This week's episode of "The Ultimate Fighter" wasted no time getting down to business by announcing the fight match-up. Ben Saunders from Team Serra will meet Dan Barrera from Team Hughes.
Having covered this show from day one, I can tell you that when the fights are announced first, you are looking at a two-round fight, at the very least. For once this season the two chosen are guys that want to fight and love their jobs.
Team Hughes knows that their backs are against the wall. They feel that they will have to run the table to even get close to catching up with Team Serra.
Dan Barrera promises that he will give his maximum effort, saying he will "give everything I have, every second I have." Some of his teammates would disagree. They think he's a little too balls out while sparring during practice.
"He needs to relax and not hurt somebody," Coach Hughes says.
Teammate Blake Bowman agrees: "You can either adapt to survive or let him keep elbowing you until you trade partners, I guess."
Bowman is emerging as this season's best bet for comic relief and not because he acts clownish. Perhaps it has something to do with him being Southern.
"Southerners know how to take your worst feature and make it a joke," my pal Rod says. "Like say you have a limp … they'll call you ‘Limpy.'"
Apparently Barrera isn't the only one with a mean streak in this fight. Serra says his fighter, Saunders, "can put a hurting on people." He is much taller, and Serra admits that the game plan is for Saunders to use that length and be "all range."
Barrera's inner clock wakes him up at 4:15 a.m. everyday. "These cats will have to stab me in my sleep or throw me in front of a train wreck to keep me from getting up," he says. He also welcomes the suffering he puts his body through daily: "Pain is the only friend you'll have in the Octagon."
Apparently he's never met Steve Mazzagotti's push broom mustache. That thing will loan you money and never expect to see a dime in return.
Team Hughes has one complaint about Dan Barrera: He's fond of disappearing for various lengths of time in the bathroom. While waiting for Barrera on one of his many trips to the john, they nervously consider what he might be up to.
In order to squash the viewer's fears, though, Spike is kind enough to show footage from Barrera's bathroom trips. While it might be strange, it is harmless to see that usually he is shadowboxing or flexing his muscles in front of the bathroom mirror. Only once, when his pants are down and his business district is blurred out, does it get creepy.
With his pants back on and in the gym, Barrera doesn't catch a break since Hughes decides that he deserves a taste of his own medicine. Hughes doesn't like how Barrera keeps going full bore on his teammates in practice and decides to spar with him. Barrera gets a session that looks about like what your dog might do to a new chew toy. The lesson isn't lost on Barrera, who often turns to his faith and biblical quotes to help him understand the world: "He who hates correction is a fool."
In the van on the way back to the house, Barrera's team suddenly flips out when they see the damage his hand took from Hughes. He's not sure what happened, but his right hand is swollen almost twice its size and is that awful bruise color range of black, blue and yellow.
Bowman nails it on the head, humorously noting that "Barrera's hand looks like a second grader drew it."
He's right -- it's awful. The hand looks like Rocky Dennis in the movie "Mask."
Barrera goes to the doctor to get checked out. After returning to the house, he informs his teammates that it's broke and he's off the show. They start to show some support, but then he reveals he's only kidding and everyone is relieved.
Just when Barrera thinks his bad day is over, he gets one of the dreaded phone calls from home that are only allowed for family emergencies. His wife is in hysterics after a recent spell she went through that had her thinking she was dying. Barrera calmly hears her out, praying with her on the phone and giving her instructions to see a doctor and stay with family until he can return.
Unlike previous polecats on TUF, Barrera doesn't back down from the adversity and stays on the show to finish his fight and what he started. Dana White talks to Barrera about the situation, and it's revealed that Barrera had quit his job as a firefighter to come on the show.
Just like the trials of Job, Barrera's tests aren't over. After all the hurdles to get into the Octagon, he still has the perpetually smiling Saunders waiting for him there. Saunders claims that he is a better striker than anyone on Team Hughes and for Barrera, who stands 5-foot-9, dealing with Saunders' 6-foot-3 height can be a real problem.
Saunders wastes no time getting things started as he connects with a knee to his opponent's head. He employs the range plan that Serra concocted, scoring with kicks and knees from a safe distance.
Barrera has something up his sleeve, too. He lands a big right hand that leaves Saunders lying on his back, bloodied and grinning.
Barrera doesn't have an answer for Saunders while he lies on his back, however, and chooses not to engage him on the ground nor strike at his legs and body. Team Hughes implores Barrera to let his adversary up to finish him while he's rocked. Barrera is content to leave him there.
In the second round, Saunders begins to really put his length to use, scoring on numerous kicks that keep Barrera at a distance. The Team Serra fighter also deals some damage as Barrera's forehead bleeds like his unicorn horn got ripped off.
Barrera eats another great left knee that has him struggling to stay in the fray. Saunders then uncorks a variety of leg strikes, tagging his opponent with high kicks and leaping knees that land when Barrera comes in low.
Barrera closes the distance by getting Saunders against the fence, and he tries for some more quick uppercuts, but another knee drops him. Back on the feet, Saunders scores at will.
Once Barrera starts running away from Saunders, referee Herb Dean (Pictures) steps in and asks if he wants to continue. Barrera complains about the blood in his eye, and Dean calls off the fight only to be corrected by Barrera who is willing to continue.
The fight ends after a fairly even first round is met by a very dominant performance by Saunders in the second.
The fighters prepare for another round, but they are informed of the judges' unanimous decision for Saunders. Hughes takes a look at the scorecards and is enraged that two judges gave Saunders the first round.
Ever the competitor, Hughes argues with Nevada State Athletic Commission Director Keith Kizer about his judges.
Dana White agrees with Hughes later, saying, "I don't want to say anything bad about the judging, but that was some horrible judging."
The fight was by far the best of the season. White agrees, handing both Barrera and Saunders $5,000 bonuses, which are normally reserved for knockouts and submissions.
Barrera sure has had a tough week and is bummed about his performance. He tells White that he doesn't deserve the money. Afterward, Serra steps into the Team Hughes locker room and tells Barrera that he's a good fighter and assures him that "they'll have you back for sure."
Serra's right. Barrera won't win the competition, but he'll be on a future UFC Fight Night card. Kid's got heart.