The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America – Week 10

The_Vortex: The season’s beginning to wind down, as we’re hitting our third last episode. This has been a great season so far, but unfortunately, it’s been pretty short on tears. Don’t worry, fight fans, there’s some quality joy-sobbing in this episode. We start this time with Marlon “Chito/Pollito” Vera. He’s fighting against Alejandro “El Diablito” Pérez later this episode. It’s not looking good for him, though. Remember those rashes and scabs he developed last episode? Well, holy crap, but they’ve multiplied out of control. They’re spreading across his face and back, and he’s genuinely quite ill because of it. It’s not a good sign, and his teammates are cautious, as no one wants to catch anything funky.

Skin ConditionGYAAAAAAH

Even the coaches are being realistic about the situation. As they take Chito off to see a specialist, they mention that he could very easily be removed from the fight, leaving one of the other 135’ers to take his place. Between Bentley (copped a whupping), Fredy (lost a close, yet boring decision) and Guido (lost a hugely controversial decision that he almost certainly would have won with judges that had fully working brains), Guido seems to be the best pick to replace poor Chito.

With Chito off in quarantine, it all seems up in the air. Thoughts, NewChallenger? Think we’re gonna get a schooling from The Professor, a visit from the Doctor, or have the Revenge of the Ninja?

NewChallenger: Putting aside our shared distaste for Guido, it would be crazy for anyone but him to get the second chance.  As you said, Bentley got taken out in the first round and didn’t show much to warrant further consideration.  Fredy’s case is even worse.  The Professor is dealing with an ankle injury and Alejandro is the one who took him out of the competition in the first place.  Moggly isn’t convinced that the Team Werdum bantamweights even want back into the competition.  In particular, he doesn’t like Bentley’s chances against Alejandro.

Moggly Talking JunkGuido is still talking and talking and talking…this whole episode he is talking.  Did the judges get to know him before the fight?  Because that might explain how they came up with their scores.  I do have to give Guido credit for not treating Chito like the Outbreak monkey (he applies Chito’s rash cream for him) and declaring that he’ll give half of the prize money to Chito if he wins the tournament.  Nice one, Guido…*mumble, grumble*

Speaking of Chito, he earns a dubious TUF first by being put into isolation at a hotel.  He’s stuck there the whole day while he waits to see the doctor.

Happy MDThis doctor is way too chipper considering the news she brings.

The good news is that it’s not contagious and the scabs have already begun to fall off.  The bad news is that there’s a high risk of becoming infected again if he uses the sauna or if he fights.  “I already cried in the house, so I don’t want to do it here.” he says.

The_Vortex: Chito is easily the most likeable of the Team Werdum guys. I agree, he’s taking this with an insane amount of grace. The most important thing though, is that it’s just an immune system issue, and not contagious. After the doctor nixes his chances of fighting, obviously the next step is to meet with Dana and Werdum. This is honestly one of the better scenes this entire series. First thing Chito does, is he shoots in for a hug. Werdum’s not having any of it, until Dana assures him it’s not contagious, and even then, Werdum’s still not keen on the touching.

DiagnosisWell, that’s a relief.

Despite being removed from the tournament, Dana is guaranteeing Chito a spot on the finale, somewhere in the undercard of UFC 180. This is awesome news for him, that he’s able to salvage something out of this situation. They all end up laughing at Chito’s stories of being regarded by other hotel goers as a zombie/leprosy patient. It’s kinda touching, and amazing that Chito’s so accepting of all of this. He probably knew what was going to happen when they quarantined him.

NewChallenger: I was also impressed with Chito’s maturity and understanding.  No doubt having to raise a daughter with an illness of her own has provided him with the proper perspective.  Guys usually beg or bargain with the doctor in these situations, but as you mentioned he had to expect that this was coming.  The whole segment was a welcome departure from the gloom we’re used to (not to take anything away from someone like Justine Kish on TUF 20), with Werdum in particular continuing to come off as everyone’s favourite coach/big brother.  Along with Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira, he has to be one of the most likeable coaches ever.

No TocarWho knew Werdum had such a lively sense of humour?

In a moment devoid of suspense, Dana makes the Guido/Alejandro match-up official.  You would think Guido would finally be satisfied.  You would be wrong.  He can’t stop tweaking Marco about the result of their fight.  It does say something that Marco doesn’t offer a strong response when Guido asks if he felt like a winner when he got the decision.  Still, it’s ridiculous that the man can go on like this even though he got a second chance.

Chito to the rescue!  He busts Guido’s chops by reminding him that he said he would retire if he lost to Psycho.  Verbal shots are fired at poor Vinny Magalhães to illustrate the point:

He said, “If he hits me, they can take me out.”  The other guy did this (mimes a weak punch), and Vinny fell like this (eyes roll to the back of his head).  And he had fought three rounds against Phil Davis.  And an old man came and knocked him out.

As for the fight…I have to leave the recap to you, sir.  Lord knows you have waited long enough for this day to come.

The_Vortex: So, Chito doesn’t even mention Anthony Perosh by name, just refers to him as nothing but the “old man.” I’d leap to my countryman’s defense, but, yeah, that’s really the only way to describe the Hippo these days…

As for the fight, yeah, it’s a good one. This season has really delivered on the entertainment value of the fights, and this one was a crazy few minutes. After the glove touch, Guido just comes out firing on all cylinders, throwing bombs like they’re going out of fashion (not that bombs were ever in fashion, but I digress). Guido is flurrying like crazy, roaring in and swinging hard.

NewChallenger: All I have in my notes for this fight is “What the f**k is Guido doing?”  He’s just out there winging haymakers.

The_Vortex: He’s getting some hits in, but for the most part, Alejandro is able to stay elusive, and clip him with a couple nice counters. About 90 seconds in, they both connect with hard hits nearly simultaneously, and Guido gets sent flying away. He recovers well, and three seconds later, he’s right in the face of Alejandro again, swinging wide with the right, and launching himself behind his fist. This time, it doesn’t work so well. Alejandro is out of range, and clobbers Guido with this huge left hand. Guido drops, and he’s basically already out, but Alejandro is taking no chances, and straight up murders him with the next shot, and a couple more before the ref officially stops the fight.

El Diablito KOOne of the most brutal follow-up punches after a knockdown I’ve ever seen.

Remember last week, when everyone was deathly silent when the fight ended? Yeah, this ain’t like that. Guido’s still down for a few seconds, and he went full facedown Fedor-Arlovski for a short while. Guido intentionally fought a fight that wasn’t going to go to the judges, and by crap, it most certainly did not.

Guido is still in a daze, super confused. Guido, I’m a let Chris Tucker tell you what just happened:

NewChallenger: There’s no other way to describe Alejandro’s reaction after other than “unrestrained squealing”.  Earlier in the episode, we found out that he and Teco had formed a close relationship over the years having fought in the same circuit (Teco having beaten him twice in the past).  Openly sobbing, he exits the cage and calls for Teco.  All Alejandro can say is “To the UFC!  To the UFC!” as they embrace.  Damn this show for making me feel feelings.

Guido has now lost twice on the show, a rare feat.  He muses on his experience:

I thought I could beat everyone, and I think God made me fall.  He said, “Now you’ll see that you can fall, too.  And that you need to be careful because you’re just human.”

Humbled by God, knocked out by a guy whose name translates to “The Little Devil”.  How poetic.

El Diablito Moves OnNext week: Teco v. Psycho.  Also, we find out the truth behind Chito’s alleged illness…

Collusion

The Ultimate Fighter 20: A Champion Will Be Crowned – Week 5

I’m still getting my TUF schedule in order, so it took me the weekend to get around to watching this episode.  Would the Felice Herrig/Heather Clark drama overshadow their actual match-up?  Would Heather be able to make peace with her teammates?  Would someone on Team Melendez win a damn fight?

Team Colours

Team Melendez
Team Pettis

The second question gets answered in the first quarter of the show.  Bec Rawlings jokes that Heather and Felice are both “drama mamas”, which is the most PG way she could have expressed her thoughts.  Things get a lot more serious when they get to the gym, the animosity from the ice bath incident still fresh in the mind of Angela Magaña.

Angela M. surprises me with how vocal she is about her dislike for Heather.  In the first episode, she struck me as this “Zen mother” living peacefully in Thailand.  I blame the house and the constant filming for bringing out the worst in her.  Gilbert Melendez is smart enough to step in and mediate before the relationship gets worse…or maybe it’s too late because the rest of the is merciless in their criticism of Heather.

The sport of mixed martial arts is still in that stage where admitting that you’re hurt or allowing an injury to affect how you train is still frowned upon.  Heather’s knee injury has limited her ability to work with her teammates and that is a big no-no.  Worse, Angela M. claims that she limps during practice, but not at the house.  The more Heather talks, the deeper she sinks…

Heather: I’m not here to hurt myself because you guys need me…
Bec: We don’t need you.  Don’t get that twisted.  We don’t need you.
Angela M.: Don’t flatter yourself.

I can absolutely see why Heather’s attitude might grate on the other girls, but they’re relentlessly ganging up on her.  Angela M. spitting bars and then covering her ears and going “la la la la” only makes Angela look bad, not Heather.  Coach Melendez must feel like he accidentally wandered into the Player Haters’ Ball.

Over on Team Pettis, Felice is having her own problems.  For one, it must suck to have to beat the same opponent again and this time for no money.  Sure, it’s on a bigger stage, but that just means if she loses then that’s the only result that will count in the minds of most fans.  Luckily, Felice claims to be undefeated against girls “who talk a lot of s**t” about her.  She’s feeling the pressure of keeping the streak going for Team Pettis and to kick Heather’s ass for Team Melendez.  The anxiety has her in tears.  As mean as this sounds, I don’t find the storyline that compelling.  It pales in comparison to what Heather is dealing with, not to mention the Justine Kish situation.

Justine’s experience has been a nightmare so far.  Her body isn’t cooperating so she hasn’t been able to train properly, which is also affecting her ability to stay in shape and make weight.  The time comes to see the doctor and it’s not good news.

Doctor BroCheck out the doc coming in for the real thing.

She has a torn ACL.  That’s that as far as the competition goes.  It’s such a painful scene to watch.  She sounds like she’s going to vomit.

DevastationJustine keeps it together as long as she can and just loses it when she sees Jessica.

In a show of consideration rarely seen on TUF, Justine makes sure to apologize to Bec because they were scheduled to fight.  It’s also worth mentioning that we later see Justine sweating in the sauna with Felice even though she’s out of the competition.  This is how a real athlete acts.

With Justine gone, the rumour is that Tecia Torres will get her spot back since she’s the highest ranking fighter who was knocked out of the competition.  Nobody on Team Pettis is excited about the idea, especially Carla Esparza who will end up with Torres in her side of the bracket.  In an even stranger twist, Torres is put on Team Pettis so Anthony Pettis gets to coach another top seed.  Dana justifies it by saying he can’t have two Melendez fighters going against each other because then Melendez would be guaranteed to get control of the next fight.  He then pulls out the “this is not a team sport” line.  Why do we keep going with the team format year after year then?

While Tecia tries to acclimate herself to her new surroundings, Heather is getting more advice from Gilbert.  He tells her that he was watching her previous fight with Felice and that she needs to work on her back escapes.  Heather says her arm was broken.  Gilbert doesn’t care.  In a testimonial, she casually talks about the time she trained with Anderson Silva.  Ugh.  Is it too late to hook her up with TUF: Latin America’s Guido Cannetti?

Positive ThinkingEven Heather’s mock celebrating is awkward.

It’s probably a bad sign that on the morning of the fight Bec is providing verbal support for Felice and not her own teammate, right?  At least Team Melendez offers a polite clap for Heather before the match starts so she has that going for.  And the referee calls her and Felice “ma’am” when asking if they’re ready.  That’s a new one.

The fight

Usually we get some idea of what each team’s gameplan will be, but since this episode had to cover so much emotional ground I don’t know what to expect.  I know that Felice is a good grappler so I expect Heather to keep it standing…and I’m wrong right away as she goes for a standing guillotine about a minute in.  It looks real tight and Felice shows serious grit in surviving it.  She gets a nice trip out of the clinch and moves into half guard.  Is it legal for Felice’s braids to get in Heather’s face?

A nice sweep by Heather puts her back on top, though she soon falls into a triangle.  Felice transitions and nearly gets a submission with a dangerous looking armbar.  They then scramble into an awkward position.

North-ish South-ishThere’s not much you can do here besides punch your opponent’s ass.

The referee offers two warnings for them to improve position.  There’s no “three strike” rule in MMA buddy, just stand them up!  Felice takes things into her own hands and rotates beautifully to end up on top to close the round.  Not a lot of damage by either fighter.  I give it to Felice 10-9 for the submission attempts.

Felice gets Heather’s back in round two, spells Heather’s doom.  She does her best to spin out, but Felice’s hips are glued to her.  If only someone had told her that she needs to work on her back escapes!  Team Melendez is yelling for her to shake Felice off.  Somehow, she does manage to get back into Felice’s guard.  That’s all she can do though and after a reset, Felice gets a big takedown to clinch the round and the fight.

There’s not much to analyze.  Felice is the better grappler and it showed.  Heather brings up the knee, though even she says that the injury got in her head.  She makes sure to apologize to Felice after for all the things she said about her in the past.

Beef SquashedHug that s**t out ladies.

A somewhat satisfying end to that feud, wouldn’t you say?  The action couldn’t match the alleged intensity of their personal rivalry, but maybe it’s better that nobody got their face smushed or their arm popped.  That would have led to even worse feelings.  The funny thing is we didn’t actually see that much interaction between Felice and Heather in the house.  Heather’s worst enemies are her own teammates.  Her foil, Angela M., fights next week, so we’ll see if Heather is able to bury one more hatchet and help out.

Felice VictoriousNext Week: Team Pettis’s Aisling Daly v. Team Melendez’s Angela Magaña.  Also, Gilbert calls Rampage Jackson for some coaching advice.

The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America – Week 9

The_Vortex: It’s time for another episode, and this week we have the first proper Mexican standoff, as Yair “Mexican Rory MacDonald” (Cheers TyrionWoodley) Rodríguez takes on Rodolfo Rubio. Team Mexico’s a little bit upset about this, as they’ve spent the whole season talking about how awesome their team is, and how strong their brotherhood has been, and now they finally get to kick the stuffing out of each other. Cain has decided that for this fight, his fighters will be performing without having advice screamed at them from their corners. It’s an interesting move, and probably safer than obviously picking sides. They’re not going to hand the victory to one Mexican at the expense of another.

NewChallenger: In these scenarios where teammates have to fight each other, we’ve seen the coaches give the “we won’t help either fighter” talk too many times to count.  Just once I want to see the coaches admit that they like one of their fighters more and that the other guy is s**t out of luck.  Then again, that kind of happened to Kajan Johnson on TUF: Nations and that turned out to be really depressing.

The_Vortex: Back to the house, and it is once again, completely filthy. Apart from Yair, aka MexiMac, going bonkers with a can of fly spray, the only thing of note to have happened is that Guido is once again a little bitch, and proceeds to place all of the blame about the state of the house on Team Mexico.

NewChallenger: Guido did get in a funny when he said that “Yair also killed a couple of us while he was killing flies.”  Wait, did I just write that?  What is wrong with me?

The_Vortex: I’m pretty disappointed with the editors. This whole scenario is so played out and repetitive, they’ve done it like five times this season already. Surely there’s some other event, no matter how minor, to fill the time. Show them drinking, show them reading, playing cards, training, heck, give us breakdowns of techniques so that we understand what’s going on come fight time, but for god’s sake, don’t show us any more of this stupid dirty kitchen and its junk drama. It’s the TV equivalent of clickbait.

/rant

NewChallenger: In their defence, this is the dirtiest kitchen I’ve ever seen in the final weeks of TUF.  Normally the kitchen drama is resolved by week four, but I guess these cats just couldn’t work it out.  You can actually see flies all over the place.  I don’t envy the camera crew.  Though at least they probably got to go from this to hanging out with Felice Herrig and Rose Namajunas all day.

Kitchen BugsBentley: “Ah!  They are making love, look.”

How embarrassing is it when a world famous athlete like Fabrício Werdum has to come by and tell you to clean your f**king house?  He has the brilliant idea of making it so that whoever loses the Coaches’ Challenge, their team has to do the housecleaning from now on.  It’s an exciting wager and a way to guarantee that someone takes care of this ridiculous kitchen issue.  Werdum is a modern day Solomon.

Mystery GuestNobody is going to explain who this kid is?  We’re just going to leave it at that?  Alright, then.

That wouldn’t be the only helpful suggestion Werdum has.  He also has some words of encouragement for Marlon Vera aka “Chito” aka “Pollito” (apparently).  I’m not sure who has more nicknames: Latin Americans, Brazilians, or Boston suburbanites.

The_Vortex: They’re really laying it on thick with the Chito situation. I mean, I’m sympathetic, it must really suck, and it’s no medical condition that I’ve ever heard of, but man, Chito’s daughter has had more discussion on screen than The Mysterious Nicaraguan. To his credit, Chito has come across as a really good dude. He definitely seems really genuine about getting the surgery and raising awareness for his daughter.

NewChallenger: I also like how Chito is grateful that his daughter’s condition isn’t one of the more severe cases (in some situations, it can lead to paralysis).  Werdum has the great idea to raise money for Chito even if things don’t work out on the show.

The_Vortex: Unfortunately, it seems like there’s a bit of an ulterior motive to showing Chito on screen. He’s got some really bad scabs all over his face, neck and back. It’s almost certainly a skin infection of some kind, and possibly means he might not be cleared for his next fight. Team Latin America isn’t too worried, as Guido says, as long as they don’t touch him, they’ll be fine. It is gonna be tough rolling with him in training without touching him…

Chito's FaceThat’s naaaaasty. And the scabs don’t help.

Back across to the gym, we can see that the fight between the Mexicans is turning really awkward for everyone involved. The coaches have really stayed true to their promise of providing any strategy coaching to the fighters. Yair’s all about using his kicks and his range, and Rodolfo…well, we learn as much about Rodolfo as we did when he was spotlighted before his other fight. Which is to say, nothing. We have learnt precisely nothing about Rodolfo, at all, ever.

Little DCAlso, someone on Team Mexico brought a dog along. It’s totes adorbs.

NewChallenger: We know more about “Little DC” than we do about Rodolfo.  I couldn’t tell you two things about Rodolfo Rubio other than his first and last name.  Even when they announced the fight last week I was like, “Who is this guy?”

The_Vortex: Forget all that though. Now, we’re up to what has usually been the best damn part of many TUF seasons: the Coaches’ Challenge. It’s penalty kicks! This Coaches’ Challenge has everything. Drama, intrigue, chanting, dancing, an annoying bald dude hosting (not Dana, but some Spanish speaking schlub), scantily clad women holding bricks of cash.  It was freaking great. Werdum is like, amazingly super fired up. After all of these losses, he can finally go out and win something. Cain is a little bit out of his element, but, really, unless he’s grinding people into the ground, Cain always seems out of his element.

That's The SpiritThat’s a champion’s attitude right there.

NewChallenger: The challenge takes place at Bishop Gorman High School, the institution responsible for the Fertitta brothers, Dana White, and Snoop Dogg’s son.

They take turns shooting and playing goalie.  Werdum does a terrible job in net.  It looks like he doesn’t want to risk diving and Cain’s shots are just barely getting past him.  I’d be more critical, but one of these guys has been a healthy and active fighter over the past couple of years and one of them hasn’t…

Goal CelebrationThey say you shouldn’t “eat the worm”.  These guys shouldn’t try to “do the worm”.

Guido uses one of his ninja tricks to hypnotize Cain into kicking a ball wide of the net and that actually helps to even up the action.  The competition goes to overtime and they wisely cut most of it out.  There’s no way that even this cast could keep up their regular levels of enthusiasm after watching a dozen bad penalty kicks.  Werdum wins, which means that it’s on Team Mexico to do the housecleaning from now on.  Guido twice refers to the other team as his “Mexican servants”.  I’d love to see someone get away with that on an American edition of TUF.

Our first semi-final fight starts off eerily quiet.  The corners aren’t talking, there’s no commentary, and the Mexicans don’t want to show too much support for Yair or Fito.  You can tell that the competitors themselves aren’t into it.  It’s a really sloppy start as they work to get motivated to hurt each other.

The_Vortex: It’s not too much of a long fight either. Rodolfo quickly dumps Yair onto the round, after about a minute or so, Yair forces his way up. So, that’s the first unexciting minute over. Otherwise, it’s Yair that gets warmed up faster, he’s more aggressive on his feet, and manages to keep it there. He ends up on top of Rodolfo as they both manage to throw each other, and cuts up Rodolfo with a couple of elbows and wild punches. Yair’s throwing a lot of odd spinning s**t on the feet that he’s not even bothering to set up properly, and some of it is landing, so it’s that kind of fight. Eventually, Yair backs Rodolfo into the cage, and launches at him with a crazy-wild flurry. He wails on him for a while as Herb Dean looks on. Rodolfo Continue reading

20 Thoughts About The Ultimate Fighter 20

For the past two weeks, the latest season of The Ultimate Fighter has been on hiatus to accommodate the Major League Baseball playoffs.  In anticipation of the show’s return tonight, I engaged in a binge watch of the first four episodes over the weekend and here are some random comments and information for anyone watching or fans wondering whether they should consider doing so.

1.  The first episode had a lot of good ideas I’d like to see the show expand on in the future.  For one, having short, well produced profiles of the contestants is more memorable than two hours of mostly insignificant fights to get into the house.  Secondly, I liked seeing the tryouts.  That’s not a segment that will necessarily make sense every season, but it can’t hurt to show us more of the pre-show process.  I especially liked that they contrasted the paths of the more well known fighters with those who had to audition.

Right off the bat, we got to know more about Carla Ezparza (the favourite), Felice Herrig (notorious for self promotion), Alex Chambers (the astrophysicist), Angela Hill (the rookie), Heather Clark (the professional), Angela Magaña (spiritual), Rose Namajunas (beast),  Lisa Ellis (mommy), Tecia Torres (the undefeated prospect), and Randa Markos (the underdog).  They’re already treating these women like stars, which makes sense because regardless of who wins the show the rest of the cast will form the foundation of a new division in the UFC.

2.  The inclusion of Invicta fight footage was brilliant.  The clips showed us that these fighters have been performing at a high level already while also serving to promote a product that is now part of the UFC Fight Pass experience.  I’m also a believer that you can learn a lot about a fighter even if you’re only seeing snippets of what they can do.  Anything that helps foster familiarity in your viewing audience is a good thing.

It was also smart of them to acknowledge that there’s a lot of history between the girls both inside and outside the cage.  They know each other, they’ve trained with each other, and they’ve fought each other.  Whether you’re looking for fresh match-ups or high stakes rematches, every fight this year is going to carry extra weight.

3.  Once they were all gathered in the gym, Dana White declared that these are the sixteen baddest girls in the weight class.  Somewhere, Jessica Aguilar was throwing a remote at the television.

4.  As unpopular as this opinion might be, I should note that I’m not the biggest fan of women’s MMA.  That’s not to say that I don’t support it or that I don’t find it exciting.  I just feel that it’s not on the level of the men’s game.  I’m aware that’s a “duh” statement.  The most obvious comparison to make would be the NBA and the WNBA.  The WNBA is a fine product if you’re a basketball fan, but it lacks that elite level of athleticism that makes basketball a transcendent experience.  I’ve watched and enjoyed women’s basketball and I’ve watched and enjoyed women’s MMA.  I just prefer my basketball with acrobatic lay-ups and thunderous dunks and my MMA with greater potential for one hitter quitters.

5.  And to continue on this piggish bent, there’s no getting around it: there are some attractive women in this cast.  I’m not only talking about physical beauty either, though obviously most mixed martial artists are appealing on that level just from being in fantastic shape (I’m looking at you Roy Nelson).  Beyond that, these girls have great attitudes and personalities, which to me is the essence of attraction.  Take Herrig for example.  Yes, she’s cute, but (at least to me) she’s not on the level of a super model.  It’s her confidence and outgoing personality that makes her truly “hawt”.  Others may disagree and find her personality to be grating, but “eye of the beholder” and all that.

Felice BumThis is my reward for all the male nudity I normally have to deal with on this show.

6.  Since you asked, the girls I like the most are Felice, Alex (so purdy and smart), Rose, and Joanne Calderwood.  Rose consistently gives some of the best confessionals and I never get tired of hearing her rail on Heather Clark.  She also has amazing eyes, the most adorable nose, and a fantastic bum.

Rump ShakerI’m sorry, Pat Barry.  It’s not my fault your girlfriend rules.

7.  The tournament seeding is awesome!  Thank you TUF show runners for respecting that this season is unlike any other and that the crowning of a champion needs to be treated thoughtfully and respectfully.

For anyone who missed it, this is how it went down: Without the coaches’ knowledge, the UFC seeded the women from 1 to 16 based on the fighters’ history and the tryouts.  The coaches would still pick the teams, but depending on who they picked the other coach would then automatically get that pick’s opposite number.  For example, if Anthony Pettis picked #1, Gilbert Melendez would get #16, then if Melendez picked #2, Pettis would get #15 and so on.  This ensured that the high seeds would deservedly get an easier path to the finals and also challenge the coaches and their staff’s ability to assess talent.

(fighters listed in order of selection alternating between Pettis and Melendez, official seeding in parentheses):

Team Pettis

Carla Ezparza (1)
Randa Markos (14)
Joanne Calderwood (2)
Alex Chambers (10)
Jessica Penne (4)
Felice Herrig (6)
Justine Kish (9)
Aisling Daly (5)

Team Melendez

Angela Hill (16)
Tecia Torres (3)
Emily Kagan (15)
Rose Namajunas (7)
Lisa Ellis (13)
Heather Clark (11)
Bec Rawlings (8)
Angela Magaña (12)

8.  Just based on the seeding, Pettis killed it by ending up with five of the top six picks.  Aisling Daly really threw a monkey wrench into things.  She’s been dealing with depression and her understated persona might have caused them to overlook her impressive record.  Pettis nailed the top pick, highly regarded the highly regarded Esparza who I’m sure Melendez would have taken as well.  It’s the bottom of the draft where things got even better for Team Pettis as they somehow got the better of three of the last four picks (and Rawlings/Kish is essentially a toss-up).

9.  I don’t see why that tournament style seeding isn’t something they couldn’t try every season, since a natural pecking order always develops anyway.  The fact is that most fighters they find these days have at least heard of each other.  In the past it might have been a good idea to sell every fighter as some unknown property to increase the believability of anyone winning, but people are smart now.  As much fun as it is to see how guys react to where they were picked by the coaches, it would add even more intrigue to have official rankings as well.

10.  I’m still trying to figure out if it’s a good idea to reward the belt to the winner of this show.  On the one hand, it’s a heck of a prize and it makes TUF somewhat relevant (at least for one season); on the other hand, the multitude of belts has already diminished their drawing power so tying one into a reality show could do further harm.

11. Speaking of titles, based on what we’ve seen so far, the show has done nothing to disprove the notion that having Pettis and Melendez coach this season was a bad idea.  Neither is Mr. Personality in front of the camera, there doesn’t appear to be any real animosity, and that lightweight belt continues to hover in limbo.  With the recent news that Cain Velasquez will miss The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America coaching match-up with Fabrício Werdum, I can’t fathom how the organization thinks it’s a good idea to wilfully waste their champions’ time filming these shows.  I’m not saying Cain got hurt because he was a TUF coach; however, if there’s even the slight possibility he could have fought instead of doing the show then you have to make that a priority.  If Pettis or Melendez suffer an injury that pushes their showdown even further back, it will be a disaster.

12.  Tecia Torres became the first high seed to get upset and in the very first episode no less.  It is a close fight, one that is difficult to judge because her opponent (Randa) was on top for the majority of the contest, but Tecia was aggressive from bottom position.  It goes to a third round that I scored for Randa due to her top control.  I might be slightly biased because she’s flying the greatest colours in the world.

Proud Iraqi CanadianAnd don’t you forget it.

13.  Oh JoJo, my heart sings for thee, lassie.  So much so that you get your own bullet point.  Maybe it’s my love of accents, maybe it’s my love of pale women, maybe I’m just a total weirdo, but I think Joanne is SO HOT.  That near whisper she speaks in is so seductive, am I right?  Am I right?!?  I know I’m not the only one who thinks this.  Urijah Faber (stepping in for an absent Pettis) commented on it and he also said “You sound like Braveheart.”  Smooth.  You stay away from my girl, Faber!  (And you too, Joanne’s boyfriend!)

Some of JoJo’s highlights:

(After being matched up with Emily Kagan)

I’m pretty happy with that match-up even though before we were talking and I was like “I’m a wee bit hungry” and she’s like “Oh, I’ve got some food in my bag”.  So she went away and brought me two carrots.  Then when we got matched up I was like “Aw f**k she’ll be wanting her carrots back.”

Arm BreakerPettis: Oh!  Not so hard!  She took my arm out.  We’re just practicing right now.  Go light, okay?  I know you’re in fight mode.

Joanne: That was light.

(Filming a home video)

Joanne: I’ll go to Jemma first, my sister.  Will you miss me when I go away for six weeks?

Jemma: Of course not.

Joanne: Okay.

JoJoThe purple and pink shades put it over the top for me.

I can tell you this: if she walks out of this tournament with the title, she immediately becomes the UFC’s most distinctive champion (until Mark Hunt knocks out Werdum, of course).

14.  Poor Heather has been singled out by the cast (and the production crew) as the house pariah.  We all know people like her who are trying really hard to fit in and the harder they try it just makes things worse.  She also seems to be the neat and orderly type and those are two things that the TUF house has never been.  Everything she does rubs her teammates the wrong way, whether it’s playing rules lawyer during a raunchy question and answer game or using the ice bath at the wrong time.  The latter incident resulted in Angela M. yelling “I don’t want to hear it!  Shut up!”  And considering Angela M. is normally pretty chill, that was bad.

RefugeThe two Angelas and Rose hiding in the opposing locker room to avoid having to deal with Heather.

15. Angela H.’s farting.  This is a thing apparently.  I was wondering how she made it onto the show ahead of other more experienced women and I guess this explains it.

Angela's EntranceKickin’ in the door like Frankie Edgar!

16. Episode three started off on an awful note when Bec Rawlings found out that her dad passed away.  He had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease.  This harkens back to season 15, when Michael Chiesa received the same news.  He went on to win the show and it remains to be seen whether Bec can find the same inspiration he did.  Jake Shields visited the house to give his condolences.  He had to deal with the death of his father a few years back, weeks before a big fight with Jake Ellenberger.

Shields's FlowersI bet y’all feel bad about all those mean things you’ve said about Jake Shields now, don’t you?

17.  It never ceases to amaze me that in addition all the difficulties that come with being a professional athlete, women also have to deal with the possibility of becoming pregnant.  Starting a family can interfere with a woman’s career in any field, but when you add in the physical demands required to be a successful martial artist the challenge is mind boggling.

Lisa (wife of TUF 16 cast member Eddie Ellis) is only a year removed from having a baby.  She was dealing with a lot of issues, particularly a lack of confidence from having to endure such a long layoff.  The seeding did her no favours, matching her up with Jessica Penne who was mega focused.  Just as Melendez feared, Lisa froze up when Jessica got aggressive.  She was on defence the whole time and eventually succumbed to a rear naked choke.

18.  This season still doesn’t have as much crying as the TUF: Brazil series.  Yes, these women get emotional when they lose or when they’re talking about their struggles or missing their families.  The men in Brazil cry because it’s Tuesday.

The ProposalNow this is some progressive programming.

19.  Team Pettis started a tradition of hanging their underwear on the Team Pettis sign in their locker room.  I suppose that’s one way to add a feminine touch to the proceedings.  Team Melendez gets the wise idea to put a pair of granny panties up there, which isn’t a bad gag.  Jessica’s counter prank is better.  She takes the panties and stretches them across Melendez’s portrait.

Melendez DefacedMost men would be happy to have women’s underwear being shoved in their face.

20.  Overall, this season has definitely been worth watching even for lapsed TUF fans or even newcomers to the program.  Instead of relying on the novelty of an all female cast to carry the season, the show has stepped up its coverage of the fighters by giving us lots of footage of their lives outside of the house and drawing upon their shared history.  The fights have been good (if unspectacular) and there’s been little forced drama inside the house.  The conflicts feel real, almost uncomfortably so at times (at one point, the girls wonder if Heather has “real person feelings”.  Ouch!).

There’s also great camaraderie.  This is an enormous opportunity for every person in the house and they know it.  No cast will ever approach the significance or success of the original TUF (can you imagine the likes of Kenny Florian, Forrest Griffin, and Josh Koscheck all living in the same house today?), but this is as close as you’re going to get for a while.  You get the feeling that they want to elevate each other, whether it’s through bringing out each other’s personalities or pushing each other to the limit during training.  Friends or enemies, they have the chance to make a lot of money together.

But what do I know?  I watch every season of this show anyway so I can’t be trusted.  If you haven’t already, it can’t hurt to check out an episode and make up your own mind.  And if you won’t do it for me, do it for JoJo.

Miss Manners

The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America – Week 8

The_Vortex: Up tonight, we’ve got the last of the preliminary fights, and yes, the previews haven’t lied to you, it does end in glorious violence. Spoiler alert, it’s an awesome finish. Our fighters tonight are Team Mexico’s Masio Fullen, one of the bearded funny guys, against Leonardo “Chimy” Morales, a guy that I genuinely know nothing about. He’s had zero confessionals, minimal screen time, and he’s barely on screen for training montages. He’s the mohawked guy of this season, and even the show’s intro-promo categorises him as “mysterious”.

NewChallenger: The Mysterious Nicaraguan is his nickname from now on.

The_Vortex: So, back in the house, surprise, surprise, Guido’s having a whinge about losing his fight. Unfortunately, I have to agree with him here. He did win both rounds, and Marco’s pretty banged up. He’s limping noticeably nearly every time we see him. Of course, this doesn’t take away from the fact that Guido is a d**k. He’s complaining about the fight in the kitchen, in the bathroom, in the bedroom, outside, inside, everywhere. He’s not winning any friends, although I think he might have solidly lost them in the first place. Whilst it seems silly to criticise someone for the quality of their tattoos, let me just say: Your nipple tattoo ain’t looks pretty dumb, bro.

Ninja TattooSeriously, it ain’t great.

NewChallenger: If you thought Guido was grating on the other cast members before, this whine and cheese party has them all looking like they want to get him back in the tournament just so they can hand him a more convincing loss.  In fairness to Guido, I’d want to fight Teco too the way that mustachioed Mexican was staring at him.

GlareSo smarmy.

You know someone has an abrasive personality when he’s clearly been wronged and yet it’s still nearly impossible to sympathize with him.  He actually reminds me a lot of TUF 6 winner Mac Danzig, though even that guy loosened up after a while.  Through some fancy editing, they make it look like Guido has been talking from sun down to sun up.  I’m sure it just felt that way to everyone else in the house.

The_Vortex: Finally, we get our first introduction to Leonardo. He’s apparently a very solitary dude. Team Mexico has only heard him speaking once or twice, and his own team mates have to push him to join them whenever they’re doing something. Everyone seems accepting of this, though, that’s just the way some people are. However, Leonardo does have some legitimate “international man of mystery” traits that I was pretty surprised by.

NewChallenger: Yeah, you weren’t kidding when you said you had barely noticed him before.  Even his own teammates don’t know much about him!  I’m also disappointed that they are so accepting of him.  Where is the teasing, the unjust persecution, the borderline homoerotic hazing through juvenile pranks?  I feel sorry for the Latin American fans if this is their first taste of TUF programming.  They must be getting the wrong idea that fighters can be professional and mature.  You know, aside from all the nudity.

Leonardo gives off a borderline psycho (and I’m not talking about Marco) vibe, with his disdain for communication and his love of violence.  Thankfully, we see that he has a family which suggests that he’s at least capable of love.  At least I think he is.  A couple of interesting facts about his wife: she’s a professional boxer and she’s thirty-one, ten years his senior!  Who says older women are intimidating?

In case you forgot, the Mexicanos won a challenge last episode and there reward was a night out in Vegas.  They get the big limo treatment, which is a good thing because Coach Cain is coming along for the ride.

Limousine Ride​I’ve had nightmares where Cain Velasquez just emerges from the darkness.  Sexy nightmares.

In a truly inspired choice, they take the Mexicans to a Mexican restaurant.  I’m missing Claudia already.

The_Vortex: The way Cain just appeared in the back of the limo makes me hope that it was just as much a surprise for the team as it was for us. Cain’s really starting to loosen up, but he’s still a very humble guy at heart.

Most importantly, though, the guys head back to the house to get their drink on. And, as Mike Goldberg would say, “Get their drink on, indeed, do they… Joe.” They head back to the house for some tequila, Cain ends up eating the worm (seriously, not a great idea, I had one a few weeks back), and it turns into a proper Team Mexico party.

That is, everyone gets shirtless, and jumps in the pool.

Everyone.

Cain Gets In ThereAs a fight promoter, this is what you like to see your heavyweight champion doing when injuries have kept him off the shelf for almost a year.

It’s refreshing to see some guys having fun, especially after Guido’s eternal whinging.

Too Much Fun 1Too Much Fun 2Although, maybe they’re having a bit too much fun…

NewChallenger: He does not shy away from fraternizing with the troops, eh?  Not one bit.  This is a cool side of him, a far cry from the quiet, stoic champion that he is usually portrayed as.

The_Vortex: It’s profile time for Masio now. He lives with his parents, and four sisters. His father doesn’t think much of his fighting career, and has only seen one fight. On the other hand, his mother and sister are at every one of his fights they can get to, and I’d like to imagine that they’re all Ma Woodley-esque. Masio’s primarily a boxer, so he’s going to need to close down the kicks and range of Leonardo’s Muay Thai.

NewChallenger: No weigh-ins again and we’re getting right to the fight with just under thirty minutes left in the show.  The Mysterious Nicaraguan is sporting a Jason mask.  You are not Rony Jason, sir.  YOU ARE NOT.

Masio starts counting some un-hatched chickens, thinking about what it will be like to face his teammates in the semi-finals.  I’m sure it’s something that’s had to have come up considering Team Mexico’s dominance of the competition so far, but still…it seems unwise.

At the start of the fight, I’m really liking The Mysterious Nicaraguan’s demeanour.  Tightly coiled, with just enough movement to keep his opponent honest.  As you said, this is a clash of styles and The Mysterious Nicaraguan is keeping this at Muay Thai range, not boxing range.  Cain and Daniel Cormier are shouting at Masio to get in closeLucha!  Lucha!”, Cormier commands.  Sure enough, when Masio gets close he’s able to show some sharp boxing.  The tactic is much easier to implement in theory though since The Mysterious Nicaraguan has some nasty leg kicks.  I give the first round 10-9 to The Mysterious Nicaraguan, though Masio might have taken it with some late action.

The second round starts off with the kind of sequence that reminds me why I love mixed martial arts.  Leonardo attacks with a leg kick, Masio enters with boxing, Leonardo counteres with a Thai plum, Masio goes for a double leg to drag the action to the mat.  This has already been a vast improvement over the action from the last couple of weeks.

SkillsThat’s how you mix it up, fellas!

The_Vortex: Yup, this has been a good fight. Respect to Masio, as he’s really hanging in there, but Leonardo has done an awesome job of chopping away at that lead leg, forcing Masio to devote all of his attention to it. It turns out to all be part of his plan.

NewChallenger: It has to be noted that Leonardo is fighting with a large stain on the back of his shorts.  I’m going to assume it is sweat and that he didn’t Tim Sylvia himself.

The_Vortex: Eventually, about halfway through the pretty close, pretty awesome second round, he swings a kick high, and Masio, expecting yet another leg kick, drops his guard downwards, and kind of ducks into it. It hits him perfectly, he drops like a rock, and two laser accurate punches from Leonardo end any chances of recovery. Herb Dean bolts across the Octagon to stop it. The big man full sprints, it is nuts.

Nicaraguan KickTwo Team Werdum wins, two vicious knockouts.

Leonardo’s ecstatic, Werdum’s happy, and Dana’s f**king stoked. Dana even breaks down the fight, and the lead-up to the finish in a confessional, which is something I haven’t seen him do in a while, if at all, really. Dana f**king loved that fight, and as he tells us later, he loves these guys, and this entire season. That was a good fight, and a great finish.

Now, with all of the first round fights over, it’s time to pick the next round, and we get the traditional meeting with Dana to sort things out. With only two Team Werdum guys left, they’ve got loads of choices, and Chito calls out Marco, whilst Leonardo is willing to fight either Moggly or Rodolfo.

Smart call outs, I can dig it.

NewChallenger: The Mexicans also stay true to the crew, all picking either Chito or Leonardo.  The exceptions are Moggly (who says that he’ll fight anybody) and Alejandro Perez who says he wants a rematch with Teco since they’ve fought before.  Dana jokes with Teco that he should have picked Perez since Teco won both of their previous encounters.  We end up with…

Bantamweight

Alejandro Perez v. Chito Vera
Teco v. Psycho

Featherweight

Yair Rodriguez v. Rudolfo Rubio
The Mysterious Nicaraguan v. Moggly

Yair and Fito have one of the most solemn face-offs I’ve ever seen, neither man raising their head to look the other in the eyes.  I’m confident they’ll be motivated to murder each other when the time is right.  Onto the semi-finals!

Leonardo VictoriousNext Week: The Coaches’ Challenge and Pantera v. Fito!  Also, I start campaigning for a Leonardo Morales/Rony Jason fight.

The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America – Week 7

The_Vortex: It’s time for another installment of the best season of TUF screening right now that doesn’t contain Felice Herrig. The fight coming up this week contains both mine and NewChallenger’s favourite cast member, Guido Cannetti (note: he is not our favourite. Not at all). I cannot wait to see him get punched in the face as this episode continues.

As we blast into this episode, we get some idle fighter talk, and it turns out that both Guido and his opponent, Marco “Psycho” Beltrán, typically fight at 145, despite competing at 135 for the show. Are we foreshadowing some weight cutting issues here? The drop in weight seems pretty strange to me, as typically TUF winners drop down a division after the show. You can basically count on one hand the amount of Ultimate Fighter winners that have not dropped down a division (Diego Sanchez dropped down two!)

Guido is talking a lot at the start of this episode. About himself, about the fight, about everything. It’s grating on everyone. Apparently, he’s somewhat legit though. He seems to have a solid reputation that somewhat holds up (his only loss is to Cristiano Marcello), but he’s still managing to annoy the entirety of Team Mexico with his non-stop big-upping of himself.

MateCome on, you know better than to accept a pre-fight drink from a ninja!

NewChallenger: There shouldn’t be anything wrong with Guido talking about his experiences, but for some reason I just find it all so annoying.  Maybe the problem is with us…nah, it’s him.

The Mexicans are skeptical about his claims, if only because he won’t shut up about them.  It’s like that guy you know who claims to have been with so many chicks yo.  If you’ve done it, then say it once and shut the f**k up about it.  Completely unrelated to all of that, I just realized why Moggly looks so familiar.  He’s a dead ringer for former Toronto Raptors swingman Carlos Delfino.

Carlos & MogglyKind of sort of?

We get another Latin American celebrity appearance and it is a negligible upgrade from Latino Kelsey Grammar.  I don’t know who Claudia Álvarez is, but the boys seem a lot happier to see her than they were that other guy.

ClaudiaWouldn’t you be?

The fighters get to unwind, hang with a pretty lady, party, and watch a UFC event all in the comfort of what looks to be a luxury suite.  However, it’s not all fun and games as Claudia tells them there will be a billiards contest with some big stakes: The winning team gets to have a night out on the town of Las Vegas, while the losing team has to…get in the hot tub?  You know what Team Mexico calls that?  “Tuesday.”  I guess it is all fun and games.

The_Vortex: That was genuinely the most half-assed punishment I have ever seen anywhere, at all. Jumping in the hot tub is virtually all we’ve seen any of these guys doing. I do feel sorry for the Team Latin America guys, losing at something else. It just can’t help morale to just be beaten at inconsequential stuff like that.

Back to the house, we learn a bit more about each guy. Guido’s 34, and he says he’s been practicing MMA since he was 21 or 22. That’s quite a while for a guy with a 5-1 record. He’s just recently had a child, and had his grandmother pass away whilst he was training out of the country. Coach Werdum is also pretty high on Guido. He’s quite strong for his weight class, and apparently quite technical. It does seem as if Guido was intentionally avoided by the Mexican team to get better earlier matches for their guys.

NewChallenger: Okay, Guido does kind of get me with the way he phrases his struggle: I went to Argentina because my son was born.  My girlfriend at one point said, “Why don’t you find another occupation?”  And I would say, “Give me one more year.  Give me more time.”  Anyone who has chased a dream can relate to that.

His claims that Psycho was little more than a sacrifice to him rubbed me the wrong way.  As if Psycho is some scrub and Guido is just such a great fighter.  He also believes that Cain didn’t want to give him time to rest before the next round of fights.  Yes, Guido, he based all the picks around you.

The_Vortex: We move on to Marco now. I kind of like Marco. He’s come off in the confessionals as a nice enough guy, and along with Masio and Moggly is one of the actually funny guys. He’s reading a new letter from his girlfriend, and unlike Noah Inhofer, doesn’t run sobbing from the TUF house to go be with her. I’m confused here. Marco mentions how he just got this letter, so either he brought it with him and just opened/noticed it now, or the real life lockout in the TUF house has gotten way less strict.

NewChallenger: For a second there I thought that Psycho was getting Dear John’d.

The_Vortex: The letter is all good news, and it reminds Marco of his home life. He was raised poor and humble, and his father was his grandfather. In a “abandoned and raised by positive older role model” way, not a “creepy, creepy Deep South yee-haw, y’all gots a purty mouth” way.

NewChallenger: At the weigh-ins, Team Werdum chants for Ninja but they do not break into a full blown Ninja Rap, which is incredibly disappointing.

Now, just like you, I was looking forward to seeing Guido finally get his comeuppance for his overwhelmingly off-putting behaviour inside the house.  That is not what we got.  Guido looked to be more prepared and more experienced than Psycho in every aspect.  The Argentinean gets the first takedown and shows good top control.  So the opposite of everything we saw last week.  Psycho defends well from the bottom though and eventually gets up.

Guido consistently gets the better of Psycho, especially during scrambles.  For some reason, he decides to throw an irresponsible kick to the head while Psycho is grounded and I’m back to hating Guido again.  The error is compounded when he says the kick was to the body.

Ninja KickYou be the judge…no, don’t bother.  That’s an illegal kick.

Werdum starts shouting “Fake, fake, fake!” as Psycho lays on the mat.  Dana White doesn’t seem too convinced either.  Werdum then changes tactics, encouraging Psycho to get up by telling that he is a warrior and to continue (so that Guido doesn’t get disqualified).  Cain tells him to worry about his own fighter.

After all that, the referee takes a point!  Intrigue!  Other than some unconvincing back control to close the round, I didn’t see much from Psycho.  At worst that penalty should have made it a draw going into the second.

The_Vortex: Taking a point was certainly justified in my eyes. I’ve got it 9-9 after round 1. Whilst Marco plays it up a bit, he didn’t use the whole 5 minutes allocated to him, so that’s suitably hardcore. It doesn’t take away from the fact that that kick was one of the dumbest kick attempts I’ve seen on TUF.

The second round is absolutely Guido’s. He’s more aggressive throughout, and he does an excellent job of chopping away at Marco’s legs. Aside from one very nice knee and a throw that ends up getting reversed astonishingly quickly, Marco just really doesn’t offer much offensively this round. He’s never very active when he’s trapped under Guido (which happens a few times), allowing the ground game to get stalled out and returned to standing. Guido is pretty adept at hitting Marco, dragging him to the ground and slowly doing some damage. Never enough to put him in any danger, but enough to remain in control of the fight. In the last 20 seconds, Guido flurries all out, and gets some momentum and chains together some ground strikes. It looks like he could push for a finish, but an up-kick scares him off.

That round was clearly a Guido 10-9.

Marco is absolutely toasted after the two rounds. He needs to be helped up into his corner, and slouches around, exhausted.  He can barely stand up from his stool, and limps around. According to Stockton Rules (i.e, whoever was most f**ked up after a fight loses), Guido’s got this victory in the bag. Due to the point deduction, we’re assured a decision here. I’ve got it 19-18, so does NewChallenger. In the post-fight but pre-decision clips, Werdum backs his fighter, and even Cain acknowledges that Guido had a good first round.

So, of course, the judges f**k it up.

One of these judges is “Judge Byrd”. I’m assuming it’s Adalaide Byrd, and she gets the score wrong, and gives one round to Marco, so it’s a 19-18 win to him.

Adalaide Byrd.

Adalaide “29-28 Garcia-Phan” Byrd

Adalaide “30-27 Guillard-Varner” Byrd.

Gah.

NewChallenger: I have…no idea how that score was even possible.  As much as I dislike Guido, that was ridiculous.  Even Cain thinks his man lost and he tells Werdum as much.

Werdum: I liked Cain’s attitude after the fight.  He told me: “Werdum, you won this fight.”  And I loved that.  And that shows that Cain Velasquez is a great champion, not only inside the Octagon, but outside as well.

We got the worst possible outcome: another Werdum loss and barely any face punching for Guido.  These last two fights have been a real bummer.

Beltran VictoriousNext week: Team Mexico’s Masio Fullen v. Team Werdum’s Mohawk Guy.  Also, more Guido Cannetti.  Yay.

The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America – Week 6

The_Vortex: Ok, ok, ok. We back.

Panic, bitches.

So, what’s new and exciting in this episode of TUF: Latin America? Will we see more dirty kitchen drama?

Well, last we saw a beast thought to be extinct; a Latin American victory, as Chito Vera scored a crazy up-kick knockout. The Latin American team are understandably stoked about having won their first fight, and I’m actually pretty happy for Chito. He seems like an alright dude.

To their credit, the Latin American team takes their win very humbly. No excessive celebrations at the house, no keeping everyone up, no banging on the wall a la Josh Koscheck. It’s like, even though a win is great and all, they still recognise that they’re down 1-4. Celebrating at a time like that makes you look pretty out of whack with reality, in my opinion.

NewChallenger: I agree that seeing them celebrate in a subdued manner was refreshing.  After criticizing the Mexicans for their excessive partying and nakedness, Team Werdum stuck to their guns.  Not a stray pair of Colombian or Argentinian cojones to be found.

Chito is emerging as a sentimental favourite, promising that the first thing he’ll do if he wins the tournament is to use the money to pay for his daughter’s surgery.  I’ll be supremely disappointed if he wins and I see him roll up in a brand new Mercedes a few months from now.

Competing this week are Rodolfo “Fito” Rubio (Team Velasquez) and Alex “Rolo” Torres.  Fito literally has no backstory worth sharing.  He always liked martial arts.  He started training.  He received an offer to fight.  He likes fighting so he keeps doing it.  I even had to embellish the details there to make it sound more interesting.  At least Torres used to hang out with a bunch of drug addicts!  Give us something to work with here, Fito.

The_Vortex: There are actually a few cool things to learn about Rolo Torres. In addition to his good old druggie mates back home, he’s actually the student of renowned wrestling coach Fredy “El Profe” Serrano. That’s right, the same Fredy that competed a few episodes ago. It’s gotta be pretty reassuring to Rolo to have his regular coach there as well, that’s a level of comfort and normality most of these guys don’t get on TUF.

NewChallenger: Daniel Cormier is here and I just realized how strange it is to hear someone speaking English.  He and Fabrício Werdum have known each other for six years.  Cormier says that when they first trained together he was able to get Werdum to tap to a guillotine choke.  Werdum counters by claiming that he took Cormier down three times.  He goes as far as to call his wrestling coach, Ryan Parsons:

Phone Call“Daniel Cormier is here.  I want to f**k with him.  Hey, how many times I take down in the first training?”

“Three times.”

(Werdum squeals)

The_Vortex: That was a high quality trolling phone call. Easily the best part about that is poor Marco “Psycho” Beltrán of Team Mexico, who was dragged into the room to serve as a Mexican witness.

Team Werdum is always ready to surprise us, and today the coaches are hosting “UFC Cafe”. It’s great to see them having fun with the reality TV format and mock shooting their own show. We learn some fun things, like, the rest of the team calls Rolo “Ostrich face” right to his Ostrich-y face. Also, Mohawk Guy on Team Werdum (probably the only fighter on the show whose name I don’t know) does some hard hitting journalism, asking the tough questions.

UFC CafeMohawk Guy would prefer the lycra.

We go back to the house, and as always, it’s filthy. To follow on from the tradition that was set from the very first episode of this season, one team leaves a passive-aggressive note to the other. It’s Team Mexico’s turn this time, and, spurred on by Coach Cormier, they leave a note loaded with passive-aggression.  I can’t handle this heightened conflict.

NewChallenger: I am just…so done with this kitchen and house cleaning drama.  If I were to wager a guess, I’d say that the teams probably get along really well and this was the only source of tension so they’re just pounding it to death.  Then again, I’m ignorant to the real life politics involved in Mexico’s relationship with other Latin American nations.  I doubt there’s anything as intense as the centuries old Canada-Australia blood feud.

Team Werdum responds with another note and we at least get to see Moggly read it in his best Guido Cannetti voice.  You know it’s good because it makes me want to punch him.

The_Vortex: Man, f**k Guido.

Teco's RetortTeco taking Team Werdum’s note very seriously.

NewChallenger: For the second week in a row, no weigh-in!  I’m actually glad they’ve chosen to skip it if there’s nothing worth showing us.  I’m always harping on them to play with the format, even if it’s a minor exclusion like that.

I’m actually intrigued by the storyline going into this fight.  For one thing, Team Werdum has the momentum (not that I believe in that sort of thing) and this is the first time they’ve got to select the match-up.  Team Velasquez has been game planning as if Torres is going to focus on taking Fito down even though Torres has told his team he wants to win on the feet.  Hmm…

On to the fight, which I thought was…how do I put this nicely…terrible.

The_Vortex: So. Sloppy striking in fights = mostly entertaining fights as both guys wing punches at each other. Sloppy grappling in fights = both guys rolling around on the ground, or near the cage, or stalling bad, as neither really has any idea of how to get to a better position, or what to do once they’ve got there. Boy howdy, was this fight a perfect example of the latter.

For all his talk of keeping the fight standing, it takes Rolo Torres just slightly over 30 seconds before he takes it to the ground. Way to stick to your gameplan, bro. After fighting off a guillotine attempt, Rolo ends up in this bizarre standing back grapple position that kind of reminds me of some odd dance show. Eventually he’s able to pull it to the ground, and spends an exasperatingly long amount of time secured to Fito’s back, with both hooks in, completely forgetting to complete the choke. After Fito fights his way out of this, we get a ton of clinching against the cage.  Like, basically the rest of the round.

NewChallenger: Don’t forget Fito getting back up only to go down again after going for…I’m not sure what exactly.

Fito FallUh…single leg…something?

The_Vortex: With 30 second to go, the separate and swing wild punches at each other. Right from the hips, huge arcs, like the Leonard Garcia of old. And then, 10 seconds to go, the best thing ever happens. Rolo just straight up stops fighting. He turns his back, and walks around the cage for the next few seconds. Fito doesn’t know what the f**k to do. Does he swing, does he charge? Eventually he charges in, gets taken down, and the round is done.

Wat.

NewChallenger: We get some mid-match commentary from Werdum who does his best to try and comprehend what the hell Rolo was doing at the end of that round.  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen the show do that before.  More of this sort of thing please!

A minute into the second, Torres gets full mount but is WAY too high up on Fito’s chest.  Somehow, Fito is able to reverse into a leg lock from there which I didn’t even know was possible.

Bad MountJake Shields, I will never take your top game for granted again!

Another Torres takedown goes nowhere and Fito ends up on top where he is able to wail away on his Columbian counterpart.  Fito tries to posture up and trips over Torres ending up on his back.  This fight is a f**king mess.

Fito puts on what I think is supposed to be a weak looking triangle…which Torres escapes and then falls right back into.  Torres turns into it, eventually giving up an armbar that forces the tap.

Look…I hate to be a negative Nancy because both men certainly put in the effort, but…damn that fight sucked.  I hated it.  Hated it, hated it, hated it.  Hated it!

The_Vortex: Totally agreed. Sloppy grappling can just make a fight painful to watch, regardless of the “heart” each guy is putting in. Rolo just couldn’t stick to a gameplan, and Fabrício is more than a mite ticked off. 1-5 is not a great TUF record, and the worst part is that the team aren’t using what he’s teaching them whilst they’re in the Octagon.

Back in the Team Mexico locker room, the Moggly-Masio-Psycho trio once again begin their funny-man schtick, imitating the last ten seconds of the first round.

Moggly FlopTo be fair, it is hilarious.

Even Cain joins the dance party.

Courtesy of sklart.

The second last fight is announced, and it’s “Psycho” Beltrán of Team Mexico, taking on resident d-bag Guido Cannetti.

I’m very conflicted over this fight. Trust me, I want to see Guido get punched in the face more than nearly anyone here, he’s an annoying s**t stirrer that doesn’t know when to shut it, but I also don’t want to see Team Werdum go down 2-6, or even 1-7. That’s Rampage Jackson levels of bad TUF coaching. Even with his guys being super, super raw and unpolished, Werdum doesn’t deserve it.

I’m ready for it, you keen on seeing Guido get punched, NewChallenger?

NewChallenger: If Werdum has to suffer more embarrassment for us to see “El Ninja” (ugh) getting knocked the f**k out, then so be it.  Go Psycho!

Rudolfo VictoriousNext week: Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.

The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America – Week 5

With me being out of town and The_Vortex dealing with business in his neck of the woods, our usual collaboration was pushed back. For now, here’s a quick recap of LAST week’s episode. Apologies to any readers. We’ll resume our regularly scheduled programming later this week.

I have returned from my Spanish vacation, which I took solely to work on being able to watch this show without subtitles. So in the spirit of that endeavour, I have this to say to you all:

Bonjour.

My compliments to The_Vortex for holding down the fort (The Alamo, you might say) while I was away. I’m just sad that I missed the Latino Kelsey Grammar, Chito Vera calling Humberto Brown “my black boy”, and, of course, “gay party”. GAY PARTY.

After a dominating 4-0 start, Team Velasquez is right to think that Team Werdum is mentally defeated. However, I do wonder if Cain Velasquez intentionally went after the other team’s weaker fighters so they could set up this exact scenario. For all we know, the remaining four Fabrício Werdum guys are killers. Like, Che Mills level. I’m predicting that Chito is going to break the streak this episode.

Meanwhile, the Mexicans celebrate in typically conservative fashion.

Pool PartyMy eyes! The pixels do nothing!

We get to meet Cain’s dog who he calls “Little DC” (Daniel Cormier). D’awww…how cute…and kind of insulting. It gets aggressive with Masio Fullen, probably because it was trained to chase off vagrants. He takes the opportunity to work on his bite defence.

Chito and his opponent, Henry Briones, are both family men. We learn that Chito is not only the less experienced fighter, but the more immature person when it comes to life in general. He dedicated so much of his time over the last few years to fighting that he’s only now realizing that he should have been spending it with his wife and daughter. His daughter has a disease that limits her facial expressions so she can’t laugh or smile. I suffer from a similar affliction, though in my case it’s just because I’m an a**hole.

I can only imagine how excited the producers were when Team Mexico asked them to bring a tent to the house. This is a situation where the cast is just doing all of their work for them. It ends up a lot like how you used to go camping in your backyard when you were a kid, only with more tequila shots.

No CartwheelWhere’s Diego Sanchez when you need him?

CampingWhat happens in the tent stays in the tent.

The morning after, El Diabolito isn’t doing so great…

DiabolitoExcessive drinking is so fun, just like in the movies!

I think I hate Guido Cannetti. He’s a s**t disturber and a know-it-all and he just has this look on his face all the time like he’s above this whole competition. Nobody is above TUF, you hear me Cannetti? He also ends up giving Chito an atrocious haircut.

The fight

After the first round, my prediction isn’t looking so hot. Chito was aggressive on the feet, but Henry was all over him once he managed to score a takedown. They worried about Henry’s wrestling and experience being too much for Chito and that is exactly the story that’s playing out here. It’s a clear cut first for Team Mexico.

The second round however…

Up Kick Axe KickRIGHT LEG, HOSPITAL

Chito with one of the most brutal and unlikely up-kick knockouts you’ll ever see! I don’t know if he’s just that good or Henry f**ked up, but the results speak for themselves. Chito attributes his victory to negative reinforcement from Werdum who threatened to smack him if he didn’t *ahem* step up his game in the second round.

Chito VictoriousWerdum finally gets to pick a fight!

Next week: Team Werdum’s Alexander Torres v. Team Velasquez’s Rodolfo Rubio. Also, the other ring girl’s name is Jamilette Gaxiola.

You’re welcome. Again.

The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America – Week 1

The_Vortex: It’s that time of year again Bloody Elbow. We return to the Ultimate Fighter, and this time we get a national rivalry even more heated than the legendary rivalry that was Australia v. Canada. Here, we are privileged to watch The Ultimate Fighter: Mexico v. Latin America.

Look, I know this it seems like I’m buying into the UFC’s hype here, but as an Australian, I am utterly clueless as to the cultural and national rivalries here.

To be honest, I only remembered about this season when I noticed a commercial for it as I was waiting to see Killa B fight. There have almost been negative levels of promotion for this season and I’m not surprised as to why. All negativity aside, I’m personally quite excited. I love TUF. Low level drama, and medium level fights. Bring it on.

Surprisingly, this season is taking place in the good old U.S. of A. We get a look at the guys, and there are all of the staples already. “Strange facial hair” guy and “mohawk” guy stick out. I can’t wait to meet “pushy religious” guy and “cries about his family” guy soon.

And boom, in walks Dana…

HandlebarBased on the facial hair alone, we’re off to a rollicking start.

NewChallenger: Don’t forget the close relative to “cries about his family” guy, “cries for no reason” guy.

Glad to be back doing this with you now that the aforementioned Canada/Australia rivalry has subsided.  The bad news is that this is yet another season of the increasingly irrelevant TUF franchise that we are choosing to slog through; the good news is that after TUF 19 all I have to see is someone throw a punch without tripping and falling on their face and I’ll be satisfied.  Besides, this one actually gets off to a promising start.

For one thing, we have the fighters nicknames listed in the credits, which is helpful.  This is slightly different from the way they’ve done it on TUF: Brazil where it’s either the fighter’s first name or his nickname.  Here we get both!  On the other hand, the theme is way too mellow.  I was hoping for something rhythmic and upbeat.  Then again, I’m also a racist a**hole.

Dana says he’s been waiting fifteen years to do this show.  I’m disappointed he can’t even muster up an hola for the visiting parties.  It’s unclear if they were told ahead of time that this would be Mexico versus everyone else.  I’m glad they decided to skip the qualifying fights.  With niche seasons like this, just get the ideal cast in the house.  Speaking of which, these guys could not be more excited about seeing the legendary TUF casa.

BathroomAy Dios Mio, is this where they did the upper decker?

The_Vortex: So, Cain Velasquez won the coin flip, which means he has the choice of first fight, and essentially, an unfair stranglehold on the rest of the competition. Somewhat similar to his match ups against 95% of the heavyweight division, I guess, so life is imitating art here.

NewChallenger: I do hate how in these seasons where the teams are already picked, the coin flip can only benefit one team.  The decision between first pick or first fight always intrigues me.  I’ve yet to figure out which decision has proven more fruitful in the past, though I lean towards fighter pick.

The_Vortex: The show isn’t even fifteen minutes old, and we already have some guys whining about how dirty the house is. Editors, seriously, this is episode 7-8 kind of stuff. Don’t give us this exciting storyline too soon, we might not be able to handle it. Of course, the Mexican guys figure that the best solution is to leave passive-aggressive notes around the house about pigs not cleaning the kitchen. When will the drama end?

NewChallenger: I don’t want to hear any jokes about how quickly the Mexicans take to cleaning up the kitchen.  Besides, my maid is from Ecuador.

The_Vortex: In another stroke of genius, the Mexican team decide to…wait for it… cover all of the other flags with the Mexican flag! Wow, what high level pranking! That’s really set the bar high…

FlagsGenki Sudo would be ashamed!

NewChallenger: In our first visit to the respective training camps, the coaches take some time to single out some promising fighters.  I don’t think I’ve seen that too much on previous seasons.  Fabrício Werdum praises Guido “Ninja” Cannetti, Marlon “Chito” Vera, and Bentley “El Doctor Bolivia” (these nicknames!) Syler.  Velasquez’s early favourites are José “Teco” Quiñonez, Masio “Lobo” Fullen, Yair “Pantera” (these nicknames!!!) Rodríguez, and Gabriel “Moggly” Benítez.  Smart way for the show to establish a few names for us.

It should be noted that this is the first time I’ve heard Velasquez speak Spanish.  It also needs to be noted that Werdum sounds like he’s much better at it.

The first bantamweight match-up is Teco versus El Doctor Bolivia and…wait…what’s this…

Weight cut drama?

WEIGHT CUT DRAMA?!?

Excuse me while I wipe the drool off of my desk.

The_Vortex: WEIGHT CUTTING ISSUES?

IN EPISODE 1?

I can’t handle this. Already, this episode is more exciting than the entirety of TUF 19. So, Teco, our gloriously moustachioed Mexican has weighed in at 136.4. It looks like we’re heading towards the danger zone.

It’s ok, though. Werdum pops up immediately, and tells Team Mexico to grab Teco a towel so he can strip off the rest of his clothes and lose that weight. He makes the 136 limit, but Team Latin America takes it to mean that Teco’s not in proper condition, and apparently his diet wasn’t anything to be proud of.

El Doctor Bolivia comfortably makes weight, leading to a pretty silly looking staredown. The most important part of the weigh-ins, though, is Team Mexico supported Teco by wearing the same glorious facial hair.

FilthyTeco Moustaches

This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

NewChallenger: Syler lives up to his name by acting as a consultant for Team Latin America.  The others go to him for advice on dieting and supplement usage.  His patience has endeared him to his housemates.  On his unique career path, he muses: To fight, I only have these years.  To be a doctor, I have many years ahead in the future.

Teco styles his mustache to honour Emiliano Zapata, a revolutionary.  And that’s all you need to know about that.

The_Vortex: Werdum gives some final advice to his fighter, something about sticking and moving, and we’re ready to rock and roll. Teco is about 10cm bigger and rangier than his opponent, and also a fair bit younger. They’re both coming in with five fights experience, Teco on 4-1 and Bentley an unbeaten 5-0.

Crucially, I’m going to leave the all important job of identifying and locating hawt photos of our new ring girl to my Canadian counterpart.

The fight is pretty action filled, but Bentley quickly loses his control on the outcome. After spending the first minute successfully dragging Teco to the ground, he’s really unable to get him back there. A very nice kick to the body leads to Bentley backpedalling and eventually tripping into the cage. Teco flurries on him, and whilst he doesn’t get the finish, he’s definitely done some damage. Teco stuffs a desperation takedown, flips Bentley onto the ground, and wails on him for about a minute. With half the round to go, Bentley forces his way back to his feet. They circle, and flail wildly at each other. Bentley’s doing pretty well for himself here, with a couple of heavy leg kicks, and a combination that makes Teco drop to one knee. It’s not enough, though. A couple of punches lead to Bentley slipping over, and Teco leaps on him, raining down blows. Bentley fights it for twenty seconds-ish, but eventually turtles up. Chris Tognoni has seen enough and calls it. It’s a good stoppage, maybe a touch late on a re-watch.

Late StoppageReally, ref?  This had to go on for another ten seconds?

NewChallenger: As much as I love the drama, I’m glad that Teco made weight because we got a good opening bout to kick off the season.  The size differential played a big part in the outcome as Syler just couldn’t keep Teco down and whenever he tried to create distance he kept getting tagged.

Teco: The best part of winning the fight is the moustache, because it’s still there.  It didn’t suffer at all.

Teco VictoriousThere’s a cool tournament bracket graphic at the end, which I haven’t seen them use in a while.   Got to pull out the gimmicks for a potential new audience.

With control still in his grasp, Cain picks Moggly to face Diego Rivas.  Team Velasquez actually wanted Moggly to go first, but he tweaked his ankle.  That show of confidence could spell trouble for Team Werdum.  They’re already less familiar with each other than the Mexican squad.  Could a slow start send the entire operation off the rails?

The_Vortex: That episode had some of everything. Weight drama, passive aggression, glorious mustaches, a good fight. If this is what we can expect for the rest of this season of TUF: Latin America, sign me up!

Next week: Gabriel Benítez v. Diego Rivas!  Also, her name is Betzy Montero.

Betzy MonteroYou’re welcome.

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!”