The Ultimate Fighter 17 is starting to wind down with the quarterfinal matchups being made and only a few weeks standing between the fighters and the season finale card on April 13 in Las Vegas.
This week there are two quarterfinal matchups, as Team Sonnen's Luke Barnatt takes on Team Jones's Dylan Andrews, while Team Jones' Collin Hart faces off with Team Sonnen's young upstart Kelvin Gastelum.
Both Barnatt and Andrews were unsuspecting winners in their first round fights, as they took on early favorites in Gilbert Smith Jr. and Zak Cummings. Despite the odds, Barnatt knocked out Smith flat in the second round while Andrews endured some early danger to best Cummings by decision.
A long, rangy fighter standing 6'6" tall, Barnatt uses his reach extremely well to keep shorter competitors from pressing the action inside on him. He wore down Smith using this very tactic when the smaller grappler just could not get close enough to do any damage in their fight earlier this season.
Barnatt can also toss in some surprising moves, like he did with the flying knee that knocked Smith out in their fight, so expect the unexpected from the Brit. He's not afraid to mix things up and take some chances, and while that can easily backfire as well, it makes for an exciting fight.
Meanwhile, Andrews had to go through some serious danger in his fight with Zak Cummings to come out on top and make it to the second round. An early scare in the first round almost ended things for him, but Andrews persevered and managed to swing things into his favor as the fight wore on.
The fresher man in this fight is clearly Barnatt, having fought in the first preliminary round matchup and then having plenty of time to heal, work on his weak points, and, best of all, watch every single competitor that came after him in their fights. Andrews will probably want to get this one to the ground to avoid the reach of Barnatt, but if he can't do that early the struggle could consume him and put the fight into his opponent's favor.
The second quarterfinal showdown features one of the biggest and strongest competitors on the show, as Collin Hart looks to build on his first round win over Kevin Casey when he takes on a fellow wrestler in Arizona native Kelvin Gastelum, who pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the opening round with his submission victory to finish veteran Bubba McDaniel.
Hart is a huge middleweight, and he used that brute strength and size to overpower and tire Team Sonnen fighter Kevin Casey in their first round fight. While he was disappointed that he couldn't get the finish, Hart showed that not only does he have knockout power in his hands, but he's got wrestling in his back pocket, as he managed to control a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt like Casey on his back for the better part of ten minutes.
He may have to use some anti-wrestling this time around, because Gastelum will undoubtedly look to drag this fight to the floor, but leave himself in control and not on the bottom like a turtle stuck on its shell. In his fight with McDaniel, Gastelum was in a dog fight battling for position, but he did a great job winning in the scramble and eventually locking on the fight ending rear naked choke.
This time around, Gastelum may not get the chance to get into those kinds of exchanges with Hart if he can't get the fight to the ground early. While Hart probably doesn't match Gastelum in overall grappling skill, his ground control as shown in his first fight proves he doesn't mind being in those positions, and he trains with a great team at home with the Nor-Cal Fighting Alliance (led by former UFC contender and grappling expert David Terrell).
Look for Hart to control the range, and if the fight does go to the ground, he'll try to dictate the pace and stay on top as the larger fighter. If there's one thing this season has proved however, the underdog is never out of the fight and Gastelum has to be the most underrated fighter on the show.
Both fights could produce upsets, so don't count out Andrews or Gastelum, but the favor going into the fights falls into the corners of Team Sonnen's Barnatt and Team Jones' Hart.
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