'The Ultimate Fighter' Final 8 - Quarterfinals Preview
Ariel Shnerer / November 11, 2012 - 7:22pm
Team Carwin's Mike Ricci earned a gruelling decision win over Team Nelson's first pick Dom Waters, while Jon Manley of Team Nelson submitted Team Carwin's James Chaney in the first round, tying the squads at 4-4 as the quarterfinal bouts have been selected.
Oddly, with the teams tied, the quarterfinals will pit teammates against one another, while the only two Canadian fighters on the show will collide in what is becoming a genuine rivalry.
Let's take a closer look at the bouts shaping the final field as we inch closer to "The Ultimate Fighter Finale" on Dec. 15 in Las Vegas.
The 30-year-old Marunde is one of the most experienced cast members this season with the benefit of facing world-ranked opposition, including Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza and Jay Silva.
After submitting George Lockhart via first-round guillotine choke to make it into the house, Marunde defeated hothead Julian Lane by unanimous decision after two rounds.
A product of the Las Vegas-based Throwdown Training Centre, the Strikeforce veteran Marunde has mostly remained quiet this season, instead focusing his attention on a UFC contract.
Magny, 24, who has only one blemish in professional competition, utilized his well-rounded arsenal to earn decisions over Frank Camacho and Cameron Diffley this season.
With no bad blood or past history, there is no real logic in the decision to match up two good friends with an even number of fighters from both teams remaining.
It should be a spirited fight, however, with Marunde's big league experience giving him a slight edge.
After both fighters expressed interest in fighting each other when they were questioned by UFC president Dana White and the two coaches, this matchup was a no-brainer.
Araujo, 31, is the best Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist still in contention this season, having earned his black belt from Aldo Januario in 2005.
The head instructor of Gracie Barra Switzerland has translated his wealth of international experience to consecutive triumphs this season as he scored a come-from-behind submission of Cortez Coleman followed by a highly contentious decision over Nic Herron-Webb in a fight that certainly merited a third round.
The 24-year-old Smith entered the season coming off a knockout loss. Despite an unassuming record consisting of only four professional fights, the former Airborne Ranger has successfully employed a wrestling-based offense to earn decisions over Jesse Barrett and Eddy Ellis this season.
This is an intriguing stylistic clash reminiscent of the sport's early days as Brazilian jiu-jitsu is paired up with wrestling.
Smith could be the superior striker, but Araujo has already demonstrated tremendous heart and his work ethic is second to none. If Araujo can bait Smith into playing his positional game, he should be successful.
Largely overlooked by the trainers early on this season, the 32-year-old Rivera defeated Saad Awad by decision to cement his spot in the house.
In his next appearance, Rivera would shock first-overall selection and early season favorite Sam Alvey by majority decision, a victory that put the rest of the house on notice.
Manley, 26, defeated another early favorite in Ricky Legere Jr. to earn his spot in the house. Despite criticism for a less-than-enthralling performance, Manley proved that he belonged by beating a formidable Strikeforce veteran.
Manley recorded the only finish of the team rounds when he submitted James Chaney with a first-round guillotine choke.
Both fighters are game and it should be competitive throughout. However, there was no need for Team Nelson members to be fighting each other just yet. Instead, Manley could have been paired up with Neil Magny, while Rivera could have squared off with Bristol Marunde.
After eliminating Alvey earlier this season, the older Rivera should be considered the slight favorite.
In perhaps the most compelling showdown of the quarterfinals, the only two Canadians will cross paths in the Octagon.
After bonding for much of the season, Ricci expressed interest in fighting his fellow Canuck when questioned by the coaches. Hill was shocked to learn that Ricci wanted to fight him and he clearly took it to heart, refusing to shake his hand after the fight announcement.
From best buddies to bitter rivals, we'll find out which Canadian has the upper hand.
Ricci, 26, is among the most intelligent and composed cast members. Hailing from Montreal where he hones his skills at the famed Tristar Gym, Ricci has clearly benefited from extensive training with the likes of Georges St-Pierre, Rory MacDonald, Kenny Florian and Miguel Torres.
Ricci has been a standout on the Quebec mixed martial arts circuit for years, earning a win over Strikeforce prospect Jordan Mein, though he fell short against Pat Curran in a 2010 Bellator tournament bid.
Ricci starched previously unbeaten Jason South by first-round TKO to earn his spot in the house. His fight with Waters this past week was highly competitive with Ricci's superior striking making the difference early before Waters used size and strength to turn the tide. Ricci secured a pivotal reversal in the third and deciding round, landing strikes from top position en route to the decision nod.
Naturally a lightweight, Ricci's relatively lanky frame is his only downfall at 170 pounds. In terms of raw talent and technical expertise, he leads the pack.
Hill also advanced into the house with a first-round knockout, making quick work of Israeli hopeful Lev Magen. The British Columbia native squeaked out a controversial split decision over Matt Secor in his next bout.
Both men joked about eventually fighting for a contract earlier this season and it's now a reality.
Interestingly, Ricci was the one who wanted the fight. Hill didn't seem too keen on the proposition, so maybe Ricci knows something we don't.
Regardless, Ricci has more experience against vasty superior foes. With a world-renowned camp behind him, Ricci has been touted as a UFC hopeful for years. If his recent attitude and performances are any indication, he could be the favorite to win the coveted six-figure UFC contract.