Following 15 fights to open The Ultimate Fighter 19, the one fighter who was already in the house without actually battling inside the Octagon to get there was Irish fighter Cathal Pendred.
Now it wasn't Pendred's idea to coast through the elimination round without actually fighting to get to the house, but a litany of injuries and other hopefuls missing weight left him sitting in the audience as a bystander, scouting potential opponents instead of fighting alongside them to prove his worth.
Pendred was already considered a hot commodity coming from Ireland, where he was a welterweight champion in the Cage Warriors promotion, while also storming the gates of the UFC via Twitter with a public campaign to get President Dana White's attention at any cost. It also doesn't hurt matters that Pendred is a teammate and close friend of UFC featherweight Conor McGregor, so he was probably just taking the lead from the outspoken 145-pound contender on how to end up on everyone's radar.
As the next episode kicks off, Pendred will get his chance to prove if he belongs here, as his new coach BJ Penn selected him to fight first against Team Edgar's final middleweight pick, Hector Urbina. Before the training starts and the middleweights rumble, the fighters must first move into their new digs in the heart of Las Vegas.
The initial day inside the house is always a joyous occasion, as the fighters move from the gym into the lap of luxury, perusing the house and seeing the lavish accommodations they'll be living with for the next six weeks. From seeing the pool to choosing bedrooms all the way to the stocked fridge and plush surroundings, the fighters all look like kids in the candy store as they explore the new house on day one. By day 30 or so, these walls will no longer look like a fixture out of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, and instead start to resemble something akin to prison walls. Six weeks with no TV, no internet, no phone, no girlfriend, no iPods and no contact with the outside world, surrounded by 16 fighters champing at the bit to punch each other in the face, it all gets a bit claustrophobic pretty fast.
It doesn't take long for Pendred to become the house pest, as you'll see in episode two as he begins to sound more and more like McGregor with his insistent rants about him being the best one on the show, and by far the best fighter in the entire competition.
"I think I'm the best guy here, I'm the guy to be feared in this weight class," Pendred says during the upcoming episode. Chances are there are at least seven guys fighting at middleweight who will disagree with him, including his next opponent, Urbina.
The one disadvantage both Pendred and Urbina have in fighting first is they will just be meeting their coaches and trainers before facing each other in the cage. There is an integral harmony with fighters and coaches, especially when listening to their corners during the fight. Former UFC champion and current TUF 19 coach Frankie Edgar said recently that in his darkest moments of a fight, after getting rattled by a punch and he's wobbly and on the verge of going down, it's honing in on his coach's instructions that help him find balance and get back to center so he can survive to keep fighting. In addition, Edgar rarely, if ever, veers away from his game plan – instead, he listens to his coaches in the corner, they tell him where to go, and he gets there.
Pendred and Urbina will both have new voices and maybe an unfamiliar sensation during this fight fight as they adjust to Edgar and Penn's styles in the corner.
As far as a matchup goes, this has the chance to be a real barnburner, given the experience level of both fighters.
Pendred is 13-2 as a professional, with wins over UFC veterans such as Che Mills and David Bielkheden. Like many great Irish fighters, Pendred has a very solid boxing background with knockout power in both hands. Pendred has become more well-rounded over the last couple year in improving his wrestling and takedowns, something that has always been a knock on many European fighters.
As for Urbina, with a 16-8 record he is one of the most veteran fighters on the show. The Mexico-born competitor trains out of American Top Team, one of the best camps on the planet, so he's had plenty of good work to get him ready for the show. Urbina is primarily a striker, and more often than not he likes to stand and trade with his opponents. When he does get into a grappling situation, Urbina favors shrugging off the takedowns rather than attempting them himself, but he does have a strong guillotine choke he can use as a counter, so Pendred has to be aware of that at all times.
When it all boils down, whether he fought to get into the house or not, Pendred remains one of the top choices to win the entire show, and he should get past Urbina here, but it's not going to be easy. Urbina ended up as the last pick during team selections, but don't look past this veteran competitor. He's tough, he's crafty and he's a veteran, which means he has seen the ups and downs in a fight and knows how to survive. The real question then becomes can he survive the onslaught of Cathal Pendred?
To find out, watch the next episode of The Ultimate Fighter 19 tonight at 10pm ET on FOX Sports 1.