Viewers were transported into the sullen environment of a losing locker room in the opening moments of the fifth episode of TUF 16. After losing to Bristol Marunde (who also contributes to The MMA Corner as this season’s TUF blogger), Team Nelson fighter Julian Lane sat among his teammates and coaches in an obvious state of disappointment. With one little girl at home and another on the way, Lane was surely feeling a lot of pressure and facing a lot of questions after losing to Marunde.
For his part, Marunde credited his work ethic for his success in the Octagon.
“I just find a way to win,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what it is.”
With Marunde’s fight out of the way, Team Carwin’s focus then shifted to who would compete next. The consensus among Team Carwin was that none of their potential opponents would be easy to beat.
“It’s inevitable I’m going to fight, and that’s on my mind right now,” said Team Carwin’s Mike Ricci, lending a voice to the anxiety the rest of the team felt toward their upcoming battles.
Back at the house, the teams discussed Coach Roy Nelson’s straw-picking strategy he employed to select his team’s fight. Team Carwin’s Matt Secor viewed the strategy with some disdain, saying how his coaches were back at their apartments watching videos of Team Nelson’s fighters to determine their fight, not simply relying on chance.
This was not the last time viewers would see Secor on this episode. What started with some trash talk between Secor and Julian Lane was quickly ratcheted up when Lane violently slammed down his beer bottle, removed his shirt, and proceeded to repeatedly tell Secor that he would put him to sleep, even if it meant going home.
“I just blacked out and I was ready to whoop his ass,” Lane said in reflection, cooler heads having eventually prevailed.
During Team Nelson’s training session, some of his fighters expressed concern about the lack of days where fighters were able to work out twice, a practice to which many had become accustomed at home. Cameron Diffley said his experience thus far on Team Nelson was one of disorganization. Mike Hill echoed these concerns, saying there didn’t seem to be a set game plan in place.
“I’m not really sure how I feel about these coaches,” he said.
The coach himself had a different opinion.
“I think I’m a pretty good coach, if you listen,” Nelson said.
One Team Nelson fighter who seemed just fine with his coaches’ approach to training was Colton Smith.
“Roy’s made it. The guy knows the formula to win this show,” Smith said, clearly having confidence in his coaching staff. Smith also emphasized the need for both teams’ fighters to take individual responsibility for their own workouts outside of the official team trainings.
Sufficiently trained or not, Team Nelson’s fighters soon sat in wait while Shane Carwin announced the next fight.
To the delight of many fighters from Team Carwin (and probably more than a few on Team Nelson as well), Carwin selected resident mischief-maker Nic Herron-Webb to face Igor Araujo.
Coach Carwin said he chose this fight because while both fighters are primarily grapplers, Araujo’s standup would make the difference in the fight, thus securing his team control for one more week.
The staredown between Herron-Webb and Araujo got intense after Herron-Webb gave his opponent a playful slap. This did not go over well with Araujo, who, now fully charged up, returned the favor moments later.
“I’m f*cking crazy man,” he said as he returned to his teammates. “I want to eat some brains.”
As the focus turned once more to the TUF house, viewers got to know Igor Araujo a little bit better. A native Brazilian (and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt), Araujo began fighting professionally in 2004 as a means to make rent. Eight years later, he’s amassed 22 wins and now trains with Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn in Albuquerque, N.M.
These days, Araujo fights for one reason: to provide ample opportunities for success to his children.
“I want to give them a good life,” he said.
Before his fight, Araujo had a little extra help toward that goal in the form of Ultimate Fighter alum Eliot Marshall. The retired UFC light heavyweight was able to foster a special connection with Araujo through the Portuguese language, as well as their abilities in the Octagon.
Coach Carwin said his plan for Araujo was simple: Use kicks and hands to set up takedowns, and then use his jiu-jitsu to control the fight.
“Igor is truly here to fight for bread and milk,” Carwin noted of his fighter’s workmanlike desire for success. “When somebody is fighting like that, they can go a long way.”
Things were not so harmonious in Nic Herron-Webb’s world, however. When Mike Ricci’s mattress wound up on the roof of the backyard gazebo, it was Herron-Webb who unapologetically owned up to the prank. Needless to say, this act drew the ire of the Team Nelson fighter.
“I will bet Igor just smashes this clown,” Ricci said, hoping for the worst for Herron-Webb in his upcoming fight.
“Naptime” Nic Herron-Webb is not all fun and games, though. The Alaskan wrestled in high school before beginning his MMA training after graduation. He said he discovered jiu-jitsu and then modified it into his own style — nap-jitsu.
“I put people to sleep in the cage,” Herron-Webb said, explaining his own nickname and that of his fighting style.
Herron-Webb’s primary motivation to succeed were his son, Ethan, as well as a desire to show the MMA world that Alaska produces some great fighters.
“A lot of the guys don’t really know we have this kind of talent and work ethic,” Herron-Webb said of his home state.
As for the fight itself, Nelson’s plan was not complicated.
“As long as Nic’s on top, he’ll be OK,” said Nelson, who predicted that Herron-Webb was unlikely to be submitted due to his own grappling prowess. The mat is clearly where the Alaskan felt most comfortable as well.
“I feel like I’m gonna shock some people with my ground game in this fight,” he said.
In the hours leading up to the fight, Araujo spoke fondly of his family and said he cries every night before he goes to sleep.
“These kids are my motivation,” he said, fighting through tears. “Everything I do, I think about them.”
The day of the fight is extra important for the Brazilian, as it it’s also the day his turns two years old.
“I don’t hate Nic, but he’s someone who is in my way,” Araujo said before lacing up his gloves. “It’s my time. I’m ready to go.”
The two welterweights touched gloves to begin round one, after which Herron-Webb landed a quick leg kick. Araujo then attempted a head kick before going for and achieving a takedown. For the remaining minutes of the round, Araujo worked in Herron-Webb’s guard, landing a few strikes and eventually working his way into the full mount position with 3:50 left.
The Brazilian continued to land strikes to his opponent’s head, with Herron-Webb’s coach Roy Nelson imploring his fighter to push on Araujo’s hips and shrimp out of mount into half-guard. Eventually, Araujo and Herron-Webb worked their way to the cage, Araujo still with a secure mount. Herron-Webb then flipped over, allowing Araujo to take his back.
Araujo then alternated between landing strikes to Herron-Webb’s head and positioning himself for a rear-naked choke.
Herron-Webb attempted to free himself by repeatedly turtling up from the bottom, only to be rebuked by Araujo, who stretched his opponent out and landed a few strikes while he was at it.
With seconds left in the round, Herron-Webb was finally able to maneuver back into Araujo’s guard, but with no time left to accomplish any meaningful offense.
In between rounds, Nelson instructed Herron-Webb to stay on top, or keep the fight standing. Easier said than done against a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt.
True to form, Araujo attempted a takedown almost immediately in the second round, only this one was stuffed by a prepared Herron-Webb. The fighters battled for positioning against the cage before Herron-Webb is able to maneuver into Araujo’s guard after attempting a kimura.
Herron-Webb went to work with elbows to Araujo’s head while Araujo attempted to sweep Herron-Webb and get to the mount position once again. Araujo’s attempts proved fruitful with 2:20 left in the round when was able to successfully sweep Herron-Webb from the top position, though he was only able to get in Herron-Webb’s guard.
While there, Araujo continued the onslaught of strikes to Herron-Webb’s head and body, while Coach Nelson pleaded with Herron-Webb to get back to his feet. After a brief series of leg- and ankle-lock attempts by Herron-Webb did not yield success, the Alaskan ended up in Araujo’s guard once more with 40 seconds to go. He remained in that position for the duration of the round, landing elbows from the top as the horn sounded.
The outcome of the fight was immediately in question, with many fighters predicting the fight would go to a third, sudden-victory round. After a commercial break to build the tension, it was announced that such a round would not be necessary, as Igor Araujo had won by a majority decision.
A bizarre ending, to be sure, with two judges scoring the first round for Araujo by a rarely seen 10-8 margin. UFC President Dana White immediately said the fight should have gone to a third round after announcing the decision.
“I thought Nic got robbed out of a third round,” White said, obviously critical of the judges’ decision. “This was as bad as it gets.”
On a happier note, Araujo wished his son a happy birthday. He said while he still missed his family, he knew they would be proud of what he had accomplished.
“I’m really happy because I know that [my son] knows that I just got a big win.”
Photo: TUF 16 Logo (UFC)