This week’s episode of The Ultimate Fighter 16 showcased the third and fourth quarterfinal fights. After watching Neil Magny and Colton Smith advance to the season’s semifinal round last week, it was time for four more fighters to lace up their gloves and go to battle.

Team Nelson comrades Joey Rivera and Jon Manley squared off in the night’s first contest. Despite the stresses of fighting a teammate in a cage, both fighters expressed nothing but respect for their opponent.

“[Joey] is a wicked-tough kid,” Manley said.

“This is gonna be an awesome, I can’t even wait,” Rivera added.

For his part, Coach Roy Nelson assessed the fight as fairly even, noting that while Rivera is the superior striker, Manley is better on the mat.

At the house on fight day, we saw the two opponents share a hug and some kind words before going separately to the UFC training center for their fight.

“I love you, Joey, but I’m coming for you. Watch out,” Manley said with a smile.

Joey Rivera vs. Jon Manley

The teammates touched gloves to begin their fight, and Rivera immediately took the middle of the cage. They spent the first minute or so feeling each other out with strikes and feints until Manley shot in for a takedown. While the attempt was not a successful one, Manley was able to press Rivera against the cage, where the fighters remained for the next 90 seconds; Manley attempting additional takedowns until he was able to get Rivera to the mat.

In Rivera’s guard, Manley quickly passed, but Rivera hit a switch and took what might best be described as “half-back,” with his upper body against Manley’s back but his legs not properly positioned. He nonetheless attempted a choke from this position with about a minute remaining in the round, and then attempted a triangle when that didn’t work. Manley quickly escaped the second submission as well, ending up in side control where he ended the round throwing elbows.

In between rounds, Rivera’s corner stressed the need to show a greater sense of urgency in the fight. He briefly looked like he heeded those words when he again took the center of the cage to start the second round, but any momentum was quickly squashed when Manley again pushed him against the cage.

From here, Manley more or less maintained his position pressing Rivera against the fence, attempting additional takedowns with no success. Rivera tried to counter this strategy with a standing guillotine with 2:15 left in the round, but Manley quickly shucked it off.

Eventually, Manley’s takedown attempts paid off when he put Rivera back on the mat with 1:20 left in the round. Manley quickly moved to side control when Rivera attempted an inverted triangle choke. Things were looking a little dicey for Manley, but he escaped with 35 seconds left and quickly moved into mount. Rivera then rolled over, giving up his back, where Manley ended the round throwing punches to Rivera’s head.

After a brief deliberation, the judges announced that the fight was over.

Jon Manley def. Joey Rivera by majority decision (20-18 x2, 19-19)

“Rivera vs. Manley was pretty disappointing,” said UFC President Dana White. “Rivera looked like he was on Xanax.”

Coach Nelson echoed White’s sentiment, saying the two didn’t look like they wanted to fight each other.

“It wasn’t even like a sparring match,” he said.

Neither fighter was particularly happy with his performance, but the victorious Manley lent viewers some insight into why he fought a more conservative contest.

“I was scared to really exchange with him because in practice he beats my ass,” Manley said of his teammate and opponent.

Where Manley and Rivera’s fight resulted in no ill-will, the same could not be said for the episode’s other two competitors. There has been tension between Team Carwin’s Mike Ricci and Team Nelson’s Michael Hill ever since the announcement of their fight. That tension briefly bubbled over in a pre-fight confrontation over Ricci’s pasta sauce that then transformed into a trash-talkathon to which TUF viewers have become so accustomed.

“This guy is a bum,” Ricci said of his opponent. “He has no business being here.”

The men put aside their personal squabbles on fight day, and instead focused on the task at hand.

“Ricci is a talented fighter, but I want it more,” Hill said. “Hard work beats talent, and I’m going to prove that when we get in the cage.”

[alert type=white ]Mike Ricci vs. Michael Hill[/alert]

The first round began with an exciting exchange of strikes, with Ricci attempting multiple head kicks and landing a hard left hand. Ricci then pressed Hill against the cage and eventually got a takedown with 2:25 left in the round.

Working from inside Hill’s guard, Ricci landed punches and elbows from the top. After a failed attempt to pass Hill’s guard, Ricci settled for landing more elbows. Ultimately, Ricci ended up taking Hill’s back with just under a minute remaining in the round. Hill was able to briefly escape, but Ricci quickly repositioned to once again take Hill’s back. The round ended there, with Ricci continuing to land strikes from Hill’s back.

Hill seemed determined to impress the judges in round two, as he came charging in. Ricci took advantage of Hill’s aggression, however, taking his opponent down to the mat. Hill attempted a few guillotine chokes after the takedown, but none were successful.

Ricci moved to side control before again taking Hill’s back with 3:35 left in the round. He would remain here for the duration of the fight, despite Hill’s best efforts to shake him off. Ricci repeatedly attempted rear-naked chokes when he wasn’t pummeling Hill with strikes. It was a dominating performance, grappling-wise, from Ricci and the scorecards reflected that.

[divider]Mike Ricci def. Michael Hill by unanimous decision (20-18 x3)

“Ricci vs. Hill, I expected it to be a more explosive fight,” White said afterward. “Ricci pretty much dominated the fight. You can tell Hill doesn’t have much of a ground game.”

“I just didn’t give it my all, man,” Hill said in defeat. “I didn’t give it 110 percent.”

After the two fights, Dana White addressed the fighters to announce the season’s semifinal match-ups. The fights will take place on the season’s penultimate episode and, as expected, will feature two battles between teammates.

Semifinal Fights

Team Nelson’s Jon Manley vs. Colton Smith

Team Carwin’s Mike Ricci vs. Neil Magny

Photo: TUF 16 logo (UFC)