Twice in Wednesday night's episode of "The Ultimate Fighter," UFC president Dana White showed his skill for promotion that continues to help the sport of mixed martial arts grow in popularity.
"Anything can happen in MMA," he said. "Seeds mean nothing."
Eric Shelton proved the truth of those words, as the No. 15-seeded Galesburg native, fighting out of Silvis, upset No. 2 Yoni Sherbatov with a rear naked choke submission late in the second round of a fight televised Wednesday night on the show, which airs on FS1.
Shelton's next opponent is the winner of No. 7 Ronaldo Candido and No. 10 Jaime Alvarez. That fight will be the focus of next week's episode.
Shelton's fight, which took place in July, was the focus of the fourth episode of the long-running reality show, which gives fighters a chance at earning a contract with the sport's top promotion. In addition to a contract, this season's winner gets a flyweight title shot with current champion Demetrious Johnson. Shelton earned the spot on the show by winning the Caged Aggression flyweight title in April.
It wasn't easy for Shelton to pull of the upset. Sherbatov was one of the clear favorites of the show. His coach, Henry Cejudo called him, 'the best fighter here,' on the episode and he came in undefeated. He is also a southpaw, which Shelton admitted has been one of the weaker points of his skill set.
"The pressure was taken off me when he was ranked No. 2," Shelton said. "I'm sure being ranked 2, all the pressure is on you. I'm 15, you're supposed to beat me. For me, of course I was nervous ... this is my life, everything I worked for. Emotions were everywhere but I was so focused on getting that 'W.'"
Both fighters started off the first round tentative, and Sherbatov had pair of takedowns that Shelton escaped in an even first round. In the second round, Sherbatov executed another takedown, but was visibly fatigued, and Shelton executed a reversal to get him into the choke hold and submission.
"I wasn't really getting tired at all," Shelton said. "When I felt him getting tired, I felt that rush of energy and I took advantage of it ... a lot of guys didn't think I could do it. It felt good for me."
Shelton said he felt like he could have easily been seeded higher heading into the tournament, and the win proved that. It also earned him the respect of his opponent.
"I feel I got beat by a prepared athlete, and I raise my hat to him," Sherbatov said after the fight.
Much of the episode's focus is on the training leading up to the fight but also took the time for each fighter to talk about their background, family and motivations for fighting. For Shelton, his motivation lies with his four children, and he talked at great length about his concern about being able to provide for them financially into the future. Winning the whole thing would provide him an opportunity to do so, and throughout the episode his family was the clear motivation.
"I'm super family-oriented and I usually have my family with me before fights, a lot of times they help me take my mind off everything that's going on," he said. "Being away from them that long, when I would talk about them I would get emotional a little bit. It's an emotional topic for me because they're supporting me so much."
Prior to flying out to Las Vegas, Shelton was given a camera to take video around his hometown. Interspersed with shots of Shelton training at Top Shape Gym was footage from Allen Chapel AME Church in Galesburg, Shelton's childhood church. Shots of the I-74 bridge and Quad-Cities International Airport were also shown, as his friends and family came to the airport to see him off.
Bound by the UFC's confidentiality clause, Shelton hasn't been able to discuss any aspects of the show or the results of any fights with his friends and family. Getting a chance to watch this episode with them Wednesday was a special experience.
"I couldn't wait," he said. "It's a blessing for me because it's what I've always worked for and they've always supported me for it and I knew they were going to be excited to see it all. It was a super cool experience that I got to do this."