Momentum has swayed back in Team Sonnen’s favor on the 17th season of “The Ultimate Fighter” as Kelvin Gastelum reclaimed control this week with a dominant performance against Team Jones standout Robert “Bubba” McDaniel.
Robert “Bubba” McDaniel (20-6, Jackson’s MMA, Team Jones Pick No. 3) vs. Kelvin Gastelum (4-0, Arizona Athletic Club, Team Sonnen Pick No. 7)
McDaniel failed to capitalize on a significant experience advantage, succumbing to a rear-naked choke in the second round.
Where did “Bubba” go wrong?
Firstly, coach Jones’ assessment of his Jackson’s MMA teammate on the very first episode of the season was significant in foreshadowing Tuesday’s outcome.
Jones alluded to his uncertainty about which “Bubba” would show up, signifying a concern about his mental state.
The psychological aspect of the fight game cannot be overstated, which could have directly impacted McDaniel’s performance against the North Idaho College wrestling standout.
After openly discussing how he overcame depression through mixed martial arts, the outspoken Team Jones member already revealed some mental weaknesses.
Nonetheless, McDaniel entered the “TUF” house on an impressive six-fight winning streak. With a career dating back to 2005, “Bubba” was the most experienced cast member this season.
Furthermore, McDaniel’s repertoire is well-rounded as he presents threats both standing and particularly on the ground, evidenced by 15 career submission wins.
But Gastelum’s strength advantage was the deciding factor as he successfully closed the distance and feverishly fought for positions.
McDaniel was still busy in the first round, successfully sweeping his opponent and securing dominant positions on multiple occasions. Gastelum’s pressure was unrelenting, however, as his wrestling pedigree coupled with his bulky frame allowed him to put McDaniel on his back with relative ease.
Carrying Gastelum’s weight for much of the first round, McDaniel was beginning to fade in the second stanza, which is when Gastelum capitalized by sinking in the choke.
Gastelum had flaws of his own as he failed to maintain key positions, while giving up easy sweeps. As he continues to develop his ground game, Gastelum could become a legitimate threat.
Not only was conditioning a factor, but McDaniel failed to utilize his strikes effectively. He was unable to circle effectively and land peppering blows to keep his opponent at bay. McDaniel threw reckless strikes, giving Gastelum the right openings to run through them and secure takedowns.
McDaniel will need to go back to the drawing board, while Gastelum shocked many of his housemates with his emphatic finish.
A stalky Mexican-American powerhouse, Gastelum can give other fighters trouble with his raw power and aggressive wrestling game. The Arizona-based prospect still has a long way to go with his stand-up, but he possesses the fundamental tools and the right mentality to develop into a multidimensional fighter.
Tor Troeng (15-4, Renyi Fight Camp, Team Sonnen Pick No. 4) vs. Josh Samman (9-2, Capital City Combat Club, Team Jones Pick No. 2)
Troeng, 30, advanced into the house by submitting Scott Rosa with a rear-naked choke. One of the most experienced cast members this season, “The Hammer” is a well-rounded Swede riding a four-fight professional winning streak.
The international prospect has struggled with tougher competition, dropping bouts to Thales Leites, Daniel Acacio, Lucio Linhares and Mamed Khalidov.
Samman, 24, advanced with a first-round TKO victory over Lou Bercier in the elimination stage. The Florida native last tasted defeat in June 2011, losing a decision to Bellator middleweight tournament hopeful Dan Cramer at Bellator 46.
Meanwhile, Samman is coming off one of his biggest career wins — a first-round submission of Mikey Gomez under the Xtreme Fighting Championships banner. Samman also owns a first-round knockout win over “The Ultimate Fighter 13” veteran Chris Cope.
Samman was especially critical of Gilbert Smith’s chances against Luke Barnatt earlier this season, voicing his displeasure about the matchup and Smith’s overall preparation.
Equally vocal about his own preparation, or lack thereof, Samman recently sat down with coach Jones to discuss some concerns about lingering injuries in an attempt to push his fight back.
However, the decision was ultimately left up to Sonnen, so Samman will have to suck it up.
Both men are dynamic fighters with the ability to finish a fight by either knockout or submission. It should be an interesting matchup, but Troeng’s experience edge and Samman’s injury troubles could be the X factors with the Swedish sensation emerging triumphant for Team Sonnen.