TUF 19 Rewind Episode 7: Burning down the house

Controversy turns team against team in the latest episode of The Ultimate Fighter

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There may not be a worse situation to have in MMA than a robbery on the judges’ scorecards to get everyone from fans to fighters ready to stage a riot. On last week’s episode of The Ultimate Fighter: Team Edgar vs. Team Penn, Roger Zapata got a win over Ian Stephens despite spending the majority of the fight playing defense from the wrestler’s takedowns while staving off a rear naked choke at the same time.  Zapata did manage to land some nasty inside elbows, some of which were deemed illegal, and eventually cost him a point and led to a big part of the controversy.

Still, Zapata got the victory while most everyone watching in the gym that day and at home when the fight aired last week believes Stephens was the victim of some judges who apparently attended the ‘Frank Drebin School of Officiating‘.

Now in general terms when a fight ends with the wrong call, the two competitors are put into separate corners and locker rooms and rarely engage with each other outside of maybe a press conference to close out the night.  At the Ultimate Fighter house there is no such luxury because from the fight, these two teams were put right back into the pressure cooker of being together just moments removed from an already volatile situation.

To make matters better (or worse), the fighters this week did get to enjoy some UFC fights while sitting around the house and after not even seeing TV for the better part of a month, this was probably a welcome escape from a rather tumultuous day.  Unfortunately, one bad referee’s standup during a fight ignited the flame once again and everyone was on fire.

It didn’t take long for Matt Van Buren aka ‘Gutter’ to start in on the refereeing problems in the sport, and Zapata didn’t help things much by chiming in with his ‘elbows doing damage’ rhetoric. In reality, it’s not Zapata’s fault the judges and referee in his fight made the wrong call, but bragging about the win while even your coach was pulling you out of the Octagon and saying ‘let’s get out of here before they change their minds’ probably isn’t the most confidence inspiring speech you hope for after a victory.  It wasn’t exactly Gene Hackman getting a team ready for the state championship.

With Zapata bragging, Gutter couldn’t help but to fire back with his own quips aimed at his questionable win.

"Well, defending a rear naked choke for 14 minutes and winning a fight. You looked very impressive I must say," Van Buren said. "Anyone with common sense knows who won that fight."

Things only went from bad to worse as both Eddie Gordon and Dan Spohn chimed in with their opinions on the fight.  Both guys might want to contact Chael Sonnen for a little trash talking 101 because a lot of this back and forth was almost nonsensical.

There seemed to be two very obvious things that happened during this sequence.  First, Team Penn didn’t help their cause much by chanting and chirping non-stop about how the decision was the right call.  Now some of this took place outside the ears of any nearby Team Edgar fighter, but the hard truth of the matter was Zapata escaped with a win and everybody knew it.  There’s no shame in admitting it.

Part two of this fiasco that deserves recognition is the classiness shown by Ian Stephens throughout this entire situation. The one guy who probably had the biggest right to be irate and throw a temper tantrum was sitting quietly while telling everyone to just let it go.  There’s no doubt Stephens’ blood had to be boiling after having a win taken away from him due to a bizarre set of circumstances, and internally he had to be raging and ready to rip something (or someone) apart, but instead he just sat calmly and told everyone to stop talking about it.  It didn’t work, but at least he tried.

As for the fight this week, we got to know a bit more about the competitors before the bout started.  Patrick Walsh is a former wrestler from The Ohio State University, who emulates the style of Team Penn coach Mark Coleman in his fights.  It was an odd turn that Walsh didn’t end up being coached by Coleman during the season, but as witnessed during the episode, the two Buckeyes still shared some words of encouragement after the bout was over.

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On the other side of the Octagon was Anton Berzin, who came with his family from Russia at the age of two before they settled in Philadelphia where he grew up.  Berzin was on my TUF Talk podcast (which you can hear right here) and he told stories about living nearby to the Philadelphia Art Museum that’s most famously known for its steps where Sylvester Stallone ran during the film ‘Rocky’.  That movie series also garnered him a nickname growing up that he wasn’t too fond of, mostly because he knew kids were making fun of his Russian heritage but he had no idea why.

Yep, you guessed it — the kids called him ‘Drago’. 

Once he saw the movie years later, Berzin said the nickname didn’t bother him nearly as much.

The fight itself was back and forth especially in the first round, but following those five minutes, Walsh took over for the remainder of the final 10 minutes.  Berzin expended so much energy going for a choke in the first that he didn’t have much left in the gas tank for the last two rounds.  Of course, Gutter had something to say once again about Team Penn’s questionable conditioning.

In the end, Walsh got the nod by unanimous decision and we move onto the final middleweight bout in the quarterfinal round as Eddie Gordon takes on Mike King next week.  Gordon has been one of the more vocal fighters in the house all season long and now he gets to back it up inside the Octagon while King was ultra impressive in his first fight to get into the house, but can he duplicate that performance a second time?

Tune into The Ultimate Fighter: Team Edgar vs. Team Penn next Wednesday night on FOX Sports 1 at 10p ET to find out.