By Ariel Shnerer – Fight Network
The 17th season of “The Ultimate Fighter” is in full swing as we witnessed our first team elimination this past Tuesday with Team Sonnen taking the early lead against Team Jones.
UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones selected the first matchup, opting to pair Chael Sonnen’s first-overall pick Luke Barnatt against his fourth pick Gilbert Smith.
Jones was hoping to make a statement by eliminating Sonnen’s prized pick early on. The plan backfired for several reasons.
Let’s take a closer look at Tuesday’s elimination bout and look ahead to what’s in store for tonight.
Luke Barnatt (5-0 Pro Record, Tsunami Gym, Team Sonnen Pick No. 1) vs. Gilbert Smith (5-1 Pro Record, Team Victory, Team Jones Pick No. 4)
There was no shortage of criticism from Smith’s teammates, Josh Samman and Robert “Bubba” McDaniel in particular, about the first fight selection by coach Jones.
With Smith struggling during conditioning drills, his teammates actually went as far as complaining about the fight to Jones before confronting Smith and openly telling him that he wasn’t ready.
The choice of fight was particularly peculiar due to the glaring size difference between the two competitors. Standing 6-foot-6 compared to Smith’s 5-foot-9, Barnatt towered over his opponent. Smith had the wrestling pedigree to push a feverish pace, but the differential was too substantial.
Despite getting the finish he desired, Barnatt’s performance was not exactly stellar. The Cambridge native struggled with Smith’s strength early on. He managed to reverse several takedown attempts, but he lacked the power to control any positions on the mat as Smith returned to his feet with relative ease.
Smith also landed several clean shots standing, while Barnatt peppered away with superior technique from a distance, though his combinations were not particularly damaging.
The fight ended in the second round when Smith shot in for a predictable takedown, only to be countered by a flush knee from Barnatt. The finish was memorable, but Barnatt will need to address some obvious holes in his game, notably his wrestling and takedown defense, if he hopes to make it all the way.
Uriah Hall (7-2 Pro Record, Team Tiger Schulmann, Team Sonnen Pick No. 2) vs. Adam Cella (4-0, Finney’s HIT Squad, Team Jones Pick No. 6)
In what could be an extremely lopsided matchup, the early season favorite Hall takes on the undefeated Cella.
Coach Sonnen has already approached Hall about his vast skillset, predicting he’ll shine above the rest of his castmates this season. On the first episode, UFC president Dana White called him the man to beat.
The 28-year-old muay thai specialist advanced with a dominating, hard-earned performance over Andy Enz. In professional competition, Hall has excelled under the New Jersey-based Ring of Combat promotional banner, amassing wins over the likes of Roger Carroll and Daniel Akinyemi.
Chris Weidman and Costa Philippou, the only two men to defeat Hall, are both currently ranked in the top 10 of the middleweight division. With incredible striking and experience against elite competition, Hall has plenty of advantages to capitalize on.
The 27-year-old Cella has four first-round finishes in four professional bouts, in addition to his first-round submission of Jake Heun to earn a spot in the house.
Cella has showcased well-rounded skills, but his striking game will likely be no match for Hall. We’ve already been teased with next week’s fight ending in a spectacular finish, which White referred to as one of the best knockouts he’s ever seen anywhere.
All signs thus far point to Cella being the recipient of this incredible stoppage, as the masterful striking of Hall will be on another level.
Hall should find the perfect opportunity to pounce with a dazzling offensive flurry, brutalizing his smaller foe and sending a message to the other UFC hopefuls this season.
Verdict: Hall via KO
The charismatic title challenger Sonnen gets the upper hand early, but Jones has some quality fighters on his team, including Hester, Samman and McDaniel.
Time will tell if Team Jones can mount a comeback as Team Sonnen is off to a great start. With Hall entering the Octagon Tonight, Sonnen will likely continue to have the upper hand. Whether the brash former middleweight title contender can translate his “TUF” coaching success into a victory over Jones remains to be seen, but his coaching staff and fighters may have an edge.
Watch Hall vs Cella Tonight on FX at 9pm to see who moves on to the next round.