Best Seat in the House

During the weekend of July 31-August 3, Mid-Atlantic Wrestling (in conjunction with the National Wrestling Alliance) hosted the 10th annual Legends Fanfest in Charlotte, North Carolina.  The events included a Hall of Heroes banquet, a four day convention, and a “Future Legends” wrestling camp.  I was lucky enough to be in attendance.  The four days were a blur, but I wrote down everything I could and this is the result

Charlotte

After getting on the #11 bus, it’s a straight shot up North Tryon to get to where I need to be.  The driver is helpful, though soft spoken.  Somewhere in our broken communiqué he understands that I need to get off at Hampton Church road.  It’s a good thing too since it’s a side road that I would have easily missed.

I take in the local scenery along the way, looking for any places I might want to visit later.  All I see are garages, nail salons and barbershops.  And I got my haircut before I left town.

I make it to the hotel.  An initial examination reveals no fresh chalk outlines.  That’s a good start.  I get my key and enter my room and immediately notice that it hasn’t been prepared yet.  I should go tell someone, but I don’t.  I’ve been on a bus for the last twenty four hours and I just want to lie down and think.

*****

The last time I took the Greyhound to go somewhere it was a lot less packed.  You had your choice of window seats.  Then again, that’s because I was going to Calgary in the middle of winter, which apparently is not a prime vacation destination at that time of year.  That trip had a cool, subdued vibe.  I mean, I was still in Canada after all.  But heading down south had a different feel to it altogether.

First of all, the t-shirts.  I don’t know what it is about traveling by bus, but it brings out the best t-shirts.  “It’s our job to take your load…not take your crap!” one proudly proclaimed, a mantra for truckers everywhere.  A young man had another that read “The original celebrity chef” underneath the beaming image of Colonel Sanders.  And then, my favourite, “The best smelling pits in town”, which requires no explanation.  When you know you’re going to be spending hours on a bus, you may as well plan ahead since you know by the end of the trip you won’t care what you look (or smell) like.

There was one tense moment that’s worth mentioning.  Somewhere between Michigan and Virginia we picked up a fellow who had the unfortunate habit of singing along with whatever song he happened to be listening to on his ear buds.  Worse, he only seemed to listen to the same song over and over again and he only sang one part of that song.  It was maddening, though ignorable.  At a stopover, a Greyhound employee confronted him about it and then things got weird.  All I heard was the employee say “You don’t talk to me like that!  Your ride stops here, buddy.  I’m calling the cops.”

Sure enough, the cops arrived and asked the parties involved to step outside to discuss the matter.  The rest of the travellers sympathized with the singing man.  They said he wasn’t doing anything wrong and that if the employee had a problem with him he should have asked in a more polite manner.  However, someone who was closer to the conversation said that the singing man threatened to kill the employee if he didn’t back off.  Not cool.  The issue eventually defused itself.  There was some discussion of “disturbing the peace” and “jail”, but nothing came of it.

What really irked everyone was that our trip was delayed by over an hour and we thought it was because of that incident.  It turns out the next driver was just late.  After getting to know him better, we all realized why.  Even after everyone boarded, he took his sweet time meandering about the bus and then he felt compelled to explain to everyone why he was late rather than get going as quickly as possible to get back on schedule.  I’m pretty sure he was f**king with us intentionally.  Lord knows how these drivers deal with boredom.  He did tell a pretty good joke though, which I will share with you now:

A man goes to a science fair to check out the latest inventions.  The gadget that catches his eye is a robot that can tell when someone is lying.  He thinks it’s neat and purchases one for his house.

Later that night at dinner, the man sits with the robot and his family.  He asks his daughter, “What did you do today, sweetheart?”

The daughter replies: “Not much.  I went to the library with Lisa.  We studied for a few hours and then I came home.”

*POW*

The robot punches the daughter right in the mouth!

The father nods, pleased that the robot works.  “Alright, alright, I know you’re lying.  Why don’t you tell me what you really did today?”

“We skipped the last class of the day and went to go see a movie,” the daughter confesses.  “Then we went back to Lisa’s place and then I came home.”

“Okay.  Thank you for being honest.”  He turns to his son.  “And what did you do today?”

The son replies: “I was at John’s house.  We watched some TV and played some video games.”

*POW*

The robot punches the son right in the mouth!

The father nods.  “What did you really do?”

“I was at John’s house!” the son replies.  “But we didn’t watch TV.  We found some of his dad’s old girlie magazines and we looked through them.”

Laughing, the mother says: “Yep!  He’s your son, alright!”

*POW*

Raise the Big Top

The Dr. Tom Prichard Future Legends Wrestling Camp was set to start at seven in the morning.  I showed up at a quarter to.  There’s nobody there, which is awkward since I don’t actually have access to the facilities at the Hilton University Place.  I consider beating on the glass door, but think better of it.  Wouldn’t there be wrestlers milling about?  After double checking my e-mail, I realize I need to head to the ballroom downstairs.  I don’t know about you, but where I come from most areas designed for physical fitness aren’t carpeted.

Wrestlers are trickling in now.  Several stop to say hello and shake my hand, likely assuming that I’m part of the camp.  I am, but not in the way they’re thinking.  I’ve signed on to be an observer, a role that allows me to be in the thick of the action without being an official part of the wrestling fraternity.  I understand this is an uncommon opportunity.  I’d brought my runners just in case I was asked to participate in any camp activity and now I suddenly wish I was wearing nicer shoes.

Seated at the opposite end of the room is an older gentleman who I assume is an observer like myself.  His name is Harrison.  We’re fast friends.  He’s from South Carolina, a lifelong wrestling fan and a staple of the local wrestling scene as far as I can tell.  He’s a physical trainer who deals with wrestlers all the time.  Definitely a good person to know in this situation.

Once I’m settled in, I’m able to take a better accounting of the room.  This is the first time I’ve seen a ring put up.  Let there be no misconceptions about the alleged trampoline-like qualities of a wrestling ring.  It’s thin, wooden slats on top of stiff metal.  Over the course of a long career, a wrestler will be asked to fall on it thousands of times.

Like any social situation, it’s interesting to see who does and who doesn’t know what they’re doing when it comes to assembling the ring.  Who takes charge and who sits back?  Should the veterans who paid their dues long ago still have to do this?  Should the newer guys take the initiative at the risk of overstepping their boundaries or exposing their rookie status?

There is a distinct lack of interesting hair, up top or facial.  I only see one dude rocking the 80s wet look.  He’s Ross from England, aka “The Muscle Cat” Saxon Huxley.  There’s also Plunkett whose long beard makes him the spitting image of Keith Jardine, and Steve Off, who in addition to having short spiky hair was blessed with naturally crazy looking eyes.  Maybe “blessed” isn’t the right word.

We start off with an old school roll call.  I make note of a few names I recognize and others that Harrison tells me to keep an eye on: Cedric Alexander, Rhett Titus, Chase Owens, Donovan Dijak, and Jaxson James.

The third observer, Glenn, tells me to keep an eye on Aaron Ritchie as well.  I ask him why.

“That’s my son.”

Show Me What Ya Got

The first drill is a dizzying sequence of Irish whips, drop downs, leap frogs, reversals, and vaults out of the corner.  The trainers point out that a drop down is meant to be an attempt to trip your opponent, which is something that never occurred to me in my years of watching wrestling because you never see anyone get tripped up by it.  The first of many lessons to come.

Inevitably, there are a few people that struggle with the drill.  It’s a test of cardio, agility, and core strength and I’m told that the mat has some give to it, which is making it hard to jump.  I figured this was their way of weeding out the stragglers, but something else happened entirely.  Wrestlers stumbled, tripped, fell down…and the ones on the outside only grew more vocal in their support.  This wasn’t a hazing, it was team building.  They were making adjustments, learning from each other, all the while picking the next man (or woman) up.  Keep in mind that they were all competing for a $2,500 camp scholarship (in memory of wrestler Reid Fliehr who passed away last year), not to mention the chance to stand out in front of four esteemed trainers.

That energy carried over into the camp matches.  The wrestlers were randomly paired up and told to put together a quick match, which was then immediately critiqued by the trainers.  Now, I tell myself, this is where the wheat will get separated from the chaff.  But again, that wasn’t the case.  Without an actual audience, the waiting wrestlers had to act as the crowd and they did so with gusto.  It was much appreciated too, because the trainers did not hold anything back.

“The schtick belongs out here.  Once you get in that ring, be a f**king wrestler!”  Les Thatcher says when he first sees Mike Sydal’s pre-match yoga antics.

“You cannot punch a girl in the face!”  Says Tom Prichard after Cedric goes after Chasity in their intergender tag match.  Over the next few days, the incident is brought up whenever Tom feels like busting Cedric’s chops.

With everyone looking so serious, Nigel McGuiness reminds the good guys that “It’s okay to smile.”

And Lance Storm reminds the bad guys of their basic motivation: “Why should you cheat?  Because s**t’s not gettin’ done.”

So it goes over the next four days, with every wrestler getting at least two opportunities to show what they can do.  Between the four trainers, they don’t miss a single detail whether it is a misplaced facial expression, a minor execution issue, or even unnecessary verbal outbursts.  When too many wrestlers call out to the crowd to cheer, Les warns that “The next person I hear say ‘Come on!’ I’m going to fine them ten dollars.”

It must be grueling having to sit through so many matches in a row, but I suppose that’s part of the discipline.  By the time the last of the first round of matches roll around, everyone is kind of burnt out.  All it took was a mental slip and a plain blue shirt to bring them back to life.

The Legend of Blue Shirt

If you’d asked me who would be the breakout star of the camp, Sean Deemer would have been somewhere near the bottom of my list.  At first glance, he didn’t have much of a physique.  He was quiet and based on what little data I had I wasn’t too impressed by his ability to get around the ring.  I took it as a bad sign that his match ended up being the last one of the first round of practice bouts.

Nigel had taken it upon himself to play ringside announcer and he called out the names of the participants.  First, he announced Anthony “All Good” Greene, who had already wrestled a match the day before.  He was solid, reliable, exactly the kind of guy I’d trust to have a good match with Sean.  When it came time to announce Sean, Nigel forgot his name.  He glanced over at him and said, “…and in this corner…uh…‘blue shirt’.”  Everybody chuckled.

Tom rings the bell.  Right out of the gate, the crowd starts chanting…

Blue shirt!  Blue shirt!  Blue shirt!  Blue shirt!  Blue shirt!

When a wrestling crowd starts getting behind something, it is like a tidal wave.  Eventually, everyone gets washed away in it.  Anthony and Sean had the crowd on the edge of their seats.  When Anthony used dirty tactics, we booed and hissed at him gleefully.  When Blue Shirt came back with a series of shoulder blocks, we leapt out of our seats.  To Sean’s credit, he never got caught up in the raucous reaction.  He stayed focused on beating Anthony and that’s all it took to keep us invested.  I looked over to the trainers to see Nigel with a big grin on his face shaking his head.  He knew what he’d done.  Even Lance was caught hiding a smile.

At the end, Blue Shirt got pinned because Blue Shirt had to lose.  It was a beautiful story they told where the hero dies in the end.  In losing, he earned our love forever…or at least for the next few days.  It was a practice match that nobody taped and so it will never be seen again.  And yet it was so much more than that.  The magic of wrestling in six minutes and a blue shirt.

This Boy’s Life

“The finish was a clusterF**K!”

Those are the words of Gerald Brisco after having watched a tag match end in confusing fashion.  The four young men involved stand in the ring and take their verbal whipping, the harsh words refining them like sandpaper.  Even if they know what they did wrong, they might not know what they have to do to fix it.  Aaron leans over the ropes, his face as calm as ever.  He’s been training for about six months.  This was his fifth match.

You can imagine how things went a day earlier.  Against Barrett Brown (a nice guy out of Texas with a mean scowl), Aaron struggled at the start of the match.  In particular, a sloppy looking arm hold caused Tom to have a conniption at ringside.  He actually had to press pause on the match to correct the action.  It’s not a good start, but any frustrations are put into a different context when Aaron is asked about his experience level.

“I hate you.”  Tom jokes when he hears that Aaron is just seventeen years old.

A handsome, athletic kid, Aaron certainly has the look of a person who might excel at sports.  He shows good moves in the ring even if he’s a long way from knowing how to string them together into a meaningful narrative.  And his demeanour rarely changes, which is both encouraging and worrisome.  On one hand, being able to shut up and listen is a rare and important skill for someone to have at such a young age.  On the other, he doesn’t look like he’s having any fun.

Harrison and I talk to Glenn to find out more about what drives Aaron.  As it turns out, Aaron is a young father.  His family (including his mother and his girlfriend) have come to the camp to support him but also to keep an eye on the baby while he is pursuing his dream.  Aaron is certainly not the only father attending the camp, but I don’t see anyone else tending to a stroller in between sessions.  His girlfriend even stops by to see how he’s doing.  She tells me that before she met Aaron, she didn’t have much interest in wrestling.

“Have fun in there,” I tell him, as if the thought hadn’t occurred to him.  That’s advice I offered to every wrestler I got a chance to talk to.  Early on, the trainers present the harsh reality that we are living in one of the most difficult times for a professional wrestler to make a good living.  The WWE employs less than a hundred personalities (not including their developmental division NXT) that we see on Raw and SmackDown every week.  There are other North American promotions with a television presence, but the end goal for most wrestlers is a regular spot with the WWE.

Fun is not the number one priority at this camp.  For the younger guys, they need to do everything in their power to show that they belong and playing grab ass in the ring isn’t going to do them any favours.  For the veterans, they have to be thinking that it’s about time their love of the business translated into love from the business.  It’s great to be able to do something you’re passionate about; it’s even better to get rich doing it.

Back to Aaron.  I don’t know if he wants to wrestle because he thinks it’s cool or he’s always wanted to try it or he’s a natural being pushed into it or if he thinks it will put him on the path to fame and fortune.  What I do know is that he has one more mouth to feed, meaning he’s going to have to go from young man to young professional in a hurry if this is truly what he wants to do for a living.  I wish him the best of luck.

The Art Of Two Elephants F**king

It’s no secret that everyone was tight on the first day.  Some stumbled through the drills while others were lacking punch during their matches.  Cue Dr. Tom Prichard.

With most of the organization and paperwork out of the way, Tom is free to get down to the brass tacks.  When he sees something done wrong, he leaps up, tussles his hair and stomps around half-lecturing, half-demonstrating.  As he goes over the subtleties of bumping, I marvel that he can still do them at all.  It’s a tricky, painful technique, but he knows it’s the only way to make sure they learn to do it right.

“The business is a mindf**k!” he says, reinforcing the notion that if you want to be a wrestler you better know what you’re getting into.  “You don’t know who the next star is until he becomes the next star.”  Any one of the forty wrestlers in this camp could make it big someday.  Maybe none of them will.  Tom isn’t concerned with that.  His job is to teach these guys and girls how to work a crowd and how to do it without breaking their fool necks.

He warns us about some potentially foul language he’s going to use to discuss what he considers to be needless risks.  Two women immediately leave the room.  He asks us to imagine stepping outside of the hotel and seeing two elephants having sex.  You’d presumably be in awe and eager to rush back to your friends to tell them, “Holy s**t, there are two elephants f**king!”

Five minutes later, you go out and see them again you’d probably think “Holy s**t, those two elephants are still f**king!”  But after the third, fourth, fifth time…it would lose its effect.  This is what happens when wrestlers try to put too much into their matches.

“Ten pounds of s**t in a five pound bag” Les says, adding further sophistication.

You lose the story and when you lose the story, you lose the audience.

Tom can’t help but get his blood up when he sees something wrong.  At one point, a particularly confounding tag match sees him assuming the roles of all four men.  He’s hitting the ropes, bumping on the mat, fighting for the tag, executing a one-man comeback…it’s amusing, but amongst the fun and games is a lesson on using instinct and common sense.  “React.  Don’t act.  Draw upon your real experiences.”

Glenn notes that Tom loosened up on the second day of camp, which helped to loosen everyone else up.  He also makes note of the words on Tom’s shirt:

You can try.
You can take your best shot.
Or you can do whatever it takes.
Which one are you?

“A good wrestling match is like good sex.  It starts with foreplay and builds to a climax.”

I came in not knowing much about Les Thatcher.  Now he might be my favourite person in the whole entire world.

I’m not just saying that because he took the time to come over and check on the observers, though that certainly helped.  Even if he hadn’t said two words to us, I caught more than enough of his sound bites to come to the realization that my world is a much better place with Les in it.  Let me explain.

Les got his start in the sixties, long before I was born and long before I even had any concept of what wrestling was.  Like most kids my age, I was drawn in to the Hogan-Warrior-Savage WWF era, which is well removed from the southern style that was being celebrated that weekend.  I have no concept of where Les comes from.  Somehow that didn’t matter.  Somehow in listening to his stories I came to understand that the fundamentals he grew up with and now taught still formed the basis of the wrestling that I enjoy to this very day.

It helps that his stories are frequently hilarious.

During the opening drill alone, he drops several lines meant to motivate the wrestlers and get them to settle down.

“You might catch a sentence or a word, but you won’t get the story.”

“It’s about seconds and milliseconds.”

“Slow.  Down.  Are you guys double parked?”

“That Superman whiff in the corner is bulls**t.”

Okay, that last one might have just been mean.  The bottom line is that Les gets the job done and he expects his charges to do the same.  When preserving an art form, there is little time to mince words.  As a lifelong wrestling fan that only recently started going to live shows, I can appreciate the urgency of his lessons.

“If people want to watch the WWE, they’ll stay at home,” he says.  “On the independent scene you have to tell a story to get them to buy a ticket and come out for the show.”  In other words, you’re fighting an uphill battle.  How do you get people to pay to see you when there’s a proven product they can catch on television for free from the comfort of their living rooms?  It’s all in the telling.

Les speaks with the kind of tone where his compliments and his insults have equal impact.  You never get the sense that he’s too angry nor that he’s overly enthused.  After another tag match, the four wrestlers await Les’s verdict.

“You guys frightened me,” he starts.  “You listened.” Relieved sighs all around.

Two Bucks and a Compliment Will Get You a Soda

Here’s a shocking revelation for you: I’m not Gerald Brisco.

After watching the matches or seeing a wrestler do particularly well with a drill or lesson, I’d make sure to give them a metaphorical pat on the back.  A good match here and a nice work, buddy there.  It never hurts to say nice things to people especially when you’re dealing with a hard working bunch like this.  That said, kind words from a stranger can only go so far.

What these wrestlers really came for was the sage wisdom of their trainers, especially one Gerald “Jerry” Brisco who was listed as one of the guest coaches on the Future Legends website.  Jerry is one of the talent scouts for the WWE.  He’s got a wide body, like a box.  When he smiles, he smiles with his whole face and when he talks you get an earful of that Oklahoma drawl.

Now I don’t know what his level of involvement was supposed to be at the camp, but he was advertised in the same paragraph as the other trainers.  One would reasonably infer that he would be working alongside them.

He ended up attending the camp for about half a day.  Put yourself in the wrestlers’ shoes.  As incredible as it must have been to learn from Tom, Les, Nigel, and Lance, one of the most exciting aspects of the camp was the possibility of talking to someone with a direct line to the biggest wrestling company in the world.  It’s one thing to be able to draw upon the rich history of traditional wrestling to improve your skills; it’s another thing entirely to be able to ask Jerry what one might need to work on to make real money in this business.  Some people can toil away in this business for years without knowing why they haven’t got that phone call from New York.  One conversation with Jerry could change their whole lives.

I’m not calling Jerry out as I understand he likely had other obligations to attend to.  His son was wrestling that weekend.  There were dozens of his friends who he likely hadn’t seen in years.  Stuff like that would reasonably shove a camp full of rookie wrestlers to the backburner.  It’s just unfortunate is all.

When I bring up the issue with a few wrestlers (not to mention having to deal with a larger than expected camp roster, which limited their in-ring and 1-on-1 time with the trainers), most of them just chuckle and repeat one of the business’ most common refrains:

“Card subject to change.”

“You can choose not to listen to any of us and do it your way.  You’ll be wrong, but…”

One thing I had to make sure not to do when I got the camp was mark out.  I gave myself a minute or two to get excited about meeting the wrestlers and the trainers, then I had to settle the f**k down.  It worked.  Except for when it came to dealing with Lance Storm.

Lance is a hero of mine.  He’s always represented Canada with pride and he’s one of the most respected wrestlers to have worked for the three major American companies of the mid-90s to early-00s (ECW, WCW, WWE).  He is constantly communicating with his fans on Twitter while also maintaining the sanctity of the business.  Most importantly, he stepped away from being a full time wrestler to focus on his school and spend time with his family.  The wrestling world is filled with stories of men and women who hung on too long just for the sake of glory or to keep the cheques coming in.  Lance chose not to become one of those people.

Lance is as hands-on a trainer as you can get and when he talks wrestling he swears a lot.  He’s also much funnier than people think:

Tom: “Look, I don’t go to the gym as much as Lance, but…”
Lance: “Really?”
Tom: “F**k you!”

Demonstrating proper technique is like a nervous tic for Lance.  Rather than talk your ear off about how to do something right, he’ll take a few seconds and just show you.  I see him taking students aside in between the practice matches to help them work out their kinks.  Even during the Q&A, as soon as he hears a question that he can answer by getting physical you know he’s going to do it.  Plunkett asks him a question about chops and I see Lance put down his coffee cup.  He’s going to chop this dude’s beard off.  Just when I think my prediction will come true, Lance stops short and gives Plunkett a light tap on the chest.  Lesson learned.

His other tic is a verbal one.  “For some reason you can’t put a match together without saying ‘f**k’.”

Despite the foul language (or perhaps because of it), Lance never fails to get his points across: Engage the audience intellectually.  Make them feel what you feel.  Don’t take unnecessary bumps when building up to one good one will get an even better reaction.  Somewhere in the middle of his teaching, I muster up the courage to ask him a question that I’d been pondering for years regarding a fan made list of the best wrestlers in the world that Lance once took great umbrage too.  Keep in mind, this was thirteen years ago.

Lance smirked.  “The DVD [Death Valley Driver] 500.”

I was happy he remembered and I wondered if his feelings changed at all with fans being “smarter” to the business than ever (or at least thinking they are).  Does it matter if we know who is responsible for a good match, who carried the heavier load?  Or should we just take what we see at face value?

Lance’s viewpoint is relatively unchanged: Unless you’ve been in the ring with someone, it’s impossible for you to know how good they actually are.  It’s possible to paint in broad strokes.  For example, you don’t need to be in the business to know that Bret Hart is a better wrestler than say…me.  But once you start comparing Bret to Steve Austin or Steve Austin to Ric Flair or Ric Flair to Harley Race…what’s the point?

“Do you enjoy that painting?”  Lance asks.  “Good.  Enjoy it.”

It’s a satisfying enough answer for me.  If we accept that wrestling is art, then we must also accept that there is room for subjectivity.

“What about lucha libre?”  Someone asks, bringing up the Mexican style of wrestling that is worlds apart from what they’re teaching at this camp.

Without missing a beat, Lance responds coolly: “I don’t understand lucha libre.”

That settles that.

“Are you going to pick those up?”
“Pick what up?”
“Those names you just dropped.”

I felt pressure to ingratiate myself with the wrestlers even though I had signed on strictly to observe.  It is a delicate balance, roaming amongst the wildebeests without disrupting the herd.  Often, the mere sight of me writing in my notebook was enough to raise eyebrows.  It helped that it has a shiny, garish cover with the words “Don’t Quit” in ornate lettering.  It looks more suited to scribbling bad poetry (of which there is plenty) or writing about how Sally gave me a funny look in third period today.  But it was a gift from a dear friend of mine and the message on the cover, while cliché, is also timeless and perfectly suited to the environment I found myself in.

“What are you writing about?” they’d ask.  It was harder to answer than you might think.  This started as nothing more than a personal collection of observations and amusing quotes that I could blog about for the sake of posterity.  But every time someone came up to express their curiosity or support I realized that I might actually have to write something that other people would want to read.  Regardless, it became a great way to start conversation.

The other method that served me well was mentioning wrestlers I’d seen in person.  The first time this happened was completely by accident.  During one of the Q&As, I asked Lance Storm a question about whether a wrestler needs to change their act if they’re getting a reaction from the crowd, but it’s not the reaction they’re looking for.  The example I used was Toronto native Brent Banks who plays a total s**t heel much to the delight of the crowd who laugh and cheer his exploits.  The bottom line was that if he’s trying to get booed then he needs to do something different.

After the session, Farhan Faruqui walked up to me and said he knows Brent and just like that we’re talking.  Farhan immediately stood out from the crowd due to his dark, foreign complexion and a bright orange shirt he was wearing (that combined with his body type prompted Lance to tell him that “you gotta clear orange with Taz.”).  He mentions that he knows Sebastian Suave.  Suave runs Smash Wrestling, one of Canada’s most respected promotions.

Gradually, I chipped away at the barrier between fan and wrestler until I got to know everyone well enough to give them the “smile and nod” when I passed them in the halls.  Some of them never warmed up to me completely, which is understandable.  Others (particularly the Canadians because we’re a kind, gentle folk) were much more forthcoming and I’m proud to call many of them friend.

By the fourth day, even the most reserved wrestlers (including Chase Owens, the man responsible for the header quote above) warmed up to me.  I respect that most wrestlers probably doesn’t have time to spare on folks intruding on the business.  But all you have to do is ask the right questions.  And occasionally pick up the alcohol.

The Doctor Is In

One dilemma that Harrison and I faced was finding good places to eat.  He works in health and fitness and I’m cheap.  There were plenty of places to eat around the hotel, but it was essentially a crapshoot as far as knowing what locations would be able to satisfy both our dispositions.  In one such diner, we ran into one of the wrestlers who we recognized immediately because…well, wrestlers just have a different way about them.

Dan Rodgers works out of Scotland.  Like most wrestlers, his dream is to make it big in America.  Unlike most wrestlers, he has a career as a doctor waiting for him at home.  He currently takes shifts at the hospital to make ends meet.  Unfortunately, his license doesn’t carry over to the United States so it’s not as simple as just moving over here and doing the same.  We’re about the same age, so I can relate to the urgency one starts to feel about deciding what to do with the rest of your life.  Go back home to a steady job or stay the course with the notion that that big break is just around the corner?

To Dan’s credit, he does a brilliant job of using his real life to inform his character.  He tells me about how he’s thinking of cutting a promo revolving around religious skepticism.  I remind him that we’re in the Carolinas.  He does it anyway.

People pray.  Fine.  But who do they pray to?  They pray to God.  Do you know how much that insults me as a doctor that you pray to God?  Was it God that busted his arse for five years in medical school?  Was it God that was doing a hundred hour weeks?  Was it God that was jumping up and down on your Gran’s chest saving her life?  No.  It was me.  It was Danny Boy Rodgers.  And you remember that.  ‘Cause whoever gets in that ring with me…when you’re down on your knees and you’re begging and you’re pleading and you’re praying…don’t pray to an imaginary man in the clouds.  Pray to me.  Because as far as you’re concerned, in this ring, between those ropes, and under those lights, I AM GOD.

Powerful stuff.  It works too.  A couple of other wrestlers go up and base their promos around him and how doctors failed to take care of their loved ones.  When promo work gets that personal you know you’re doing something right.  Sometimes all you have to do is be willing to take that risk.

Wrestlers Are Just Normal Folks Like You and Me, But Cooler

There are three girls at the camp: Tessa Blanchard, Jessie Kaye, and Chasity Taylor.  They immediately stand out and not just because they’re female.  Tessa is the daughter of    Tully Blanchard and the stepdaughter of Magnum T.A., two wrestling legends.  At nineteen, she’s already building up a following.  She and Chasity even get a booth during the Fan Fest to take photos and sign autographs.

Chasity surprises me.  After going through Tom’s body parts group twice, I joke that she must be a submission expert by now; as it turns out, she actually does aim to be a submission stylist, which you wouldn’t expect from a petite blonde with the nickname “The Southern Sweetheart”.  She’s also a line dancing enthusiast, whatever that is.

Jessie has a more muscular, brawny look in contrast to Tessa and Chasity.  During the opening workout, she gets in the ring with Dijak, the tallest man in the class.  She’s fearless.  When I ask her what it’s like to be one of the only girls here, she says “I don’t wrestle like a girl.”

Ross (the aforementioned Muscle Cat) hails from England, though he’s currently plying his trade in California.  His persona is based around being enlightened or operating on a higher wavelength or taking the red pill or some such thing.  It’s pretty much an excuse for him to call the audience a bunch of slobs, which is always fun.  Other than that he’s a great guy.

Chase and Rhett Titus came into the camp with impressive credentials and they didn’t disappoint.  Between the two of them, they’ve wrestled for major companies including Total Nonstop Action, Ring of Honor, and New Japan Pro Wrestling.  Chase even made a brief appearance on an episode of SmackDown.  You can tell they’re on another level from the majority of the camp, but they don’t carry themselves with any sort of ego.  They face off twice at the camp and on the Saturday night show, putting on the most well wrestled matches both times.

Mattia Thomsen and Travis Cole hail from Calgary, Alberta.  Travis trained with Lance (as did fellow campers Dan, Ross and Troy Tollison), while Mattia is following in the footsteps of his wrestling family.  He has some difficulties during the camp, particularly when it comes to mustering up the emotion required to cut a proper promo.  “I’m supposed to be talking about who I am…I’m nineteen years old!  I have no idea who I am!”

Later, we joke about how cool it would have been to base a promo around existential dread.  Sure, it might have convinced people to crawl into their tubs and curl up into the fetal position as opposed to purchasing tickets to a wrestling show, but it would have been memorable.

Anthony Greene was my pick to take home the camp scholarship.  “All Good” had to wear many hats during the camp.  He wrestled three times, stepped in to referee when Nigel got banged up, and was the first to volunteer when it was time to do promos.  I wasn’t as privy to his day to day performance as the trainers, but just based on my observations he would have been the one.

Josh Powers looks like John C. Reilly.  But don’t tell him that.  He doesn’t like that.

Logan Sutherland doesn’t say much.  He’s another camper who doesn’t look like a wrestler at first glance.  I ask him if he’s enjoying the camp and he responds with a monotone “I love it.”  Good talk.  It’s not until I’m sitting with him and watching the first show of the weekend that he opens up.  He has a lot to say about what’s going on in the ring and I realize that he’s a fan like me (albeit a fan with the guts to actually step between those ropes and give it a go).  He’s not here to talk about himself, he’s here to talk about wrestling.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by the passion that these guys and gals have for the business.  Ask any of the trainers a question and you’ll get three different stories.

A question about Brad Armstrong strays into discussion on the “it” factor, the 10,000-Hour Rule, the look, Chris Hero, and nutrition.

Another question about bumping strays into a discussion of different eras, punching, Jerry Lawler, Memphis, and head shaving.  It’s not just the trainers either.  Chase has an endless array of stories about his matches and I’m sure he’s not the only one.  This is what happens when you’re dealing with people who make a living off of tall tales.

On the last night of camp, several wrestlers are hanging out and searching for something to watch on YouTube.  There are no viral videos or crazy news stories or remixed memes; the one thing everyone wants to watch is bad wrestling promos.  All day, every day, these folks live and breathe the business.  And line dancing, apparently.

Here, There Be Giants

Surrounding the Future Legends camp was the 10th (and unfortunately final) Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Legends Fanfest.  That meant a who’s who of wrestling royalty could be seen passing through our modest ballroom, including Dusty Rhodes, Rocky Johnson, Joey Malenko, Kevin Sullivan, and, of course, Ricky Morton.  Some thirty five years after the start of his career, Ricky is still a rock star.  My own personal encounter with him was certainly…memorable.

Ricky: “Man, it smells like seal pu**y over here.”
Me: *silence*
Ricky: “You want to know how I know what seal pu**y smells like?”
Me: *silence*
Ricky: “I’m a perverted motherf**ker.”

When not showing off his zoological expertise, Ricky was busy infecting the young wrestlers with what would become the unofficial “gang sign” of the Future Legends training camp, a sequence of slaps and shoulder shrugs punctuated by the phrase “Bubba…sheeeeeeeit…” (here’s the Muscle Cat with a demonstration)

As for Dusty, arguably the biggest star of the weekend, he stuck around to watch the camp in action.  Of course, even legends get distracted from time to time.   After Ethan Case got through doing a series of exhibition moves, he walked over to me and said “You know what the best part of that is?  I just did all that and Dusty didn’t look up from his phone.”

Tully Blanchard and Lanny Poffo were nice enough to stop for a pep talk and to answer questions.  It was a busy weekend for them as they were also inducted into the Hall of Heroes (the other honorees were Ox Baker, Gerald Brisco, Tommy Young, Joey Malenko accepting on behalf of his father Boris, and Tully along with his Four Horsemen compatriots Arn Anderson and J.J. Dillon).

“Does that make sense?”  Tully had to keep asking.  He’s straight and to the point so I can understand why he might worry about being misinterpreted.  Aspects of wrestling that are common sense to him could sound like another language to wrestlers of today depending on their influences and where they trained.  “Think shoot and work.”  Another phrase he repeats.  You’re working together, but you’re competing.  Mindf**k.

It takes a certain kind of person to play a villain, to carry themselves with that demeanour even in retirement.  To be a “flaming f**king a**hole”, as Tom puts it.

“I wasn’t likeable.” Tully says.  He was damn good at his job and he knew it, but that meant not being fully appreciated for it.  “I wanted people to respect my abilities.  Because then when I would cheat, they’d hate me even more.

Think shoot and work.

*****

In stark contrast to Tully’s brevity, Lanny has made a career out of the gift of gab.  He lit up the Hall of Heroes banquet with a speech that was equal parts poetic and bawdy, but always entertaining.  Thankfully, he left something in the tank for us.

Lanny has a natural, booming voice.  It’s incredible.  I almost laugh when he asks if the camp can hear him in the back.  Every word he says is annunciated perfectly.  You get the sense that this persona is a put-on except that it’s never, ever off.  He has a plane to catch, but not before sharing a couple of priceless stories with us.

The first is about his late brother, “The Macho Man” Randy Savage.  Every wrestling fan knows about Randy’s classic encounter with Ricky Steamboat at Wrestlemania III.  It remains the template for the modern WWE main event style match (despite not being a main event itself).  Even though he would go on to become a multiple time world champion and a top superstar for years, that match is still considered by many to be his crowning achievement.

According to Lanny, Randy always wanted to top the Steamboat match.  He had plenty of great matches in his career (his Wrestlemania VII tilt with The Ultimate Warrior being a particular favourite of mine), but Wrestlemania III always lingered.  That event occurred in 1987 and he retired as an active competitor in 2000.  For thirteen years, he couldn’t get away from Wrestlemania III.  That doesn’t mean he didn’t try.

Randy knew that there was one guy on the roster who could help him recapture that magic: Shawn Michaels.  He planned an elaborate match, but the WWF said “No.  Too old.”  For whatever reason, they’d made up their mind about keeping him on as a commentator and nothing more.  So Randy made up his mind too.  When his contract was up, he went to see World Championship Wrestling, the second biggest wrestling company in North America.  He set up a meeting and sold himself in a one hour presentation.  They signed him and Randy would go on to win four more world titles.

“Even The Macho Man didn’t win them all,” Lanny said.  “But he did better.”

Lanny wasn’t one to take things lying down either.  During his early days with the WWF, he knew his career was stagnant.  As “Leaping Lanny Poffo”, he was well liked, if not memorable.  It wasn’t until he transformed into the arrogant and calculating “Genius” that he was able to come into his own.  He continued with the poems that he had become known for (though they were now designed to infuriate the crowd) and developed an effete walk, which only made him more detestable.  It was something he had to practice, much to the shock of his then wife.

“You have the guts to do that?”  She asked.

“I don’t have the guts not to!”

When you’re up against the wall, sometimes you have no choice but to run right through it.  Or in Lanny’s case, gingerly prance around it.

Tainted Love

On the third morning, the remnants of the Hall of Heroes banquet were still present.  I got the feeling that the camp was going to be pumped up after what they saw the previous night.  That is, if the festivities didn’t take too much of a toll on them.

A scratchy voiced Tessa ambles up with a weary look on her face.  The after effects of performing Wannabe at James Mitchell’s karaoke party.  I’m sorry I missed it, but not as sorry as I am when I heard about Nigel McGuiness.  Apparently did a stirring rendition of the Soft Cell (or Gloria Jones, if you’re so inclined) classic Tainted Love.  My only major regret of the weekend was missing that performance.

(Please take a minute to read Nigel’s thoughtful account of the weekend)

I’ve mentioned the extreme level of specificity that the trainers were able to go into and nobody exemplified that more than Nigel.  The minute tweaks that he would suggest to the students were borderline insane.  He would always start off by saying “Just a couple of little technical things…” before proceeding to put on a clinic on the finer points of headlocks, wristlocks, reversals, facial expressions…no detail was considered insignificant.  It’s that dedication to perfection and individuality that will make you stand out as a performer.  Nigel would know.  He was nothing if not original.

“What would everyone else do in this promotion?  I’m not going to do that.”  When you’re struggling to get noticed, you have to think like you’re playing Scattergories: Only unique answers are rewarded.  When Nigel was first starting out with Les, he dubbed himself “The Ironman” Nigel McGuiness and he would literally walk around with a clothes iron.

Les: “What the f**k are you doing?  Is this guy on LSD?”
Nigel: “You laugh, but when Gabe [Sapolsky, the founder of RoH) heard about me he said ‘Is that the guy with the iron?’”

Near the end of the Q&A session, Les praised Nigel for the enormous success he had in his career despite Nigel falling just short of the WWE (reportedly a lingering injury scared them off).  But like Lance, Nigel looks happy and healthy.  He left the business when he wanted to.  He’s formed priceless relationships.  He mentions getting to know a fan named Mandy who regularly sends him random messages like, “My dog fell asleep on my pillow.

“Brilliant!”  Nigel exclaims.

If I may paraphrase Lanny: You can’t win them all, but you can do better.

Back For The First Time

You might think I’m burying the lede here, but the camp was such a satisfying, strange, and involving experience that the Fanfest and Hall of Heroes banquet were almost an afterthought.  Besides, there are smarter people than me to put all of that in the proper context.  That said, the experience was not lost on me.

Thanks to the quirks of random seating, I got placed at the table right next to the stage.  I was closer than Barry Windham, Paul Orndorff, Adrian Street…I could only imagine them wondering “Who the heck is this punk and how did he get such a good seat?”  I kept waiting for someone to tell me there’s been a mistake.

I had the pleasure of getting to know the legend at our table: Danny Miller (of The Miller Brothers) and his lovely wife, Karin.  They were a tag team that existed well before my time.  I was so grateful that Karin was willing to share stories of Danny’s career and his travels and even how they met (perhaps the most extraordinary part of all since Karin was born in Germany.  They’ve been married for 54 years).  Even after seeing all of the legends up on that stage, the people that left the biggest impression on me that evening were Danny and Karin Miller.

Which makes it all the more inexplicable that I couldn’t be arsed to say good-bye to them when the night was over.

The inductors and inductees all did a fantastic job of keeping the crowd engaged.  For me, the best was Jim Cornette.  Jim is a wrestling personality who I’ve seen and heard on television, online interviews, podcasts, etc., but I’d never had the privilege of seeing him in person.  He was presenting a plaque to Tommy Young, one of the most respected referees in history.  It takes a special kind of speaker to shine the spotlight on someone whose job was to stay out of the way.  Jim knocked it out of the park.  This might sound like a sanctimonious thing to say especially considering where I was, but I swear during his speech I felt The Holy Ghost.  I had to shake his hand, tell him how much it meant to me.  I have no idea why that seemed so important at the time.

After rudely interrupting Jim just so I could have my moment, I realized that I’d missed the Millers leaving.  I walked around looking for them, asking if anyone had seen them, but they’d presumably gone up to their hotel room already.

But hey, at least I got to shake Jim Cornette’s hand.

*****

Karin had mentioned that they might attend Saturday’s matches, but I scanned the room and couldn’t see them anywhere.  It was on my mind all day.  To think, us Canadians are known for our manners.  I had brought shame to my country.

It made it hard to focus on the matches, though I recall them being enjoyable.  Mickey Gambino (a camp participant who I didn’t even recognize due to a superb shift in mannerisms) got things started against Wes Brisco.  Jessie got called up as a replacement to wrestle Amazing Kong, one of the most intimidating female wrestlers in the world.  It looked like they genuinely beat the crap out of each other and by the end of the match, Jessie’s nose was bloodied.

Chase and Rhett stole the show while Cedric had an exciting match with former TNA Heavyweight Champion Chris Sabin in the PPV main event (there was a second live main event that could not be televised due to one of the teams being currently signed to TNA).  With all due respect to my camp boys, the match that stood out to me the most was The Rock n’ Roll Express versus Bobby Fulton & Tom Prichard.

You have to understand that for the most part I’m a child of modern WWE programming.  These days, wrestlers on television are dour and serious and overly concerned with looking cool, not to mention that they have to deal with multiple layers of corporate oversight.  You rarely see them get crazy.  Not Bobby Fulton crazy anyway.  That’s a whole new level of crazy that I wasn’t ready to deal with.

I’m not going to pretend that the tag match was some kind of technical masterpiece.  It was driven by comedy and nostalgia and the commitment of all four men to do whatever it took to give the people their money’s worth.  Maybe there was too much stalling, maybe having Bobby and Ricky’s kids at ringside was ridiculous, but for me the whole thing was aces.  At one point I made eye contact with Bobby who was in full fury and I felt genuine fear that he might climb up to my seat and crack me one.  Seeing Bobby, Tom and The Rock n’ Roll Express in action leaves me longing for a time I never even experienced.  That seems as good a way as any to sum up this trip so far.

When the show was over, I glanced around the room at the departing crowd.  Just a few rows down, I spotted Karin.  Our seats were on two separate platforms so I had to hop across to get to her.  I wasn’t missing a second opportunity to thank her for her time.  I apologized for leaving so abruptly the night before and she signalled for me to lean in closer.  I thought it was so we could talk over the buzz of the crowd, but she pulled me in for an embrace.  It was truly an honour to meet her and Danny.  There are people I’ve gone to school with or worked with for years who I barely remember.  I spent a few hours with the Millers and I won’t ever forget them.

*****

Sunday was even more of a showcase for the camp.  In addition to Cedric, Chase, Mickey, and Rhett working again, Joey Janela wrestled Wes Brisco while Chasity and Tessa wrestled each other.  It was a treat seeing the cheery Chasity switch roles with the more severe Tessa.  I made sure to jeer Chasity with as much bile as possible, which she would later thank me for.  Only in the world of wrestling can you yell “You suck!” at another human being and have them be grateful for it.

Even better, the rest of the camp was involved in an over the top “Future Stars Battle Royal”.  I was on my feet the whole time, much to the chagrin of the folks sitting behind me.  I could see Cheeseburger hanging in there, Travis blatantly mugging for the camera, Will Ferrara and Ethan battling to be the last man standing.  There were legends scattered amongst the crowd, cheering them on.  Ethan won, but it had to be considered a victory for the whole camp.

*****

After the matches, everyone does what they can to make themselves useful.  The wrestlers are taking down the ring for the last time and carrying it out to the truck, which leaves the rest of us to awkwardly stack chairs around the ballroom.  I team up with a woman named Rachel to clear the upper level, but we don’t make much progress.  We get to talking.  Rachel is training to become a wrestler.  I’m starting to think everybody around here is.

Hanging Moss

In a perfect world, I would write about every person I spoke to and every encounter I witnessed, if only to crystallize that weekend.

Lost amidst the larger than life heroes was the unsung staff that kept everything running smoothly.  Zack Salvation (a former wrestler acting as a ‘producer’ for convention and the weekend shows) tells me that the real pain in the ass was organizing the photoshoots.  For example, Ricky Steamboat had to do 177 pictures.  Each picture takes 6-7 minutes to print.  Steamboat was only available for three hours.  Do the math on that and what you’ll get is a broken clock.

Bob Keller is a booker, promoter, organizer, and generally important person who never seemed to be far from the ring.  On Saturday, a fan came to him with a ring bell covered in signatures to show off to Bob.  The problem is that the bell belonged to Bob and it had been stolen from him four years ago.  The fan was aware of this, but chose to flaunt it anyway.  After much hemming and hawing on the fan’s part, Bob decided it just wasn’t worth the trouble and let him keep it.  There are some battles you’ve won before they even start.

And then there’s Greg Price, the man behind it all.  He was like a ghost all weekend, though I hadn’t really been looking for him.  I’d been told that he preferred to stay behind the scenes, to let the talent soak in the glory.  He had a hand in almost everything that happened that weekend, so whether he was looking for it or not, there was plenty of praise to be thrown in his direction.

If you’re wondering, Jessie ended up winning the camp scholarship.  She had a hard time on the first day and I know she improved by leaps and bounds.  Enough to have that hard hitting match with Kong anyway.  Most importantly, she didn’t seem to have much time for my questions, which should have been a good indicator that her eye was on the prize the whole time.  Even without her life’s story, the sight of her tearfully accepting the award while surrounded by wrestling stars from different eras summed it all up better than I ever could.

Home

Monday morning waits for no one.  I packed my bags, taking solace in the fact that while this was the end of my adventure for now, the incredible people I’d met are continuing to pursue their dream of making it in this impossible business.  I was heading back to reality; the Future Legends camp is their reality.  There comes a point in every relationship where you cross a line and for better or for worse, you can’t go back.  I like to think that’s what happened to my relationship with wrestling while I was in North Carolina.

*****

On the way back north, I end up getting the same bus driver as before.  I’m thrilled to see him.

*POW*

At least he has another joke loaded up for the trip back:

 

A man and his wife are in need of a new mule.  They’re poor, so they have to settle for the cheapest one they can find.  They are offered a strong, healthy looking mule, with the only caveat being that the mule is extremely religious.

“If you want the mule to go, you have to say ‘Praise the Lord!’  If you want him to stop, you say ‘Hallelujah!’”  The mule salesman instructed.

“Okay.  We’ll take it.”  The man says.

The man and his wife are travelling along the road when an insect stings the mule on the backside, sending it running wild!  “Hyah!  Hyah!  Hyah!  Stop!”  The man yells at the mule.

Seeing a cliff up ahead, the wife remembers the salesman’s words.  “Honey, the mule is religious!  What were you supposed to say?”

“Oh, that’s right.  Hallelujah!  Hallelujah!”  Sure enough, the mule froze in its tracks.  They had stopped just short of going over the edge of the cliff.

Seeing how close they were, the man wiped his brow and exclaimed: “Praise the lord!”

The Ultimate Fighter 19: Team Edgar v. Team Penn – Week 12 Recap

An all fight episode always leaves me feeling a mixture of disappointment and happiness.  At this point we’ve learned everything we’re going to learn about the fighters and the majority of the episode is in-cage action.  It doesn’t give me a lot to write about.

On second thought, that makes it about the same as every other episode this season.

Team Colours

Team Edgar
Team Penn

Cathal Pendred starts us off with a philosophical question: would performing in the competition be easier if the fighters weren’t distracted by emotional ties?  It’s a topic that has come up in the past, with some guys saying that the personal stakes are what drive them to compete at such a high level while other guys thrive without the weight of friends or family depending on them.

More specifically, he asks Roger Zapata how the TUF experience would be different if it weren’t for his girlfriend waiting for him back home.  The way it’s phrased and the way they shoot the scene, it kind of feels like Pendred is coming on to him.

BJ Penn’s talk with him is less flirtatious.  His staff is predicting that Dhiego Lima will try to take the action to the ground.  All Zapata has to do is stay patient and “sit him down”, as he puts it.  John Hackleman responds with a “that’s what she said”.  I’m not sure that one works.

Because both fighters have shown strong striking skills (well, Lima anyway), Zapata predicts that this could be the fight of the season.  Why would you predict something like that?  I recall Joe Lauzon saying that he never aimed to get any of his “Fight of the Night” awards because that usually meant that he got f**ked up in some capacity (I’m paraphrasing).  How about guaranteeing a good performance first and let your opponent worry about what they’ll decide to do, huh?

In another episode, Tim Williams did everyone a favour by informing us that he needed to take a dump.  Following in that grand tradition is Lima:

What I’m gonna do here is just get a bunch of vegetables, put it on the juicer and then juice it.  Drink that.  Eat some protein, like some eggs and then a piece of toast and I should be ready to go.  That way I got plenty of time to digest.  The only thing is the toilet in the morning, you know…the toilet feels it. (laughs)

What is with these guys telling us about their bowel movements?  Is it at all related to everyone sleeping all the time?  Who thought all these shots of human beings in their most inert state would make for good television?  It’s a good thing I’m past the point of caring since these questions will never be answered.

Zapata RestingZapata: “For all my fights I stay in bed for as long as possible…”

Sleeping MattMatt doing a spot-on impression of people watching this show.

Roger Zapata v. Dhiego Lima

Lima’s leg kicks are on point early on, but it’s Zapata who lands the first big blow.  He lands a right hand just as Lima throws a body kick.  It puts Lima on his butt, much to the excitement of Team Penn.  He’s careless going in though and Lima catches him with an arm bar.  Just thirty seconds in, this one is over!  Zapata definitely suffered some sort of arm injury.

Lima Arm BarHerb Dean getting some Tim Sylvia flashbacks here.

In the locker room, Lima’s team celebrates how much money he’s in for since he’s the most likely candidate for the Knockout and Submission of the Season.  Up until that point he was the only fighter to win by either method.

Lima Advances“The Iceman” Chuck Liddell pops in to give Daniel Spohn some pointers on how to keep the action where he wants it to go.  I miss Liddell.  Still, I’m glad he retired.  Maybe it’s just because I haven’t seen him in a while, but he seems much cheerier and more eloquent since he stopped having his brain shut down by concussive force.  Funny how that works.

Matt Van Buren says the personal beef he had with Chris Fields made him fight too aggressive and…wait, that was him fighting aggressive?  Speaking of delusional comments, Zapata takes a moment during the season ending celebration dinner to declare the cast to be the future of the UFC.  There’s a terrifying thought.  Van Buren is upstairs trying to relax before fight day and he gets in one last good line: “Don’t eat my pizza you mark ass tricks!

Daniel Spohn v. Matt Van Buren

I’ll give Spohn credit.  He looks like he knows what he’s doing in there.  More specifically, he is good at executing a game plan.  Van Buren is more of a “go with the flow” type and Spohn is all over him to start.  The problem is that much like in the quarterfinals, Spohn prioritizes control over doing damage or finishing the fight.  Van Buren gets out.  You can’t help but feel that Spohn’s lack of activity is going to cost him.  He does get another takedown, sealing a 10-9 first.

Spohn connects with a counter left to start round two that causes either a knockdown or a slip.  Either way (surprise, surprise), he doesn’t capitalize.  Van Buren rocks Spohn with a flurry and then slices his head up with elbows after stuffing a desperation takedown attempt.  Much respect to both men who start throwing hay out there.  Even Dana White is pleased.  He anoints it the Fight of the Season.  Van Buren smacks Spohn with a straight right and he’s had enough.

Van Buren KOThat’s right, I have actual finishes to gif!  FINISHES!

Mark Coleman does his best to console Spohn right after.  Spohn thinks it might have been an early stoppage, but it wasn’t going anywhere good for him.  He’s a smart, thoughtful guy.  Stoppages like that will keep him that way.

Van Buren Advances

For those of you keeping score at home, your finals are:

Middleweight – Eddie Gordon (6-1) v. Dhiego Lima (9-1)

Light Heavyweight – Corey Anderson (2-0) v. Matt Van Buren (6-2)

That’s four Team Edgar fighters!  That’s only the second time this has happened in a two-tournament season (TUF Nations: Canada vs. Australia had an all Canuck finale) and the first time on an American version of TUF.  Congratulations Frankie Edgar, you join the illustrious ranks of all time great coaches Chael Sonnen, Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira, and Matt Serra.

Sunday, July 6, 2014: Matt Van Buren v. Corey Anderson!  Dhiego Lima v. Eddie Gordon!  BJ Penn v. Frankie Edgar!  Penn and Edgar fought each other on two PPVs, once as the headliner.  Now it’s being given away for free on a Sunday evening.  Think about that for a second.

My picks are Anderson, Lima and Edgar.  Always Edgar.

As for the season itself, there’s no reason to continue to kick dirt all over it.  From the lacklustre cast to the over the top promos (“critics agree it’s the best season yet!”) that included a commercial telling viewers to tune in for an eye poke, everything just reeked of going through the motions.  I confess that writing these recaps and trying to critique the show was a slog especially when you could read a one paragraph summary of the show and come to the same conclusion I did: TUF 19 was a pointless waste of time.

I expect the discussion over the necessity of TUF to continue even though I doubt it will ever be cancelled due to its value to the FOX Sports network.  Just as the atrocious TUF 16 set the stage for an overhaul of the series, the weakness of TUF 19 will only make TUF 20 shine brighter.  The ratings are going to spike next season with two fresh and relevant coaches and the first exclusively female cast.  Add in the intrigue of the tournament winner also becoming an instant UFC champion and you have the recipe for the biggest comeback since TUF 4.  From the buzz I’ve seen, it sounds like everyone is planning to catch at least a few episodes.

None of that justifies the UFC having to crank out mediocre seasons like this one.  They need to become more adventurous with the format, especially when it had to be obvious from the first day of filming that this cast didn’t have much to offer.  Take advantage of the fact that this is a reality television show and not documentary programming.  Manufacture situations that allow the fighters to show their true personalities for better or for worse.  Make the show fun again.  It might not be real, but if this season was an honest in-depth look at how fighters live day to day, then give me fantasy anytime.

The Ultimate Fighter 19: Team Edgar v. Team Penn – Week 11 Recap

Entering this season, I knew little about Cathal Pendred besides the fact that he held a title in Cage Warriors, he’s Irish, and his name is difficult for us North Americans to pronounce.

Eleven episodes in, all I know about Cathal Pendred is that he held a title in Cage Warriors, he’s Irish, and his name is difficult for us North Americans to pronounce.  Oh, I think he said something about having studied to be an engineer or a doctor or some such thing.  I can’t remember.

Not only has this season failed to entertain or produce a potential star, it hasn’t even been able to help in promoting a fighter like Pendred who already had considerable buzz before appearing on the show.  Even knowing that he would eventually lose to Eddie Gordon in the semi-finals, the makers of the show have to be aware that Pendred still projects as a valuable commodity in the future especially when he returns to his natural weight class.  As it stands, I’ve been given no reason to care about him or Gordon or any of the other fighters for that matter.  The Ultimate Fighter has long been one of the UFC’s last reliable and controllable outlets for manufacturing personalities and now it can’t even seem to get that right.

Team Colours

Team Edgar
Team Penn

Pat Walsh wants more practice time so he decides to talk to Mike King about working with Team Penn.  This isn’t going to cause any problems whatsoever.  You may recall back in season 5 when Nate Diaz went to train with Team Penn prior to his match-up with Corey Hill, his teammate at the time.  And that didn’t…oh wait, Diaz was ostracized by his teammates and called a traitor.  But you have to think Fat Pat is easier to get along with than him.

I like that Walsh isn’t intimidated by the technical acumen of Corey Anderson.  Once you get in that cage, there are so many variables that sometimes the advantage goes not to the man who prepares to do everything right, but the man who is ready when the action goes haywire.

If I were Team Penn, I wouldn’t Walsh training with my guys.  Daniel Spohn is still in the competition.  What if he faces Walsh in the finals?  Team Edgar’s worst fears are realized as they show us clips of Walsh telling the other team about his training partners.  You know you’re on camera!  It goes to show you that even the people on TUF 19 don’t care about TUF 19.

Anderson has no choice to confront Walsh about it the next day while Gordon and Ian Stephens look on.

ObserversDon’t mind us.  This is getting good.

Putting the format of the show aside, I’m with Walsh.  We say it all the time: MMA is not a team sport.  He has to look out for himself.  You can see Anderson back off when Walsh starts to get upset, which is lame.  Especially when you consider that he and the others tattle on him to Frankie Edgar later.  I would have liked to have seen Walsh tell his teammates to screw off.  Diplomacy does not make for exciting television.

TenseAwkwaaaaaard.

The confrontation carries over into the locker room.  Walsh is forced into the humiliating position of getting dressed down in front of everyone, though I’m not sure that was the intention.  Everything Ricardo Almeida says sounds like he’s angry because he’s Brazilian.  It’s too much for Walsh and he has to take a powder.

Exit WalshF**k this I’m leaving!

Nobody wants to see the fat kid getting teased to the point of crying.  Edgar and Almeida calm him down, though he’s not allowed to train with the other team anymore.  I’m not sure Edgar did the right thing there by accommodating his team’s complaints.  Sounds like the squeaky wheels got the oil.  Stephens says he can see both sides of the argument.  He’s always offering a reasonable viewpoint, which is probably why he’s not featured on the show all that much.

The fight

About a minute into the fight, Walsh does that thing where a guy gets clipped and then smiles.  That’s the universal sign for “you got me now please don’t hit me again because I’m kind of f**ked up right now.”  His Keith Jardine-esque countering style doesn’t stop Anderson from landing.  Walsh is in all kinds of trouble.

The first is a clear 10-9 for Anderson.  Walsh actually starts the 2nd round off strong, tagging Anderson with some wacky hooks.  It’s…kind of fun to watch?  He’s either driven by creativity or a concussion.  Either way, Anderson sticks to the gameplan and turns things back in his favour.

Swing & A MissThis makes me laugh.  I don’t know why.

The story of all three rounds is Walsh flailing around and Anderson doing enough to win without endangering himself.  Look, nobody wants to be the guy who rushes in and gets caught at the last second (*cough* Pat Barry *cough*), but…damn, do you want this or not?  Anderson’s utter lack of finishing ability is not going to ingratiate him with Dana White.  Going into the third, his own corner yelled at him to finish the fight and he was up two rounds!

Walsh is rocked badly by a knee.  It looks like he doesn’t know where he is.  Anderson refuses to go for the finish.  Refuses.  I should be impressed by his dominance.  I’m not.  White isn’t.  Even Anderson is subdued when his hand is raised.  Congratulations on making it to the finals.  Good luck convincing anyone to care.

I know I’m being too harsh.  I’m defending Walsh’s selfish actions while condemning Anderson for fighting smart to guarantee his spot at the finale.  But I really feel that Walsh did everything in his power to prepare himself against a bigger, more highly regarded opponent (Anderson was the top light heavyweight pick).  Anderson, on the other hand, fought well enough to make Walsh look bad, but not well enough to make himself look good.

It goes back to what I was saying at the beginning.  The show hasn’t been showcasing the fighters.  At the same time, the fighters haven’t been giving them much to work with.

Just one episode left.

Anderson Moves OnNext week: Roger Zapata v. Dhiego Lima & Daniel Spohn v. Matt Van Buren.

The Ultimate Fighter 19: Team Edgar v. Team Penn – Week 10 Recap

Since the comments section is clearly composed of readers who take pleasure in seeing a man break down week by week in service of an increasingly irrelevant reality television program, I want to take this opportunity to thank you all for the continued support that motivates me to keep doing these posts.  I also want to take this opportunity to tell you how much I hate you all for the continued support that motivates me to keep doing these posts.

I believe it was Herman Melville who wrote: …from hell’s heart I stab at thee.

Team Colours

Team Edgar
Team Penn

Time to get drunk!  No, not time for me to get drunk.  I mean, I probably should.  You can if you want.  I can’t stop you.  Whatever helps you get through this.  But what I’m talking about here is the quarterfinal round being over and now that half the cast is out of the competition (barring some sort of injury or disqualification) that means everyone can let loose.  Heck, it looks like the guys are still in the competition are indulging.  One of the benefits of fighting at a heavier weight class than normal is that you can you do some s**t that is terrible for your body and still be a pound under when you hit the scale.

Spoon!Cathal: “I was up there trying to sleep, get my rest up.  I got a fight comin’ up.  The lights go on, I pop my head up and I just see Hector.  I don’t know what he was doin’.  He was just makin’ a lot of noise.

Amidst the drinking, there’s more discussion and dispute about everyone’s strategy.  Matt Van Buren agrees with Daniel Spohn: It’s about winning a competition, not necessarily showing what a good fighter you are.  He’s not wrong.  The problem lies with the format of the show, not necessarily the fighters themselves.

Van Buren: At least he wasn’t just pissed about my fight.  He’s pissed about all of ‘em.

Chris Fields and Hector Urbina get into it over Cathal Pendred beating Urbina with wrestling.  I can’t believe in the year of our Lord 2014 fighters are still using “he just laid on top of me” as an excuse for not winning a fight.  It’s your job to get up from the mat.  Yes, it’s incredibly hard but it’s also hard for the offensive fighter to get into that position in the first place.  You were on the bottom.  You lost.  Now can we please stop arguing about this before things get ugly?

More SlappingBest stand-up we’ve seen all season.

In the spirit of great TUF dialogue, Tim Williams tries to get “Let’s get busy!” going.  I’m sure we can all agree that it’s no “Just let me bang, bro!” but what is?  Also, bum rape.

Strangler AttacksChris: “My wife…ah…she’s going to be disappointed about that one.  But it won’t be the first time I’ve disappointed her so we’re okay.”

SpankingGod help me, it loops perfectly.

The Morning AfterAnd he didn’t even stay in bed with him.

With five of his eight fighters advancing, there’s a funny moment in training where Frankie Edgar tells Pat Walsh and Corey Anderson to spar lightly and Walsh fakes throwing a haymaker.  It’s a good way to break the tension since they’re actually matched up in the semi-finals!  Walsh says he couldn’t find a better partner to simulate his upcoming opponent.

Stuff like that gives me hope for this cast.  I also like Eddie Gordon’s attitude regarding Pendred.  The Irishman is a big name and rather than be intimidated, Gordon knows that a win over him (even in an exhibition) would do wonders for his career.

Dana White takes the guys down to the MGM Grand Arena to fire them up.  This would have meant a lot more in the past.

MotivationThat’s right boys.  Play your cards right and you could one day be in the co-main event of a Fight Pass exclusive card in Bolivia.

Pendred and Gordon both talk about the options they had outside of fighting.  Yeah!  That’s what we want to see!  A fight between two guys who could be doing something else.  Feel it!

The fight

They certainly come out with more energy than we’ve seen in previous episodes even if the results are less than ideal.  A couple of scrambles result in neither man gaining much of an advantage.  Pendred throws a terrible wheel kick…and it actually connects!

Wheel KickEat your heart out Edson Barboza!

Pendred stays aggressive.  He ducks in and gets a huge takedown.  As I said above, it’s hard to blame the guys on top for measuring their ground and pound and not taking risks to advance.  There isn’t a single fighter on this show who is any sort of threat from their backs.  I feel the impetus is on the guy losing to change things up.  A second takedown all but guarantees a 10-9 round for Pendred.  BJ Penn tries to get an “Eeeeeelboooooow” chant going to little success.  Pendred almost gets a rear naked choke at the close of the round.

Just when I think Gordon has nothing to offer, he actually manages to get Pendred down with a pretty nice looking shot.  Prior to that, Gordon had been on the defensive almost the entire fight.  He’s less active on the top than Pendred, though it’s likely that he’s in control long enough to even the score at one round a piece.

Entering the final frame, both guys are exhausted.  The output is much greater than we’ve become accustomed to seeing on this show.  Penn does a great job of riling his team up to get behind Pendred.  There’s a lot less to score in the third round and the fight could go either way.  I lean towards Pendred who seemed crisper and cleaner.  Gordon gets the split, which doesn’t cause much controversy.  It was that close.

Pendred is too emotional to do the testimonial after and I don’t blame him.  He was the man to beat entering this competition.  I’m comfortable saying that he showed enough to get himself a multi-fight contract with the UFC, which he would have got based on his reputation alone without any help from TUF.  Gordon is completely respectful to Pendred afterwards.

Huh.  That wasn’t a bad fight.  That wasn’t even bad episode.  It wasn’t particularly good either.  I feel like…I might have enjoyed myself?  Ha!  Take that, commenters!

Gordon Moves OnNext week: Pat Walsh v. Corey Anderson.  Also, I consider quitting while I’m ahead.

The Ultimate Fighter 19: Team Edgar v. Team Penn – Week 9 Recap

I just got a great idea for the next edition of TUF: Nations.  USA v. Brazil.  Obvious, I know.  What’s changed is that we now have the perfect person to act as a coach for the Brazilians who is also comfortable with American television.

The recently retired Chael P. Sonnen.

Now that he’s more popular than Neymar (obligatory World Cup reference) over in Brazil, what better person to bridge the gap than our favourite fighter/broadcaster/hype man/coach/cheat?  In my dream scenario, he puts together a team with some of my favourites from the three TUF: Brazil seasons and other unsigned Brazilians for a second shot at UFC glory.  They’d go head to head with eight Americans and the winners would get two guaranteed fights in the UFC.  The losers are entered into a Bellator tournament.

Mr. CharismaWho doesn’t want to see more of this?

Sound strange?  I’ll do anything to shake up the format at this point.  Or maybe I’m just fantasizing too much about the TUF 19 cast getting their asses whipped.  Dana White joins me in the love fest this episode.

Team Colours

Team Edgar
Team Penn

Matt Van Buren (Team Edgar, 5th overall) starts us off by airing a list of grievances he has with his opponent Chris Fields (Team Penn, 8th overall).  Nobody is happy this season!  He even goes as far as to crib Sonnen’s anti-Anderson Silva boasts: “It’s going to be a one-sided pounding and I’m the one swingin’ the hammer.”  If you’re going to steal, steal from the best.

His rival Fields has been underutilized on the show despite having some interesting hooks.  Fluky win to get into the house.  Irish.  Bad teeth.  Okay, maybe not so interesting.  He believes all fighters are selfish, a comment that could extend to athletes in general.  BJ Penn says that he picked Fields due to his heart and mindset.  He neglects to mention that Fields was the last fighter left.

A comment from Fields about how he’s been fighting “elite level guys” prompts me to take a quick glance at his record.  No surprise he’s competing a weight up for the show.  Some of his name opponents include Jack Mason (Won), Pavel Kusch (W), Jesse Taylor (L), and Norman Paraisy (Draw).  Better than I expected, I’ll admit.

Van Buren’s past is unfortunately not littered with big name MMA competition.  No, his upbringing was spent avoiding falling into the trap of his drug using friends.

Gutter CrazyDrugs, you say?

He trains at Alliance MMA, which provides some frame of reference for us North Americans.  Amongst the list of names that he regularly spars with is Chris Leben so that means he’s guaranteed to win.

Cathal Pendred is worried that Fields’s emotions will get in the way of his performance.  It doesn’t help when they overhear Van Buren planning an elaborate victory celebration.  He plans to climb over the cage after he finishes Fields.  Fields tells Pendred that he’s going to come out as aggressive as possible.  Ha!  I’ll believe it when I see it.  Fields says Ireland will “lose their s**t” if he and Pendred make the finals.  Again, I’ll believe it when I see it.

They are not making it easy to love these guys.  Van Buren thinks that his willingness to openly express his dislike for people makes him a “grown ass man”.  There’s something to be said about utilizing discretion and carrying yourself with dignity, but what do I know?  Fields doesn’t fare much better in the congeniality department, believing that “sob stories” are a dumb reason for a person to become a fighter.  Yeah, how dare these guys use fighting as a way to triumph over tragedy and adversity?

The other day when I was at the cinema I caught the trailer for the new Transformers movie.  My brain shut down completely as it was going on.  It was just a blank screen and white noise.  I’m that numb to the sights and sounds of that franchise.  I feel the same way during the pre-fight hype on TUF.  I couldn’t even tell you if these guys were speaking English.

Ireland v. AmericaIs there anything on this show that doesn’t feel contrived?

The fight

Oh yeah, Fields really comes out swinging like a mad man…

WhiffMirko Cro “Crap”.

Van Buren and Fields are content to trade shots in the clinch and I do mean “trade”.  They make no effort to stop each other’s attacks, Fields going with uppercuts and Van Buren attacking with knees.  Van Buren’s corner is shouting at him to pummel but he completely ignores them.  When they separate, Fields is able to connect on some kicks.  It’s impossible for him to capitalize on the range though since he has no counter striking whatsoever.  Whenever Van Buren gets close, Fields just keeps backing up until he hits the fence.  If Van Buren had any hands he’d be able to knock Fields out cold.

In between rounds, Van Buren says he feels flat.  I doubt Fields is doing too well either since his corner proceeds to slap the s**t out of him.

Corner EncouragementI wouldn’t mind doing this to the people who put this season together.

The two fighters exchange lacklustre takedowns with neither managing to gain control for any significant period of time.  They are determined not to listen to a word from their respective corners.  Hell, even after the fight they don’t listen!  Mark Coleman implores Fields to stay standing and look strong for the judges.  Fields immediately responds by sitting on the stool and not getting up.

Van Buren scored a couple more takedowns than Fields and that’s enough to give him a majority decision win.  I notice that he’s not climbing over any cages.

The one good thing I’ll say about this episode is that it put Dana White and the fans in complete agreement on something for once.

White: Nothing interesting or exciting happened.  You guys had to sit through it and watch it.  The last thing you want to do is hear me remind you of how f**king uneventful it was.  I feel like this is the season of guys that just don’t give a s**t.

That about sums it up.  The only point I’d argue is that we didn’t have to sit through it if they’d just reduced it to a highlight (or in this case, lowlight) package and fill up the rest of the program with more human interest stuff or stupid reality show challenges.  Do something!  White has even made a point not to shake hands with several of the winners this season.  He just reads the result and stomps off.

The TUF mindset is that they think that they’re going to get around the same number of viewers every year so it doesn’t matter what they do; I’ll counter by saying that’s how shows get cancelled.  If you assume the audience will always be around, you will find yourself sorely mistaken and out of a job some day.

White wants to cut through the crap for the semi-final picks.  He goes as far as tell Frankie Edgar and Penn to not even bother to give their suggestions because he’ll make the fights.  The match-ups are secondary to his search for an answer regarding the dull performances by these fighters.  It is awful that we’re in the 19th season of this show and White still has to yell at people to motivate them.

It was Daniel Spohn who got this boring bandwagon rolling.  He says his next fight will be exciting.  The tone of his voice doesn’t change in the slightest the whole time.  This cast is atrocious.

Middleweight

Cathal Pendred v. Eddie Gordon
Roger Zapata v. Dhiego Lima

You can tell that they love Lima and not just for his effervescent personality.  He was the only guy to get a finish in the quarterfinals.  If Zapata beats Lima, I might throw something.

Light Heavyweights

Corey Anderson v. Pat Walsh
Daniel Spohn v. Matt Van Buren

White says he’s just going to erase everything that he’s seen and move on to enjoy some new fights.  If only we could all do the same.

Van Buren VictoriousNext week: Pendred v. Gordon.  Also, I try and give myself a head injury.

The Ultimate Fighter 19: Team Edgar v. Team Penn – Week 8 Recap

How about that TUF: Brazil 3 finale, eh?  Okay, I’ll admit that the card kind of stunk.  The ratings were in the toilet.  The main event was an absolute farce.  But hey, for those of us who had been watching the whole season it was really just the after party of what was otherwise an entertaining edition of this never ending series.  I enjoyed seeing Warlley Alves live up to the high standards coach Chael Sonnen had set for him.  Demente and Pezão had strong showings on the undercard.  Demian Maia was doing Demian Maia s**t.  We even got to witness the mere mention of Wanderlei Silva’s name cause a torrent of boos, something I never thought possible much less in Brazil.  It wasn’t a great event by any stretch but you know what?  It wasn’t for you.

And yes, I’m finding new ways every week to put off actually writing about TUF 19.

Team Colours

Team Edgar
Team Penn

Credit to whoever put together this week’s show, they actually took the time to make us care about the match-up between Eddie Gordon (Team Edgar, 5th overall) and Mike King (Team Penn, 2nd overall).  It’s certainly not the most interesting feud, but at least it’s something.

The conflict starts when King becomes aggravated by the unsanitary kitchen.  Complaining about the house being dirty is the lowest common denominator of TUF programming; it’s like starting a conversation by talking about the weather.  King says if the red team guys were his kids he’d “beat the s**t” out of them.  In a testimonial, Gordon declares that King is “the woman in the house”.  Nice, politically correct attitudes all around.

Towel MessageTelling kids everywhere how to respond when asked to do chores.

Gordon is an ex-football player, which might one day be as solid a base as wrestling or Brazilian jiu-jitsu.  I guess it makes sense since it involves discipline, athleticism and a predilection towards hurting people.  It helps that Gordon just so happens to be good friends with some guy named Chris Weidman.  Gordon is jazzed to be facing Team Penn’s top middleweight pick.

It seems like ages ago, but King made a name for himself in the elimination round with his rousing performance against future TUF: Nations competitor Nordine Taleb.  He’s a meat and potatoes fighter with good cardio and wrestling.  BJ Penn and Mark Coleman are confident he can control Gordon with his wrestling.  Much to their chagrin, King posits that he might be able to beat Gordon with his striking.  OMFG please tell me King is planning to “Stand and Wang”.

Penn says that Gordon can knock King down, but King can’t knock Gordon down.  That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement.  Coleman is once again the voice of reason on the show (what am I saying?!?) and he suggests that they lay off on the advice so as to avoid accountability.  Thanks for being here, Mark!

The Coaches’ Challenge is a kayak course, which is about as unfair as it sounds considering one guy is from New Jersey and the other is from Hawaii.

Frankie Edgar: How we picked water sports when this dude visits his buddy down the street on a kayak?

They confirm a cash prize of $10,000 for the coaches and $1,500 for each of the fighters.  Not to be overly negative yet again, but even this challenge sucks.  It’s just a race around some buoys and that’s it.  Chael Sonnen and Jon Jones got to operate friggin’ bulldozers!  The course has a terrible design.  Once you get past the first few turns, it’s just a straight shot to the finish line.  Edgar falls behind and never catches up.  Yippee.

BJ RowPenn: “Hey, this is how my ancestors got to Hawaii!  Don’t feel bad.”

The fight

Neither the domestic disturbance nor King’s insistence on showing off his striking acumen resulted in much to write about as far as the fight goes.  The match had that awful sparring feel to it, like both men were afraid to lose.  The most intensity came from the Team Edgar corner who were constantly shouting combo codes in the form of Battleship coordinates (B3!  B3!).

Remember the eye poke that was featured so prominently in the commercials for this episode?  The one that could allegedly jeopardize the whole fight?  It looks bad, but it takes about one minute for King to recover and it’s never brought up again.  F**k off TUF 19.

After three rounds (they needed the extra), it’s Gordon’s takedowns that end up making the difference.  He earns a tepid decision.  As much as I respect both guys for their effort (Gordon especially since it looked like he was starting to gas out in the second round), this was a classic case of copious trash talk followed by a whole lotta nothin’.

King's Eye ViewI ain’t gonna hate too much on a guy who fights through this.

They even resort to showing a nice shot of Chrissy Blair during Dana White’s review of the fight as if…that will…distract us…

Chrissy BlairHey, stop that!

For those of you keeping score at home, both Edgar and Penn’s top middleweights have bowed out in the quarterfinals and Penn’s top light heavyweight is also out.  Only Corey Anderson was able to back up his high selection.

The last match-up is Matt Van Buren v. Chris Fields.  I’m actually looking forward to this one since Van Buren has developed a decent reputation for mudslinging and Fields has a lot to prove since he just scraped by the elimination round.  They don’t get along either.  Unfortunately, what should have been an intense stare-down became completely inexplicable instead.

Van Buren & FieldsMonaghan: “Van Buren vs. Fields.  The most awkward face-off that I’ve ever seen.  Both their hands were up, they looked like they were ready to fly away.  They genuinely don’t like each other so that’s going to be the grudgiest fight in the house.  I’m really looking forward to it.”

And if King talking about beating children and Gordon expressing his opinion on the woman’s role in the kitchen weren’t enough, we end with someone yelling about Van Buren and Fields being like two pitbulls on a leash.  Dogfighting.

Gordon VictoriousNext week: The last quarterfinal match-up and the semi-final selections.  Also, I take a moment to ponder whether this season is even worse than TUF 16.

The Ultimate Fighter 19: Team Edgar v. Team Penn – Week 7 Recap

I’m an optimist.  That’s how I choose to live my life.  I’m disappointed in myself that this season of TUF has brought out the worst in me.  I should be dwelling on the positives.  Like how nice the show looks.  How contestants now come off as human beings as opposed to cartoonish frat boys.  How Mark Coleman seems to genuinely be enjoying himself even though he’s been in the fight business since the early 1900s.

I know I’m reaching.  The fact of the matter is that only the most loyal TUF fans could picture any of these guys coming close to resembling a contender in the UFC.  I am one of the most loyal TUF fans and I’m still not predicting great success!

There’s good to be found here.   You just have to look a lot harder than usual.

Team Colours

Team Edgar
Team Penn

Fat Pat!  That’s the lighthearted nickname Patrick Walsh has been given by his teammates.  Tim Williams even makes fun of the jolly way he walks, which is kind of f**ked up.  Walsh (Team Edgar, 3rd overall) faces Anton Berzin (Team Penn, 1st overall).  Even though they were both high picks, the buzz on the show is mostly for Berzin.  He’s a sleeker looking fighter and his elite grappling is expected to carry him to an easy victory.

As expected, the bizarre result of the last fight has made things in the house akwaaaaaard…Eddie Gordon is perturbed.  Dhiego Lima is disgusted.  Matt Van Buren says not a single person could have watched that fight and thought that Roger Zapata won.  Well, I can think of at least two judges…and Dana White actually.

Berzin tells the tale of his family’s hardships coming to America.  When his mother tells him he should have been a doctor, Berzin says that now he sees doctors.  The rough upbringing has left him bristling with self-confidence, maybe too much so.  BJ Penn notes that he’s so sure of his skills that he doesn’t always pick up new things.

Penn: I still don’t have my finger on Anton yet.  I know he’s our first pick but listen to your coach every once in a while.  I should take that advice too. (laughs)

The fighters are treated to a viewing of UFC Fight Night: Belfort v. Henderson.  One of the fights goes to a close decision so Van Buren jumps at the opportunity to call out Zapata.  Zapata just laughs it off like he always does.  To Ian Stephens’s credit, he does his best to defuse the situation by telling everyone to accept that Zapata won and that’s that.  The tension escalates when Gordon and Chris Fields jump in.  Ironically, they both tell each other to mind their own business.

Coleman ApprovesGood.  Kill each other.

The real heat is between Gordon and Daniel Spohn, though I use the word “heat” in the loosest sense of the word.  It’s a mild simmer at worst.  They both think they’re terribly clever, but in actuality they stumble over their insults and desperately try to come off as cooler than the other guy when they’re both clearly flustered.  I wouldn’t be doing anybody any favours by transcribing the conversation.  These guys are boring even when they’re s**t talking each other.

Van Buren says “This is definitely a ticking time bomb.”  His trademark dull monotone delivery has never been more fitting.

Conversation By The FireAnton and Tim moments before Tim was engulfed in flames.

In a curious choice, we don’t get to see the weigh-ins.  I’m sure this has happened before and it’s an example of a little tweak they should make more often: If nothing interesting happens, don’t bother showing it.  Then again, if they’d stuck to that policy, we wouldn’t have TUF 19 at all.

The fight

An early body lock allows Berzin to take Walsh down right away.  He advances to back control just thirty seconds into the bout.  Walsh’s wrestling background gets him back to his feet, though he can’t quite shake Berzin.  The Russian briefly goes for a 10 finger guillotine before moving to the back again.  Then Walsh hits a phenomenal judo throw.

Judo TossHai-yah!

Post-fight, Penn says that the throw might have taken something out of Berzin.  He certainly doesn’t look like he’s used to being on the defensive.  We also find out that Berzin had never fought past the first round before.  This one goes well enough for him after he recovers.  Walsh’s stand-up approach is mystifying.  His hands are really low.  He goes for a trip near the end, but Berzin just falls on him.  Round 1 to Berzin.

Walsh takes the second round and the third.  He does a great job defending himself against Berzin’s submissions while staying in top control.  The entirety of the third round is just Walsh chipping away from half guard.  Despite the hype, it’s Walsh who outlasts Penn’s top pick.  Not bad for a fat boy.

Sit DownMaybe he’s been learning escapes from Josh.

Sorry, but that was a boring ass fight.  Berzin faded and Walsh did what he had to do.  That’s really all there is to say about it.  There’s a twinkle in Walsh’s eye when Coleman approaches him after to compliment him on their similar styles.  This is me dwelling on the positives.

Walsh VictoriousNext week: Eddie Gordon v. Mike King.  If you’ve caught any of the commercials for the next episode, you’ll see that they’re building all of the intrigue around an eye poke.  AN EYE POKE!  TUF 19!!!

The Ultimate Fighter Brazil 3: Team Wanderlei v. Team Sonnen – Week 12 Recap

The_Vortex: This is it. The final episode. We’ve got two exciting fights here, and a whole lot of emotion (from us, the episode’s kinda straightforward). Whilst the winners of the fights might be apparent to those of you that have seen the main card for this Saturday’s fights, it’s still a fun couple of fights, and a solid season finale.

We hit the ground running here, straight into the weigh-ins for the Lyoto-Demente fight. There’s very little in the way of extraneous interviews or training montages, which is fair enough; we know the guys, we know what they’re gonna do. Lyoto says he’s going to sprawl and brawl, and Demente wants to drag it down to the ground, where he can work his superior jiu-jitsu.

Weigh-ins go off without a hitch, both guys weighing in at 184lbs. Eric is there, looking as fabulous as ever.

Eric's GlassesEric is the gift that keeps on giving.

Well, NewChallenger? You ready to bear the final witness to the fitness of these modern warriors?

NewChallenger: I am not ready.  If we don’t recap it, it can go on forever.  Right?  Right?

*sigh*

Thank you for those beautiful lyrics though, that made me feel better.

As you mentioned, this is a prototypical striker v. grappler match-up.  Lyoto is moving a lot and striking from distance, Demente is doing everything he can to get in close.  According to the subtitles, someone calls for a “Twizzler collar choke”.  Eddie Bravo in the house?  There is some interesting, uh, foot fighting as Demente presses Lyoto against the cage.  Lyoto makes expert use of a whizzer to avoid being taken down, even getting a trip of his own to set up some punches.  That failed attempt seemed to take a lot out of Demente or maybe it’s the snapping body kicks that Lyoto keeps connecting with.  You can see Demente visibly wince.  I know I did.

Demente looks so heavy, I’m blown away by Lyoto’s ability to stop the takedowns.  I gave Lyoto the first round 10-9, but the second was a different story.  It’s dirtier and uglier and Demente takes full advantage of it.  Lyoto said he had trouble making weight and I think we see the effects of that here.  How’d you see the fight?

The_Vortex:  I think the first round was definitely won by Lyoto for using Demente’s aggression against him. Demente’s a very strong dude, and he’s pretty relentless in pursuing takedowns. Whilst he did lose the first round, he sapped a fair chunk of Lyoto’s energy. Maybe we didn’t notice in his last fight, because Borrachinha gassed way, way harder than Lyoto did, but there is a very noticeable slowdown in Lyoto’s movements, and way less pop to his punches. Demente lands some nice clean strikes in the second, and is able to bully him a little as well.

Because we’re in the semi-finals, we go straight into the third round. The third round not the prettiest. Lyoto moves well, and apart from a few seconds where Demente connects with some big swinging hooks, is able to stay out of range, and nail him with jabs and high kicks. Demente was definitely more aggressive, but it didn’t always work out.

NewChallenger: I actually had Demente taking the last round with his berserker style.  Making Wanderlei Silva proud!  Lyoto was running out of gas.  He should be fine once he hooks up with a top shelf nutritionist.  Good, gutty performance from both guys.

The_Vortex: The pre-score recap is pretty interesting. Once again, Lyoto hurt his foot during the fight. FFS. Wandy mentions that the huge body kick in the first round nearly knocked Demente out, and yeah, I was very impressed at his toughness. It really, really looked like it hurt.

Lyoto wins in a split decision, and funnily enough, every three round fight so far has ended in a split decision.

FFVEh, it’d be worse in Texas.

Demente is tough, and he’s fighting Wagnão this weekend. That’s a winnable fight, and hopefully he’ll be able to hang in the UFC for a while. I’m pretty excited for the all Green Team middleweight finale, they’re both solid fighters.

NewChallenger: You’re not the only one who’s excited about it!

Teammate LoveSuch a great reaction from Warlley.  That’s respect, right there.

Lyoto Moves OnI believe I can fly…

Lyoto & WarlleyWarlley:  “I’d like to apologize because I’ll be smashing your face.”

The_Vortex: Ready for the next fight?

NewChallenger: Almost.  I realize that we don’t put enough emphasis on the ladies sometimes   With that in mind, here’s a shower scene with Demente…

Demente ShowersYou’re welcome.

…followed by the guys deciding to get TUF tattoos.  It’s Jollyson Francino’s first.  No regrets!

The_Vortex: Oh man, how great was the tattoo artist segment? Chael Sonnen goes into this later, but everyone here is pretty united and supportive, and getting tattoos really cements that.

Unique ExerciseNow this is rolling!

NewChallenger: I was really disappointed that they had to explain the tension caused by Lex Luthor calling out Rick Monstro instead of having it unfold on the show.  The beef is completely squashed by the time the Nogueira brothers show up (both Lex Luthor and Rick Monstro train with them).  With all that out of the way, the two friends are free to concentrate on the fight.

You know Lex Luthor is focused because he enters doing his best Triple H impression.

Water SpitOr Kwang if you’re so inclined.

This one didn’t go to a decision.  Hell of a round though, don’t you think?

The_Vortex:  That was a fantastic fight.  Both guys just went at it in search of a finish, and Lex Luthor walks out with his hand raised. He looks very well rounded, and man does it seem like he hits hard. Even though he survived into the second round, Rick was done. He shoots at the start of the second round, gets stuffed, and GnP’d out.

NewChallenger: It bears mentioning that at one point Rick Monstro was straight windmilling punches like Bart Simpson.  The way these two went at it, it is hard to believe they are friends!

I was thrilled by Lex Luthor’s performance.  He has a natural killer instinct.  Rick Monstro was coming at him hard and he weathered the storm until the other man gassed out and then he went in for the kill.  That’s the kind of thing Dana White likes to see.

Lex Luthor Moves OnHe could work on showing some emotion though.

The_Vortex: Rick Monstro has probably the most gracious approach to defeat I’ve ever seen. He says to anyone listening, that they should be happy, because he’s happy, and he did his best (praise God). He says he’ll come back stronger, and I believe him.

Wow.

I am just blown away by that, way to be a man about it. He’s fighting Pezão on the finale card, so he might end up in the UFC. Best of luck to him, lotta respect there.

Rick Monstro & Lex LuthorNewChallenger: And much respect to Sonnen who has now coached five out of a possible six finalists in his two TUF gigs.  They should bring him back every year.  Here he is doing a beautiful job of summing up the class and character of the TUF: Brazil 3 cast:

These guys looked after one another…and it’s really easy to do in victory but you find out who your friends are in defeat.  The support on both sides of the aisle was incredible.  It’s not something I’m used to.  It’s not done like this in America.  They look after one another in Brazil.  They take care of one another.  They care about one another.

The_Vortex: Big emotions coming now. Isabel and Hortência are giving goodbye speeches. It’s amazing how much of a presence they’ve been. Over the last few episodes, Hortência is easily the loudest voice heard cheering for her team. All the guys talk about the advice they’ve been given. I’m gonna miss this side of TUF.

NewChallenger: Honestly, if you watched that fond farewell and didn’t feel anything I don’t even want to know you!  I’m not sure if there is actually a closer connection between these people or they just don’t show us these gushy moments in the American versions.  Regardless, it’s always a welcome sight.

Group HugGet in here ya big lugs!

All four guys deserve the lavish Vegas vacation they are treated to.  Cara de Sapato describes the experience as “presidential”.  Lots of good stuff here.  Cirque du Soleil and the UFC (there’s something I never thought I’d type), a shopping trip and the guys getting flown around in fighter planes.  This could have been an entire episode.  I feel robbed that we only get about 10 minutes of footage.  This is the kind of stuff they should put on Fight Pass.  Just 24 hour coverage of these Brazilian monsters romping around the strip.  What was your favourite part?

The_Vortex: That was just fantastic. The Cirque du Soleil section involved the heavyweights learning fight choreography, and was just brilliant to watch, but easily the funniest moment is watching the guys go on a fighter jet ride. Not only is it great to watch them having so much fun, but Lyoto legit passes out, just straight up faints. I can’t imagine the jokery he had to endure after that.

KaPreview of the finale.

Air Up ThereShould he be doing this before the biggest fight of his career?!?

After all of this, we get the standard promo talk for the card this weekend. “I’m hungry for the win”, “He’s never fought anyone like me” yadda yadda yadda. The finals fights should be interesting, and I think Sapato and Lyoto will walk away with the titles. I know, Warlley Alves is the best pizza, but he’s just been too dominant for me to trust that he’ll do the same thing again.

NewChallenger: Damn, you’re picking Cara de Sapato and Lyoto too?  This is a bad sign for you.  I am one of the worst people in the world at picking fights in general, but particularly TUF finals.  Chris Holdsworth broke a streak of incorrect picks for me (and yes, that includes me picking Jessica Rakoczy to beat Julianna Peña).  Nevertheless, Cara de Sapato has been dominant and Lyoto has found a way to eke out decisions.  Lock it in!

(to anyone actually putting money down, this definitely means you should pick Lex Luthor and Alves)

The_Vortex: Augh, yes, people should definitely pick other winners, I got BOTH TUF: Nations winners wrong.

Now, we have to talk about the coaches’ fight.

Oh, what? It’s not happening? After Chael hinting at this for the entire season? Really? Colour me shocked.

I dunno man. Either Wandy is too injured, or too substanced up for the fight to go ahead. I’m leaning on the former (be funny if he broke his hand during that s**t stupid brawl in the hall), mostly just because. Anyway, it’s a really bad look for Wanderlei, who has effectively lost his entire home crowd support (and the support of like, all 15 foreigners watching this show). Not a good look.

Thoughts and summary NewChallenger?

NewChallenger: I still love Wandy.  I don’t know what the hell has been going on with him for the last few years, but I’ll never turn on the guy.  That said, Sonnen won me over during his first TUF coaching gig and this second one was even better.  I want a reality show of him just training and bonding with Brazilian fighters.  Or any fighters for that matter.  When it comes to television, Sonnen rules.

It sucks that we won’t get to see these guys throw down.  It joins an infamous list of coaches’ fights that will likely never happen.  This was easily one of the most anticipated even before they appeared on this show.  The UFC injury bug cares not for justice or entertainment.

Overall, this was an incredibly enjoyable season and as much as I’m harping on TUF 19 in my other reviews, TUF: Brazil 3 actually continued a decent trend of entertaining TUFs.  TUF 17 and 18 were both really good, TUF: Brazils are always fun to watch and even TUF: Smashes and TUF Nations: Canada v. Australia had their moments…though we might be biased on that last front.  Even the guys who didn’t make it past the first round left an indelible mark…Peregrino, Borrachinha, Bomba…I love ‘em all.  It’s going to be hard to let these guys go.  I hope they all get signed.  I really do.

And thank you Mr. Vortex for agreeing to do this collaboration.  For a minute there, it looked like we’d have to continue the TUF Nations feud, which would have torn the Bloody Elbow community apart!  Somehow, through cultural differences, time zone issues, and faulty Australian internet, we managed to put this series together.  I can say without question that it made this awesome show even better.  Now play us out before I start bawling like Hortência.

The_Vortex: This has been an excellent way to look at an Ultimate Fighter season, and, in all honesty, I’d place it as one of the best I’ve watched. Being a part of this definitely made the season a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

I’m really hoping we see more of these guys in the UFC. Chael keeps mentioning how good these guys are, and it’s not all hyperbole. There was some good talent there that might end up as stalwarts anywhere from welterweight to heavyweight. We’ve just recently gotten a TUF winner as champion, so anything is possible.

Thanks to everyone for reading these recaps, they’ve been heaps of fun to work on. Seriously, everyone should watch this show. It’s been fantastically entertaining, some of the fights were great, especially Monstro-Lex Luthor. It was an experience.

Saturday, May 31st: The TUF: Brazil 3 finale featuring Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva Stipe Miocic and Fabio Maldonado!

The Ultimate Fighter 19: Team Edgar v. Team Penn – Week 6 Recap

You’re really making me watch an episode with Matt Hughes in it, eh?  That’s what’s up?  Okay, TUF, okay.  In the interest of full disclosure, let me say a few words first.

I’m not playing the contrarian by saying I don’t like Hughes.  There are a large majority of fight fans who recognize that he’s one of the twenty greatest professional mixed martial artists of all time and also one of the biggest douche bags in any sport.  My opinion of Hughes might be unfairly skewed by how he was portrayed as a coach on TUF 6, Sean McCorkle’s review of his biography, and his long time rivalry with my fellow Canadian Georges St-Pierre.

Obviously I’ve never met the man, but there’s no shaking the feeling that he’s this holier than thou art prima donna who still probably can’t resist dishing out a good wedgie.  I don’t know.  Maybe he’s grown up.  Maybe, like BJ Penn, he’s an older, wiser man than when he was on top of the UFC.  Maybe.

I’m going to assume he’s the same old piece of s**t he’s always been though.  Just remember, I’m doing this because I love you guys (and I hate myself apparently).

Team Colours

Team Edgar
Team Penn

All everyone is talking about this week is what happened in the fight and for good reason: I’ve never seen anything like it in MMA, much less TUF.  The fight and the aftermath take up about 80% of the episode.  There are a few other things worth mentioning.

This week’s competitors, Ian Stephens (Team Edgar, 1st overall) and Roger Zapata (Team Penn, 8th overall) are driven by familial dedication, albeit for different reasons.  Stephens’s father was in the air conditioner business.  He was involved in an electrical accident that, unfortunately, did not make him become all blue like Jamie Foxx.  Stephens was only six years old.  He prides himself on making something from nothing.

Zapata is on the other side of things, having had to leave his daughter just days after she was born so he could be on the show.  He talks to Tim Williams about how he can’t wait to see what colour her eyes changed and how she peed on him while taking a picture.  It’s a sweet moment.  Williams caps off the heartfelt conversation by letting us all know that he “has to take a fat s**t”.  Well alright then.  Maybe I should have just skipped to the fight.  Ah, I’m sure it can’t get any worse…

Guest HughesF**k you, ya f**kin’ f**k.

As disappointed as I was that Penn and Frankie Edgar were friends, it’s nothing compared to finding out that Penn and Hughes get along too.  Damn it.  I always imagined that Penn enjoyed choking the life out of Hughes and punching his fool head in.  Subdued, gracious Penn is not doing it for me at all.  He sounds…retired.

Somehow we don’t get the magic of Hughes and Todd Monaghan in the same room.  A missed opportunity if there ever was one.  Hughes is complimentary of Zapata’s wrestling.  I’m guessing nobody told him about how Zapata dissed the sport last time.  Overall, it’s not an unbearable guest appearance, probably because they didn’t let Hughes say much.

Bird's EyeArtsy-fartsy.

Other than that there’s a ton of stock footage and generic tough talk (TUF talk?) from Stephens and Zapata.  There doesn’t seem to be any sort of grudge; in fact, I’m not sure these two have met based on their testimonials.  You can almost see the editors digging their fingers into the footage to stretch it out as much as possible.  They don’t even bother with a #HowDoYouKFC segment this week.  Such a shame.

The fight

News flash: Stephens wants a takedown.  The first shot comes a minute in and Zapata defends it surprisingly well.  Stephens has a waist lock for a while and it isn’t until he executes an unorthodox slam that he actually scores:

Back ThrowAny wrestlers out there looking for a new finishing move?

Now there were two ways to judge this fight and neither is 100% correct or incorrect.  One way is to reward control and submission attempts, which would have given Stephens both rounds in a landslide.  He was locked on to Zapata like a remora, taking his back at will.  He was always going for a submission or at least attempting to improve his position.  He definitely could have mixed in more strikes and maybe committed more to his sub attempts.  As it was, he was focused on maintaining position.  It’s hard to blame Stephens when dominant positions usually win fights.

The other way is to reward Zapata for his non-stop activity.  Post-fight, he described his strategy of throwing punches and elbows from any position as “freestyle striking”.  While it usually bothers me to see a fighter rewarded for attacks that do minimal damage, I’m not sure you can completely ignore what Zapata was doing either.  Sure, Stephens was all over him, but Zapata was definitely hitting him even if he wasn’t hurting him.

Muddying up the picture even more is the fact that neither fighter came particularly close to finishing.  Stephens could never flatten Zapata out enough to properly go after his neck; Zapata’s most effective elbow was ruled as illegal and it almost ended the fight in his opponent’s favour.  Let’s talk about that more for anyone who hasn’t seen this episode or heard about the incident.

For the majority of the fight, Zapata’s preferred tactic to counter takedown attempts were elbows angled at the side of Stephens’s head (exactly like Travis Browne has been doing).  Referee Steve Mazzagatti mentioned the potential infraction many times (in addition to Zapata’s cage grabbing), but at no point does he actually stop the fight to issue a warning.  This is a key aspect of contention later on.

The fight ends up going to an extra period.  I had Stephens winning the first two rounds (though the second was much closer than the first).  He did fade in the latter stages of regulation and Zapata’s pitter-patter defence proved to be enough to earn him five more minutes of cage time.  He continued to throw elbows until out of nowhere, Mazzagatti docks him a point for the illegal manoeuvre.  Dana White freaks out.

The Commish accuses Stephens of milking the infraction, a mere appetizer for the ensuing rant against his favourite referee.  The lack of an official warning drives him nuts.  It’s especially crucial since they’re in the extra period and that means there’s almost no way for Zapata to win the fight.  After a third round that is similar to the first and second, Zapata wins the fight.

Wait what…

It gets worse when Mazzagatti raises Zapata’s hand while calling him “Ian Zapata”.  He brings them back to announce the winner again, expecting that they’ll use the magic of editing to fix his flub.  No such luck.  As I was watching, I had no clue what was going on.  Two of the three judges would have had to reward Zapata a 10-8 (9-8 after the deduction) for him to have beaten Stephens and he did absolutely nothing to warrant a score like that.

Pandemonium erupts in the TUF gym, understandably so.  White is barking at the judges, pointing out that there’s no way that score makes any sense.  The winning team look just as confused as everybody else.  Penn instructs Zapata on how to proceed.

GetawayPenn: “Walk!  Please, leave so they can’t reverse the decision!  That’s what I would do!  I would leave!”

Based on math alone, we have a new candidate for the biggest robbery in MMA history.  This is not even a subjective call, there’s literally no way that Zapata could have won that final round.  Nam Phan/Leonard Garcia, Matt Hamill/Michael Bisping, Murilo Rua/Rampage Jackson, everyone…lay down your crowns.  That said, I wouldn’t call this a tragedy since both guys were kind of terrible.

Elbow Exhibition“12-6” THIS!

Penn says the right man won anyway.  “It should always be judged like that: look at his face and look at mine!”  Remember kids: Submission attempts mean nothing.  Just bleed.

White finally gets an explanation that he relays to the two teams: One judge scored it 10-8 for Stephens, the other two 9-9.  Because it was a majority draw, they were asked to circle who they thought won the fight and everyone chose Zapata.  So the point deduction was meaningless.  Since it was also somewhat unwarranted, I guess…everything worked out…?

Did the guy who scored the round 10-8 for Stephens also pick Zapata?  White must be mistaken.  I hope he is anyway.  Regardless, as much as I hate people saying to never leaving it in the hands of the judges…they really shouldn’t have left this one in the hands of the judges.

This kind of fight only adds credence to my suggestions to give some match-ups the montage treatment.  This is a television show, not a live event.  You’re allowed to play around with your product.  It’s not like you’ll be threatening the sanctity of TUF.  It’s TUF.  This whole operation reeks of laziness.  The more fight footage they have, the less work they have to do on the rest of the episode.  Would anything have been lost by slicing this fight up and interspersing commentary from White, the cast and the coaches?  It would have cleared up the situation and spared us an ugly contest.

Let’s just blame Matt Hughes for everything bad that happened and move on with our lives.

Next week: Team Penn’s Anton Berzin v. Team Edgar’s Matt Walsh.  Also, an update on Tim Williams’s bowel movements!

The Ultimate Fighter Brazil 3: Team Wanderlei v. Team Sonnen – Week 11 Recap

Hair DidWe’ve come a long way from the days of Willa Ford.

NewChallenger: Alright, time for another exciting installment of the best TUF series around.  I…wait…what’s that…could it be…

The_Vortex: That’s right, I’m back! Hold your applause, please. Still no internet at home, but it’s important to prioritise some things in your life, and TUF: Brazil is clearly one of those things. Very excited here, we’ve got two fights in an episode, and, we start this episode with the most important thing first: that’s right, we’re deciding the finalists of Miss Ring Girl TUF: Brazil 3 2014!

Big DecisionAnd poor Lex is still petrified.

Because the guys might have been paying attention to other things at the fights (like, say the fights), they get to watch a highlight reel of the girls shaking it. Probably the best afternoon that anyone on this show has ever had, ever.

Any thoughts? Any early predictors of ring girl glory?

Also: please hold your celebration of my return until the end of the episodes. Don’t forget to go by the gift shop on the way out.

NewChallenger: Being a professional fighter is hard work, no?

Rafaela is not one of the two finalists so this whole competition is invalid.  Ana Cecília is the first finalist.  No lesser authority than Rick Monstro himself proclaimed her to be the prettiest, so I guess I can’t argue with that.  The second finalist is Fernanda Hernandes, a curvy blonde.  Magrão justifies the selection by saying she’s curvier than the American ring girls.  He put way more thought into that than he had to.

Fernanda And Ana CeciliaI guess this makes them the Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez of TUF: Ring Girl.

The weird thing is that neither Fernanda or Ana Cecília are on octagon duty later in the show; instead, we get the pros Camila Oliveira and Jhenny Andrade.  Maybe they already flew the finalists out to Las Vegas?  We should probably stop thinking about this and just move on.

In addition to the ring girl competition, I’m going to miss Chael Sonnen’s speeches.  I could be mistaken, but I think he gives Warlley Alves a variation of a speech he gave on TUF 17:

Sonnen: I know you get scared and I know you get nervous and I know you get excited and I know you feel every emotion that a human feels.  Not one of those emotions is going to help you in there.  The only thing that matters in sports or in life are your actions.  Actions is what wins fights.  This is the only thing that matters.  It is not the best fighter that wins, it’s whoever fights the best.

Blink

But who cares about that because we get possibly the best guest star of the season: TUF: Brazil 2 assistant coach Eric Albarracin!  I just love this guy.  Are you familiar with his work?

The_Vortex: Eric Albarracin: Team Nogueira wrestling coach.

Eric Albarracin: Former US Army Captain.

Eric Albarracin: Jumps one hell of a jump rope.

Eric Albarracin: Completely bonkers.

Size DifferentialOne of these men is an army captain.

Eric is fantastic. He was a key part of the best moment of TUF: Brazil 2, when Fabrício Werdum legitimately kidnapped him, and bombarded the house like an invading army.

Eric being here softens the blow of Rafaela losing the ring girl contest.

Eric brings a lighter side to Team Sonnen training (once again), with a jump rope exercise.

NewChallenger: An insane jump rope exercise.

Eric Shows OffI can barely double dutch.

The_Vortex: Team Silva, on the other hand, are taking no prisoners. They’re beating each other up, to simulate fight training.

NewChallenger: No kidding.  It’s in sharp contrast to Team Sonnen who are focusing on their cardio.  Wanderlei Silva even has Rick Monstro and Cara de Sapato going at it, which is interesting because they could potentially face each other in the finals.

The_Vortex: Both Warlley and Wagnão are ready for this fight, but we go to weigh-ins, and another surprise guest…

NewChallenger: You might say it’s tiiiiiiiime for another surprise guest.  Get it?  Get it?

It’s Bruce Buffer.

The fighters are over the moon that the voice of the octagon is at the facility.  In all these editions of TUF, he’s never made an appearance on the show.  It’s crazy what a legend he is in the fight business for someone who doesn’t actually compete.  I’ve always loved his enthusiasm for the sport and you can tell he’s having a great time on the show.  He handles the weigh-in commentary, referring to Wagnão as “Wagner”.  I’d make a Das Nibelung joke here, but my Portuguese pronunciation is suspect so maybe he’s doing it right.

They announce that the finalists will get an all expense paid trip to Las Vegas to see a UFC event.  Please have them travel with the ring girls and film it!  I will watch this!

The_Vortex: You’re forgetting the most important part of the weigh-ins. Eric brings Team Sonnen mustaches to wear, because “it’s a symbol of manly respect”. Brilliant.

NewChallenger: I feel like we should explain this further for the readers but…just watch the gif, folks:

Let's DanceNo further explanation needed.

TUF: Brazil…it’s so good.  As for the fight, I expected it to be a close one.  My prediction was slightly off.

The_Vortex: Whoah yeah it was. I thought we’d get a bit of a grinder of a fight. Instead, flash submission, They come out, exchange leg kicks, and Wagnão charges in. Warlley catches him in a guillotine, and sinks it. Wagnão can’t get his head back outside, and can’t get rid of Warlley. He taps within 25 seconds.

Warlley GuillotineOw ow ow ow ow ow…

Warlley’s stoked, and breaks out into a chorus of Viva Las Vegas.

Warlley Moves OnNo self-respecting bookie would take action on the winner not singing Viva Las Vegas afterwards.

NewChallenger: Lex Luthor points out that Wagnão is considered one of the best jiu-jitsu practitioners in the house and he got subbed by Alves who is primarily a striker.

The_Vortex: Chael can’t stop extolling Warlley’s speed and techniques. The last time Chael was this excited about a middleweight prospect was Uriah Hall. Hmmm.

Chael even calls out 2015 Weidman. Hey, gotta aim high.

NewChallenger: You just had to bring up Uriah Hall, didn’t you?  Sonnen’s exact words are: Chris Weidman, you better get in the gym ‘cause somebody’s’ comin’ for ya!  Vintage.

The_Vortex: So, straight onto preparation for the next fight.

NewChallenger: The separation from family and personal issues with Pezão are taking their toll on Cara de Sapato.  He feels like his sense of humour has been misinterpreted.  The situation brings him to tears.  I look at it as Pezão just motivating himself, finding a reason to dislike Cara de Sapato.  Or maybe Cara de Sapato needs to stop touching him so much.  A call from Junior dos Santos lifts Cara de Sapato’s spirits just in time for him to get into the cage with Pezão.

His spirits might have been lifted a little too high.  Pezão has a considerable weight advantage, which doesn’t stop Cara de Sapato from throwing heavy leather with him!  Cara de Sapato goes for a takedown against the cage.  He’s able to avoid the guillotine choke that felled his teammate earlier.  To nobody’s surprise, Cara de Sapato has the superior cardio and he doesn’t give Pezão a second to rest.  He scores a takedown from behind then goes for a rear naked choke!  Pezão taps, but still goes unconscious.  Damn, another quick finish!

The_Vortex: Pezão going out was pretty crazy. It’s not like Sapato torqued the submission after the tap, or even held it awhile. Delayed reaction naptime.

Sapato looked good, and he’ll be a solid light heavyweight in the UFC. He weighed in at 212, so I don’t think there’s any chance he’s going to stay with the fat boys in the big show. Team Wanderlei is going bonkers at having snapped a five fight losing streak, but, continuing the good sportsmanship we’ve seen this week, Sapato still finds the time to speak to Pezão.

Pezão is understandably distraught, even saying that he needs to rethink his life. He seems to have calmed down in the confessional, and gives a great speech to Chael about what a fantastic dude Chael is, negative perceptions be damned. I think this bit is quite legit, as friendly Chael seems able to win anyone over, as well as coming across as really genuine.

NewChallenger: Loved, loved, loved Pezão’s reconciliation with Cara de Sapato and the heart to heart with Sonnen after.  It got real MTV up in there for a minute.  I don’t know if Pezão has a future in MMA to be honest, but I’ll remember him as a solid cast member.  As he said himself, just making it onto the show was a miracle for a guy whose life was going down a dark path just a few years ago.

The_Vortex: This was a great episode, entertaining as hell, some good action, and great guests. Robbery of the year goes to anyone not named Rafaela Machado continuing in TUF: Ring Girl, but I might, MIGHT be over it by next week.  Any thoughts NewChallenger?

NewChallenger: This was a great episode, wasn’t it?  Let us appreciate the show now while it’s still relatively fresh, before it goes the way of its over-saturated American brethren.  There is such a wonderful liveliness to the characters and a lack of cynicism, I’d recommend any of the three seasons for anyone who still likes the concept of TUF but is tired of what the original show has become.  I’m already sad inside that next week is the finale.

Cap off your triumphant return with some closing words, Australia.

The_Vortex: That was one hell of an episode to return for. We’re getting two fights again next week, and it’ll be sad to see everyone go. I’m definitely looking forward to whatever inspiring speech Chael has stored away for the season end, it’s going to be something else!

Cara de Sapato Moves OnNext week: Lyoto v. Demente and Lex Luthor v. Rick Monstro!