show.
And, of course, there’s no guarantee that the best women’s flyweights will be in the TUF house. In 2014, the UFC launched the women’s strawweight class, with Carla Esparza taking the belt. Two years later, Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Claudia Gadelha were coaching against each other, having quickly surpassed the TUF 20 cast. (Rose Namajunas is still on her way up, at least.)
In other words, don’t get too attached to the UFC’s first women’s flyweight champion.
Anyway, in tonight’s episode, it’s a battle of second-round picks, as Mehdi Baghdad faces Jesse Taylor. Yes, that Jesse Taylor, the one who made the TUF 7 final and celebrated it a bit too much, leading Dana White to kick him out. He’s also famous for losing to C.B. Dollaway via the rarely seen Peruvian necktie in his only UFC fight to date.
Baghdad beat Artem Lobov in the fight to get in the TUF 22 house. He went 0-2 in the UFC, most recently losing a split decision to John Makdessi in July. He was supposed to fight Jon Tuck in October, but he was injured and then cut. As reported in Bloody Elbow, Baghdad wasn’t too pleased with former UFC matchmaker Joe Silva.
Taylor represents Team Dillashaw, which is 2-0 even though Garbrandt has been allowed to pick the first two fights and send his top guns against T.J.’s last two picks. Karmic retribution for grabbing T.J.’s throat?
Off we go into Episode 3, “Iron Sharpens Iron” (when will they run out of episode titles?) …
We start with Baghdad and his cool French accent. He says he trained with Taylor for three years at Team Quest. Cody describes the matchup as classic striker (Baghdad) vs. grappler (Taylor).
Back to the house for Taylor’s back story. “I was young, ambitious and ready to take on the world.” We see a TUF 7 montage of him drinking, thrusting suggestively, pissing his pants, etc. He plowed through his fights, beating Tim Credeur in the semis. Then Dana White told him his drunken rampage in Vegas was bad enough to cost him his spot in the final. To his credit, Taylor didn’t argue or blame anyone else.
Then we see a montage of Taylor fighting. Everywhere. He beat TUF 25 castmate Seth Baczynski. He beat Kendall Grove. He won the occasional belt. (Not shown: He’s also 3-6 in the last three years.) But the UFC has always been his intended destination.
The Baghdad montage shows him destroying Lobov and then dropping his next bout in a close decision in TUF 22. Coach Conor McGregor offers high praise: “You’re an exciting fighter to watch.”
Baghdad’s home video segment is charming. He introduces his “American dad” on a boat, and he blasts some classical music as he drives to training in L.A. Old school.
Back to Jesse Taylor: Dillashaw wrestled with him at Cal State Fullerton. Small world. In the house, Taylor tells a group of attentive castmates that his post-TUF incident cost him dearly on the family front and in custody battles.
Taylor’s home video shows him living at the same place he lived in TUF 7. He moved around a lot, but he held on to the place and sublet it before returning. We see him tossing around a football with his kids, who don’t seem interested in putting on a show for the camera. Instead, he takes the camera to training, where we have a quick Chris Leben sighting but little else.
The Taylor chronicle has been a little repetitive. We’ve heard multiple times that he had the show won and blew it. (Amir Sadollah may disagree.) But it’s compelling.
There’s a significant size difference — Taylor has fought a lot at 185 and a little at 205, while Baghdad has gone as low as 145. But Taylor’s weight cut went so well that he decided to run naked through the backyard.
Random thought: Can you imagine living next door to the TUF house?
The weigh-in proceeds with no incident. Baghdad 170. Taylor 171.
“You wanna talk about a redemption story?” Dana White asks rhetorically. “Jesse is the guy.”
White also says Baghdad disappointed on TUF 22. Odd comment considering he was paired up with McGregor favorite and eventual finalist Lobov in the fights to get in the house. If he was one of the favorites, why match him up with another favorite? (Thanks to the unique format of sparing two preliminary losers that season, Lobov made it to the house anyway.)
Maybe it’s the highlights in the preview, or maybe it’s just a gut feeling, but this fight looks like a barnburner. Maybe it’s because the focus has been so squarely on these fighters. I can’t remember any other fighter saying a word. The coaches have only talked about the fight, a refreshing change from reliving the Alpha Male drama to the point of absurdity.
Round 1: Taylor feints and immediately goes for the double-leg, taking Baghdad down with ease. Baghdad’s head is against the cage, but he has an active guard, leaving Taylor no opportunity to do anything. After a minute, Taylor gets Baghdad’s back and goes for the choke, but he can’t get the hooks in or sink his arm under Baghdad’s chin. He switches back into Baghdad’s half-guard and tries another choke, but then he finds space to land some elbows, popping open a gash near Baghdad’s left eye. He then takes Baghdad’s back again and lands a few more good shots.
Baghdad scrambles free with 2:00 left in the round, but he’s only able to stand for 30 seconds. Taylor nearly gets mount, works around to Baghdad’s back and goes for the choke again. He’s nowhere near getting it, so he opts to swing back into Baghdad’s half-guard and pound again. He gets mount just as the horn sounds. Could be a 10-8 for JT Money.
Round 2 begins with another takedown attempt, but Baghdad avoids this one. The French striker also manages to land a decent shot, but Taylor quickly deposits him on his back.
Ever ask yourself, “Hey, what would happen if a middleweight grappler fought a lightweight striker?” This is your answer. Like a movie preview that has all the good jokes in the movie, the teasers for this fights must have shown every strike Baghdad landed.
Garbrandt resorts to the Rampage Jackson School of Coaching. “You gotta get up!” Hey, he’s trying. Taylor’s just too powerful, and he has the quickness to counter anything Baghdad tries.
Fight recap: Garbrandt thinks Baghdad’s one punch early in the second round was enough to put Taylor face down. That’s one way of looking at it. The other is that it barely interrupted his takedown.
Taylor by unanimous decision. He praises his coach and team, saying iron sharpens iron. That explains the title.
Garbrandt is pissed. Dillashaw’s team is not. Joe Stevenson leads the “Hard work / dedication” chant in the Dillashaw dressing room.
Once again, the teams are penned up in the hallway before the next fight is announced. Garbrandt tries to engage a reluctant Dillashaw in what passes for trash talk among these guys. Dillashaw says he has a higher fight IQ. Garbrandt says his right hand is his IQ. Demetrious Johnson must be sitting at home wondering what he has to do to get the publicity these guys are getting.
The fight announcement is anticlimactic. Way back in Episode 1, Dillashaw had selected his top draft pick, active UFC fighter James Krause, to take on Hector Urbina. When Urbina didn’t make weight, White gave Garbrandt’s team a chance to pick a replacement, Johnny Nunez. White also allowed Nunez some time to prep for the fight. Time’s up.