Week two of the semifinals is here. This week was the first middleweight semi, between Australia’s “Wild Thing” Tyler Manawaroa and Canada’s Elias Theodorou. Everyone was pumped for this fight between two very different guys, both personality-wise and stylistically.

In the days before these two did battle, we awaited the return of Kajan Johnson, following his serious jaw injury in his fight against Chad Laprise. On his return, all of Team Australia let him know we’d help out if he needed anything, and we showed our respect for the way he went out on his shield. He’d suffered a broken jaw—a pretty severe injury with three separate breaks. His jaw had been wired together, and he would require further surgery in the coming days. It wasn’t pleasant for any of us to have to see a fellow fighter in this condition, but he seemed in good spirits given the circumstances.

Our training coming into the semifinals had a good energy to it, and I partnered with Tyler plenty to encourage him to keep the pace high. Unfortunately for me, this also meant eating plenty of his giant lunchbox fists, which came flying at me from weird angles. Awesome!

Another highlight during this period was Dan Kelly shaving himself a goatee, which made him look like he was a biker on his way to a court appearance. His new look only made his late-night nude strolls around the ANZAC bedroom all the more terrifying. It was as if an apparition of the late Mark “Chopper” Reid had appeared in his birthday suit in some sort of Amityville Horror-type scenario. (Just kidding, Kelly. But seriously, buy some pajamas.)

Tyler was looking as explosive as ever. His unorthodox style and well-roundedness would surely be hard for Elias to handle. We hadn’t seen much from Elias in his first fight with regards to striking or submission attempts, but it was clear he had good conditioning and could grind out a win using his wrestling and positional dominance. That is what we expected him to bring against Tyler, and Tyler prepared accordingly.

Both guys made weight for the bout, and the staredown was a mix of Tyler’s intensity and Elias’s usual goofy antics. Then it was time for both guys to rehydrate and get ready for the fight of their lives!

On fight day, Tyler looked as ferocious as ever in the locker room. He seemed focused and ready. As the fight kicked off, it was clear that Elias would look to close the distance, similar to his game plan against Zein Saliba in the preliminary round. After the initial clinch by Elias, Tyler actually controlled dominant position for a short period against the cage before Elias turned off and secured a takedown.

In a nutshell, the entire fight was a series of Elias securing a takedown, Tyler scrambling back up and Elias clinching against the cage, before again taking Tyler to the canvas. There were a few moments where I thought Tyler had turned things around, one being a great knee to the head as Elias shot for his legs and another when Tyler gained back control. But these glimpses of hope were brief, and Elias simply controlled position relentlessly and didn’t allow Tyler the space he needed to execute his best techniques.

I was shattered for Tyler as the referee announced Elias had taken the unanimous decision. I knew that with his vast skill set, Tyler could have won the entire competition, but I feel if he’d had a little more experience to adjust his style during the fight, he could have turned things around. On the plus side, at least this fight had gained him that experience, and although it was disappointing for him to lose on such a stage, the world had gotten to see what a talented and entertaining young fighter Tyler is. Time will only see him grow exponentially better, and I’m excited to see what the future holds for Tyler, as his talent and potential cannot be overstated.

Tyler was really down after the fight, and a few of us followed him into the parking lot, only to find him standing in the sub-zero temperatures, coming to terms with the whirlwind of emotions that comes after a loss at such a crucial point in one’s career. It was terrible to see a good mate lose his dream like that. Tyler had become like a brother to me during our time there, and I wanted nothing more than to see him succeed in winning the show, which I knew he was capable of doing. Still, the future is bright for him if he stays focused on the big picture.

Tyler was the center of some controversy following the show, and I would like to take this opportunity to say that I’ve not met a more kind-hearted, well-meaning young guy anywhere. I have no doubt that the photo that caused such an issue was not posted by him in malice and was meant to represent how he felt he’d been treated his whole life, having seen the ugly side of racism himself from a young age. I hate racism as much as anybody and most certainly would not support anybody I thought was racist, but I will stand by Tyler.

I know the UFC has to protect its image and brand, but I hope all those who may have prematurely judged Tyler based on what they heard in the media will give him a second chance. He won’t get a free pass back to the UFC, and he wouldn’t expect that. Knowing Tyler, he will fight his way back and earn every bit of success he gets in the future. Just please remember him as the talented, passionate and entertaining young fighter, proud of his Maori heritage, and not as the guy who posted a controversial image on social media when he was 17.

That’s my two bob’s worth. Be back here next week to get more Badger Wisdom. Until then, Keep Badgin!

Brendan “Badger” O’Reilly would like to thank his cult-like supporters, his sponsors Mass Nutrition Chermside, Sports Master Athletics, Harris Stability Systems, Battlebeard Athletica and gyms Gamebred Combat Club, Alliance Jiu Jitsu Brisbane and Fortitude Boxing. Follow the Badger’s antics on Twitter: @oreillymma
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About The Author

Brendan O'Reilly
TUF: Nations Blogger

Brendan "Badger" O'Reilly prides himself on being a physical and aggressive fighter. He is a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and is a former Greco-Roman and Freestyle wrestling state champion in Australia. Before discovering MMA, Brendan was a representative Rugby League player, while also competing in rodeos. He set aside both sports to focus solely on succeeding in mixed martial arts. Outside of competing as a professional fighter, Brendan owns and operates Gamebred Combat Club, a Cross Fit and MMA gym, in Brisbane, Australia and also boasts a degree in Applied Science.