This week’s episode of The Ultimate Fighter 16 showcased the semifinal fights. With Mike Ricci and Jon Manley joining Neil Magny and Colton Smith in the season’s semifinal round last week, it was time to determine who would advance to the live finale set for Dec. 15 in Las Vegas.

We head to the house, where we hear Joey Rivera and other members of Team Nelson discussing how jaded they’ve become and the potential missed opportunities that came under Roy Nelson’s leadership. Then it’s off to Colton Smith and Jon Manley’s training sessions.

“Whoever executes their game plan the best is going to win that fight,” Nelson said after assessing Smith as the fighter with the better wrestling and Manley as having the better jiu-jitsu.

Rivera decided to confront Nelson directly and share his feelings about the coaching job that Nelson turned in over the course of the season.

“We got raped on the field,” Rivera told Nelson. “We could have got a little more attention from you and the other coaches.”

Nelson attempted to divert the blame and claimed he couldn’t give his fighters heart.

“I don’t know if you want me to be a big cheerleader. I don’t know if you want pompoms,” Nelson responded. “Some guys came in here with a mission to win.”

Then it’s on to fight day.

Colton Smith vs. Jon Manley

Smith closed the distance early and pinned Manley against the cage in the clinch. Manley escaped and the two returned to the center of the Octagon and exchanged tentative strikes. Smith again tied up Manley in the clinch before working hard to score a takedown. Smith worked from top position but didn’t land many blows. He started looking for a choke, but Manley escaped to his feet.  Smith pressed Manley against the fence once more in the clinch. He threw knees to Manley’s body and legs.  The round ends with the fighters still in the clinch, neither man having done much damage to his adversary.

After a tentative start to the second stanza, Smith used strikes to once more close the distance and engage Manley in the clinch.  This time Smith wasted less time before dragging Manley to the mat. He immediately started hunting for the choke again, but Manley returned to his feet in the ensuing scramble, eating a knee on his way up. Smith continued to grind away in the clinch until Manley forced a separation. The two exchanged on the feet before Smith closed the distance and briefly took Manley down again. With Smith again pressing Manley against the cage, Manley finally looked for some offense of his own by snagging Smith’s arm, but he couldn’t hold on. Smith went back to the clinch, eventually lifting and suplexing Manley back to the canvas. They returned to their feet again.  Manley finally went for a takedown of his own, but Smith delivered knees to his head and resumed his grinding clinch work and finished the round with a takedown.

The third frame opened with both fighters more active on their feet.  But before too long, Smith moved in and backed Manley against the cage. Smith remained relentless in clinching with Manley, moving right back in whenever Manley caused separation. The two returned to the middle of the cage, and Manley landed a right hand to Smith’s face. It didn’t seem to affect Smith. Manley started moving forward more and in doing so, landed a few more punches. But his sense of urgency came too late, and Smith survived until the closing bell, even scoring a takedown as the round came to a close.

Colton Smith def. Jon Manley by unanimous decision

“It feels great. I’m top-two now.  Been a long road…four weigh-ins, four fights, 4-0 in the house. I might not have been the best fighter, might not have been the most skilled, the prettiest fighter, but I guarantee I’m the best fighter at the end of the day in the house,” Smith said.

The focus shifted to Team Carwin, where teammates Mike Ricci and Neil Magny were set to square off to determine the other finalist for this season’s tournament.

The attitude of the fighters toward the coaches on Team Carwin was the complete opposite of Team Nelson, with Ricci and Magny singing the praises of Carwin and company.

“We definitely have the better coaches than the other side,” Magny said. “If I would have went Team Nelson, I probably would have been miserable right now.”

Carwin explained that he saw Ricci as probably the most well-rounded fighters coming into the house, with Magny’s stand-up developing over the course of the season.

It’s time for the final fight day of the season.

[alert type=white ]Mike Ricci vs. Neil Magny[/alert]

After an initial feeling-out process, Magny moved in and locked up Ricci in the clinch against the cage. Ricci attacked Magny’s arm to force separation.  After some tentative striking exchanges, Ricci landed a left flush to Magny’s face that sent Magny to the mat. Ricci followed him to the ground, ending up in Magny’s guard. Magny used the cage to attempt to wall walk his way back to his feet, but Ricci used the opportunity to look to take Magny’s back. Once Magny had returned to his feet, he started to turn into Ricci to face him, but as he turned he met with Ricci’s left elbow.  Unconsciousness followed, with Ricci landing a follow-up elbow before the referee could intervene.

[divider]Mike Ricci def. Neil Magny by knockout

“I broke down and I started crying because the truth is I would have rather have won by a decision than to do that to him,” Ricci said.

The two finalists squared off as the season came to a close.

The Final

Team Nelson’s Colton Smith vs. Team Carwin’s Mike Ricci at The Ultimate Fighter 16 Finale on Dec. 15 from The Joint at the Hard Rock Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas.

Photo: TUF 16 logo (UFC)