‘TUF 26’ Recap: Episode 5

By: TJ De Santis
Sep 27, 2017
Another episode on Season 26 of “The Ultimate Fighter” has come and gone. It was made clear last week that this tournament was no going to play according to the seeding, as No. 14 Nicco Montano pushed Team Gaethje’s record to 3-1 by defeating No. 3 Lauren Murphy. Speaking of Murphy, Episode 5 picks up with the former Invicta Fighting Championships titleholder and the struggle to cope with her upset loss.

“I expected myself to get to the finals,” she said, before going on to reveal she had doubts about the fight before walking to the cage. “I really just want to run away and go be with my family. I was really trying to force myself to be positive and fight harder. I just couldn’t make it happen.”

In a bad place mentally, Murphy decides to take off the next morning from practice -- a decision that does not sit well with coach Eddie Alvarez.

“She lost and you’re not here,” he said. “Then you’re probably not built for this.”

Alvarez thanks the team members that have already been eliminated from the tournament but continue to help the others prepare. His team faces long odds, as No. 12 seed Sijara Eubanks looks to regain some momentum by pulling an upset of her own against No. 5 seed Maia Kahaunaele-Stevenson. Eubanks takes offense to her role as the underdog: “Someone’s going to lose a lot of money here.” On factor in Eubanks being seeded so low was that she entered the competition much heavier than the other flyweights. Alvarez reveals she started at 150 pounds. “That was a red flag,” he said.

Afternoon practice arrives for Team Alvarez, as does Murphy. Alvarez initiates a conversation with the Alaska native that is not received well. He asks if she had a few drinks the night before. Murphy, who has a history with drug and alcohol abuse, explains that she no longer drinks. Annoyed and visibly irritated, she appears to walk away from Alvarez before returning and taking a seat next to her coach. While she listens to the former Bellator MMA and UFC champion, we hear an inner monologue in which she goes on an expletive-laced tirade during her one-on-one interview, claiming Alvarez does not know her and that she deserved the morning off after blowing her chance at a UFC title.

Spirits are high inside Team Gaethje. Stevenson tells her teammates she wants to be in the gym as much as possible in order to work through her nervousness. She knows firsthand what winning “The Ultimate Fighter” can do for someone’s career. Her husband, Joe Stevenson, won Season 2 of the reality series and went on to fight B.J. Penn for the lightweight championship. He convinced his wife to transition from boxing to MMA. After losing four of her first five bouts, Stevenson has gone on a five-fight winning streak.

Eubanks traces her entry into mixed martial arts as something that evolved from watching “UFC Unleashed” after work. She enrolled in Brazilian jiu-jitsu classes and trained every day for six months. Ten years later, “Sarj” finds herself on “The Ultimate Fighter” with two challenges directly in front of her: a showdown with Maia and a showdown with the scale. After cutting nearly 10 pounds of water, Eubanks wakes up on the morning of the weigh-in and tips the scales at 127 pounds. With only one more pound to cut to meet the flyweight limit, the Invicta veteran appears as though she will make weight without issue. However, Eubanks later reveals that she has stopped sweating and stalled at 126.5 pounds. Teammate Ariel Beck suggests that she cut off some of her dreadlocks to trim the remaining half a pound. Alvarez seconds the motion, and Eubanks does what needs to be done to make weight. Eubanks checks in at 126 pounds, Stevenson at 124.75.

Referee Herb Dean signals the beginning of Round 1, and Stevenson wastes little time throwing her hands. Eubanks obliges her at first but then shoots for a takedown. Maia withstands her advances with a punching combination as she circles away. Undeterred, “Sarj” shoots again and forces a scramble. The rest of the round sees Eubanks control Stevenson in the clinch and on the floor. It ends with Eubanks delivering vicious ground-and-pound from half guard, prompting her opponent to surrender her back.

Eubanks executes another takedown in the second round. The calm and composed underdog goes to work while Alvarez shouts instructions from outside the cage. Eubanks responds with an emphatic, “Yes, sir.” She passes to side control, isolates Stevenson’s left arm and wrenches her shoulder with a textbook kimura. The tap comes quickly, as Eubanks pulls off the upset and provides Team Alvarez with some welcomed momentum.

“Twelve ... twelve,” Eubanks said, directing her comments at UFC President Dana White, who can only smile and shake his head. The victory moves Eubanks into a quarterfinal matchup with No. 4 seed DeAnna Bennett. Alvarez then announces the fight for next week: No. 2 Barb Honchak vs. No. 15 Gillian Robertson.

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