by Ken Pishna
(Rashad Evans and Keith Jardine. Photos courtesy of TheUltimateFighter.tv)

One show in the books, two more tonight. Last night gave us the first heavyweight semi-final in a great showdown between Rashad Evans and Keith Jardine.

Last week’s show saw Dana, Matt and Rich set up all of the semi-final bouts. The first of the semis was in the welterweight class with Luke Cummo knocking out Sam Morgan with a crushing knee to the jaw that left Sam out on the mat for more than a minute.

Monday night’s show is actually the first of two this week, thus my designations of 11A and 11B. The two episodes were originally slated to be a week apart, but due to some scheduling conflicts the finale had to be moved up a week from November 12th to this Saturday’s November 5th slot instead. So, the two weekly episodes had to be crammed into this week and are now just one night apart.

The Monday night show kicked off recapping last week’s fight and showing Sam in a highly emotional state after being KO’d. Initially feeling like he let his team, his coach, and himself down, Sam regrouped before leaving the show. In his exit interview, Sam was confident that he would continue to work on his game and come back even better, saying with confidence, “I will be fighting Luke again.”

With the win over Sam, Luke, the final fighter chosen to either team, became the first finalist for Saturday night’s show, set to take place in The Joint at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas. Tonight’s show is totally focused on a heavyweight semi-final bout to determine who will be the first heavyweight finalist; the bout features Rashad Evans, who already has two TUF victories, against Keith Jardine, who has yet to fight on the show.

Throughout the show, Rashad seemed to have a couple of worries on his mind. Having injured his hand in his fight with Mike Whitehead, Rashad was really concerned that it might give him problems against Keith. The other major concern to Rashad was that, due to he and Keith both representing Team Franklin, it was determined that Matt would corner Rashad while Rich cornered Keith. Rashad and Matt wound up on opposite sides of the fence early on in the series when Matt took issue with Rashad’s “cocky” style in the ring. With the disagreement still lingering, Rashad was worried that he wouldn’t get Matt’s best effort as his cornerman.

In the meantime, as has been the case this entire season, Keith prepared for the fight with little fanfare, maintaining the quiet confidence that is a staple of his character.

This week’s lame attempt at sophomoric humor to try and lend some non-fight entertainment to the show was a scene featuring Rashad devouring a dead fly that he and Seth found in some syrup. The incident devolved into a minor puke-fest that really did little but kill a couple minutes of airtime on the show; a prime example of the inherent entertainment value that the cast of season one maintained that season two’s combatants are sorely lacking.

As the fight approached, both of Rashad’s concerns were mitigated. UFC and boxing cutman extraordinaire Jacob “Stitch” Duran came in and wrapped Rashad’s hands and promised him that the hand would be like new when he was done. As for Matt, he came in and worked a game plan with Rashad attempting to bridge the gap between the two.

And finally, the fight was on. The first round started off with Rashad quickly dropping Keith with a straight left punch, but Keith quickly recovered and landed some damaging blows of his own as the two exchanged punches. About midway through the first, Rashad managed a takedown and spent the rest of the round battering Keith with a workmanlike ground and pound attack.

The second round saw Keith make his way back into the fight. As Rashad’s right eye started to swell shut, Keith used his timing to counter Rashad’s superior speed. Landing some nice combinations throughout the round, both fighters mixed it up, but it seemed to be Keith that had the upper hand the majority of the time.

Following a disappointing second round, Rashad more than made up for it in the third. Despite a quick start by Keith, it was Rashad that was able to continually shoot in and put Keith on his back and pick away with more ground and pound tactics. Keith was able to work his way back to the feet several times during the round, but couldn’t seem to do anything to stop Rashad’s lightning-quick shot. Landing several forearms, Rashad opened up a pretty good cut over Keith’s right eye. It wasn’t enough to stop the fight, but it sure didn’t hurt the impact Rashad’s strategy had on the judges’ scorecards.

After three rounds, Rashad was awarded the decision, 29-28 on all three judges’ scorecards, en route to Saturday night’s Ultimate Fighter finale. He becomes the first heavyweight finalist, joining Luke Cummo, the first welterweight finalist.

I am now officially on the Rashad bandwagon. It doesn’t hurt that he dispatched of both of the fighters (Keith Jardine and Mike Whitehead) that I had pegged as the favorites to win the heavyweight division going in; but in reality, there’s a lot more too it than that. Over the course of his three victories on the show, Rashad has displayed excellent hand speed, some very solid wrestling and takedown skills, and a brutal fashion of ground and pound, not to mention and every-growing heart. He appears to be the real-deal, but at 220 pounds, it is most likely that he would make a better light heavyweight than heavyweight fighter if he is to compete in the UFC.

Following the fight, Rashad and Matt had a little heart-to-heart, airing their differences. Both showed a lot of respect for each other and seemed to find a common ground of acceptance. Now, if Matt and Rashad can kiss and make-up, maybe we can “all just get along.”

Coming Up on Week 11B (Tuesday night):
Two fights in one night. Joe Stevenson takes on Jason Von Flue, if Jason’s cut heals in time, for the final welterweight spot. Big man Brad Imes squares off with The Silverback, Seth Petruzelli to see who will face Rashad on Saturday night at the finale.