TUF 21: American Top Team vs. Blackzilians, episode 1 recap

Here’s a recap of the first episode of The Ultimate Fighter season 21. This season is different than the others in several ways. First, TUF 21 features two rival camps pitting some of their best, rising and veteran welterweight talent against each other. This season’s winning team will earn $500,000 in prize money and a TUF Team Trophy. Secondly, TUF 21 is filmed in South Florida as opposed to Las Vegas.


Dan Lambert, who owns American Top Team and his crew of coaches and Blackzilians owner Glenn Robinson and his coaching staff will pick which fighters they want to square off from week to week. The only hitch is, they won’t know who the other coach has picked until the weigh-in.

Also this season, the fighters will earn points for their teams as they fight. The first four fights are worth 25 points each. The next four fights (5 through 8) are worth 50 points each. The last four (9-12) are worth 100 points each. The team with the most points through those fights wins $200,000.

There’s also no restrictions as to how many times an athlete fights. One fighter could end up competing more than once through the first 12 fights. If that fighter loses, it doesn’t mean that they can’t fight again. There may also be a case where not everyone on the roster gets into the cage at all.

To be eligible to battle in the season finale, whoever steps up for each camp must have fought twice in the tournament. Whoever wins the finale earns $300,000 and the TUF Team Trophy for their camp.


Lambert founded his gym 1995 and American Top Team was officially established in 2001. Currently, they have about 15 coaches and approximately 40 fighters in the UFC. UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler is their first champion.

From Lambert’s point of view, what sparked the rivalry between his camp and the Blackzilians was Robinson’s tactics in creating his own team. Per Lambert, Robinson was a student at ATT and one day started offering fighters money to start up a new camp with him. That did not sit well with Lambert who felt Robinson bought his team instead of developing athletes of his own.

Robinson is the owner of the Blackzilians, did train Muay Thai at ATT and is a close friend of Jorge Santiago’s. It wasn’t too long before Santiago introduced Robinson to Yuri and Danillo Villefort and Gesias “JZ” Cavalcante. They all needed help in their camps. Robinson said one day he and Lambert got into an argument and he quit working at ATT. According to Robinson, Cavalcante, Santiago and the Villefort brothers left with him. Rashad Evans soon after left Jackson’s camp and began training at the Jaco Hybrid Training Center.

Here’s a look at the cast who were hand-picked by their coaches to compete on TUF 21.

Marcelo Alfaya (16-7, 1NC) Porto Alegre, Brazil
Steve Carl (21-4), Belle Plain, Iowa
Nathan Coy (14-5), Vallejo, Calif.
Michael Graves (4-0), Toledo, Ohio
Hayder Hassan (6-1), Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Sabah Homasi (8-4), New Brunswick, N.J.
Uros Jurisic (5-0), Ljubljana, Slovenia
Steve Montgomery (8-2), Florence, S.C.

Valdir Araujo (14-5), Gama, Federal District, Brazil
Carrington Banks (3-0), Peoria, Ill.
Luiz Buscape (16-5), Joao Pessoa, Paraiba, Brazil
Jason Jackson (4-2), Kingston, Jamaica
Vicente Luque (7-4-1), Westwood, N.J.
Andrews Nakahara (4-2-2), Mogi das Cruzes, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Felipe Portela (8-2), Brasilia, Brazil
Kamarudeen Usman (5-1) Auchi, Nigeria

The fighters arrive to their new home for the duration of the show, a mansion on the water in South Florida. American Top Team arrives first and joke that they should save some things for the Blackzilians. In the first moments of meeting each other, all the fighters are sizing each other up.

UFC president Dana White comes to give the teams a motivational speech and tells the men to deliver their best effort at all costs. White does a coin flip to decide who gets home gym advantage as each war will be waged at either American Top Team or The Blackzilians camp. That gym will retain that advantage until their team loses a fight. The Blackzilians win the coin flip and have home gym advantage for the first fight.

On their first night in the house, the Blackzilians team bonds over watching Anthony “Rumble” Johnson’s win over Alexander Gustafsson.

At the house, Usman is trying to size up who may be fighting first for ATT. He’s been watching how fighters carry themselves and what they’re eating to determine that. He thinks it’s either Michael Graves or Nathan Coy.

Lambert wants to put up his four best fighters right away. Strategically, he will continue to impose them on the Blackzilians. At ATT’s training session, it’s announced that Graves will compete for them first. He’s honored to be the first to battle for them.

Graves is expecting his first child and is ready for this opportunity. He’s undefeated and wants “to send a message” by taking out whoever the Blackzilians choose, but he hopes it’s their best fighter.

Kamaru Usman is the Blackzilians pick to fight first. Rashad Evans says Usman is full of “fire” and can beat anyone he faces. Evans, a TUF 2 winner, gives a motivational speech to everyone and tells them to be ready for anything in this competition.

Usman was born in Nigeria and grew up in Texas. He was an Olympic wrestling hopeful who came to train and live with Evans when he decided to pursue MMA. He also has a daughter.

At the weigh-in Lambert is surprised that the Blackzilians picked Usman. He was expecting the more experienced Luiz Buscape to be their first pick. White thinks it’s interesting that Usman was the Blackzilians first pick also. Strategically, White favors ATT’s choice to bring out one of their top guns early.

FIGHT RECAP: Michael Graves (4-0) vs. Kamaru Usman (5-1)
Round one: Usman catches a kick and takes Graves down. Usman presses him in the clinch and knees him. Graves gets to his feet and Usman imposes his will and strikes him with knees against the cage. Graves reverses the clinch, breaks away and lands a leg kick followed by a teep to the Usman’s face. Usman comes forward and tags Graves with a left. Usman goes for a single leg and gets Graves to the canvas. Graves is warned for grabbing the fence. Graves gets to his feet, but Usman controls him against the cage. Usman looks for a trip, can’t get it. Graves breaks away and starts landing punches. They continue to exchange on the feet and Graves has a swollen right eye. As the final minute of the round closes in, Graves lands a body kick and a solid elbow. Usman answers with a hard right and digs for a takedown. He briefly gets Graves to the mat and engages in the clinch. Graves reverses the clinch, knees Usman and breaks away.

Round two: After an early exchange, Usman goes for a takedown and Graves defends. Usman lands a hard right that folds Graves. Usman presses him to the clinch and lands knees. Graves breaks away and they exchange strikes. Usman takes Graves down, but he’s up quickly. Usman returns to the clinch to control Graves and gets him to the canvas again. Graves again gets out of Usman’s clutches and lands leg kicks and jabs. Usman hits Graves with a sharp left. After a right from Graves, Usman takes him down again. Graves grabs the cage to get up (without a warning) and lands a knee and a front kick to Usman’s body. Usman drives for a takedown, but misses his mark. Graves captializes, takes his back and looks for a rear-naked choke. Usman stands up with Graves still on his back. Graves goes for a neck crank, then releases the submission to land elbows. Usman finally shakes Graves off his back and positions into side control and lands punches and elbows on Graves. Usman fires strikes on a grounded Graves as the round ends.

The judges weigh-in and see it 20-18, 20-18 and 19-19 for the winner by majority decision, Usman. The Blackzilians strike first and will retain home gym advantage. With the win, the first score on the overall board is 25-0, Blackzilians.

White wasn’t impressed with either man’s performance. He felt that both men just “did enough to win” and he was frustrated by what he saw.

Follow me on Twitter @HeidiFang Follow the show on Twitter @fightcorner

Your Turn To Talk

Your email address will not be published.