Julija Stoliarenko survived an early onslaught from Team Gastelum fighter Marciea Allen to come back late in the opening round to pull off a stunning armbar submission to get the win. Stoliarenko was Team Whittaker’s No. 1 overall pick in the women’s featherweight division, so watching her advance was a bit of a relief for the current king a 185 pounds.
It was two weeks ago when Whittaker attempted a similar strategy with his No. 1 selection in the heavyweight division, but Anderson da Silva ended up losing a two-round decision to Team Gastelum’s Justin Frazier, who was the final pick for his team.
Thankfully for Whittaker, he got on the board for the first time with Stoliarenko’s win over Allen, and now he’s hoping for the same good fortune as the heavyweights are back again this week with arguably one of the most intriguing matchups of the season.
Team Whittaker will send Cuban wrestler Michel Batista against Team Gastelum’s Josh Parisian, who made waves earlier this summer when he earned his spot on the show courtesy of a first-round knockout on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series.
Batista comes to the show at 34 years of age with a perfect 4-0 mark during his mixed martial arts career, but his history with the UFC actually dates back more than a decade thanks to his incredible wrestling roots, where he crossed paths with heavyweight and light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier on more than one occasion.
Cuban with a wrestling background, looking to make some noise in the UFC, meet Heavyweight Michel Batista. pic.twitter.com/6nUba471H9
— The Ultimate Fighter (@UltimateFighter) September 25, 2018
As a member of the Cuban national freestyle wrestling team, Batista racked up a huge number of championships, including several Pan-Am titles, a World Cup silver medal and a spot representing his country in the 2008 Olympic Games.
Batista first crossed paths with Cormier back in 2005 when they were competing against each other in the World Cup. Cormier was a year removed from the 2004 Olympics, where he represented the United States but came up just short from getting a medal.
Cormier used his experience to get past Batista in their first meeting, but it wasn’t the last time these two wrestlers would see each other. In 2007, Batista was competing in the Pan-Am games and he had specifically targeted Cormier as a wrestler he wanted to beat to avenge his previous loss.
Batista made good on his promise by earning a win over Cormier en route to his Pan-Am championship. It appeared that the two wrestlers were going to collide for a third time in a rubber match at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China. Sadly, Cormier’s Olympic dreams came to an end before he ever stepped onto the mat due to a botched weight cut that ended up putting him into the hospital and Batista advanced to the next round in the tournament without competing. Batista came up short in the bronze medal match that year in the Olympics and Cormier ultimately stepped away from the mats and decided to turn his focus to a new career in mixed martial arts.
While Batista continued to compete for his native Cuba in subsequent years, he eventually decided to relocate to the United States to search for a new life away from the wrestling mats. That’s when he happened to run across a former teammate from the Cuban national team named Yoel Romero, who had been living in the U.S. for a few years already and was training in MMA in south Florida.
Coming from a similar background, Romero was viewed as one of the top prospects to ever transition from wrestling to MMA, so Batista saw an opportunity to do the same.
The two reconnected through Facebook and Batista ended up relocating to Florida, where he began training alongside the two-time UFC title challenger as well as several other prominent UFC fighters such as Jorge Masvidal and Alex Caceres at an American Top Team affiliate school near Miami. Finally, in 2016, Batista made his MMA debut and he’s remained undefeated with a pair of knockouts on his resume before getting the call to compete on this season of The Ultimate Fighter.
Meanwhile, Parisian will be making his debut this week after first making a splash earlier this summer on the Contender Series.
From fighting to gain more confident, to now setting a goal to become the best in the world, meet Heavyweight Josh Parisian. pic.twitter.com/IfnTrKLf4H
— The Ultimate Fighter (@UltimateFighter) September 25, 2018
Parisian was actually already going to serve as an alternate for the current season of The Ultimate Fighter just in case somebody suffered an injury or was unable to compete once filming began. Just before filming was set to begin, Parisian got a call from UFC matchmaker Mick Maynard asking him if he would be willing to step up on short notice to compete on the Contender Series after Greg Rebello‘s opponent suffered an injury.
When he got the call, the fight with Rebello was only a few days away, but after a discussion with his head coach, Parisian decided to jump on the opportunity and seemingly hours later he was on a plane bound for Las Vegas.
The gamble paid off as Parisian ended up earning a jaw-dropping first-round knockout by spinning back fist. The win was so impressive that UFC President Dana White decided to drop the ‘alternate’ from his name and put Parisian into this season of The Ultimate Fighter, where he’s competing for his chance at a UFC contract.
There’s no doubt thanks to that performance that Parisian walked into the house with a giant target on his back, but he’s definitely embraced the pressure all season long. Now Parisian will finally have his chance to prove that he belongs in the UFC heavyweight division when he faces Batista this week.
Considering the pedigree each of the fighters is carrying into this bout, Parisian vs. Batista might just be one of the can’t miss moments of the season.
Don’t miss a moment of the action when Parisian faces off with Batista in the latest heavyweight matchup as The Ultimate Fighter: Heavy Hitters returns tonight at 10 pm ET on FS1.