Last night, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) made a return with the premier of the first episode of season 29. Andre Petroski was the star of the show, submitting his opponent, Aaron Phillips, in round one of their tournament bout.
The Ultimate Fighter first debuted in 2005. Known as the “toughest tournament in sports”, the show was an instant success. In fact, the UFC “wouldn’t be where it is today without this competition,” said President Dana White. Since then, eleven UFC champions and five Hall of Famers have competed on the show. For those who don’t know, the show features 16 fighters who live and train together. The fighters are coached by two current UFC fighters and compete tournament style to earn a UFC contract, which is the ultimate prize.
Last night’s premier marked the first return of the show since 2018. This season, the show’s 29th, features middleweight and bantamweight fighters. The fighters are coached by current UFC featherweight champion, Alexander Volkanovski, and #1 contender, Brian Ortega. The two coaches are scheduled to fight for the featherweight belt after conclusion of the show. Along with this, they get to utilize a new facility built by the UFC specifically for The Ultimate Fighter. This facility is top of the line, brand new, and was built specifically for training and fighting. For many of the competitors this opportunity—to train with the coaches and facilities afforded to them through the show—will be one of the best they have had to date in their careers.
Episode 1 Recap:
To begin, the coaches evaluated all of the fighters. These evaluations included shadowboxing, light sparring, technical skill evaluations, and conditioning. While monitoring and evaluating these fighters, the coaches were also looking at each fighter’s intangibles—including coachability, competitiveness, and how they functioned as a teammate. After completing this, the coaches were able to draft their teams, composed of four middleweights and four bantamweights for each team.
Coach Volkanovski was awarded the first pick and selected Mitch Raposo, a bantamweight. Volkanovski seemed pleased after the draft, and seemed to have the team he desired. Directly after the draft, the fighters went with their new coaches for a training session. For Coach Volkanovski, he seemed to take a very hands-on approach in his coaching style. The featherweight champ was very involved in the training session, even putting on gloves and pads to mix it up with his fighters.
One of the most important aspects of their training seemed to be building up confidence, which was especially important for some of his team. The team participated in a “Fight Simulator”, which was an interesting aspect to the training. This was a very high-octane, grueling training program. Many of the fighters seemed to be a bit gassed by this, which was ultimately the goal of the coaches, to build up conditioning and stamina.
Because Volkanovski got the first pick, that meant that Coach Ortega was able to select the first fight. For the fight, he went with his first middleweight pick, Andre Petroski, to take on Aaron Phillips, one of the later picks for Team Volk. Ortega cited that he saw a clear advantage in grappling skills for Petroski based on the fact that Phillips had very basic submission skills.
In his training session, Coach Ortega was heavy on sparring and technical coaching. Most notably, Ortega seemed to really focus on polishing up his first fighter’s skills. For Andre Petroski, this included a lot of one-on-one work in the grappling realm and game planning for his opponent. Another aspect of this team was the chemistry, and many of the fighters seemed to bond early on, especially over their families and what they were fighting for.
The First Fight: Andre Petroski vs. Aaron Phillips
The first bout for The Ultimate Fighter 29 featured the two middleweights, Andre and Aaron. The winner of the bout advances to the semifinals of the competition, and is one step closer to earning a coveted UFC contract. Let’s dive into the background of both fighters, along with a recap of what happened in the fight.
For Andre Petroski, he was born to compete. His father, also his coach, groomed him from a young age to be a competitor. He began wrestling at a young age, and this led to him becoming a D-1 wrestler with over 97 collegiate wins. After wrestling, he transitioned to MMA, where he is 5-1 in his career. All five of these wins have come by finish, all within the first seven minutes.
Petroski, the 29-year-old from New Jersey, oozes with confidence. On paper, he is a nightmare matchup for his TUF opponent, Aaron Phillips. Petroski has great grappling, submission, and wrestling skills, and this is why he was Ortega’s first middleweight pick. Petroski’s game plan was to take Phillips down and go for the finish, either by ground and pound or submission. For Petroski, this is a make-or-break opportunity for him, as he is running out of time in his career.
For Phillips, the main disadvantage is in his lack of experience. The 30-year-old fighter comes from Alaska, and is one of the crazier stories on this year’s show. Currently, the middleweight is 5-2 in his career. However, other than some experience as a JUCO wrestler, Phillips is completely self-taught. He learned his MMA techniques through YouTube videos. Along with this, Phillips has only been training for about three years, which is not a lot of time in the MMA world.
Clearly, you can see how Petroski would be favored on paper, and Phillips adopted the underdog persona for this fight. With Team Volkanovski, Phillips was able to work on his confidence. Along with this, he put together a game plan to exploit some of the holes in Petroski’s game. For Phillips, he wants to put the competition on notice and show why no one should overlook him.
Fight Recap and Result
With similar physical characteristics and styles between the fighters, this fight could’ve gone either way. However, Petroski was able to use his advantage of experience to stay patient and get the win over Phillips. As per usual on The Ultimate Figher, this bout was only two rounds (with a possible third, if needed). Petroski only needed one to get the tap due to a guillotine choke.
The bout started out slow with both guys trying to get a feel for their opponent. However, Andre Petroski seemed always to be the aggressor, pushing Phillips back with his pressure and striking. Both guys were able to have some minor success in the striking department, but Petroski used his striking to set up a single leg takedown, which he landed in the back half of the round. After getting this takedown, Petroski moved into side control and set up his submission attempt. Once he was able to begin his guillotine attempt, he finished it off by securing the choke and throwing his body over Phillips, forcing Phillips to tap late in the first round.
For Petroski, this was a great debut on the show. He showed that he can be patient and smart inside the cage, and also was able to execute his game plan perfectly. Along with that, he showed great technique on the ground, and clearly outclassed Phillips in the grappling and jiu-jitsu departments. Petroski definitely made the most of his opportunity on the show, and will be one of the names to watch heading into the semifinals.
In his post-fight interview on the post show of The Ultimate Fighter, Petroski talked about what it meant to capture a win in the first episode of the new season. “A lot of guys wanted to get adjusted and wait a week [before fighting], I knew that I was ready and wanted to fight,” responded Petroski. With this kind of hunger, Petroski figures to be one of the fighters to keep an eye on for the rest of the show, as he clearly has the skills to get the job done.
Next week, bantamweights Mitch Raposo and Liudvik Sholinian will face off in episode two of The Ultimate Fighter 29. Be sure to tune in, as new episodes air every Tuesday night at 9 p.m. eastern only on ESPN+.