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Episode No. 8 of “The Ultimate Fighter 26: A New World Champion” opens with fight preparation for No. 9 seed Christina Marks of Team Alvarez, who fights No. 8 Emily Whitmire of Team Gaethje in the final opening-round tournament bout.

With Team Gaethje ahead 4-3 in wins so far in the tourney, it’s up to Marks to get a victory and even the playing field for Team Alvarez going into the next round.

Coach Eddie Alvarez has high praise for Marks’ striking but admits that, similar to several other fighters in the tournament, she doesn’t have much grappling or ground skills. Nevertheless, Alvarez said he can guide his fighter to victory.

Back at the “TUF” house, Team Alvarez’s Lauren Murphy is still fuming over her negative interactions with her head coach following her loss earlier in the season. She is debating putting in a request to switch teams and start training with Team Gaethje.

The next day, Murphy arrives at the gym and announces she wants to be part of Team Gaethje. Coach Justin Gaethje and his staff immediately welcome Murphy with open arms, and training gets off to a smooth start.

As Whitmire begins to turn up the intensity in training, she’s also being cautious not to agitate a rib injury that’s been lingering since early in the competition. Whitmire has the support of her good friend and former UFC champion Miesha Tate, who is in the gym as a guest coach. Tate agrees to corner Whitmire for her fight.

Once Team Gaethje finishes training and Team Alvarez arrives at the gym, Murphy takes coach Alvarez aside for a personal conversation. She tells him she’s been frustrated and thinks it would be better for her situation to move to the other team. The news doesn’t sit well with Alvarez, and he tells the rest of his fighters that a “cancer” and “disease” was just cut out of the team.

With that drama aside, it’s time for one of the most anticipated events of each season: the coaches’ challenge. For the first time in the history of the reality series, the coaches will face off in a swimming competition. Coaches Alvarez and Gaethje will have to swim 16 lengths in a 50-meter pool (Olympic-size). The winner gets $10,000, and $1,500 for each member of his team.

Both men are concerned about how they will perform in the race. Gaethje gets off to a quick start while Alvarez opts to pace himself. His strategy begins to pay dividends, and Gaethje slows down significantly after just a few laps. Alvarez takes over and wins in lopsided fashion, but Gaethje is determined to finish the race despite being blown out.

At the weigh-in, Marks and Whitmire come in under the 126-pound flyweight limit. An intense staredown follows, and the eighth opening-round tournament bout is official.

Fight day arrives. Marks and Whitmire head to the TUF Gym for their fight. They finalize preparation in the locker rooms with their respective coaching staffs before making the walk to the octagon. They enter the cage, and the next tournament fight is underway.

No. 8 Emily Whitmire (2-1) vs. No. 9 Christina Marks (8-8)

Round 1 – Whitmire open by faking an overhand right then immediately shooting in for a takedown. She puts Marks on her back less than five seconds in and establishes half guard. Whitmire attempts to advances while Marks is looking to scramble and give up her back. Whitmire gets too high and falls over the top, but before Marks can escape, Whitmire locks on an armbar. She adjusts position and forces Marks to verbally submit, ending the shortest fight of the season.

Emily Whitmire def. Christina Marks via verbal submission (armbar) – Round 1

“There’s no words to describe the emotion I’m feeling right now,” Whitmire says afterward. “I couldn’t be happier with myself and with the team. Everything just worked out perfect.”

Team Gaethje takes a 5-3 lead in the competition with Whitmire’s victory. The opening round of the tournament has come to its conclusion, meaning the quarterfinals are up next. The quarterfinal matchups are set, and the field shakes out as follows:

Bracket A

  • No. 1 Roxanne Modafferi (Team Gaethje) vs. No. 8 Emily Whitmire (Team Gaethje)
  • No.  4 DeAnna Bennett (Team Alvarez) vs. No. 12 Sijara Eubanks (Team Alvarez)

Bracket B

  • No.  2 Barb Honchak (Team Alvarez) vs. No. 10 Rachael Ostovich (Team Gaethje)
  • No. 6 Montana Stewart (Team Gaethje) vs. No. 14 Nicco Montano (Team Gaethje)

Also see:

Catch new episodes of “The Ultimate Fighter 26: A New World Champion” every Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET (7 p.m. PT) on FS1. MMAjunkie recaps each episode of the reality series.

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