Last week on “The Ultimate Fighter,” the Blackzilians took a 4-0 advantage over American Top Team with Carrington Banks’ decision win against Sabah Homasi.
The Blackzilians also hold a points lead of 100-0, with each of their first four victories earning them 25 points. However, beginning with tonight’s bout, the next four fights will be worth 50 points apiece. The team with the most points at the end of the season earns $200,000, and a fighter must have at least 100 points in order to qualify for a spot on the July 12 live finale in Las Vegas.
After his win, Banks is visited at the fighter house by teammate Anthony Johnson, who says that the former junior college wrestler proved what he’s made of by earning a close decision against a tough opponent. Meanwhile, Homasi still can’t believe he lost the decisive third round on the judges’ cards. Sporting a sore foot and some stitches above his left eye, the ATT fighter says he hopes to fight again as soon as possible.
Unlike in previous weeks, Dan Lambert is not unhappy with his fighter’s performance. What’s more, the ATT owner knows that his squad will have plenty of opportunity to make up the points differential with the more heavily weighted bouts coming up.
“We didn’t want to lose any fights,” says Lambert, “but, if you were gonna lose four fights, those were the four to lose.”
With four days remaining until the next bout, Blackzilians coach Tyrone Spong visits the fighter house to give his charges a pep talk. The “King of the Ring” wants to see more aggression from his fighters, who have won three out of their four fights via decision.
“The next fight, I want a knockout,” Spong tells the team.
Over at the ATT gym, head coach Ricardo Liborio already knows who he wants to send into the cage next: Hayder Hassan. The 32-year-old puncher has been champing at the bit to represent his team but has thus far been kept out of action due to a lingering hand injury. Lambert is confident in the pick, too, and recalls the aggressive Hassan working his way up from novice to pro fighter over seven or eight years at ATT.
“Hayder is incredibly tough, and he’s gonna give a lot of guys trouble,” says Lambert. “He has one speed, and it’s 100-percent. It’s full-steam ahead.”
Over at Jaco Hybrid Training Center, Blackzilians owner Glenn Robinson consults with Spong and Rashad Evans before selecting Andrews Nakahara as their next representative. The Brazilian karateka has been away from competition for more than a year, but Robinson thinks Nakahara could “have a field day” if he’s matched against Hassan.
Two days before the fight, Hassan confronts the Blackzilians’ Jason Jackson, whom he believes has been spreading rumors that Hassan is a dirty fighter. The pair fought in October 2013, with Hassan earning a victory via third-round technical knockout. Jackson, who has long dreadlocks, says that the fight was even until Hassan set up the fight-ending stoppage by grabbing his hair. It all adds up to a bunch of shouting and posturing in the kitchen, ending with Hassan saying that he’ll repeat the performance again in the Octagon if he has the chance.
The next day, ATT rolls out of the house and over to the official weigh-in minus one member, Michael Graves, who’s still sound asleep. In what has become a recurring segment, teammates voice concern over the behavior of Graves, who it seems has been drinking regularly since he lost to Kamaru Usman in week one.
“He went into a little bit of a funk after losing that fight, and he hasn’t really come out of it,” explains Lambert, who expected Graves to be one of the series’ breakout stars. Team captain Nathan Coy says that Graves should be asked to leave the house if his behavior doesn’t improve.
At the weigh-in, Nakahara and Hassan both tip the scales at an even 170 pounds before a respectful, hands-down stare-off from a few feet away. Robinson is excited about the matchup and tells the camera that Nakahara has “more weapons” than Hassan, who the Blackzilians believe has only a few punches and not much cardio. ATT coach Liborio could not disagree more.
“Hayder is mentally, emotionally, technically ready for it,” says Liborio. “He’s a high-level striker. He can knock out everybody and anyone, and be in the finals.”
The game plans are clear: Nakahara is looking to stay at arms length and use his long-range kicks to pick at Hassan, who wants to stay in the kyokushin stylist’s face and rough him up.
Sure enough, Nakahara opens the fight with a series of kicks to Hassan’s midsection and backs up as soon as the ATT fighter comes charging with punches. Working from the center, Hassan backs up Nakahara toward the cage and tries to paw his way inside with jabs. When Nakahara’s back hits the fence, Hassan bombs him with an overhand right and a massive left hook that land square on the Brazilian’s jaw. Nakahara takes a seat at the foot of the fence and covers up as Hassan unloads with big right hands. Hassan gets off nine or 10 punches in the span of a few seconds, and when Nakahara tilts over to his side, the referee steps in to stop the fight after just 48 seconds.
Hassan’s teammates fill the Blackzilians’ gym with chants of “A-T-T,” the squad suddenly reinvigorated by their first victory of the season. Just like that, ATT has cut their rivals’ lead in half, the scoreboard now reading 100-50 in favor of the Blackzilians. Perhaps more importantly, next week’s fight will be the first to take place at American Top Team’s gym in Coconut Creek, Fla.