The UFC coined the 25th season of its long-running reality show “The Ultimate Fighter: Redemption” and wound up with the result most fitting for the name.
Jesse Taylor squandered an opportunity to win the seventh season when UFC President Dana White had to pull him from the finale after a drunken rampage at Palace Station, but he made up for it eight years later. Taylor became the champion of “TUF: Redemption” Friday night at T-Mobile Arena, choking out Dhiego Lima 43 seconds into the second round of their finale fight.
“This goes out to all the people who messed up,” Taylor yelled into the microphone afterward. “Keep going. Never stop going.”
Taylor nearly submitted Lima in the first round but saw his fortunes flipped early in the second. Lima dropped Taylor with a right hand and rushed in for ground and pound.
Taylor was able to recover in the ensuing seconds and scrambled his way to Lima’s back for a rear-naked choke attempt. He sunk in the submission deep, leaving Lima no option but to tap out.
“You are finally the Ultimate Fighter,” White said as he presented Taylor with a trophy and a check for $290,000.
Taylor couldn’t contain his emotions, as he wrapped White in his arms for a massive hug.
“Perseverance — that’s a perfect example of my life,” Taylor said. “I get dropped pretty hard but I get back to my feet and I keep going.”
Although it took only a micro fraction of the time, another comeback story played out in the main event after Taylor exited the arena grinning. In his UFC debut, former World Series of Fighting lightweight champion Justin Gaethje knocked out Michael Johnson at 4:48 of the second round in a potential Fight of the Year candidate.
The entire 10 minutes played out on the feet, where both fighters had their moments striking. Johnson caught Gaethje with a combination late in the first that nearly led to a finish, but the opposite played out late in the second.
The only difference was, Gaethje pounced on his wounded opponent and didn’t let up until Johnson was on the canvas.
“Doubt me all you want but you better put me to sleep or I’ll come for your head, come for your body,” Gaethje said. “Who’s next?”
That list could be endless for a fighter who’s 18-0 with 15 knockouts and coming off a spectacular performance. Gaethje’s preponderance of options didn’t stop Drakkar Klose from throwing his name in for consideration.
Klose was the other lightweight to pull off an upset at the “TUF: Redemption” finale, winning a split decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-29) over Marc Diakiese in a battle of undefeated prospects.
“It feels great. He runs his mouth a lot and after the fight he got under my skin and I had to let him know how I felt,” Klose said. “You can’t be talking all this (expletive) and not back it up.”
Three other fighters moved forward in their respective divisions in the first half of Friday’s main card. That included local Brad Tavares, who came out victorious in a close middleweight bout by beating Elias Theodorou by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28).
Jared Cannonier and Jordan Johnson were the light heavyweight winners, outstriking Nick Roehrick and Marcel Fortuna, respectively.
They all spoke of big aspirations after their victories, but even if things don’t go according to plan, Taylor had a lesson for them — redemption is always a possibility for those who don’t give up.
The real report cards will be rendered in the next three hours.
UFC veteran Michael Johnson incited a war of words around tonight’s “The Ultimate Fighter: Redemption” finale, which takes place at the T-Mobile Arena and airs live on Fox Sports 1, when he called opponent Justin Gaethje a “C-level” fighter. The undefeated Gaethje, who will make his UFC debut after dominating World Series of Fighting over the last several years, did not take kindly to the slight.
Johnson’s schoolyard bullying-like insults only intensified from there, with Gaethje often all too willing to join in and exchange taunts of his own. Only one of the lightweights will get the final word when they face off in an important clash for the division in a five-round main event that should take place around 8:30 p.m.
Gaethje isn’t the only fighter on the card reeling from being labeled with an unsatisfactory grade. Both men in the co-main event fighting to become the champion of the 25th season of “TUF”, Dhiego Lima and Jesse Taylor, must feel similarly.
The theme of this season’s long-running reality show was fighters who had previously appeared and flamed out of the UFC getting a second chance. The 28-year-old Lima and the 34-year-old Taylor rose above the other 14 competitors.
Taylor, who was originally with the UFC nine years ago, submitted each of his last two opponents in the bracket to come into the finale as the favorite. The UFC cut Lima only two years ago after a 1-3 run, but he controlled all three foes on “TUF” to take unanimous-decision victories.
Two other “TUF” veterans meet on the main card when middleweights Brad Tavares and Elias Theodorou clash in the second fight. That fight will come before a light heavyweight bout pairing Jared Cannonier against Nick Roehrick, and a compelling lightweight matchup between undefeated prospects Marc Diakiese and Drakkar Klose.
Light heavyweights Jordan Johnson and Marcel Fortuna will open the action momentarily.
Stay with lasvegassun.com for live coverage of the main card of “The Ultimate Fighter: Redemption” finale.