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Fortunes changed for five at TUF 17 Finale

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
The Ultimate Fighter finals wasn't one of the company's high-profile events of the calendar year, but there was no show this year where so much was at stake for so many.

In most of the undercard matches, guys were fighting for their jobs. And in the top three matches, a win by the lesser known fighter, as happened in two of those fights was going to make them an instant star.

Saturday night belonged to Kelvin Gastelum and Cat Zingano.

Gastelum, in beating heavily favored Uriah Hall via split decision, had the crowd chanting his name, sensing the upset as the fight came down to the last minute and was still anyone's game.

Zingano (8-0) had never even fought on national television previously. Now, the first wife and mother to ever step foot
in the Octagon finds herself both as a coach of the next season of Ultimate Fighter and with a main event slot and title shot on pay-per-view awaiting her against Ronda Rousey before the year is out.

Virtually every loser on the show, with the probable exceptions of Scott Jorgensen, Miesha Tate and Hall, are likely to be nervously hoping not to hear from Joe Silva in the next week or two. In some cases, they have to know better, as the numbers game doesn't look good for Jimmy Quinlan, Kevin Casey and Gilbert Smith all from the recently-completed TUF season who were finished in their fights to remain on the roster.

Collin Hart's only prayer is that he looked very good, losing a close decision in an exciting fight, to Luke Barnatt. If this was a year ago, that would be enough to save him. This year, the rules are different.

Also on the potential chop block is Justin Lawrence, who had looked impressive in TUF season 15, but has now dropped two in a row. Ditto for Sam Sicilia, who also lost his second straight. Sicilia's fight with Maximo Blanco would have gotten fight-of-the-night honors on a lot of shows, and at another point in time, that would have saved him.

Bart Palaszewski, a tough veteran has been on the national scene consistently since 2006. He started as one of the top lightweights in the IFL. From there he went to the WEC, where he scored a win over Anthony Pettis, before going to UFC.

Palaszewski and Cole Miller were both going into their fight with two-fight losing streaks. Palaszewski was getting the better of it early, but ended up choked out late in the first round. He was visibly crushed, no doubt thinking he had lost a fight he could have won, and more, that he didn't have to be a math major to figure how bad he needed this win. Miller, in his post-match interview, outright said that he knew going in with a loss that he would be on the unemployment line.

As far as Fortunes changing for Five, the one name where they didn't change that much was the main event winner, Urijah Faber. Faber came in considered the No. 3 bantamweight in the UFC, behind champion Dominick Cruz and interim champ Renan Barao. He left in the same position. When he lost to Barao on July 21, his fifth straight title match loss, the feeling was that it was going to be his last title shot for a long time. But with two straight submission wins over top ten guys in the span of seven weeks, he may be as little as one win away from another chance.
But looking at real career changers coming off the show:

CAT ZINGANO - The aggressive 30-year-old went into the third round looking like she needed a finish to reach her goal of coach and title challenger, and after the fact, the judges scorecards confirmed Tate ahead 20-18 on two of the three cards. But she had also gotten a finish in all but one career fight. A series of hard knees, coupled with an elbow strike, put Tate down and ref Kim Winslow stopped it. Tate was furious. Tate was taking real punishment, but was still shooting for a takedown when it was called.

Few UFC fights had the kind of stakes this one had, literally the ability to take someone who was a complete unknown to all but the hardcores, and put her in a position where she could be a superstar by the end of the year.

KELVIN GASTELUM - Gastelum went from being the last person picked by Team Sonnen, to the TUF season 17 champion. He had come into the show with a 5-0 record, and won four fights in six weeks while filming, including two submissions and a knockout.

But most saw the 21-year-old bail bondsman as little more than Hall's final victim.

The crowd sensed that Gastelum was outgunned physically. But he wanted it ten times as much, something they also sensed within a couple of minutes.

The crowd got behind him big, as soon as they saw he wasn't intimidated. In the second round. When things weren't looking as good for him, the crowd loudly chanted for him to come back. Gastelum was bleeding from the right eye, and took a pounding on the ground at times in both the second and third rounds. But a takedown and ground and pound late in the third clinched him the fight.

Winning the season no longer means instant stardom. Over the past several years, several winners have faded to anonymity. Since 2008, only three have had any measure of a memorable stint in UFC. Ryan Bader (season eight) established himself as a top ten light heavyweight. Roy Nelson (season ten), was pretty much a ringer coming in, already was and still is a top ten heavyweight. John Dodson (season 14) got a flyweight title shot in a new division that lacked depth.

But Gastelum may have something that the Court McGees, Tony Fergusons and Efrain Escuderos don't have, in the sense the crowd naturally gravitated toward him in a way they do with few first-timers. When Forrest Griffin won season one, nobody really expected he'd ever be in the title hunt, but they took a liking to him just the same. Gastelum may be a guy that fans just like to see fight on the undercards feeling he'll always give it his all, similar to the role Clay Guida once had.

MIESHA TATE - Even though she lost, Tate's last three fights, a loss to Ronda Rousey, a win over Julie Kedzie and Saturday's fight, were all among the most exciting fights of the past 14 months.

Where Tate (13-4) goes next is going to answer questions about the women's division. It's no secret that looks play a huge part in the marketability of female athletes, which right there greatly enhances her ability to be a star if she can win the key fights to put her in the spotlight. A win here was a career maker. The excitement she brings in her fights, largely her ability to absorb punishment and aggressive style, adds the second dimension in the sense there is no question she's a real fighter and not a pretty girl being marketed as one. But how many spots for women's fights are there going to be?

In the last few days, it appeared there was more talk about the women's fight than the other two big fights on the show. Coming out of it, the fight was the talk of the show.

There's little doubt Rousey vs. Tate II is money, and because of how exciting Saturday's fight was, Tate probably wasn't hurt from a fan standpoint with the loss. But to get there, Tate needs more than looks and the ability to have exciting fights.

URIAH HALL - Hall (7-3) looked to walk into UFC as a superstar according to those who were aware of what happened in the Ultimate Fighter house. Once the show aired over the past three months, few were arguing that point. Nobody had come off the show looking more like a guy who would walk in and be a star from day one.
Instead, Hall largely gave away the first round and never got fully untracked. Nobody comes out of Saturday's show with more questions. How could the Uriah Hall who had those spectacular knockouts not just lose, but come out with no sense of purpose and lose to a guy who was clearly not at his physical level?

Whether it's big fight jitters, believing the press, or training back at home with its distractions as opposed to the TUF house where the sport becomes your life, he needs to find the answers.

Hall, even in losing, showed a few flashes of brilliance, particularly in the second round. There's little question that he lost a fight he should have won. But no matter how talented, the superstars of the sport are the guys that rarely happens to.

TRAVIS BROWNE - For whatever reason, Browne's name has been rarely talked about as a serious heavyweight contender. But you're looking at a guy with a 14-1-1 record, with 11 first-round finishes, eight in less than 90 seconds.

In addition, Browne's only loss, to Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva, came only after he blew a hamstring early in the fight and was out there on one leg.

It was scary watching the 6-foot-6 1/2, 239-pound former college basketball player knock Gabriel Gonzaga out. Browne connected with quick and vicious elbows as Gonzaga had bulled him into the fence to work for a takedown, which is usually a safe position. Until you reach the top, in this sport you're generally only as good as your last fight.

The Silva fight made people forget Browne's undefeated record and quick finishes. Watching him against Gonzaga, it was a quick and devastating reminder.

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