This week’s episode of “The Ultimate Fighter 17” opens with a reminder that Chael Sonnen’s team had a two-fight winning streak snapped in the previous installment, during which Team Jones’ Collin Hart cruised to a unanimous decision over Gracie jiu-jitsu black belt and freestyle rap star Kevin Casey.
After snatching the fight pick control back from Sonnen, Jon Jones elects to pair teammate Bubba McDaniel with Sonnen’s young gun, Kelvin Gastelum.
Jones reveals in a confessional that he believes McDaniel is better in every aspect of fighting than his upcoming opponent. Sonnen’s take on the matchup is predictably contradictory, and the gangster from West Linn, Ore., says that his man will have the edge in the cardio department. Gastelum is apparently a big Ronda Rousey fan, and Sonnen rings her up to provide a bit of motivation. Rousey tells Gastelum that she will come out to Las Vegas and teach a session with Team Sonnen, provided Gastelum wins his bout.
Sonnen and Jones rap in the hall, talking about the upcoming matchup. The exchange is cordial, though Jones confesses in private that he is finding it more difficult to preserve his “mystique” due to his daily interaction with his future opponent. Both men sing McDaniel’s praises as a well-rounded veteran. Jones states privately that he will have no problem refocusing when it comes time to fight Sonnen.
Gastelum’s teammate, Luke Barnatt, believes that the experienced McDaniel has made a “cheap” choice in selecting the season’s youngest competitor. The Brit also believes that Gastelum will surprise his more experienced opponent with his punching power, takedown defense and physical strength.
Sonnen drops by the “TUF” house for a round of charades, and he nails “Coming to America” right out of the gate. While most of the fighters are whooping it up in the living room, McDaniel is sitting alone by the fire, focusing for his upcoming fight. Jones’ man recounts his rebellious youth, revealing that the birth of his daughter prompted him to straighten out and fly right.
During a Gastelum training session, the fighter reveals that he is a full-time bail bondsman in Yuma, Ariz. Sonnen’s fighter explains that he derives his inspiration from his mother’s sacrifice as a single parent and a Mexican immigrant. The 21-year-old southpaw originally came from a wrestling background but has been working diligently to improve his boxing.
Sonnen gives his men a pep talk during a rest period. It is the speech that has been played without fail during every “TUF” promo spot for the last month, wherein Sonnen urges his men to rely on actions and not emotion to carry them to victory. In a separate promo, Sonnen briefly resurrects his gangster persona and cuts a tight, poetic spot before the commercial break.
McDaniel’s training montage begins with a bit of fighter-coach dissent. It has been no secret that Josh Samman has been critical of Jones and his assistant coaches for their past fight picks and has been pushing to get himself a fight as quickly as possible. Now that Jones is considering him for next week, however, Samman explains that he has developed several nagging injuries. While Jones is glad his fighter openly communicates with him, he nonetheless wants his squad to know who is in charge.
Later, actor Mickey Rourke stops by out of the blue for a quick Ram Jam at the request of Sonnen. Rourke -- who competed as an amateur boxer before becoming famous, and then again as a professional in the early 1990s -- talks about his ups and downs in the ring and urges all the fighters to constantly improve their technique.
Both fighters make weight and go through their final fight preparations. Eight years the senior of his opponent, McDaniel leaves himself open to a takedown to start the contest but quickly kicks off the young buck. Gastelum again takes him to the mat and locks up a far-side cradle from side control. McDaniel sweeps him and takes his back, sinking in both hooks. Sonnen’s man escapes and stands, and then drags McDaniel to the canvas once more, only to see Jones’ fighter swivel for an armbar and use it to mount. Gastelum escapes again and lands in top position, but McDaniel uses a butterfly sweep to turn the tables for what seems the 30th time. Gastelum crawls back on top and finishes the wild round with a windmill punch over McDaniel’s guard.
McDaniel eats a leg kick and botches a hip toss in the opening minute of round two, finding himself caught in a guillotine, which he escapes by passing to side control. Gastelum reverses the position and rides a turtling McDaniel, pounding away with a pair of hard right hands before cinching a slick rear-naked choke. McDaniel looks almost shocked as he realizes the gravity of the situation and taps out.
Gastelum’s hand is raised, and both coaches later compliment the performance of both men. Sonnen specifically praises Gastelum’s second round, in which he slowed down and secured his dominant ground positions. In the opposite locker room, a dejected McDaniel covers his head with a towel and weeps. Jones tells him he is still eligible for the wild card, but McDaniel nevertheless says he feels like a failure. Back in Sonnen’s locker room, the former two-time middleweight title challenger once again has Rousey on the line. The UFC women’s champ congratulates Gastelum on the win and promises to make good on her promise to teach the boys some judo chops.
The show concludes with Sonnen’s fight announcement. “The Bad Guy” reveals that next week’s episode will see two of the competition’s best collide when Tor Troeng takes on Josh Samman.