The Ultimate Fighter 21: ATT vs. Blackzilians: Episode 12 Review


Michael Graves survived a barrage of strikes from Blackzilian Jason Jackson to emerge victorious in the penultimate episode of TUF 21 last week. Despite the Blackzilians’ dominance throughout the season, the teams are now tied, and the final episode will decide the winner.

American Top Team (ATT) must now secure a third straight victory in order to take the $200,000 prize, while the Blackzilians – who held a 300-100 point lead just two short weeks ago – desperately attempt to salvage a season they dominated for so long.

Glenn Robinson gives an emotionally charged motivational speech to his team before choosing the Blackzilians’ representative for the final match-up. Vincente Luque, “the one man who asked for this fight over and over,” is the man for the job. The 23-year-old Brazilian submitted veteran Nathan Coy with a third-round anaconda choke earlier in the season and promises victory “whether it’s Hayder, Marcelo Alfaya or Superman.”

There are no prizes for guessing who Dan Lambert selects for the final showdown. Hayder Hassan has been the saviour of ATT. Without him, the season would have been wrapped up weeks ago. Hassan knocked out Andrews Nakahara in week five and won a decision over Felipe Portela in week eight to keep ATT afloat. He is the only competitor to go 2-0 in fights so far this season and will now fight for a third time for the overall prize.

“Hayder is the reason we’re still here,” Lambert says. “He’s been the horse we’ve been riding this whole tournament, and we’re gonna ride him to the end.”

The official weigh-in follows, and Luque and Hassan learn they’ll be fighting each other in the season-deciding bout. Both fighters successfully make the 170-pound welterweight limit and the match-up is official.

Vicente Luque vs. Hayder Hassan
Both fighters come out aggressive, throwing wild combinations. As the round progresses, Hassan is controlling the pace with his jab and is scoring with leg kicks. Luque is doing a good job countering the jab with his right hook. Hassan gets too aggressive and Luque lands a big punch that stuns the ATT fighter. Hassan is wobbled but continues to press forward and pump his jab. Luque lands kick to the body followed by a left hook. Luque lands a big uppercut. Hassan’s chin is undergoing a serious test here and, so far, it’s passing with flying colours. Luque is demonstrating superior hand speed and lands another uppercut followed by a leg kick. Hassan is plodding now and just flicking out his jab. Luque lands a knee up the middle. The Blackzilian completes a double leg takedown and gets on top of Hassan. Hassan hip escapes and gets back to his feet, but Luque keeps him trapped against the fence. Luque tries to take the back, but Hassan shakes him off and lands an elbow on the break. The action slows a bit near the end of the round. Both fights continue to throw decent volume before the bell sounds.

Hassan throws out his jab to begin the round. The ATT product slips off a kick attempt but Luque fails to capitalise. Luque appears to be the fresher fighter and he controls the center of the octagon. Hassan won’t give up, though, and he continues to throw big winging punches behind his jab. Luque lands a body kick and follows up with a knee that grazes Hassan on the chin. Both fighters appear drained now, and the pace has slowed significantly. Hassan persists with the power shots, but can’t seem to connect. Luque continues to land body and leg kicks. Hassan continues to make good use of the jab and lands a nice right hook that forces Luque to back up for a moment. The action picks up again in the final seconds of the round with heavy shots thrown on both sides. Luque attempts a final takedown, but Hassan defends and the round comes to an end.

The judges declare the fight a draw after two rounds and a sudden-victory round will determine the winning fighter.

Hassan lands a series of jabs to open the final frame. He throws a leg kick and slips a couple of big shots from Luque. The Blackzilian shoots for a takedown and briefly gets Hassan to the mat before the ATT representative pops back to his feet and breaks loose. Momentum in the striking exchanges appears to have shifted in Hassan’s favour now. The jab continues to be his best weapon, and he’s landing it at will. Luque appears hesitant to throw hands and most of his attack is based on kicks and takedown attempts. Luque completes another takedown. Hassan gets back up, but Luque drags him back to the canvas. Hassan is up again and, with less than a minute remaining, he presses forward and wings huge punches at his opponent. Luque stays patient and sneaks in his counters and grabs a single. Hassan stuffs the takedown as the round comes to an end.

The judges score the fight a split decision for Hassan (29-28, 28-29, 29-28).

The gym erupts in celebration as Hassan completes the unlikeliest of comebacks for ATT and collects $200,000 for his team. Lambert says the winnings will be donated to the Wounded Warriors Project, a charity that helps aid military veterans after they return home from service.

Later, the owners, coaches and teams assemble in the ATT gym to find out which two men will square off at the finale in Las Vegas for the $300,000 prize. The only criterion is that a fighter must have competed twice during the season, meaning that ATT can choose between Hassan, Michael Graves and Nathan Coy, while the Blackzilians have the options of Luque, Usman, Jason Jackson and Valdir Araujo.

“I’d put Hayder up against Godzilla right now,” says Lambert. Indeed, ATT opts to go with the man who almost single-handedly carried their team to victory. The Blackzilians have a tougher debate; several coaches suggest Luque, while Rashad Evans pushes for Usman, the only fighter on the team to win two bouts. Ultimately, they decide to send the wrestler up against Hassan.

So, there it is: American Top Team’s Hayder Hassan and the Blackzilians’ Kamaru Usman will square off at this weekend’s TUF 21 Finale in Las Vegas.

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