This week’s episode began by introducing us to the two middleweight fighters that were facing off with the hopes of advancing to the semifinals. Accomplished wrestler Ian Stephens of Georgia was set to take on striking specialist Roger Zapata of New York.

I remember meeting Stephens when we were flown to Vegas for the medicals a month prior to the show airing. I identified him immediately as a guy in my weight class even before I had seen him fight. Through having friendly conversation with him in a hospital waiting room, I realized he had a lot of similarities to me in a mental sense: he was someone who believed in hard work and he was someone who believed in himself.

Stephens was then matched against Lyman Good in the fights to get into the house. Stephens would have been seen as a rookie in the fight game compared to the decorated and experienced Good. Yet, Stephens did not let this faze him. He put in a solid performance against Good and shut him out, earning a decision win over one of the early favorites. For these reasons, I really saw Stephens as a guy in my weight class to watch out for.

Zapata, on the other hand, defeated a wrestler by referee stoppage in his fight to get into the house by using his precision striking. As seen in the episode, Zapata’s first child had been born only two days before he left for Vegas to film The Ultimate Fighter. I remember talking to Zapata quite a lot about this and how strange of a situation it must have been. Zapata had left his daughter two days after her birth to chase his dream in order to hopefully provide her with a better life.

The fight began as expected; Stephens was looking to use his wrestling to take the fight to the mat, while Zapata was trying to keep the fight standing in order to use his striking. Stephens was able to use his wrestling to control the positioning early on. However, in securing position, Stephens was not doing much in terms of striking, whereas Zapata, on the other hand, was throwing at will. Even when Stephens got really dominant positions such as taking the back, Zapata still was the more active fighter, throwing strikes repeatedly.

Zapata was told by referee Steve Mazzagatti during the first round to watch the angles of the elbows he was throwing, therefore ensuring they were not elbows coming straight down (from 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock). However, it has to be noted that this was not an official warning and that if he was to do this again he would not be deducted a point. Regardless, Zapata was throwing all his elbows from an angle, which ensured they were all legal blows.

The second round was much like the first. Stephens was securing dominant positions, but Zapata was the busier fighter with strikes and was also doing damage to his opponent, unlike Stephens. Zapata even caused a cut on Stephens’ head using elbows. Also, as the second round unfolded, it was clear that Stephens had become really tired. As a result of his exhaustion, he became even less active.

After two rounds, the judges declared the fight a draw, which meant that a sudden-victory third round would follow. It was to the delight of most people watching (including UFC President Dana White) that the damage that Zapata had done had been rewarded.

The third round began with the same story: Stephens looking for the takedown, Zapata throwing strikes. Only this time round, Stephens looked even more exhausted. He didn’t seem to have the same strength he had shown earlier. Zapata kept firing away shots and was able to defend himself from the takedown more successfully.

Halfway through the final round, Zapata was having his most convincing round through effective striking and damage. Suddenly, Mazzagatti broke the two fighters from the position against the fence and deducted a point from Zapata for throwing an illegal strike (12-to-6 elbow). First, Zapata had been throwing all his elbows from an angle, which meant they were legal, and second, he had never been warned that a point would be deducted from him.

When this happened, Stephens returned to his corner and dropped to his knees. At the sight of this, Dana White stood up from his seat and walked out of the gym. The amount of time taken by Stephens before the fight was restarted was anywhere from two to three minutes. This really was a turning point in the fight, as the exhausted Stephens was given plenty of time to recover and Zapata was clearly deflated after undeservedly having a point deducted from him.

When the fight restarted, Stephens took dominant positioning once again until the fight ended. When the fight result was about to be announced, everyone was expecting Stephens’ hand to be raised. However, after two judges scored the fight a draw, they were left with the choice of picking a winner (as a fight in the TUF competition cannot be deemed a draw). The judges all chose Zapata, and Dana White came storming into the gym upon hearing the news while he was cooling off outback. He was so angry and confused as to how Zapata could have won. He was also still furious about the point wrongfully being deducted from Zapata.

Team Frankie Edgar were going nuts about the decision, while the rest of us on Team B.J. Penn couldn’t believe our luck. Stephens took it all very well, considering, and Zapata was delighted with advancing through to the semis. In the following few days, the outcome of that fight was discussed and argued about. That will be shown in the next episode, so I will discuss my thoughts on it next week.

With Team Penn back in control, B.J. Penn picked Division I wrestler Pat Walsh to fight Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Anton Berzin. This fight is really interesting stylistically, so stay tuned…

About The Author

Cathal “The Punisher” Pendred is a 26-year-old martial artist hailing from Dublin, Ireland. He was born in Boston while his father was studying law overseas. Pendred moved to Ireland at age five and took part in judo and taekwondo, before finding rugby. At the age of 19, Pendred turned his attention to MMA. He holds wins over UFC veterans Che Mills, David Bielkheden and Nicholas Musoke and was the Cage Warriors welterweight champion prior to joining the cast of The Ultimate Fighter. Pendred trains alongside current UFC fighter Conor McGregor and fellow TUF 19 competitor Chris Fields at SBG Ireland.