(If you’re wondering why Tito has his jersey tucked in, it’s because he has to go out to dinner after this.)
Tomorrow night marks the last episode of The Ultimate Fighter: Team Liddell vs. Team Ortiz before the finale show, featuring both of TUF 11‘s semi-final matches. By now, most of the season’s early standouts — Nick Ring, Kyacey Uscola, Jamie Yager — have fallen by the wayside, and we’re left with four guys who scrapped their way to the semis through effective strategies and unbelievable toughness. It’s still anybody’s game, so let’s take a close look at who’s left…
BRAD TAVARES (Team Liddell)
Pro record: 4-0, all wins by stoppage
TUF record: 3-0
How he got here: The dynamic Team Tompkins product knocked out Jordan Smith in less than a minute to make it into the house, then outworked James Hammortree to win a three-round decision. His quarterfinal match against Seth Baczynski started out well until Baczynski soccer-kicked him in the face and was disqualified.
Odds of winning the show: 4-1. Though he’s a little unseasoned, Tavares is the only fighter in the group who never seemed like an underdog. He’s well-rounded, aggressive, and always exciting to watch. In this semi-final field, his success will depend on his ability to defend takedowns and avoid being smothered.
COURT McGEE (Team Liddell)
Pro record: 8-1. Holds a win over DaMarques Johnson; only loss came in a decision against Jeremy Horn in 2007.
TUF record: 2-1
How he got here: Defeated Seth Baczynski by three-round decision in the elimination round, but lost his next fight to Nick Ring in a controversial two-round majority decision. Came back to replace the injured Rich Attonito. Was supposed to have a rematch with Ring, but instead submitted James Hammortree via standing guillotine choke when Ring dropped out due to knee injury.
Odds of winning the show: 10-1. McGee’s unwillingness to be finished will serve him well, but Tavares is not an easy draw for the semis. If he can get past Tavares’s striking, he’ll have to face an opponent in the finals who is just as much a tough, wrestling-skilled grinder as he is. To pull it off, he’ll need everything to go his way.
KRIS McCRAY (Team Ortiz)
Pro record: 5-0, all wins by stoppage
TUF record: 3-1
How he got here: By fighting non-stop. Kris’s elimination match ended abruptly when Cleburn Walker’s shoulder gave out. But in his next fight, he submitted Kyacey Uscola with an armlock. McCray used his takedowns to defeat Kyle Noke by decision in the quarterfinal round, and secured his spot in the semis.
Odds of winning the show: 7-1. His wins over veteran fighters Uscola and Noke proved that McCray should never, ever be counted out. But with his fifth match scheduled in such a short period of time, fatigue has to be an issue at this point. Plus, he’s facing a guy who previously beat him (even though it was close). Speaking of fighters who should never be counted out…
JOSH BRYANT (Team Liddell)
Pro record: 10-0
TUF record: 3-0
How he got here: Bryant entered the house with a majority decision over Greg Rebello, then won the aforementioned unanimous decision against Kris McCray. His most impressive performance was his most recent: In the quarterfinals, he faced a tremendous size and speed disadvantage against Jamie Yager, but hung in, took his lumps, and made Yager feel it whenever he landed. After scoring with some hard punches, well-timed takedowns, and ground-and-pound, Bryant made Yager quit after two rounds.
Odds of winning the show: 3-1. He has to be the favorite against McCray in the semi-finals, and I like his chances against the other side of the bracket; McGee wouldn’t present him with anything he hasn’t seen from McCray, and Tavares is like a more mature version of Jamie Yager (minus the wild jumping kicks). He should probably be competing at welterweight, and his fights aren’t guaranteed excitement, but he has enough experience and mental toughness to come out on top and win the contract.