After a lengthy and dramatic intro, Season 25 of “The Ultimate Fighter” officially begins with all of this season’s talent strolling into the Ultimate Fighting Championship gym. Jesse Taylor is the first of the cast to be chronicled and his sordid past of when he was on Season 13 and how he was removed from the finals is front and center. A hyped-up fighter still, he claims to be remorseful for his ways of being a complete jackass and how he wants to redeem himself.
James Krause from Season 15 is up next and he’s the only guy on this season to have never actually been in the house and he’s also the only cast member who is currently an actual UFC fighter under contract. Season 16’s Julian Lane follows, as do plenty of highlights of his emotional breakdowns while he was on the show.
For a moment, the fighter profiles are cut short as UFC President Dana White enters the gym to meet all of the fighters and reveals that not only will the winner of the entire show take home $250,000, the winner of each fight will pocket $10,000 and $5,000 for a finish. El Presidente tosses in a bonus fight, where two worthy losers will fight each other for a chance at -- you guessed it -- redemption.
White introduces current UFC bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt and former titlist and TUF 14 veteran T.J. Dillashaw. Naturally, White details how Dillashaw left Team Alpha Male and instantly begins pumping up their rivalry. A poor promoter Dana most certainly is not. The crew wastes no time in getting the fighters in the gym and working out so this season’s coaches can evaluate them.
Dillashaw wins the ensuing coin toss and he opts to choose the first fighter. He quickly chooses Krause as his No.1 overall pick. After alternating picks with rival Garbrandt, Dillashaw goes with Taylor, Ramsey Nijem, Dhiego Lima, Joe Stevenson, Tom Gallicchio and Gilbert Smith.
Garbrandt chooses in order: Seth Baczynski, Mehdi Baghdad, Eddie Gordon, Hector Urbina, Hayder Hassan, Lane and Justin Edwards. Since Dillashaw chose the first fighter, it’s time for “No Love” to choose which fighters will step into the Octagon first. The Ohio boy pits his own Baczynski against Smith. Dillashaw sets up the next fight and goes with Krause vs. Urbina.
After a brief snippet of the fighters finally getting settled into the TUF house, Team Garbrandt’s first training session is up next. Urbina steps onto the scale and comes in at a ghastly 194 pounds and immediately, there is grave concern considering that this season takes place at 170. Before long, both teams are in the gym and as soon as the scene begins, both coaches are telling the television audience their versions of how Dillashaw left Team Alpha Male.
Smith is the first combatant to be deeply chronicled and highlights of his knockout loss on Season 17 fill the TV screen. Plenty of home video footage follow and he makes it clear that this is without question his final chance in MMA, that if he fails in the coming weeks, he will exit the sport. Baczynski’s Season 11 highlights follow, as does his training footage and clips of his triumphs and setbacks inside the Octagon. Per the norm, more of his personal backstory unfolds and he tries to detail how his younger sister was murdered by some scumbag, though it’s unbearable for him to do so.
Urbina is struggling badly in cutting the excess blubber and his coaches have zero faith in him being able to make the welterweight limit. His teammates are there for him, urging him on with support and cooking light, clean meals. Urbina is bewildered and emotional, and assistant coach Danny Castillo is fed up with him and seizes complete control of the weight cut. After all that, he’s only down to 188 pounds the day before the weigh-ins. Urbina then sits down with Garbrandt and informs him that he’s pulled out of the fight because it’s impossible to make the welter limit.
White assembles the entire cast and makes Urbina explain to everybody what has happened. Urbina tries to plead his case, but White sends him packing. White says that he has a dilemma and brings the two coaches into the side room. The production team has alternates waiting in the wings and since Urbina was Garbrandt’s pick, he chooses one of the alternates. “No Love” quickly picks Johnny Nunez to fight Krause. Dillashaw tells Krause that his fight has been pushed back and, needless to say, Krause is fuming because he went in and cut weight almost a week too early.
At night back at the house, Smith is getting amped up about being picked last for the team and then picked first to fight, like he’s some buster or something. He starts mouthing off at a few of the Team Garbrandt guys about how big of a mistake their coaches made. The following day, Smith is talking some trash with his team about fighting Baczynski, who quickly storms into Team Dillashaw’s meeting room and confronts him. From there, the two get in each other’s faces inside the gym, but the reigning 135-pound champ breaks up the potential dustup.
At the weigh-ins, Seth is still pissed and burning lasers into Gilbert while they wait to hit the scale. Trash talk ensues and Garbrandt sticks up for his team. Within a few moments, the coaches get in each other’s grills, which forces Garbrandt to grab Dillashaw by his throat. All hell breaks loose and a riot nearly breaks out but, luckily, cooler heads prevail and nothing crazy happens. Both men make weight, but during the staredown, Baczynski is barking at Smith while Gilbert won’t look him in the eye.
Finally, after nearly 90 minutes of show time, it’s time for the fight. Herb Dean is the referee for the matchup, which begins with Baczynski circling to his left and pawing with the jab. The two clinch against the cage, where Smith digs a few uppercuts and knees to the taller fighter’s body. They split up and Baczynski goes right back to moving behind the jab, but Smith has other plans and shoots in. Seth stuffs the takedown and tags his foe with some punches, but Smith storms right back with a flurry of punches of his own. Baczynski is then taken down and Smith is all over him. Baczynski scoots to the cage and tries to wall walk back up, but “Chocolate Thunder” takes his back, fishing for the rear-naked choke. Baczynski eventually springs back up, but Smith is relentless and drags him right back down the canvas. “The Polish Pistola” is having a hell of a time in getting Smith off his back, but he’s defending everything his opponent tries. Near the end of the first, Baczynski is bleeding from the bridge of his nose. It’s an easy 10-9 round for Smith.
Smith pops the lankier fighter with a straight left moments into the second and then follows that up with a pair of left shins to the gut. “Chocolate Thunder” shoots in again and easily dumps Baczynski onto his back. Baczynski struggles back to his feet but, like in the first, Smith is on him aggressively. Once they stand up, “The Polish Pistola” latches on a standing guillotine and when he drops down to sink it in, Smith pries his head free and escapes. Back down in half guard, Smith rains down a series of rights to Baczynski’s head from on top. At the midway point, Baczynski looks demoralized as time is running out. Smith continues to club away with errant fists to the head, nullifying his adversary’s attempts at getting back to his feet. Finally, with less than two minutes left, Baczynski springs to his feet. Unfortunately for him, Smith scoops him up and slams him right back down and lands in his full guard. Smith is like a wild animal, slamming punches from deep within his foe’s guard, yelling, “Hard work!” with several of the punches. Smith is screaming trash talk until the horn, easily winning the second 10-9, maybe even 10-8.
As expected, Smith is declared the winner by unanimous decision. After the winner and loser talk to the viewing audience at home about what went right and wrong in the fight, it’s the announcement for the next fight. Garbrandt is the coach who chooses who fights next and he goes with Gallicchio. Before he can get his opponent out, Dillashaw mocks the pick, which causes the coaches to go nose-to-nose. A brawl nearly erupts but the rest of the cast break it up to allow “No Love” to reveal that Gordon, who won Season 19, will fight Gallichio.
The production crew does a terrific job closing out the episode by showing coming attractions of several violent encounters between the coaches and few bouts of fisticuffs between some of the house guests.