TUF 24: “Tournament of Champions” will pit 16 champions from various mixed martial arts promotions across the globe, with the winner of the show being granted a crack at Johnson’s title on the show’s finale.
Unlike so many previous iterations of TUF over the years, there will be no fighting to get into the house, so all of the fighters walk into the famed TUF gym and these dudes are fawning over it like kids on Christmas. Immediately, some of them start comparing their various belts but they are all focused and guaranteeing that they each will win the show.
Joseph Benavidez and Henry Cejudo are the coaches and they quickly make an appearance. The pair of former Johnson victims explain how excited they are about being the opposing coaches. White speaks to the assembled fighters and is raving about how great this season will be and how the winner will face Johnson. As expected, Johnson strolls into the gym and is ready to see which potential foes stand before him. Johnson praises the coaches and encourages this year’s cast to do their best and that he looks forward to fighting whoever the winner is.
The next segment is where both coaches and their staff begin evaluating the show’s contestants before Benavidez and Cejudo pick their teams. All of the guys look solid, with nobody appearing to be a weak link whatsoever. After a somewhat short segment, it’s time for the coaches to pick.
Benavidez wins the coin toss and the picking begins but there’s a caveat: this season the contestants will be seeded 1-16 and the seeds will be determined depending when the coaches pick. When Benavidez picks his first guy, Cejudo’s pick will be his opponent and so on and so forth. It’s not revealed exactly, but it appears as though the fighters’ seedings are determined before the coaches’ pick.
Team Benavidez vs. Team CejudoTim Elliott (3) vs. Charlie Alaniz (14)
Brandon Moreno (16) vs. Alexandre Pantoja (1)
Damacio Page (4) vs. Adam Antolin (13)
Eric Shelton (15) vs. Yoni Sherbatov (2)
Ronaldo Candido (7) vs. Jaime Alvarez (10)
Matt Rizzo (11) vs. Matt Schnell (6)
Hiromasa Ogikubo (5) vs. Nkazimulo Zulu (12)
Terrence Mitchell (8) vs. Kai Kara-France (9)
After the coaches’ selection and the seeding, the bracket is secure. White starts hooting and hollering about how great this season will be and how pumped he is for these proven champions to be a part of the TUF house. The fighters are seen coming into the TUF house for the first time and it’s like a bunch of kids in a giant, multi-story candy shop. They begin making friends and sharing stories but they all have one goal in mind.
The scene immediately shifts to Team Benavidez’ first training session and the coach is thrilled to see his guys working hard. Everybody on the team also reciprocates the love for Benavidez as they are soaking up his knowledge like a collection of sponges.
It’s not long before Team Cejudo hits the gym and he is equally thrilled with his team. But the funny thing is that some of the fighters weren’t excited about being picked for the Olympian’s team. However, after watching him coach and training alongside him, his immense talent has opened their eyes, making them do a 180 from their initial reaction of being his student.
Brandon Moreno and Alexandre Pantoja will be fighting first and they hang out on the upstairs balcony to get to know one another. Though Moreno speaks Spanish and Pantoja speaks Portuguese, they are able to get by and have a great conversation. From there, it’s down to Tijuana to see where Moreno came from before the show shifts to his training camp and he is killing it.
After a commercial, it’s time to learn about Pantoja so we are treated to watching him at home in California (from Brazil) and talking about his life and jiu-jitsu prowess. His training camp is going well, but Cejudo sits him down and tells him that when the fight starts, he won’t be his coach for this fight. The reason is that Cejudo is uber close with Moreno and he can’t bring himself to teach Pantoja to beat one of his closest friends and training partner.
After the weigh-in and final prep, it’s finally time to fight and it’s the No. 16 seed taking on the No. 1 seed. Pantoja, the favorite to win the whole show, comes out and lands a few nice punches to the head. Moreno backs off and resets, only to eat a low kick to the thigh. The Mexican returns the favor a few times before drilling his foe with a hard left uppercut that buckles Pantoja’s knees. Moreno misses with a flying knee but is staying away and then misses a single-leg takedown after an exchange of fists. They trade some more leather in the center of the cage but Moreno sticks him with a vicious left to the gut with about two minutes left. Pantoja is cut around his right eye late in the frame from a flurry of punches, which prompts him to swing wildly, but his volley of punches largely fall short. It’s a very close opening round, one that could go either way, but overall, Moreno wins it 10-9.
Round two begins with some swelling around Moreno’s left eye, but it’s nothing to be concerned with at the moment. The flyweights trade punches until Pantoja clips the younger man with a glancing head kick, though it doesn’t do any real damage on impact. Pantoja misses a flying knee but quickly drags Moreno down into his guard and there is a lot of time left. Moreno scrambles out and sweeps the BJJ ace before being able to stand back up to safety. With blood streaming down his face, Pantoja shoots in and scores a critical takedown, though he can’t keep the Mexican down. They clinch against the cage, where they exchange elbows to the grill and fists to the belly. Moreno is warned for losing his mouthpiece with two minutes left and he’s getting worn out now. Pantoja shoots in again, is successful and immediately slinks around and onto Moreno’s back. Moreno is trying everything in his power to escape, but Pantoja’s sub game is too much and he eventually latches on a textbook rear-naked choke, forcing the tap.
As expected, Moreno is devastated but everybody is proud of the kid and how well he fought. Cejudo is emotional because his close friend was beaten but he is very proud of Pantoja and how he came back for the win. But just when you think the show is about to end, the next fight is being queued up: Terrence Mitchell, the No. 8 seed against Kai Kara-France, the No. 9 seed.
The show shifts gears to Kara-France, who is from New Zealand but has been living in Thailand. He’s seen training with his Tiger Muay Thai teammates and then he explains how two weeks after he won his title, his best friend was killed in an auto accident. He dedicates this dream to his friend and says that nothing will stop him.
After the typical training footage of Kara-France, it’s time for Mitchell to reveal what makes him tick. He’s born and raised in Alaska and he’s shown hanging out on the beach with his girlfriend and son. Some impressive highlights of his recent hot streak fill the television and then after the usual pre-fight prep, they climb into the Octagon for battle.
Round one opens with Mitchell cracking his foe with a stiff jab behind that massive seven-inch reach advantage. But when Mitchell misses his second jab, Kara-France closes the gap and drills him with an overhand right. Another right, followed by a combo upstairs and Mitchell is rocked. The lanky Alaskan tries to clear his head, but Kara-France is all over him. Mitchell staggers all over the Octagon and then has his lights turned out with a missile of a right to the jaw, ending the fight almost as soon as it started.
Just like that, TUF 24 explodes out of the gates with two exciting fights that both end in stoppages. Just before the telecast concludes, it’s revealed that next week’s battle will be Hiromasa Ogikubo (5) vs. Nkazimulo Zulu (12).