The Ultimate Fighter Season 25 has been the best season in recent memory. The Alpha Male bad blood with former team star TJ Dillashaw and coach Duane Ludwig was what initially created a buzz around this season. Surely the middle school drama keeps the average MMA fan from clicking over to Kardashian family reruns, but for the MMA purists the level of competition is what stands out. In the last match up Team Dillashaw’s fan favorite, ex-lightweight title challenger and number 5 pick Joe “Daddy” Stevenson took on UFC vet Justin Edwards. The first round was close, and likely could have been scored for either fighter. The second round was a bloodbath. Stevenson was clearly gassed and only thing that kept him on his feet was his incredibly durable chin. Although both coaches anticipated a third round at the buzzer, the latter round was clearly 10-8 in favor of Edwards. After the fight, the coaches met with Dana White to discuss the wildcard selections that would receive a second chance. TJ lobbied for the only one of his fighters who lost in Joe Daddy. Although TJ clearly knew Joe was not the top fighter eliminated, you cannot blame him for pushing Stevenson. In the end, he is there to win the show. The other wildcard was Team Garbrandt’s Hayder Hassan.
In my opinion,
Vladimir Putin Dana White did not give the viewers what they deserved with his decision. He did what the UFC always does and made the decision he felt would attract the most casual viewership. Here are the options White had to choose from:
Seth Baczynski (Garbrandt #1) – defeated by Gilbert Smith via Unanimous Decision. Seth holds a 20-14 professional record and is 1-4 in his last 5 (0-3 UFC).
Eddie Gordon (Garbrandt #3) – defeated by Tom Gallicchio via Submission (RNC) in Round 1. Eddie holds an 8-4 professional record and is 2-3 in his last 5 (1-3 UFC).
Mehdi Baghdad (Garbrandt #2) – defeated by Jesse Taylor via Unanimous Decision. Mehdi holds an 11-5 professional record and is 3-2 in his last 5 (0-2 UFC).
Johnny Nunez (Garbrandt Replacement) – defeated by James Krause via Submission (RNC) in Round 1. Johnny holds a 6-1 professional record and is 4-1 in his last 5 (No UFC fights).
Hayder Hassan (Garbrandt #5) – defeated by Dhiego Lima via Unanimous Decision. Hayder hold a 6-3 professional record and is 3-2 in his last 5 (0-2 UFC).
Julian Lane (Garbrandt #6) – defeated by Ramsey Nijem via TKO in Round 1. Julian holds an 11-7-1 professional record and is 2-3 in his last 5 (No UFC fights).
Joe Stevenson (Dillashaw #5) – defeated by Justin Edwards via Unanimous Decision. Joe hold a 33-16 professional record and is 2-3 in his last 5 (0-1 UFC).
In defense of the UFC’s decision, there were not many controversial finishes in the first round of fights, making this choice more difficult. The one thing I know for sure is Joe Daddy should not be fighting again. The wildcard selections should be fighters who lost, but could realistically still compete for the TUF 25 title. He has been through too many wars in his career with 49 professional bouts. He looked slightly overweight, tired, and slow. Joe has had a great career but no true fan wants to watch him get beat down in his next fight. The other wildcard, Hayder Hassan, was the correct choice. Hassan is not young, but he also doesn’t have much MMA mileage with 9 professional fights. Additionally, he was matched against his dangerous teammate Dhiego Lima and was visibly carrying negative emotions in regards to the match up. I do not believe the viewers saw the real Hayder Hassan that night.
Unfortunately for the rest of the defeated fighters, they lost their last chance at “redemption” but at least one of them should have received Stevenson’s free pass. Three fighters can make a case for this spot and here is why:
Seth Baczynski: Seth was Cody’s #1 pick for a reason. Although he has been essentially a journeyman throughout his career he has arguably the second best resume on the show, trailing only Stevenson. He likely wouldn’t win the tournament, but he has the ability to beat anyone in the house with his well rounded game. He is also a matchup problem for most fighters at 6’3”. He was given the first fight of the show and I believe lack of pre-fight training may have contributed to his loss.
Johnny Nunez: Poor Johnny freakin’ Nunez, who doesn’t feel for this guy? He has zero UFC fights in his career but every time he is thrown into the TUF house he enters a nightmare. This season he faced the favorite to win the show in James Krause, a fighter currently on the active UFC roster. In season 22 he got Jiu-Jitsu freak of nature Ryan Hall. Can someone give this guy a break? At 25 years of age with a great wrestling background, Nunez could still make noise.
Julian Lane: If only someone would let him bang, bro! Lane matched with the other house favorite Ramsey Nijem. Nijem tore through the house on season 13 until he met his ultimate fate losing to Tony Ferguson in the finale. Julian didn’t look awful against a tough Nijem, landing a few solid blows and scoring a takedown. Additionally, one could argue the stoppage as he was defending himself semi-intelligently until his mouthpiece came out and caused the ref to step in.
Of these three candidates, Lane cannot be the choice for me. He is obnoxious and his performance almost never backs up his mouth. Baczynski is likely a popular choice, but at this point in his career his window is very close to shut. Johnny Nunez, believe it or not, is the fighter who deserved this wildcard spot. I believe he has the talent to beat anyone if given the chance. Give the guy a break and stop matching him up with monsters right out of the gate.