Chris Beal vs. Chris Holdsworth
The tone has been set during The Ultimate Fighter season 18 after only one elimination fight in the opening round of the women's tournament.
Prohibitive favorite Shayna Baszler was supposed to cruise to victory in her matchup over Team Tate's top pick Julianna Pena, and give her coach Ronda Rousey a stirring start to the competition. Following a strong opening round, however, Baszler faded under pressure from Pena and eventually succumbed to a rear naked choke submission in the second round.
The victory was a backbreaker for Team Rousey, who wanted to take over the competition early by eliminating Miesha Tate's top pick, but instead it was their No. 1 seed who was sent packing. Following the fight, Tate chose the next matchup, pitting submission specialist Chris Holdsworth against an ailing Chris Beal in the first matchup between the bantamweight men.
Beal talked earlier in the episode about how his hand was hurt following his entry match to get into the house, and he expected to be picked first if Team Tate controlled the selection. Rousey was unhappy that Tate targeted an injured fighter, but this isn't the first time in Ultimate Fighter history where a competitor isn't feeling 100 percent, and is subsequently picked early in the season by the opposing team to try and gain an advantage.
Looking at the matchup, the fight between Holdsworth and Beal is truly a clash of styles, with one fighter likely looking to drag this to the ground looking for a submission, while the other wants nothing more than to knock his opponent out.
Holdsworth is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt under Marc Laimon (who you may remember as a coach on The Ultimate Fighter season 4), and after leaving Las Vegas the young bantamweight fighter relocated to California, where he now works full-time with Urijah Faber, Joseph Benavidez and the rest of Team Alpha Male.
On the other side of the cage, Beal is a powerful striker with dynamic tools on the feet, and he was also a standout wrestler while in high school, but he never took that skill to the college level or beyond. Beal is undefeated as a professional fighter with a perfect 8-0 record.
Beal admitted that his hand injury from the first fight could come into play in the competition, and knowing that one of his best weapons may only be operating at 50 percent capacity is a tough mental (as well as physical) obstacle to overcome. Where this matchup helps him is the fact that Holdsworth is a grappler, and he isn't hiding that fact from anybody, so on the feet he may be playing more defense than offense, which could keep Beal's hand from playing too much of a factor.
If Holdsworth can get this fight to the ground, he's going to have a distinct advantage over Beal, although he showed in his bout to get into the house that he's scrappy on the mat and good at scrambling out of bad positions.
The advantage still goes to Holdsworth overall for a few reasons - first, he's completely healthy after a quick submission victory in his earlier fight. Second, he's training with Miesha Tate and Bryan Caraway, two fighters that have previously worked at Team Alpha Male, so they are familiar with the system. Third, and maybe most important, Holdsworth has spent the last few months ahead of being on the show with Team Alpha Male head coach Duane "Bang" Ludwig, who has revolutionized the striking with that team. Since Ludwig took over as coach, Team Alpha Male fighters have gone 13-0 in the UFC with nine finishes.
While technically this fight won't count towards anyone's record, Holdsworth could move the total to 14-0 with a victory on Wednesday night. If Beal favors his hand early or can't throw with power, Holdworth will target that side of his body for a takedown and begin searching for the finish.
Given the fact that Holdsworth is 4-0 in his career with four submission wins, the chances are pretty good that he'll add Beal to his resume in this fight.