After two long weeks off because of playoff baseball we are back with the 7th episode of Season 28. We are greeted with Episode 6 victor Leah Letson returning to “The Ultimate Figher” house for everyone to applaud her and marvel at the damage she took. Full of smiles, she has renewed confidence in herself and her team, and it appears her desire to leave Team Whittaker has completely melted away.
As is our custom of bouncing back and forth between this week’s competitors, we are first introduced to Juan Francisco Espino Dieppa, who hails from the Canary Islands, a small Spanish archipelago located just off the coast of Morocco. Visiting his family, he remarks that while they may not be mixed martial arts fans, they support him in anything he does. That support system drives him to excel in this sport.
We switch gears to the training session of Australia’s Ben Sosoli of Team Gastelum. Sosoli, a powerful striker and proud owner of a fashionable rat tail. He knows full well that he will win his fight as long as he does not end up on his back, and says just that. Knowing Espino is a strong wrestler, he spends much of his training session trying to get back to his feet. Throughout his MMA career, Sosoli’s only losses have come by decision, whereas he has knocked out five of his six opponents in victory, and he does not concern himself with the submission game.
A former rugby player, Sosoli got into MMA because he thought he could compete without having to run much. Living in Melbourne, he lives with his partner and his two children with her, but is estranged from his three other children from an ex. He is hopeful that they can watch him this season, and that he can make them all proud.
Back in Episode 3, Maurice Greene remarked that the powers that be wanted some tension and drama in the house. And in this episode, Greene was determined to start some. Out of nowhere, a well-lubricated Greene decided to start bellowing at Espino, with his rage stemming from his belief that Espino was not a “genuine person.” Everyone around Greene tried to dissuade him from embarrassing himself like this, but despite their pleas the two shouted at each other for a while until they started repeating themselves. After some counseling by fellow heavyweights, Greene came to his senses and apologized to Espino. Hopefully, this beef is squashed and we can move on, because no one looks good from this nonsense.
In his training session, Espino appeared to have put any of this drama behind him and focused on his wrestling and top control. If he can avoid Sosoli’s bombs and land the takedown, he will have a massive advantage. The oldest competitor of the competition -- as of this October 38 years-old -- he is almost a decade older than his opponent but looks to impose his will the same as he would against any other fighter.
Following his 2011 knockout loss to Bellator MMA’s Vitaly Minakov, Espino took six years off from MMA to attain several gold medals in international grappling competitions. He even competed multiple times in Senegalese wrestling competition Lucha Lamb, where he never lost and earned the nickname of “Leon Blanca,” or “White Lion.”
Both men weigh in, with Sosoli just about at the heavyweight limit of 265 pounds, and Espino a stout 260 himself, and at a combined 525 pounds this is the heaviest fight of the season. At the staredown, the men can scarcely keep a straight face. After the teammates give their opinions on what will happen and the other standard pre-fight rituals are taken care of, let’s get this show on the road.
Tale of the TapeTeam Gastelum: Sosoli is 6’ 265 pounds, has a 76” reach and a record of 6-2.
Team Whittaker: Espino is 6’4” 260 pounds, has a 82” reach and a record of 8-1.
Referee Mark Smith is the third man inside the Octagon, and our fight is underway. Espino immediately gives Sosoli a wide berth and stays out of striking range while circling back and forth. Sosoli charges in to land a few shots and scores before Espino darts away. 40 seconds in, Espino drops levels for a low single and pushes Sosoli against the fence. Sosoli attempts an ill-advised throw and Espino gets him down and lands in side control. Recovering back to half guard, Sosoli is planted on his back and is unable to do anything to regain position.
Quite comfortable in half guard, Espino lands short, frustrating punches with an elbow sprinkled in for good measure, and Sosoli is stuck. No amount of hip thrusting, turning or powerful bursts can get “El Guapo” off of him, and Sosoli resorts to throwing punches off his back. Espino briefly flirts with an arm-triangle choke but decides to maintain position over submission. With 30 seconds left in the round, Sosoli kicks off the cage but gives up mount, and after a scramble he gets back to his feet. Espino presses him and Sosoli throws an arm around his neck searching for a guillotine, but Espino is so strong that he picks his foe up and suplexes him for his troubles. The round ends with Espino in top, and he has clearly taken this stanza.
Round two begins much like the first, with Espino staying well outside of range until Sosoli charges in once again, only for Espino to drop for a single-leg takedown. This time, Sosoli defends it and lands a couple stinging uppercuts that force Espino to bounce off the cage. Unfortunately for Sosoli, this success is short lived, when he lunges in for another powerful punch and gets taken down.
Once again in half guard, we’re in for more of the same -- Sosoli unable to get up while Espino rains down punches that might not do a lot of damage but really add up. Sosoli gets against the cage and thanks to a very blatant fence grab, gets back to his feet. While apologizing to the ref, Sosoli loses position and Espino drags him right back down on the canvas. With the Spaniard dropping labored punches for another few minutes staying in the same position, the round ends with the Aussie striker completely nullified. There is no doubt who won this fight, and the scorecards reflect this as Espino wins a clear-cut unanimous decision.
With this win, Team Whittaker takes the lead in the competition, earning win number four compared to Team Gastelum’s three, and the momentum is fully on the side of Team Whittaker as they have won four straight. As was the selection of this heavyweight bout, the final women’s featherweight bout of the opening round is academic, pitting Team Whittaker’s Larissa Pacheco against Team Gastelum’s Macy Chiasson.