As “The Ultimate Fighter 17: Team Jones vs. Team Sonnen” opens up, the cinematic differences are immediately evident. But the changes aren’t just new camera angles or graphics package. For the first time ever, the fighters hoping to earn their way into the house can also bring friends and family into the gym to show their support. We’re immediately shown a few behind-the-scenes looks at the athletes in their hotel rooms as they prepare for the challenge ahead.
We also see the first interaction between head coaches Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen. It’s a little awkward, as Jones seems hesitant to engage, and Sonnen is in what seems to be a pleasant mood. Jones admits he doesn’t like Sonnen, and he doesn’t seem to believe his opposing coach is being genuine.
The 28 middleweight fighters up for elimination fights are brought into the gym for a pep talk, where UFC President Dana White lays out what’s at stake. Immediately, we move to fight day.
With friends and families lining the octagon, the “TUF” Gym has a different feel than in years past. The cameras switch to Palace Station, where we meet our first two fighters. It’s time to get this tournament started.
ADAM CELLA VS. JAKE HEUN
In the night’s first fight, the two both come out swinging. After a bit of back-and-forth, the pace briefly settles before Heun gets inside on a powerful takedown. Cella transitions into an armbar and somehow hangs on to the limb even after his opponent elevates him into a face-first slam. Heun tries to roll free, but Cella keeps the hold tight and earns the impressive tap. The gym erupts.
Adam Cella def. Jake Heun via submission (armbar) – Round 1
ZAK CUMMINGS VS. NIK FEKETE
After a touch of gloves, Fekete leaps forward by pulls back on a kick. Cummings sees the opening and delivers a crisp right hand that sees his opponent topple to the floor. Cummings pounces with punches to earn the quick finish.
Zak Cummings def. Nik Fekete via TKO (punches) – Round 1
KEVIN CASEY VS. ELDON SPROAT
In a fight that is boiled down to highlight form, Casey is shown generally working from top position. Jones calls it “an awesome fight” but admits Casey is largely dominant. Casey does suffer a cut over his eye but does get a quick submission win.
Kevin Casey def. Eldon Sproat via submission (rear-naked choke) – Round 1
SCOTT ROSA VS. TOR TROENG
Rosa catches some grief for his brief pre-fight work, which White and the coaches believe is done with the cameras in mind. The fight is presented in highlight fashion, and Troeng eventually gets the win by rear-naked choke.
Tor Troeng def. Scott Rosa via submission (rear-naked choke)
CLINT HESTER VS. FRASER OPIE
The fight is shortened, but the power of Hester’s work to the body is evident. He winds up taking the fight to the floor, and Jones can’t help but let his admiration for the performance known, especially as he elects to hop up and offer a little coaching. Hester wins by decision, and Jones tries to talk Sonnen out of being interested in drafting him.
Clint Hester def. Fraser Opie via decision
RYAN BIGLER VS. ROBERT “BUBBA” MCDANIEL
McDaniel is a Jones training partner, and the champ admits “Bubba” can be a bit inconsistent at times. Bigler presses in quickly, and Jones hops off to help coach his partner. The fight is shown in brief clips, but Sonnen uses the time to try and sell Jones on McDaniel as a top pick. Meanwhile, McDaniel turns up the heat in the second frame and earns a TKO finish.
Robert “Bubba” McDaniel def. Ryan Bigler via TKO (punches) – Round 2
LOU BERCIER VS. JOSH SAMMAN
Samman moves forward with punches and quickly brings the action to the floor. From there, he sets up with punches to the body before asking the coaches if they’re ready and then unleashing a series of double punches to the head. Samman continues the assault and earns the TKO finish, though White says after the fight he’s not all that impressed with the showboating. Meanwhile, Sonnen gets out of his chair to congratulate the winner, and Jones takes note.
Josh Samman def. Lou Bercier via TKO (punches) – Round 1
KITO ANDREWS VS. KELVIN GASTELUM
In a series of “performance highlights.” Andrews looks scrappy, and White says Gastelum was getting worked to open. However, Gastelum is credited for his incredible heart, and he’s given a decision win. He’s emotional in the win, just as Gastelum is in a defeat in front of his kids.
Kelvin Gastelum def. Kito Andrews via decision
MIKE PERSONS VS. JIMMY QUINLAN
Quinlan is impressive as he closes in quickly and slams his opponent to the floor. Jones said Quinlan has the best wrestling seen on the day, and he uses it to score a first-round finish.
Jimmy Quinlan def. Mike Persons via TKO (punches) – Round 1
ANDY ENZ VS. URIAH HALL
Hall and Enz is shown in highlight form, but both competitors seem willing to engage on the feet. Hall takes the action to the floor despite seeming to enjoy early success with his strikes. Sonnen notes Hall looks like an early favorite, but he admits he’s more impressed with the times he works in the standup, including a nasty spinning kick to the body. Enz looks tough and is completely unintimidated. Still, he’s wilting in the face of a dangerous opponent. Hall eventually moves to the back on a scramble, but Anz turns in and takes top position before his opponent can look for the finish. Hall spins again and seems as if he’ll finish the fight with a tight triangle-armbar, but Enz somehow escapes and survives until the bell.
After an incredible first round, the second looks similarly gritty. Enz appears to be tiring, but he remains determined and nearly locks in a shocking upset choke. Instead, Enz survives the man Sonnen calls “a hammer,” as Hall establishes himself as an early favorite. Enz also earns respect from everyone, including Hall.
Uriah Hall def. Andy Enz via decision
LUKE BARNATT VS. NICHOLAS KOHRING
The 6-foot-6 Barnatt obviously boasts the reach advantage, but highlights show Kohring is just as willing to stand in the pocket and return fire. Sonnen calls the battle a “dog fight,” but it’s Barnatt who they say dominates the action and establishes himself as a “top-3” talent, according to Jones.
Luke Barnatt def. Nicholas Kohring via decision
DYLAN ANDREWS VS. TIM WILLIAMS
Andrews lands an early blow that staggers his opponent, but Williams keeps pushing forward in an incredible show of heart. It’s “evenly matched” according to Sonnen, and White said Williams has to be considered as a candidate to be brought back if needed, but Andrews earns a decision.
Dylan Andrews def. Tim Williams via decision
COLLIN HART VS. MIKE JASPER
Hart earns comparisons to Randuy Couture with his dirty boxing prowess. It doesn’t take long, as Hart is able to take his opponent’s back and sink in a rear-naked choke.
Collin Hart def. Mike Jasper via submission (rear-naked choke) – Round 1
The 14 winners are brought together, where they learn that a wild card is definitely in play, and so White hopes to see fighters moving forward and trying to fight. Finishes from this point on will again be rewarded with $5,000 bonuses. And once again, “Knockout of the Season,” “Submission of the Season” and “Fight of the Season” will each be worth $25,000.
Dana tosses a coin, and Sonnen wins it. He elects to choose the first fighter rather than the first matchup of the season. The picks alternate from that point on, and the teams shake out as follows:
Robert “Bubba” McDaniel
With control of the board, Team Jones has put together a list of how they want to see things shake out. Samman wants to fight Team Sonnen’s Quinlan. However, when it’s time to announce the first fight, Jones takes his No. 4 selection Smith and puts him against Team Sonnen’s top draw Barnatt. And that’s a wrap of the first episode.