What started as 32 fighters competing for a six-figure UFC contract is now down to two.
Team Nelson’s Colton Smith and Jon Manley and Team Nelson’s Mike Ricci and Neil Magney made up the semifinal match-ups. Teammate vs. teammate ensured a Team Nelson vs. Team Carwin final.
The first semifinal bout was between Smith and Manley.
Coach Roy Nelson categorized Smith as the better wrestler and Manley as the better jiu-jitsu practitioner. “Whoever is going to execute their game plan the best is going to win that fight,” said Nelson.
Colton Smith vs. Jon Manley
Smith utilized his wrestling ability to secure takedowns. He closed the distance and pressed Manley against the cage and delivered knees to the body and head. Through the first two rounds, Manley was unable to mount much offense. Smith stifled his efforts and was in complete control of the fight.
Aware he was down on the scorecards two rounds to none, Manley came out in the final round with a sense of urgency. He defended the takedowns. He freed himself from the clinch and let his hands go. It was effective, but too little too late. Manley won the round but lost the fight.
The judges scored the fight unanimously for Smith, making Smith the first to advance to the finals.
“I’ve been working so hard and been through so much (expletive) to get here. Having to go home on a loss is tough, but I’m just going to train as hard as I can. I know I’m hungry. I know I’m tough. I’m going to come back and I will get that (expletive) win,” said Manley following the loss.
“It feels great,” said the excited Smith after advancing to the finals. “I’m top two now. It’s been a long road… I might not have been the best fighter, the most skilled, the prettiest fighter, but I guarantee, at the end of the day, I’m the best fighter in the house.”
Smith will face the winner of Ricci vs. Magney at the finale on Dec. 15 at The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
Coach Shane Carwin described Ricci as the most well rounded fighter on the show, but he said Magney transformed from a wrestler with jiu-jitsu to striking being his strongest asset during the course of the season.
Mike Ricci vs. Neil Magney
Magney used his reach well in the opening moments of the fight, but just as the fighters were settling into their pace, Ricci landed a left hand that knocked Magney to the canvas. Ricci dove on him, looking for the finish. Magney immediately started working to get back to his feet. He used the cage to wall-walk, but as he did, Ricci delivered a devastating elbow that rendered Magney unconscious.
An emotional Ricci shed tears after the win, but not tears of joy. He legitimately felt bad for having to do that to his friend and teammate.
“The truth is, I would have rather won by a decision than to do that to him because it hurt,” said Ricci. “You have a teammate and you pray with them. You go for swims and talk and you share things, then you do that to somebody. It was hard for me.”
The finals are set. Mike Ricci faces Colton Smith, Canadian vs. American, for the UFC contract, the title of The Ultimate Fighter, and the custom Harley Davidson motorcycle.
“I think Ricci vs. Smith is going to be a good fight,” said UFC president Dana White. “These guys have consistently fought well. They’ve won, and I think we’ve ended up with the two best guys here.”