So much for waiting until the finale to see the best fighters on any given "The Ultimate Fighter" season face off against each other.
UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, one of two coaches on this year’s “TUF: Live”, has nixed that arrangement. Cruz has taken a unique approach to matchmaking since gaining control of the fight picks two weeks ago on the UFC’s bi-annual reality show.
He’s choosing some of the best fighters on his team to compete but not giving them easy matchups. Cruz is challenging his pupils by pairing them against the top competition on rival Urijah Faber’s team early in the tournament.
That’s the explanation for this week’s matchup between Team Cruz’s Myles Jury (9-0) and Team Faber’s Al Iaquinta (5-1), a fight that will air at 10 on FX Friday night.
Jury is seen as one of the favorites to win the 15th season of the show, but Iaquinta was Faber’s first pick. In an unusual twist, both Iaquinta and Jury were selected as contestants on previous “TUF” seasons before injuries took them out.
“I had made it on to season 12 but fractured my hand two weeks before they started filming in training,” Iaquinta explained at the “TUF Live” media day. “It’s a second chance, and this is a bigger opportunity with it being live and everything. I’ve got to make the most of it.”
Jury was actually around when cameras began rolling on the set of the 13th season last year. But he tore his ACL within the first week of training and had to go home.
Jury found it tough to watch the season, which Tony Ferguson ultimately won but trusted in a promise UFC President Dana White made to bring him back.
“I stayed focused,” Jury said. “Everything went great. I worked hard to get back on track. I’m even stronger now than I was back then.”
Jury’s first fight since the injury was a one-round “TUF” elimination bout against Akbarh Jimenez three weeks ago. He won by decision. Iaquinta also took a decision victory that night, getting past Jon Tuck.
It’s more than their previous “TUF” stints that make Jury and Iaquinta stand out among the official cast of 16 fighters. Both represent respected gyms.
Jury splits his time at Alliance MMA and The Arena in San Diego, working alongside UFC standouts like Cruz and light heavyweight Phil Davis. Iaquinta, a Long Island, N.Y., native, trains under former UFC champion Matt Serra as part of the Serra-Longo Fight Team.
“I’ve slowly turned myself into more than just a wrestler,” Iaquinta said. “I was a decent wrestler, and now I’m a well-rounded mixed martial artist. My skills now are more tailored to picking apart someone else’s weaknesses than playing to any strength.”
The 23-year old Jury looks like a fighter with few weaknesses, however, as he’s finished all nine professional opponents with five knockouts and four submissions. Noted MMA oddsmaker Nick Kalikas opened Jury as a slight favorite at -170 (risking $1.70 to win $1) with Iaquinta coming back at +135 (risking $1 to win $1.35).
“I don’t think anyone here is the favorite,” Jury said. “There are so many variables in this competition and so many tough guys. I feel like this is one of the best casts they’ve had.”
Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790
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