The Ultimate Fighter 17: Team Jones v. Team Sonnen – Week 2 Recap

I nearly killed myself recapping two editions of The Ultimate Fighter at once last year, so being able to focus on a single season will be a welcome change.  Let’s get right into it.

Team Colours:

Team Jones
Team Sonnen (actually black on the show, but blue for the purposes of this article)

The first thing I noticed is that the intro didn’t include the fighters themselves.  The opening sequence is short and to the point, but counterproductive to building up these names (which is something they did a superb job with last week).  After that we get a standard scene of the fighters excitedly entering the house.  That’s always fun to see since you know they’ll be cursing the place and tearing it down by episode 6.  Even with its glossy look, the show is falling into its old trappings.

Gilbert Smith is the focal point of the episode, immediately revealing himself as the sensitive one by suggesting that the others build him up with positive reinforcement after a difficult training session.  This is like telling the other inmates that you have the softest butt cheeks in the penitentiary.  The members of Team Jones (specifically “Bubba” McDaniel and Josh Samman) have no sympathy for him, especially after he confides in Adam Cella about his doubts and what he fights for.  He starts crying and Cella later reports this to the team, making them even more down on Smith.  That is cold.

Team Sonnen seems a lot more relaxed, especially Smith’s opponent, no. 1 overall pick Luke Barnatt.  There isn’t much to say here as Barnatt is the opposite of Smith: Calm, laid-back and as he tells it, a “natural” when it comes to MMA.  It still boggles my mind that Jon Jones chose to pit the shortest guy with the worst cardio on his team against Barnatt, the tallest guy with maybe the best cardio in the house.

The theme of this week’s episode was competitiveness; not only in regards to Smith’s performance, but also how the fighters approach the show itself.  It makes perfect sense that you would want to manufacture a favourable match-up, but I hate seeing guys complain about fight picks.  If you’re on the show, aren’t you in it to win the whole thing?  You should be capable of beating anybody.  If you’re just looking for as much TV time as possible, then you’re in the wrong place.  Putting all the blame on Jones and Smith for possibly costing them control of the picks is weak.  The show drives this point home when Chael Sonnen tells Uriah Hall that he’s one of his favourites to win the whole thing.  Sonnen wants to formulate a plan to get him an easy path to the finals, leading to this exchange:

Hall: If it was up to me I’ll take out all their big guys first.
Sonnen: Oh, really?
Hall: Yeah!  I’ll take out Bubba…Josh…
Sonnen: Right away?
Hall: I’ll take ‘em out first.
Sonnen: Really?
Hall: F**k yeah!  Why not?
Sonnen: You’re the man.

See the difference?

Even worse, when the team confronts Smith about his problems in the locker room, they pretty much just pile on without offering any useful criticism.  The fight can’t be changed so what is the point?  Jones and his staff eavesdrop and wait until it’s over before going in to assure Smith that they still believe in him.  It’s not the most rousing speech.

Unintentionally comedic/homoerotic moment of the week: As Smith stepped up to the scale for the weigh-in, Jones hooted “Yeah, look at that muscle, baby.  Yeah.”  There’s no tone, inflection or context that could make that any less gay.  Smith plays along by striking a bodybuilding pose, which draws a laugh from everyone.

A completely unrelated picture of me with my shirt off.

The fight itself is poor, with Smith executing a one-dimensional game plan comprised of takedown attempt after takedown attempt.  The problem is that his shot is slow and his clinch work is limited.  When Smith is successful, Barnatt is able to repeatedly get up and reverse, ending up in top position.  Smith doesn’t fare better in the striking department, with Barnatt outpointing him for the majority of the action.  That’s going to happen when your opponent is 9 inches taller than you.  Team Jones’ fears come to fruition as Smith fades in the middle of the 2nd round.  Looking exhausted, he sloppily shoots and Barnatt finishes him with a knee to the skull.  It is perfectly timed and Barnatt gets to take a comfortable victory lap around the octagon.

After the fight, McDaniel tries to shake things up in a transparent attempt to keep control by calling out Kevin Casey.  Casey pegs the act as disrespectful and I’m inclined to agree.  In the locker room, we get more tears from Smith as he goes out Andy Wang-style.

Next week: Hall takes on Cella and we get the hard sell with the show promising an insane knockout.  Get yo’ popcorn ready!

The Ultimate Fighter 17: Team Jones v. Team Sonnen – Week 1 Recap

I’ve got a bunch of column ideas bouncing around my skull, but as one of the last proud, card carrying fans of The Ultimate Fighter I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer a few thoughts on the season 17 premiere.  After all, they’ve brought out the big guns for this one: Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen are two proven draws and even though the basis for the match-up is farcical at best, it’s exactly the kind of scenario that can bring in casual fans and even appeal to the morbid curiosity of hardcore fans.  After my initial viewing, I can happily say that the show has made some aesthetically pleasing changes and, cliché as it sounds, if you were ever looking for a time to jump back into TUF, this is it.

The testimonials no longer have that low-rent, generic reality TV feel, having been abandoned in favour of rich, film-quality close-ups.  There’s a determined effort to make the show look more like their Primetime series and I can tell you that that effort is appreciated.  On a completely racist note, is it a bad sign that I’m already having trouble telling most of the generic white dudes apart?

Sonnen enters the gym in top form; walking up to Jones and talking to him like their old friends as if hasn’t spent the last two months denigrating his character.  Normally I wouldn’t support Sonnen’s act, but there’s something about his psychotic two-facedness that is disturbingly impressive.  Jones, to his credit, is cordial but not buying into that shtick for a second.

Before I get to a brief recap of the fights, it should be mentioned that for the first time the contestants were allowed to invite friends and family to watch them battle to get into the house.  So you know…no extra pressure or anything:

(note: the competitors this season are all middleweights)

Jake Heun v. Adam Cella

The last time I saw Heun, he was being overwhelmed in a heavyweight bout by 2009 NCAA Wrestling heavyweight champion Mark Ellis.  He was doughy then and he looks like a completely different person at his natural weight class.  He’s so physically imposing that he’s called “The Honey Bear” apparently.  He also started his career through Chris Leben.  I could not be rooting harder for this guy.

Sure enough, Heun comes out swinging like a crazy person and you can tell that Cella is intimidated…but only for a moment.  Coolly and calmly, Cella works off his back and locks in an armbar that he refuses to release even after Heun nearly drops him on his head.  Heun has to tap.  I should have known to pick Cella since he has a hot girlfriend and the hot girlfriend corollary is infallible.

Winner: Cella

Zak Cummings v. Nik Fekete

Speaking of attractive significant others, Fekete’s wife is built like Christina Hendricks.  Victory is guaranteed.  I mean, forget all of the big show experience Cummings has.  Hot girlfriend corollary!

Cummings knocks out Fekete in about 10 seconds.

Winner: Cummings

Eldon Sproat v. Kevin Casey

Sproat might be the first Hawaiian hipster cowboy (he brags about how cowboys existed in Hawaii waaaay before they popped up anywhere else).

Like Cummings, Casey has fought for Strikeforce before and he’s got some serious BJJ credentials having grown up and trained with the late Rockson Gracie (son of Rickson).  This is the first fight to get condensed into highlights and Casey represents the Gracie’s well with some nice grappling.  A nice cut is opened up on his forehead, but he takes Sproat’s back and wins via rear naked choke.  Casey’s bloody, but victorious visage provides a memorable week 1 image.

Winner: Casey

Scott Rosa v. Tor Troéng

“Who beats a guy named Tor?” Jones asks.  Not Scott Rosa apparently.  Troéng (whose first name is pronounced “Thor”) sounds a lot like Dirk Nowitzki, even though he’s Swedish and not German.  This fight also gets the highlight treatment, which gives us time a chance to see some of the banter between Jones and Sonnen:

Sonnen: Jon, you wouldn’t long kick me across the ring would you?
Jones: Possibly.  I might go for some crazy s**t, I just might.
Sonnen: Would you really?  I misjudged you.  I thought we were friends.  I thought we were hitting it off.  You’d really do that?
Jones: I wouldn’t hurt you with it.  I’d just tap you.

Like I said, maybe the fight shouldn’t happen but these two have a lot of potential as rival coaches.  Sonnen can handle most of the talking and Jones just has to play off that.

Winner: Troéng

Clint Hester v. Fraser Opie

Hester is clearly a physical specimen and Opie…well, he’s a guy whose last name is Opie.  Even though his background is in boxing, Hester mixes in some takedowns and even whips out a nice suplex.  Jones gets hyped and he gets up to start offering Hester some tips.  Sonnen laughs at the bias, but both guys agree that Hester is one to watch.

Winner: Hester

Ryan Bigler v. Bubba McDaniel

There’s no question that McDaniel is the favourite here.  He’s a training partner of Jones and he sports a gaudy 20-6 record.  The book on him is that he lacks consistency and that’s certainly supported by a lacklustre first round.  Jones puts his coach’s hat on again and he spurs McDaniel on to a second round TKO win, prompting another great exchange:

Sonnen: There’s your pick, huh?  There’s your first guy.  I’m gonna have to cross him out, because I know you’re gonna…
Jones: Maybe.
Sonnen: Of course you’ll pick him ‘cause he’s your teammate and everything so that guy’s gone.
Jones: Is he my first pick?
Sonnen: Yeah!  For sure.  Of course, he’s your teammate!  What are you gonna do?  Go back and see him be like, “Oh, I didn’t want you first.”  That’d be weird.  That’d be weird for the next ten years of your career.

Winner: McDaniel

Josh Samman v. Leo Bercier

There’s no getting around it: Samman reeks of douche.  Hopefully the coaches won’t hold that against him.  Bercier is a Native who seems really serious and stoic.  So, like every other Native person I’ve met.

It’s not much of a fight as Samman takes Bercier down within seconds.  He shouts “Are you guys ready?” and then starts rifling off the always never, ever, ever effective double fists to the head.  He also shouts a lot and heaven help us, he wins the fight.  Ladies and gentlemen, we have a weiner!

Winner: Samman

Kito Andrews v. Kelvin Gastelum

I have to give the show a lot of credit for not telegraphing who the winners of these fights will be.  They spend a large amount of time on Andrews’ story of single fatherhood with two children, but it’s Gastelum who squeaks out a decision.  White mentions that Gastelum is the youngest fighter in TUF history at 21, but Patrick Iodice and I would like to have a word with him.  I don’t care if I’m the only one who watched it, TUF: The Smashes happened!

Winner: Gastelum

Jimmy Quinlan v. Mike Persons

Jones calls Quinlan the best wrestler they’ve seen so far, which bodes well for him.  If you have one specialty that you can fall back on, it can take you a long way in this tournament.  Add in the fact that he seems to be all business and Quinlan is a solid sleeper pick.  He runs through persons.

Winner: Quinlan

Uriah Hall v. Andy Enz

Hall comes into the competition with a reputation as an exciting, dynamic striker and with luck this opportunity could lead to him becoming a breakout star in the UFC.  To Enz’ credit, he’s more than up to the challenge and both guys put forth a great effort.  In truth, a lot of Hall’s fancy stuff doesn’t really connect, but his fundamentals are solid and as this is my first time seeing him, I now know what the hype is all about.  The good news for Enz is that he’s got to be first on the UFC’s replacement list.

Winner: Hall

Gilbert Smith v. Eric Wahlin

Because I haven’t been racist enough, it needs to be said: there are some big ass black mothafu**as on this show.  Case in point, Wahlin by no means embarrasses himself (he’s got some tricky jiu-jitsu), but Smith is straight diesel and I can’t imagine too many people wanting to have to work from under him.  He’s relentless in going for an arm-triangle, eventually suffocating Wahlin.  It remains to be seen how that physique lasts over a longer fight.

Winner: Smith

Nicholas Kohring v. Luke Barnatt

Englishman Barnatt is hard to miss, standing at 6’6” tall.  Kohring is a game opponent, fearlessly closing the distance, but Barnatt’s physical gifts are going to be a huge advantage no matter who he’s facing.  He’s more than just a tall guy though, showing crisp kickboxing and ground and pound.  I like his demeanour too.  He could play a heavy in a Guy Ritchie film, no problem.

Winner: Barnatt

Dylan Andrews v. Tim Williams

Laced with noticeable scars, Williams looks flat-out dangerous and he’s got a nickname to go along with it: “The South Jersey Strangler”.  I believe it!

Andrews wins the fight.  He’s from Australia and since Barnatt won the last fight, we’re getting an early sequel to the Smashes.  It happened!  The fight almost ends in the opening minutes, but Williams is like a zombie and he doesn’t let up against Andrews for a second.  Even in defeat, Williams joins Enz on the UFC radar.

Winner: Andrews

Collin Hart v. Mike Jasper

Dana White says that executive producer Craig Piligian nicknamed Hart “The Dick” at casting.  Guess I’ll have to buy the Blu-ray to get the whole story there.  Jones picks Jasper, but Hart’s dirty boxing and gritty approach draw a flattering Randy Couture comparison.  Much more flattering than “The Dick”, anyway.

Winner: Hart

At this point I have to say that the production overhaul did the show wonders as the whole experience just felt like a big deal.  It’s an old showbiz adage: if you don’t treat your stars like stars, why should the audience?  The days of filling the house with slobs and scumbags in an insulting attempt to appeal to the “common people” are over; let’s get back to romanticizing the sport.

Here are the teams, with Sonnen winning the coin toss and choosing the first fighter (7 picks in total, 1 wildcard spot):

Team Sonnen

  1. Barnatt
  2. Hall
  3. Cummings
  4. Troéng
  5. Quinlan
  6. Casey
  7. Gastelum

Team Jones

  1. Hester
  2. Samman
  3. McDaniel
  4. Smith
  5. Hart
  6. Cella
  7. Andrews

The top picks are no surprise as the raw tools of Barnatt and Hester are unquestionably compelling.  Hall expressed disappointment at being picked by Sonnen, but when you consider that he’s already a strong striker, being coached by a world class grinder like Sonnen could be the best thing to ever happen to him.

At the fight selection, Jones shocks everyone by going right after Sonnen’s top pick with his 4th pick, Smith.  Not only that, but Barnatt is 9 inches taller than Smith.  Curiouser and curiouser…Jones must know something we don’t, so with the strong possibility of an upset in the 1st fight here are the four names I can see making the finals: Hall, Quinlan, Hester, McDaniel.  If my sterling 0-3 record at picking the TUF 16 and Smashes winners is any indication, these poor bastards won’t even sniff the semis.

Apropos of nothing.

Smash Wrestling

My friend Jess is always keen to e-mail me about deals on various sporting events, usually relating to the Blue Jays or the Raptors and the timing of her latest promotional offer was fortuitous, to say the least.  The offer was for a new Etobicoke based wrestling company called “Smash Wrestling”.  I’d only ever been to one wrestling event in my life and that was in Japan and it was absolutely incredible.  My buddy Paolo and I are always bitching about criticizing the wrestling we see on TV and saying how we should go to more independent shows.  Add in the fact that the show was billed to include a dream match-up between current “Ring of Honor” World Champion Kevin Steen and (deep breath) current “Dragon Gate USA” Open The Freedom Gate Champion Johnny Gargano and the outing looked to have some serious potential.  Jess’ boyfriend William came along, but Jess herself declined; surprisingly not interested in spending four hours in a tiny venue watching sweaty dudes pretend to beat each other up.

The event was held at the eZone, a multi-purpose complex used to host anything from kids’ birthday parties to laser tag to, yes, professional wrestling matches.  Paolo, William and I couldn’t have been more thrilled by the quaint, intimate environment and even though we were late we got ourselves the perfect spot: right next to the bar and right next to where the wrestlers would be emerging from.  This was my first wrestling show in North America and you best believe I was going to get in the performer’s faces!

In the olden days of wrestling, before everyone knew that it was “fake” (an insulting term that I use strictly for its commonality), paying customers were referred to as “marks”.  It simply means someone who has paid money to engage in a showy, often deceptive, form of entertainment (also see: magicians, circuses, carnivals), but in the wrestling world it has taken on a negative connotation: marks are considered to be “dumb fans”.  The counter to marks are “smarks”, those who read everything they can about the wrestling business and take pride in being in on the secret or knowing what’s really going on.  There’s nothing wrong with being a smark, except those who feel the need to flaunt their knowledge and act like cynical jags.  A bad smark is the equivalent of that fan at a baseball game who is on his phone all the time, is too cool to get up and cheer and generally acts like they would rather be anywhere else than the place they just paid a ticket to go to.

Suffice to say, there were a few smarks at the show.  These fans sat in their seats with their arms crossed, throwing out “insider” terms and generally trying to get themselves over rather than just enjoying the show.  A few times, people who obviously knew the wrestlers outside of the ring taunted them by calling them by their real names or with other non-sequitur personal comments.  Look, I’m more than aware of the nature of the business, but there is no way I’m going to disrespect the wrestlers and the crew who put the whole thing together by trying to show how smart I think I am.  If that makes me a mark, then I’m a proud mark.

I got right into the act at the end of the first match, as hometown hero Brent Banks lost via roll-up, with his opponent getting a handful of his shorts.  I yelled at the winner, Mathieu St. Jacques (who you know was evil because he was from Quebec) and then lamented to my friends that the crooked act had tainted the show for me, even though it was a finish I’d seen hundreds of times on television.  But like I said, I got into it.

The second match featured the team Myles of Action (Preston Myles & Action Jackson) facing off against Jack Rushton & Weapon X.  Jackson was sporting a nice afro, much like Banks from the first match, making Smash Wrestling two-for-two on matches featuring wrestlers with afros.  Money well spent already.  Rushton looked to be working some kind of MMA gimmick and he was the only one in the ring wearing a shirt, which we joked made him look like that freshman in college basketball who puts something on under his jersey because he’s ashamed of his physique.  The good guys won and when I went to give Myles some daps on the way out, I got his blood on my hand.

Cool!

Out next were John Greed and Gregory Iron.  Iron is well known for being a wrestler who suffers from cerebral palsy.  It’s an incredible story and it made him a sympathetic character from the get-go, especially against Greed who looked like your stereotypical bearded bad dude.  Iron took a major beating during the match to the point where Paolo and William got uncomfortable.  For the record, I’d have no problem watching either of them get the crap kicked out of them and they’re both functionally retarded.  Though I was somewhat mortified when one of Iron’s signature moves was loading up his afflicted hand to swing at Greed.  Yowza!

I should note that the quality of the wrestling had been great so far and you could really see and hear the impact of the moves.  The myth of the wrestling ring being like a trampoline is not as prevalent as it once was, but I’m not sure you can comprehend just how hard the mat is until you go to one of these small shows.

This was moments before I smashed William’s head into the ring post.

Paolo thought the next fight was a classic mismatch as “Cyborg” Tyson Dux faced “Hacker” Scotty O’Shea.  He reasoned that O’Shea could just take control of him from the start or give him a virus or something.  I can’t find fault in that logic.  Dux managed to navigate through O’Shea’s arsenal of malware and porno pop-ups to make it to a draw.  Steen ran in to attack O’Shea, only to have Gargano come out and interfere with his nefarious plans.  Apparently Steen suffered a back injury, so this storyline was concocted to change the main event to a tag team match.  Most of the crowd was behind Steen (a Canadian), but as I’d taken a firm stance to boo bad guys and cheer good guys, I gleefully gave him hell.

After a short intermission, Alex Vega and Psycho Mike were given the task of warming the crowd up again and I thought both guys were good.  Vega has a lot of flash and Mike really impressed me with how he moved in the ring.  He looked comfortable and natural in there.  Even though William kept reminding me this was a scripted contest, I insisted on laying $40 down on Vega with a local bookie (read: homeless person).  It looked hairy at times, but Vega pulled it out with a cool springboard move and I breathed a huge sigh of relief.  I’d have enough gas money to make it home AND my child would get to eat tonight.

The second tag team match was maybe my favourite match of the night, featuring The Overdogs (Josh Alexander & Sebastian Suave, accompanied by the lovely Seleziya Sparx) vs. 3.0 (Shane Matthews & Scott Parker).  It was just an old-school tag match with Sparx playing the role of the evil seductress to a tee.  At one point, Matthews tried to get her number and shouted “I love you!” to the delight of everyone.  A high heel shoe to the head eventually gave the Overdogs the win and as Suave passed by I said “Boooo!” to which he replied with a sarcastic “Yaaaay!”  I think we had a real moment there.

A valet is to wrestling as a ring girl is to cage fighting.

The final match was everything I could have asked for in a main event.  As soon as Steen popped through the curtain, I started to jeer and he pushed the railing threatening to come at us.  Being a total coward, I dove behind Paolo who was promptly shoved by the massive wrestler.  The whole time William was sitting in his seat laughing his ass off.  I relished playing the role of the “chicken sh*t fan”.

Kevin Steen, our new BFF.

The heels got a taste of their own medicine when Gargano and O’Shea came out to attack them before they could even get to the ring.  They brawled around the room, beating each other up with chairs, a keyboard and a fan’s crutch.  A thrown garbage can sent trash flying all over the people in the front row.  If Steen was legitimately injured, I couldn’t tell because all four men worked their asses off to put on an entertaining brawl.  The highlight for us was O’Shea and Dux fighting in our area, forcing us to move chairs and evacuate so O’Shea could set up a high flying move.  He hopped on to the bar (“Watch out for my tips!” the bartender shrieked) and then performed a moonsault on Dux.  We couldn’t have been more than two or three feet away.

With no regard for human life!

 

I love any situation where the social contract is amended in favour of everyone having a good time.  Even if you’d never been to a wrestling show before (and again, this was only my second one), you know when two big dudes come tumbling in your direction, you best get out the way!  You don’t ask any questions, you don’t get mad if you spill your beer and you don’t get offended when the wrestlers bark at you to “Move!”  One kid fell out of his chair and I swear the parents were more concerned with not messing up the match than making sure he didn’t get trampled.  Now that is what wrestling is all about!

Just like going to see an up and coming band at an out-of-the way venue, you never  what to expect when you attend a show like this.  We even got an impromptu match between Gargano and a malfunctioning microphone at the end of the night (it turned out it just needed new batteries).  I look forward to seeing how the Smash Wrestling promotion develops from here.  For anyone reading this, please go out and support your local independent and minor league companies.  Whether it’s wrestling, mixed martial arts or co-ed lacrosse, take some time to get out of the house, pick up some cheap tickets for you and your friends and have a go at it.  It’s cheaper than going to a Raptors game and, frankly, way more fun.