Through the first three episodes of The Ultimate Fighter: Redemption, life has been rather good for former bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw and his team of welterweight competitors.
The season got underway with an upset win from Gilbert Smith over Seth Baczynski and the momentum kept rolling as Tom Gallicchio then eliminated season 19 winner Eddie Gordon. Last week, Jesse Taylor kept Team Dillashaw undefeated with a lopsided win over Mehdi Baghdad as he advanced into the next round of the tournament.
Cody Garbrandt will hope to pull off some of the same upset magic when he sends in late replacement Johnny Nunez to take on James Krause, who was the first overall pick for Team Dillashaw, in the next tournament matchup.
This fight was actually supposed to be the second of the entire season, but Krause’s original opponent, Hector Urbina, was forced out of the competition when he couldn’t make weight. Nunez was brought into the team after competing on season 22 of The Ultimate Fighter under Urijah Faber, so he was already familiar with the coaches and staff he’d be working with on the show. Due to his late arrival, however, his fight with Krause was pushed back until now.
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For Nunez, this shot at The Ultimate Fighter very well could be his last run at making the UFC roster.
During season 22, when Nunez first appeared on the show, he was already granted a second shot after losing to Ryan Hall in the elimination round to get into the house when he fell to the submission specialist via first-round heel hook. The coaches were then given the option to bring back one fighter to the show and Faber ultimately chose Nunez as the person he would grant a second chance.
Unfortunately, Nunez wasn’t able to get past David Teymur despite a three-round battle where he ultimately lost by decision in the sudden victory round. That means Nunez is now three fights into The Ultimate Fighter and he’s still searching for his first win. A loss against Krause would be devastating for any hope Nunez holds on to that his future will take place inside the Octagon.
Since his time on the show, Nunez has become a mainstay at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, where he works with a host of top UFC fighters, including former women’s bantamweight champion Miesha Tate. As Nunez prepares for his fight this week, Tate will actually stop by and lend her expertise to help out Team Garbrandt after she was previously a training partner at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento. The familiarity of having Tate around could be a useful tool as Nunez looks to pull off the upset against arguably the top seed in the entire tournament.
Krause joined the show as the only fighter in the cast who already has a contract with the UFC. In fact, Krause was riding a two-fight win streak when he was offered the chance to join The Ultimate Fighter: Redemption. Now it might seem strange that Krause would opt to return to the reality show when he’s already competing for the UFC – a spot everybody else in the cast is competing to receive this season.
Still, Krause’s brief run during season 15 never sat well with him, and that spurred his decision to return to The Ultimate Fighter this year.
If Krause’s appearance on The Ultimate Fighter doesn’t seem all that memorable, it’s because he never actually made it into the house at all. Krause fell in his elimination round fight to Justin Lawrence, who knocked him out while punching his own ticket onto the show. Krause was eliminated and it took him nearly two years after the show to finally earn his way into the UFC based on his resume.
When it comes to the matchup, Krause obviously maintains a lot of advantages over Nunez, especially when considering his reach, size and Octagon experience. Krause is a crafty veteran with solid striking and very nasty submission skills on the mat. Krause isn’t the best wrestler, so that’s one area where Nunez could attempt to take advantage. Nunez is a good grappler in his own right, but stopping Krause from taking the action to the ground could be his best overall weapon. Nunez hits hard and he’s very durable, so turning this into a brawl is probably his best bet. Krause is a technically proficient martial artist, but Nunez dragging him into deep waters in a real dogfight could give him a great shot at pulling off the upset.
Elsewhere on the upcoming episode, loyalty will be tested when two fighters who train at the same camp outside the show are pitted against one another by the coaches with a possible fight looming in the future. While everybody is on the show to win, it’s impossible to ignore friendships that exist outside the gym. Still, only one person can walk away the winner this season, and that means teammates could be forced to go up against teammates to make it to the finals or in this case even the next round of the tournament.
Also this week, the fighters will enjoy a little break in their own training to enjoy a night at home watching some UFC fights from the recent card that took place in Houston during Super Bowl weekend.
It all culminates in the fight where Nunez looks to make good on his chance to come back, as he takes on No. 1 overall pick James Krause in the fourth matchup of the season.
Can Team Garbrandt finally get on the board with an upset win by Nunez or is Krause destined to redeem himself while putting Team Dillashaw up with a commanding 4-0 lead? Tune in to The Ultimate Fighter: Redemption tonight at 10pm ET to find out.