UFC’s TV program “The Ultimate Fighter” is the most popular way that the promotion has scouted prospects for years. After first starting in 2005, the show has produced 28 seasons and numerous spinoffs.
The show operates off a quite simple model: fighters compete in a bracket, with the grand prize being a spot on the UFC roster.
There are now many ways that UFC promotes their scouting, like live program “Dana White’s Contender Series” or reality web-series “Dana White’s Lookin’ For A Fight.” However, “TUF” will always be recognized as the O.G.
After an absence of three years, the show returned this months ago with season 29. This time around, middleweight and bantamweight fighters fought and were coached by UFC Featherweight Champion Alexander Volkanovski and soon-to-be challenger Brian Ortega.
After 12 weeks of fights, the finalists have been decided. And at Saturday night’s UFC “Fight Night” card, two new “Ultimate Fighters” will be crowned.
To help guide you through these two, writers Kristen King and Tom Albano have put together their predictions.
Bantamweight Final: Ricky Turcios vs. Brady Hiestand
The fight between Ricky Turcios and Brady Hiestand is one that I look forward to seeing the most on Saturday night. I was super impressed by the performances of Turcios and Hiestand throughout the season, so I could not be happier with this outcome for the bantamweight finale.
We have seen Turcios before as he is a 12-fight veteran that is well-known on the regional scene. He eventually got an opportunity to compete on a “Contender Series” season several years ago, but it did not go his way. In that showing he lost a fight to Boston Salmon, who went on to sign with the UFC. However, Turcios showed in that bout that he was a promising prospect with the potential to go far, but he just needed some work. Turcios returned and put the improvements he made on display, which have led him to what is arguably the most important fight of his career thus far. I think of Turcios almost as a Tasmanian Devil. His constant pressure and volume are a headache for anyone. His jiu-jitsu is solid. Turcios is good wherever the fight goes, but I have my concerns. He is hittable and can take quite a bit of damage. Hiestand may be able to take advantage of this, but Turcios is not easy to put away by any means.
Hiestand is still unproven, but I like what I saw from him on the show. He has excellent wrestling, which served him well in his fights against Josh Rettinghouse and Vince Murdock. He took control of the action as soon as the fights started and Hiestand wasted no time implementing his grappling and ground and pound. If there is one thing to be concerned about, then it is how reckless he can be with his striking. Rettinghouse picked Hiestand apart because he would rush in and appeared to be on his way to a finish, but the 22-year-old made the necessary adjustments and fought through the adversity. Rettinghouse may not have successfully put his foot on the gas at that moment, but Turcios is undoubtedly capable of doing that and forcing a finish.
Prediction: Turcios def. Hiestand via unanimous decision
When first looking at the “TUF 29” roster before the season began, Brady Hiestand (5-1) looked like an easy pick to be a preliminary-round elimination. He’s just 22, his 5-1 record came against some abysmal regional competition, he hadn’t fought since February 2020.
But Hiestand impressed and improved on the show. He and Josh Rettinghouse (16-5) put on an interesting and close matchup, and then Hiestand went on and finished a former UFC signee in Vince Murdock (12-4) within a round.
Grappling seemed to be his strongest suit, and it only got better on the show. Even his striking slightly seemed improved. All that being said, Ricky Turcios (10-2) may be too tough of a challenge for Hiestand to get by.
Turcios had one of the better regional backgrounds on the show, and he’s a very skilled all-around fighter coming out of Team Alpha Male. He had two of the best fights of the season against Dan Argueta (5-0) and Liudvik Sholinian (9-1-1), where he displayed excellent takedown defense and grappling prowess, and even some fire in his hands. It’s all even better when you consider Turcios has been one of the shining stars of this season with his loveable personality.
Turcios was my pre-season pick to win the bantamweight portion of the season, and it may not be a stretch to say that this TUF bantamweight season was made for Ricky Turcios.
Prediction: Turcios def. Hiestand via unanimous decision
Middleweight Final: Bryan Battle vs. Gilbert Urbina
Like bantamweight finalist Brady Hiestand (5-1), Bryan Battle (5-1) has been one of the most interesting stories of “TUF 29.”
Battle was the final pick for Alexander Volkanovski’s team, and he got matched up with Kemran Lachinov (10-3), the final pick for Brian Ortega’s team. Battle won the fight and looked impressive with his skills, namely his striking, in doing so. But once he got matched up with Andre Petroski (5-1) (one of the big favorites to win the middleweight portion of TUF 29), his TUF journey looked just about over.
Instead, Battle managed to hold his own against the wrestling expert before suddenly taking him down and submitting him in the second round.
Now, unfortunately, the MMA gods have intervened and given a blow to this “TUF” bout, just like how blows have been delivered to the rest of the “UFC Vegas 35” card. Instead of Battle facing Tresean Gore (3-0) in what would be an awesome striking battle, he’ll take on the man who Gore beat in the semifinals, Gilbert Urbina (6-1), brother to “TUF” alumni Hector (17-11-1) and Elias Urbina (5-1).
There is no doubting Urbina’s skills considering he comes from a fighting family, but his “TUF” run wasn’t the greatest. He submitted Michael Gillmore (6-3), who was a replacement fighter. And then he took some damage from Gore, getting knocked out in the process.
Urbina may have a shot in this fight if it gets to the ground early and often, but the more Battle can get his hands going, the more he might be able to pick apart Urbina.
If Urbina wasn’t facing a short-notice opponent in the preliminary round or beat Gore, the choice here may be different. But going off on what is known, Bryan Battle could go from final pick to “The Ultimate Fighter.”
Prediction: Battle def. Urbina via unanimous decision
Bryan Battle vs. Gilbert Urbina may not have been the fight we expected, but it is still interesting.
Battle surprised me throughout the season because I knew he was good at striking and wrestling, but he never seemed like a true master of either discipline. And that is alright considering what he was able to accomplish against his opponents who were masters of said disciplines. Battle outstruck a striker in Kemran Lachinov, and he submitted a grappler in Andre Petroski. Battle could use some work, especially with his striking and takedown defense, but he can improve as time goes on. I could see him having some problems on the ground with Urbina but by a slight margin.
Urbina is one of the most accomplished grapplers from this season. He quickly dispatched of short-notice replacement Michael Gillmore with a first-round rear-naked choke to advance to the semifinals. It was apparent how good Urbina was on the ground, but he wanted to show more than his grappling prowess in his next fight against Tresean Gore. That proved to be a costly decision though as he was knocked out by Gore, who dropped Urbina on several occasions with heavy left hooks. One of the glaring issues I saw in the fight with Gore was Urbina’s tendency to drop his hands often and leave himself wide open to counters. A blunder like this against a fighter like Battle can spell doom for Urbina, so hopefully, he has corrected that issue.
Prediction: Battle def. Urbina via TKO