It's not easy for every fighter to give their absolute best performance during The Ultimate Fighter, but in many past seasons if somebody loses along the way, that's the end of their hopes of being crowned champion.
Season 11 saw the first introduction of the "wildcard" option, which gave two fighters that lost in preliminary round matches another chance to win and continue on in the competition. The wildcard went away for a couple of seasons, but it has returned and Team Sonnen's Kevin Casey and Team Jones' Bubba McDaniel have to be very thankful for that option.
Casey and McDaniel both lost their opening matchups after competing to get into the house, but they were hand selected by their coaches for a second chance at new life and meet this week to determine who earns the eighth and final slot in the quarterfinal round of the tournament.
A Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt and member of Team Black House, Kevin Casey was an early favorite on the show after fighting in promotions like Strikeforce in the past, but he came out lackluster and just couldn't catch a spark in his loss to Collin Hart.
The same could be said for Bubba McDaniel, who had a wealth of experience coming onto the show and also serves as a training partner to his coach Jon Jones under the tutelage of famed trainer Greg Jackson in New Mexico, but he struggled to deal with a young, hungry fighter named Kelvin Gastelum and succumbed to a rear naked choke in the second round.
Stylistically it's pretty easy to tell where these fighters will want this matchup to take place – Kevin Casey is a grappler with powerful submissions, but top control is his game, whereas Bubba McDaniel is a well rounded fighter, but he has to know where his opponent wants this fight to end up.
The psychology has to play a part in this fight as well because as soon as the first fight on the show finished, McDaniel actually called out Casey for the next bout, and while it didn’t actually take place, he now has to back up his words in the cage.
Regardless of the results of the previous fights, McDaniel is still one of the best competitors on the show with his mix of striking and a strong submission game when he needs to utilize it. It appears McDaniel just needs to make sure his head is in the right place at fight time or he can be underwhelming in his performance.
As for Casey, he knows he came out flat in his last fight and that this is his chance to show that was only a fluke performance. He has to be careful not to let the previous call out influence his decision making come fight time however.
On paper, McDaniel should have won his first fight and shouldn't even be in this position, but still, he's talented and he's a veteran. This is his chance to prove he belongs among the eight best fighters in the house, but with that kind of pressure he can either turn into a diamond or crumble into dust.
McDaniel is the favorite here and if he fights to the best of his ability he will get the win, but the supposed top dogs in this show have not fared well thus far.
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