The fifth episode of TUF 17 began in the locker rooms of Team Jones and Team Sonnen in the aftermath of the previous installment’s fight announcement. Coach Jon Jones selected Bubba McDaniel from his side to face Team Sonnen’s Kelvin Gastelum, and said he wanted to use McDaniel’s comparatively greater experience to his team’s advantage. Coach Chael Sonnen, meanwhile, did his best to hype up Gastelum—the least-experienced fighter of the group and, at 21, the youngest participant in the history of The Ultimate Fighter—with positive affirmations and confidence-boosting conversation.

To add an extra boost of motivation to Gastelum’s already-stocked tank, Sonnen arranged for UFC women’s bantamweight fighter Ronda Rousey to wish the young fighter good luck. Rousey said she would come to Las Vegas to train with Team Sonnen if Gastelum was successful, which no doubt provided him and the rest of the team with an additional incentive to work hard.

Later, on one of the nights before the fight between McDaniel and Gastelum, Sonnen and his fellow coaches paid a visit to the house for a game of charades. While many of the fighters seemed all too happy to get their minds off of the competition, McDaniel instead sat by the fire in a quiet moment of reflection.

“I was the kid that shouldn’t be alive by the age I am now,” McDaniel told the camera, vaguely referring to poor choices made in his past that ran him afoul with the law. The birth of his daughter, Emma, served as the catalyst to a major change in McDaniel’s life, and gave him the drive to focus his efforts as a professional fighter.

“It’s been a long, sad road in my life to be in MMA,” he said, “but on the other hand, MMA helped save my life.”

The episode’s focus then turned to the Team Sonnen training session, where viewers got to know Kelvin Gastelum. A full-time bail bondsman hailing from Yuma, Ariz., Gastelum was raised by his mother—a Mexican immigrant who spoke no English when she came to the U.S.—and said his motivation comes from wanting to pay her back for everything she did for him and his sister. Gastelum said his ultimate goal is to be able to quit his day job and be able to train full-time.

“People are going to see what Kelvin Gastelum is all about,” he said.”I just have tunnel vision, and it builds up like a fire inside of me, and I just let it all go in the cage.”

The Team Jones training session segment seemed to focus less on Bubba McDaniel than it did on another of the squad’s fighters. Viewers might remember Josh Samman from earlier episodes when he seemed all too eager to step in the Octagon. The time in the TUF house seems to have changed his thinking, however, as he approached Coach Jones to request not to compete in the next bout if Jones retained control of the fight picks. Samman was up-front about his change of heart, and chalked it up to a cavalcade of injuries accrued during the grueling training sessions. Jones took the request in stride, noting that great coach/fighter relationships are rooted in good communication, but nevertheless expressed some discontent to his assistant coaches that their authority over the team might be waning.

The episode then shifted back to McDaniel, who again appeared confident in his chances against Gastelum.

“I’m gonna make this one a statement fight,” he said. “I don’t see this being anything other than a ‘W’ coming from me.”

Coach Jones expressed similar assurance in McDaniel, with whom he trains in Albuquerque at Team Jackson/Winkeljohn, saying he has the advantage in every area except wrestling.

Prior to the weigh-ins, Coach Sonnen brought in Academy Award-winning actor Mickey Rourke to talk about the difficulties his life has presented him and how he has found success in spite of them.

“This is a guy who had a dream and had it dashed, and he slipped and fell and he got back up over and over again,” Sonnen said.

“You’ve got to say ‘How can I be better today than yesterday,'” Rourke imparted onto the fighters.

After both fighters made weight, it was Fight Day. McDaniel said his strategy would be to punish Gastelum when he comes in with what McDaniel referred to as “sloppy shots.”

“All I’m gonna think is domination,” he said.

Gastelum, for his part, said that this fight, like every other one he’s been in, is the most important one of his life.

“No way in hell is this guy going to beat me,” he said.

Robert “Bubba” McDaniel vs. Kelvin Gastelum

Gastelum controlled the center of the Octagon to start the fight, and then took McDaniel to the mat after McDaniel rushed in throwing punches. Both fighters briefly returned to their feet before Gastelum got another takedown and worked to side-control. From there, both fighters took turns in top position after exchanging sweeps, but McDaniel ultimately ended up taking Gastelum’s back with about three minutes left.

Gastelum escaped from the ground, only to return to the mat on top of McDaniel. McDaniel, in the meantime, worked for a number of submissions from the bottom before rolling Gastelum over and mounting him with 1:50 left in the round. McDaniel took Gastelum’s back once more and worked for a rear-naked choke. After briefly standing back up, the fighters returned to the round where they again traded sweeps. The round ended with Gastelum on top after he threw what could have been a wicked haymaker to a grounded McDaniel.

The fighters traded a number of kicks to begin the second frame, after which they tied up in the center of the cage. Gastelum then threw McDaniel to the mat and got on top of him. Gastelum went for a couple of guillotine chokes but was unable to secure any, leaving McDaniel on top of him. Gastelum once again gave up his back and McDaniel once again got his hooks in and began to work for a choke. Unfortunately for McDaniel, Gastelum stood up and was eventually able to dislodge McDaniel from his back, ending up in McDaniel’s guard.

Ever crafty from his back, McDaniel continued to search for an arm to stretch, but Gastelum avoided the submission attempts without much trouble. In a flash, Gastelum took McDaniel’s back. It was not long after that he sunk in a rear-naked choke and coaxed the tap from McDaniel mid-way through the second round.

Kelvin Gastelum def. Bubba McDaniel by submission (rear-naked choke). Round 2, 4:38

Coach Sonnen, who called the fight the best of the season so far, credited Gastelum’s ability to maintain his position in the second frame for his eventual victory.

“It’s one more in the win column, one more for the record books, and one more for the bad guys,” he said.

Jones consoled McDaniel, correctly pointing out that he was not knocked out or injured in his loss, so the Wild Card spot is still very much his for the taking. Nevertheless, the bitterness of the loss seemed to eat away at McDaniel.

“I can’t stand it, knowing I lost again,” he said. “I feel like a failure.”

The teams reconvened for the next fight announcement, and it wasn’t good news for Team Jones. Coach Sonnen announced that his team would send Tor Troeng to fight the less-than-100-percent Josh Samman. The reason, Sonnen said, was the lack of opposition for each fighter among the rest of the teams.

“Nobody is willing to fight either one,” Sonnen said.

Photo: The Ultimate Fighter 17 (Zuffa, LLC)

About The Author

Eric Reinert
Staff Writer

Eric Reinert has been writing about mixed martial arts since 2010. Outside the world of caged combat, Eric has spent time as a news reporter, speechwriter, campaign strategist, tech support manager, landscaper and janitor. He lives in Madison, Wis.