The Ultimate Fighter 18: Team Rousey v. Team Tate – Week 4 Recap

Wow.  Emotional episode.  Anyone who watched it knows what I’m talking about.  For everyone else, I won’t spoil it yet.  This one is all about Jessica and Roxy.

Team Colours:

Team Rousey
Team Tate

The Ultimate Fighter is such a staple of mixed martial arts entertainment now that we sometimes forget how it fits into the careers of these athletes who have been competing for years.  Jessica Rakoczy and Roxanne Modafferi have different, yet equally extensive backgrounds.  Rakoczy is a world boxing champion and Modafferi is revered as a pioneer of women’s mixed martial arts.  For most of us, we’re seeing these women for the first time but it’s really just the next step in their already incredible journeys.

Before we get to the meat of the episode, there’s an appearance by Dennis Hallman who, unfortunately for him, was apparently brought in to play Ronda Rousey’s “monster of the week” (just think of Rousey as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”).  Even more unfortunate, he doesn’t seem to know his lines.  Edmond Tarverdyan gets his jimmies rustled for the second consecutive week and this time it’s Rousey’s turn to step in for her teammate.  She calls Hallman out for picking a fight when he knows it would get Tarverdyan kicked off the show.  This would be funny if it wasn’t for the fact that she’s essentially putting Hallman in the same sort of situation where she can say whatever she wants without fear of reprisal.  Hallman disappears after that and we can only assume that Rousey literally devoured him.

I sometimes wonder why Dana White is still featured in the credits when the fighters themselves have been cut out.  Other than the ego stroke, it is fair to say that he plays an important role every year.  On this particular episode, he has to be the babysitter for Tarverdyan, refusing to leave the gym parking lot until both teams have departed peacefully.  There’s a lot of shouting and threats and White says there will be a resolution some day.  No hyping Rousey/Tate II here, no sir.

Hey, I made it through that whole scene without mentioning that time Hallman wore a Speedo.  Oh…damn it!

It’s training time and the elephant in the room is addressed: girls and guys need to train together more.  The motion is put forth when Modafferi requests that Raquel Pennington turn down the intensity as they grapple, which makes Pennington feel like she’s wasting their time.  That’s easy for her to say, considering she’s a large bantamweight while Modafferi is really a flyweight.  Miesha Tate decides to let the guys and girls mix it up (brown chicken, brown cow!) and everyone seems to be up for it, especially Sarah Moras.  Moras goes full speed at Louis Fisette, until he’s had enough and takes her down.  In his testimonial, he comes off a little too proud of his “beating” (his words) of Moras.  Say it with me now: Lives with parents!  To Moras’ credit, she shrugs it off and is happy that the training has brought the team closer together.

Shayna Baszler and Modafferi share a cool moment practicing Japanese and Baszler expresses her love and admiration for her one-time opponent.  See what I’m saying about this show being a part of a journey?  There is this whole history that these women have together and it informs all of their interactions in the house.  Baszler shows her soft side, reminiscing about the time she defeated Modafferi and then Modafferi took her for a tour of Tokyo right after.  Roxy really brings out the best in everyone.

If the last episode was all about Chris Holdsworth, this one is indisputably the Roxy show.  She breaks out the Japanese, needing subtitles like she’s Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira and that’s just the beginning of her showcase.  When Anthony Gutierrez says he wants to get “a handful”, Roxy coyly replies “A handful of what?”  Gutierrez is left speechless.  Just to show that she’s not all sunshine and lollipops, she crushes a defenceless juice box.

In her defence, the juice box was being kind of a prick.

In a testimonial, she espouses the virtues of smiling, explaining that the muscle movement sends a message to the brain to release stress relieving chemicals.  She also reveals that she was inspired by “Dragon Ball Z”.  Someone should set her up with Marcus Brimage.  Her positive message is capped off by a corker of a quote:

Modafferi: My parents always said: “If you shoot for the stars, you might reach the sky.”  I like that saying.

Also, crocodile socks.

Crikey!

My body is producing a lot of endorphins whenever Roxy is on television.

On the flipside, we have Rakoczy who carries around the emotional baggage of a tragic upbringing.  She breaks down talking about her abusive step-father and the subsequent death of her mother.  According to her, her mother died six months after Rakoczy moved out.  The body was cremated and the cause of death was never discovered.  The step-father moved to Cuba.  It’s tough to watch, but there are some heartwarming moments for her in the episode.  Aside from her dedication to her son, Rakoczy acts as the de facto mother of the house.  Not too many contestants who can claim to have done that before.

Ultimate Fighter house, forever unclean!

Four episodes in and Rakoczy is the first to go straight bikini on the scale.  Step up your game, fellas.  As for Roxy…

NUMBCHUKS!  ROXY!!!

Modafferi has a unique way of dealing with pre-fight jitters, creating a giant doll out of toilet paper rolls that she dubs “Plato”.  Despite being an inanimate object, he still has more charisma than the entire cast of TUF 16.  Forget Holdsworth, Plato might be the breakout star of this season.  Sadly, I don’t think we’ll be seeing him in the UFC’s flyweight division as he looks to be about 124 pounds light, give or take a pound.

His wisdom is palpable.

We get another scene with Julianna Peña writing a teammate a letter.  The raucous, frat boy reactions of last week are replaced by a genuinely tearful reaction from Modafferi.  I’ll take that trade off.

The fight

Rakoczy starts off smart, keeping her distance and changing levels.  At the first sign of pressure, she gives up a takedown all too easily.  Interestingly, Modafferi refuses to commit to fighting from Rakoczy’s guard, instead hopping around until she gets side control.  Rakoczy exerts a lot of energy, but she can’t shake Modafferi.  The positions get reversed, though Modafferi is still controlling the action and threatening with arm bar attempts.  Rakoczy avoids a heel hook with a cool looking forward roll.  Modafferi has the first 10-9.

Roxy over pursues and gets rocked.  This time, Rakoczy listens to her coaches and stays standing.  She has also been getting away with some serious fence grabbing.  I understand that it is instinct taking over, but the referee messes up by not taking a point away.  Modafferi looks tired and after some sloppy grappling it is Rakoczy who ends up on top, though Rousey doesn’t approve:

Rousey: No, Jessica!  Why would you jump into the f**ing guard?!?

Stunningly, Rakoczy uses raw power to Modafferi off of the mat and deliver a power bomb.  A follow-up right goes unblocked and the fight should be over.  I’m going to hunt down this ref for allowing Modafferi to take unnecessary punishment.  Finally, it’s called off.  Grrr…

Everyone is heartbroken for Modafferi who yells out in disappointment.  Tate matter of factly says “Oh…poor Roxy.”  On any other season, I would scoff at a coach reacting like that to the end of a fight but man…poor Roxy.  Modafferi calls Rakoczy over and after words of encouragement are exchanged, Rakoczy helps her up.  It’s getting dusty in here.  On the way back to the locker room, Modafferi asks that she be left alone.  Baszler walks up to embrace her and the two veterans break down.  Seriously, dust is getting directly in my eye right now.

The Team Rousey locker room is in a good mood after a fight for once and Rakoczy does a funny dance to celebrate.  There’s no good screenshot, but she’s a middle-aged white woman dancing on national television so you can fill in the blanks yourself.

Rakoczy brings one home for Team Rousey (and Team Canada!)

One more fun note: I popped into Roxy’s chat room (IRC y’all!) after the episode aired and not only was Modafferi there, but the “Queen of Spades” herself showed up.  I asked her for a response in regards to viewers who might think she comes off as arrogant and she said “tell them my retort to knowitalls (sic) is a middle finger.”  Make of that what you will.

Next week: Louis Fisette v. David Grant!  Fisette is in full douche mode with the sunglasses indoors.  Must…support…fellow Canadian…ugh…

UFC 165 Main Card Breakdown

(*You can find my preliminary breakdown for the card at MMACanada.net.  It is chock-full of Canadian goodness.  I also did a main card breakdown for them, not realizing that they’d already had one put up.  D’oh.  Can’t hurt to post it here.)

“UFC 165” airs live on PPV, Saturday, September 21.  Preliminaries will be broadcast on Facebook/Youtube starting at 6:15 PM (EST).  Coverage will continue on Sportsnet 360, with televised preliminaries beginning at 8 PM (EST).  The main card starts at 10 PM.

Lightweight Bout: Pat Healy (0-1 UFC [1 NC], 29-16) v. Khabib Nurmagomedov (4-0 UFC, 20-0)

No matter what your stance is on the rules surrounding marijuana use and professional sports, you have to feel bad for Healy.  Defeating Jim Miller should have been the highlight if his career and it was until a failed drug test officially erased the contest and cost Healy two bonus awards totalling $130,000.  The fact that he’s still considered a top 10 lightweight is small consolation.  Rankings don’t feed the bulldog.

A look at the odds will show you that Healy is the underdog in this fight even after that fine performance, a testament to the reputation that Nurmagomedov has made for himself.  His grappling credentials are some of the most impressive in MMA, with mastery in both Sambo and judo.  If you lock up with “The Eagle” you better be ready to fly.  He also has a high motor that allows him to stay competitive on the feet, a necessity until he cleans up his undisciplined striking.  His worst performance was a win against Gleison Tibau, where he did just enough to win over the judges.  At his best, it only took him two minutes to bludgeon Thiago Tavares and he tossed around Abel Trujillo like he was a flyweight.  He has a staggering 20 fight win streak and at 24 years old, is nowhere near a finished product.

There are two ways to look at this booking for Healy: Punishment for hurting the UFC’s image or a chance for him to get right back into the title hunt by knocking off one of the best young fighters in the organization.  As dangerous as Nurmagomedov is, you’d want to face him now rather than in a couple of years when he might be unstoppable.  Nurmagomedov hasn’t faced an opponent yet who can pressure him like Healy will.  Undefeated records tend to go down in ugly fashion and ugly is just how Healy likes it.

Middleweight Bout: Costa Philippou (5-1 UFC, 12-2 [1 NC]) v. Francis Carmont (5-0 UFC, 21-7)

Carmont has to be relieved that he’s fighting in Canada.  His knack for squeaking out decisions in grueling contests that have fans heading for the washrooms has essentially turned him into a pro wrestling heel.  The only place he’s likely to get love at this point is on home soil.  He’s essentially become Bret Hart circa-1997.

Fighters that are frustrating to watch must be even more frustrating to compete against and Carmont is no exception.  He’s a strong wrestler with top notch cardio.  Even when he’s not connecting with takedowns, he is going to keep going until he gets one.  As we saw in his previous fights (and Phil Davis-Lyoto Machida), all of those attempts can add up even if they’re unsuccessful.  Carmont might not always be able to take the fight where he wants it to go, but it’s just as important that his opponent can’t either.

Philippou has all the tools to stifle Carmont and potentially knock him out.  His style is classic “sprawl-and-brawl” and he worked it to perfection in a gritty win against Tim Boetsch.  That TKO confirmed that Philippou is a top 10 middleweight.  Interestingly, Philippou only found himself in that position when Boetsch’s original opponent got injured.

That opponent?  Current UFC Middleweight Champion Chris Weidman.

Philippou recently left the Serra-Longo camp, perhaps in anticipation of having to one day face Weidman, the camp’s star pupil.  He’ll have to get past Carmont first.

Heavyweight Bout: Brendan Schaub (5-3 UFC, 9-3) v. Matt Mitrione (6-2 UFC, 6-2)

For the social media inclined, please choose the appropriate hashtag:

#contrived #manufactured #unnecessary

It’s regrettable that the impetus behind this meeting is based on a Twitter beef.  It’s not even worth going over the specifics (suffice to say there are cheap shots ranging from Schaub’s much maligned chin to comments about Mitrione’s wife) and I’m not sure what would be sadder: that this whole situation is phony or that it isn’t.

Considering that Schaub and Mitrione are a combined 15-4, you’d think this was a more important match up than it actually is.  The majority of these wins have come against opposition that is no longer in the UFC: Chase Gormley, Chris Tuchscherer, Mirko Cro Cop, Tim Hague, Christian Morecraft, Phil De Fries and the immortal Kimbo Slice.  Once you reach this level, there are no easy fights but it’s fair to say that that list has a “canned” quality to it.

We all know why this fight is on the main card.  Should the initial bouts fail to create fireworks, the inevitable earth shattering knockout one of these men will provide will surely be enough to ignite the crowd.

Bantamweight Interim Championship Bout: Renan Barão (5-0 UFC, 30-1 [1 NC]) v. Eddie Wineland (2-2 UFC, 20-8-1)

UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz won’t be back until at least 2014, making every defence of the interim belt even more meaningful.  It’s becoming easy to make an argument for Barão being on the same level as (if not superior to Cruz).  The term “undisputed” doesn’t mean what it used to.

Wineland seems like an unlikely challenger, having dropped his first two fights in the UFC.  It helps that those two fights were against Urijah Faber and Joseph Benavidez, two all-time greats, and that neither of them could put Wineland away.  He finally broke out with wins against two perennial top ten fighters: a KO of Scott Jorgensen (the first to defeat him in such a manner) and a split decision (not as close as it looked) over Brad Pickett.  Wineland is another challenger with the misfortune of going from preliminary fighter to title challenger.  The UFC needs to do a better job of anticipating who is going to break from the pack so as to give them proper exposure.  I applaud Wineland for being the last man standing amongst the contenders in what is rapidly becoming a deep division.  He’s in the prime of his career and he’ll never be in better position to capture a world title.

If only that world title wasn’t held by Barão.

Opening as a 5-1 favourite, the odds have actually tilted even further his way as fight night approaches.  That sort of thing happens when you’ve won 30 of your last 30 fights (not including a no-contest in 2007).  A training partner of José Aldo, at times Barão has looked like a more compact version of the featherweight kingpin.  Bruising leg kicks, inhuman timing and a slick ground game: the hallmark of the Nova União camp, skills that Barão has honed to perfection making him all but unbeatable.  It will take everything Wineland has and a whole lot of luck to create an upset and interrupt the anticipated Cruz-Barão unification bout.

Light Heavyweight Championship Bout: Jon Jones (12-1 UFC, 18-1) v. Alexander Gustafsson (7-1 UFC, 15-1)

The ridiculousness of the pre-fight hype surrounding Jones’s and Gustafsson’s respective measurements has been discussed ad nauseam, so I won’t pile on.  I’ll just say that if Mark Hunt and Antonio Silva don’t get the same treatment in December, I will be sorely disappointed.

The problem with hyping up a Jones fight, as magnificent as he is to watch, is that all of his challengers have seemed like they were chosen out of necessity as opposed to an overwhelming desire to see them fight or their viability as a true threat.  Rampage Jackson and Lyoto Machida (who presented Jones with some unique problems) were holding down the fort until Rashad Evans got healthy.  From a perception standpoint, Jones is facing some of the same criticisms that Floyd Mayweather has had to deal with.  His opponents are viewed as not being in their prime and they look even worse after he’s through with them.  Being the best can make you your own worst enemy.

Let’s look at the positives: This is still the same guy who is essentially undefeated.  This is still the same guy who in just 5 years as a pro once defeated 5 straight former UFC light heavyweight champions.  This is still the guy who might already be the greatest light heavyweight of all time.

And Gustafsson is no slouch.  The UFC’s ad campaign is a necessary evil, since “The Mauler” excels in so many aspects of MMA that he lacks a significant hook.  It doesn’t help that he didn’t exactly kick the door down in his wins over Thiago Silva and Shogun Rua.  They were certainly one-sided, but they lacked a signature moment.  A finish of either man would have done wonders for Gustafsson’s Q rating.  Prior to those wins, Gustafsson did have an excellent finishing rate.  He surprises opponents with his deceptive punching power and a meat-and-potatoes ground game that makes good use of his long, lanky body.  Just going by BJJ belt ranking (a dubious proposition in MMA), Gustafsson should have a slight advantage on the ground.

There will be methodical feeling out process in the first round.  Both men fight intelligently and will take their time looking for openings.  A finish is difficult to foresee here as neither man is likely to sacrifice good sense or position in search of a crowd pleasing ending.  There is just too much on the line.  Expect a chess match between two of MMA’s youngest and brightest and don’t be surprised if there’s a rematch somewhere down the road.

The Ultimate Fighter 18: Team Rousey v. Team Tate – Week 3 Recap

From conversations I’ve had with people who watch the show, Miesha Tate is winning folks over.  Ronda Rousey has never been the most warm and fuzzy personality, but as the “face of women’s MMA” (ugh) she was the most popular female fighter by default.  The first two episodes have made Tate seem like that cool chick you wouldn’t mind having over for a few drinks, while Rousey is coming across like a vindictive hellcat that will melt your vinyl record collection if you cross her.  Especially that LP of Rumours you had signed by Stevie Nicks.

Team Colours:

Team Rousey
Team Tate

As if beating Shayna Baszler wasn’t enough, Julianna Peña is rewarded with a well-deserved butterfat milkshake.  When Tate brings it to the house, her winning fighter reacts like a 12 year old at a (insert current pop phenomenon here) concert.  Her voice goes up a whole octave, it’s frightening.  Tate plays the role of Miss Congeniality to a tee, also getting a chocolate cake for Baszler.

Tate: (to Baszler) I love you girl.  I know it’s not your fault you had to be on Team Rousey.  (laughs) I’m just kidding.

She’s not just kidding.

Even though Baszler is cool with Tate, she still defends Rousey explaining that the champ’s support after the loss meant a lot to her.  Baszler has a cool descriptor: Submission Artist.  Another good one is Chris Holdsworth with Currently Undefeated.  I just want to remind everyone that Louis Fisette got LIVES WITH PARENTS.

How flattering.

It’s not all fun and games for Peña who is facing some Uriah Hall level scrutiny and dealing with it in much the same way he did, saying “to hell with” anyone in the house who doesn’t like her.  Anthony Gutierrez says Peña is the only girl that bugs him, but it’s okay because she’s good looking.  He’s got the right attitude.  However, her insistence on speaking in a British accent is enough to push him over the edge and he rallies the others to convince her to quit it.  This is the kind of conflict that makes you miss the days of the “upper decker”.

Back in the gym, Rousey’s on fire!  She breaks out the C-word (confident!) and makes a spirited effort to convince Chris Beal that Tate picking him because of his injury shows a lack of conviction on Tate’s part.  That’s not entirely accurate, but it’s spirited nonetheless.

Over on the Tate side, there’s a budding mole storyline.  Cody Bollinger tells the others that Team Rousey somehow caught wind of all the female fights that Tate was lining up.

Bryan Caraway’s shorts are taking away from the dramatic impact of this conversation.

On the ride home, Bollinger goes right at Peña, as he and Fisette are convinced that she doesn’t care about who fights who anymore since she’s already advanced and she spends so much time with the other team.  Other than that, they have no real evidence that she’s done anything wrong.  Peña is so taken aback that all she can do is deflect the accusation to the always unassuming Roxanne Modafferi.  YOU LEAVE ROXY OUT OF THIS!

Then again, nobody ever suspects the butterfly.

The only one who can settle things down is the man of the house, the white Richard Roundtree, hot tub enthusiast Chris Holdsworth.

Holdsworth: How ‘bout we just…all just chill out until we get to the house and I don’t have to hear this s**t ‘cause (expletives).

Be cool, my babies.

The coach feud might bring in the viewers, but it’s Holdsworth who takes over this episode.  After a massage, Holdsworth and Modafferi have an awkward, monotone exchange that I think is supposed to be…romantic?  I don’t know.  I’m openly “shipping” Chris/Roxy at this point.

Unfortunately, the show runners are pushing a Chris/Juli relationship and they set them up with a nice poolside sequence.  When Peña asks Holdsworth what his longest relationship has been, his response is a bleeped out swear word.  He then goes on to say how much he likes “friends with benefits”, accompanied by his soon to be world famous dorky chuckle.  The guy is a star.

The mole drama ends as quickly as it began.  Jessamyn Duke had actually started the whole thing and she was apparently just stirring up s**t because nobody actually told her anything.  When you think about it, after that first match there were only six girls left and the probability field was greatly reduced so it wouldn’t be difficult to guess the remaining fights.  On an unrelated note, I’m a sucker for Duke’s Kentucky accent.

There’s also a nice moment where Peña admits she was completely in the wrong for accusing Modafferi.  DAMN RIGHT YOU WERE WRONG!

The show continues to aim for the Twilight demographic, giving us a watershed scene where Holdsworth gets a letter from Peña and decides to share it with the boys.  Some highlights:

  • When Gutierrez notes that Peña underlines the word “primal”, Holdsworth replies (in classic Holdsworthian fashion) She wants me to get primal, I guess.
  • She knows I got that cardio.
  • The letter is signed “V.V” (Venezuelan Vixen), to which Holdsworth brilliantly remarks She wants that “pee-pee”, that’s what she meant.  Ah ha ha ha ha ha. (that wasn’t a punctuation error, he laughs without exclamation)
  • I’m trying to stay on her good side and maybe she’ll make me some more enchiladas…or the whole enchilada, you never know.  (dorky laugh)
  • I’ll give her the best two minutes of her life.  Okay, that was legitimately funny.

Smooth…no, wait.  Creepy.

The obligatory Rousey/Tate scuffle involves a trip to the Red Rock Casino to catch a UFC show (UFC on Fuel TV: Nogueira vs. Werdum, I believe) and once the alcohol starts flowin’ so does the high school cafeteria trash talk.  Rousey makes some wisecracks about Caraway who is just minding his own business and Tate steps in to defend him.  A smart move since Caraway’s feud with Rousey a year ago made him look like a complete ass.  Rousey calls her striking coach (Edmond Tarverdyan) over to back her up and he threatens to beat up Tate’s boyfriend some day when there are less cameras watching.  Poor Caraway is trapped in the middle of it all and can only fake a smile.  I’ll bet he didn’t move from his bar stool the whole night.

Unlike last week, this week’s match-up is a tale of similarities, not contrasts.  Beal and Holdsworth are both young, undefeated prospects.  They share the same tragic story of brothers lost to gun violence and how it inspired them to better their lives.  Holdsworth’s brother was presented with an American freestyle kickboxing black belt at his funeral, which pushed him to reach that same level in martial arts.  Beal saw what happened to his own brother and vowed to stay off the path that led to the grisly incident.  He fights to be a good example for his son.

Dana White hypes the fight as classic “striker vs. grappler”, but Holdsworth decides to flip the script.  He’s a tall guy and he does exactly what he’s supposed to do, keeping distance and poking away.  Beal is having problems connecting, though he does land a clean shot when Holdsworth stays too upright.  Holdsworth is a big target and he needs to work on that head movement.  Still, he has the biggest hit of the early moments, a straight right that has Beal blinking.

Holdsworth almost gets a takedown, but Beal uses the cage to spring back up.  He actually ends up on top momentarily until the threat of an arm bar brings the action back to the feet.  Holdsworth lands another straight right that dizzies Beal and follows up quickly with a guillotine choke that ends the fight.

Good work, kid.  Now go get some enchiladas.

This episode was a 10-8 round for Tate, who came off as super sweet at the start of the episode and she got to end it with a big smile on her face again.  She also has Holdsworth on her team and he might be the next Forrest Griffin for all we know.  Rousey, on the other hand, still seems overly emotional, deathly serious and downright mean at times.  I still like her, but she’s not making it easy.

I’ll let Tate’s assistant coach Eric Triliegi have the final words.

That’s what you get for eating biscuits for breakfast!

Nutritionist burn!

Next week: The last women picked on each team face off!  It’s Jessica Rakoczy versus Roxanne Modafferi.  Also, Caraway and Holdsworth get their own sitcom where they have to balance running a gym together while romancing their fighter girlfriends.  I can dream, can’t I?

The Ultimate Fighter 18: Team Rousey v. Team Tate – Week 2 Recap

We’re entering the second season of the revamped Ultimate Fighter and I still miss seeing the fighters’ names in the opening.  Then again, I also liked the old song and I think Face The Pain should stay around forever.  There’s no accounting for taste.

Team Colours:

Team Rousey
Team Tate

The first thing I notice is that they’ve added short descriptions for all the fighters, a common practice for reality shows like Survivor and Big Brother.  For example, David Grant is shown as “Father of Two Sons” and Jessamyn Duke is “Former Model”.  I hate seeing people reduced to phrases, but it’s another step towards drawing in and keeping that casual audience.  The only disappointing thing is that Peggy Morgan and Roxanne Modafferi are listed given “Literature Professor” and “English Teacher in Japan”, not “Giantess” and “Nerd” respectively.

“Angel Grove Resident” would also have been acceptable.

We’re barely five minutes in and it is hot tub time!  That escalated faster than an episode of Blind Date.  It’s a funny scene and I’d call it out for being sexist if not for the fact that the guys from previous seasons have usually done the same thing.  I choose to believe there’s a wink and a nod there too for those expecting cheesecake.

Chris Holdsworth: There’s a little “Hot Tub Time Machine’ action goin’ on!”

Smooth.

Also, Miesha Tate’s boyfriend, Bryan Caraway is helping her coach.  She says she’s going to start their training “just touching him the entire time.”  No, you can’t have the proper context.

Focus, man!

Spoiler: Tim Gorman suffers a hamstring injury that forces his removal from the show.  To his credit, he tells them he wants to stay even if it means fighting with one leg.  This is a huge blow to the cast as he’d already established himself as the house d**k.  You know the folks responsible for casting were crying their eyes out.  He’d just gone on a tirade about how he didn’t feel comfortable practicing with women and that there was no way any of them would ever submit him.  Ah, we’ll miss ya Timmy.

Th-th-th-that’s all folks!

The good news is that his replacement is Louis Fisette.  Winnipeg is back in the house!  Let’s not forget that the last Winnipegian to make it into the house, Roland Delorme, is now 3-0 in the UFC.  Fisette’s “deadbeat son” storyline was too good to not be on the show.  His description reads “Lives with Parents”.  Best case scenario: he doesn’t know how to cook or clean and he drives the rest of the cast crazy.  Fingers crossed.

Fisette was beaten by Holdsworth in the elimination round and now they’re on the same team.  When he sees him again, Fisette says “…you beat me off once but I’m not going to let you beat me off twice.”  Phrasing.

The narrative in this episode is a classic David v. Goliath story revolving around the match-up between Shayna Baszler and Julianna Peña.  One thing I like about TUF and the UFC in general is that these stories can end with David getting squashed.  Baszler is indignant, telling Duke that this fight would never be sanctioned outside of the show and repeatedly boasting that Peña doesn’t belong in the cage with her.

Even the members of Team Tate are aware of the mountain Peña is facing.  Peña herself went all fan girl on Baszler when she saw her in Strikeforce, even getting Baszler’s shirt from the show.  Raquel Pennington says Peña needs to focus on herself, not her opponent.  It’s amazing the reverence everyone has for Baszler.  Sarah Moras and Pennington both want Peña to at least put up a good fight; not just because she’s their teammate, they don’t want to have to face Baszler at full strength.

Last week I said the guys were an afterthought, but I have to say they’re doing their best to be noticed.  In addition to Gorman’s chauvinism, we have Anthony Gutierrez assuming the role of house playboy.  He says Moras wants him too badly for him to be attracted to her, Jessica Rakoczy is a cougar and that he and Duke have exchanged some longing looks despite her having a boyfriend.  Modafferi deflects him immediately, saying she’s too invested in her career for romance.  Roxy is great.

As overconfident as Baszler is, I really like her.  You can see she’s had to develop a strong persona and the single minded attitude necessary to continue pursuing one’s dream after so many dead ends.  She has a great line about wanting to mind meld with the viewers so they can understand the struggle and see all the epic battles that she’s witnessed and been a part of.

Shayna-vision!

Peña cleans up nicely and she’s proud of it.  You could see why Baszler might have a problem with her.  The top pick of Team Tate must seem to her like a “style over substance” personality, someone who is part of the new wave of female fighters who are just as likely to grace magazine covers as they are to headline MMA events.  I respect Peña for insisting that a woman doesn’t have to sacrifice femininity to be taken seriously as an athlete.

At the weigh-in, Peña is all business while Baszler chooses to stick a spade card in Peña’s bra.  Earlier, she explained that her “Queen of Spades” nickname came from her past enjoyment of parlor tricks.  She says she gave Peña the “death card”.

Baszler says the worst part of fight day is getting cornrows, which…hey, waitaminnit!  Is that a staff member doing her hair?  What the hell?!?

I long for the days when Rashad Evans played house barber.

The Fight

Coaches are always advising fighters to be first and Peña takes it to the extreme, launching straight lefts and rights from the bell.  Baszler is deathly calm and connects with a counter.  The hit doesn’t deter Peña who presses the action against the cage.  Baszler scores with a couple of trips, the second one leading to ground control.  Peña avoids serious damage, working back to guard.  She is a hell of an athlete as her defence isn’t great, but she’s able to use her power to get back to the feet.  Other than a short burst of ground and pound, Peña spends most of the round on the bottom and Baszler likely takes the first 10-9.

Peña starts off the second verse the same as the first.  Both girls look tired.  Baszler’s trips are losing effectiveness and one mistake leads to Peña getting on top of her.  The neophyte is incredibly active, eventually taking the back and getting a rear naked choke submission!  Team Rousey is stunned.

Ronda Rousey: Are you f**king kidding me?

In all likelihood, Baszler is the more skilled and well rounded fighter, but youth and athleticism go a long way.  Peña clearly had more in the tank and no matter how many fights you’ve been in, there’s not a lot you can do when the body is unwilling.

Rousey’s gamble didn’t pay off.  She’s both embarrassed and guilt-stricken over not being able to coach Baszler to a win.  I’m a sucker for the manufactured drama and seeing Rousey so deeply hurt by Tate’s celebration is good stuff.  Tate laughs it all off.  She’s friends with Baszler and you can see she’s expressing joy over her team’s win, not Baszler’s failure.  If Rousey isn’t acting, then this should make for compelling television; if she is acting, it bodes well for her upcoming appearance in the next Expendables movie.

Rousey: She’s going to pay for every f**ing smile she smirks today.

I’m not sure that sentence makes any sense.

The thrill of victory.

Next week: Another clash between number one picks!  Tate picks Holdsworth to fight Chris Beal.  Holdsworth was a favourite going into the house.  Add in the fact that Beal has an injured hand and it looks like things could quickly be going pear shaped for Rousey.

The Ultimate Fighter 18: Team Rousey v. Team Tate – Week 1 Recap

(I wanted to have this up no later than a day after the airing of the premiere, but problems with my internet arose.  Apologies to anyone who is reading this.  I’ll be better in the future.)

They finally did it.  They stole my idea for The Ultimate Fighter meets Paradise Hotel.  Sure, I would have gone for more freak show appeal with strawweight women and heavyweight men and I would have had the matches be for the right to have, er, relations with someone on the other team.  I’m thinking the guys and girls would be put into pairs and…what’s that?  You don’t care?  I’ll just move on.

It’s no exaggeration to say that this could be the most memorable TUF cast since the original back in 2005 that gave us such luminaries as Josh Koscheck, Mike Swick, Stephan Bonnar, Chris Leben, Nate Quarry, Kenny Florian, Diego Sanchez and Forest Griffin.  One of the reasons that cast was so strong was that there was still a dearth of unsigned fighters in North America at the time.  All those names I just listed could have been competing in the UFC without winning a reality show, but the experience went a long way to making them stars.  Drawing from a growing pool of high level female fighters, this cast has the same potential.

The show opens up with an amusing scene where the producers went out of their way to essentially “punk” Ronda Rousey.  Unaware that opposing coach Cat Zingano had suffered a knee injury, Rousey is stunned to see Miesha Tate (repeatedly referred to in droll terms as Rousey’s “best friend”) at the TUF facility.  She understandably freaks out, though it’s less understandable that she assumed Tate had been brought in to take her spot instead of Zingano’s.  That’s a surprising show of insecurity for Rousey, the undisputed face of the UFC’s women’s bantamweight division.  It’s a funny moment and both Rousey and Tate share a laugh, something that won’t happen too often during the season.

I don’t claim to be an expert on any of these contestants; however, even the smallest amount of research would tell you that veterans Shayna Baszler, Tonya Evinger, Tara LaRosa and Roxanne Modafferi are favoured.  They form a “big four” of women who have been carrying the banner for their sport since as early as 2002.

Women’s Bantamweight Fight 1

Jessamyn Duke (2-0 [1 NC]) v. Laura Howarth (0-0)

Duke reveals that she’d done some modelling in the past to make some scratch.  I can see it.  She’s pretty and her tall, thin build wouldn’t look out of place on a runway somewhere.  Howarth is the only contestant with no professional experience, though she is 4-0 as an amateur.

Appropriately, Kim Winslow is in the house to officiate the first female fight in TUF history.

There is a clear height advantage for Duke, who shows crisp striking that forces Howarth to clinch to avoid getting jabbed into oblivion.  Duke scores with a trip, but Howarth manages to scramble into Duke’s guard.  For someone who is primarily a stand-up fighter, Howarth looks decent on the ground.  She’s fighting to stay on top as if her life depends on it.  Duke is more efficient and you can tell that Howarth is the one in danger, not the girl on the bottom.  It’s only a matter of time until Duke locks in a triangle choke and makes history.

Winner: Duke

Men’s Bantamweight Fight 1

Danny Martinez (16-4) v. David Grant (8-1)

We get a bizarre battle here as Grant is guilty of two awkward fouls.  The first is a downward elbow to the spine that temporarily halts the action, but doesn’t result in a deduction.  The second is a disputed illegal knee that does cost Grant a point.

Martinez is a natural flyweight and it’s clear that the size differential is affecting his results.  He’s got an intense pressuring style that isn’t quite as effective when your opponent is able to defend most of your takedown attempts and smack you from long distance.  The extra weight also adds a lot to Grant’s punches.  While Martinez might have the volume, he’s taking too much damage during the exchanges.  The fouls might have slowed him down enough for Grant to perform a nice counter into a fight ending armbar.

Winner: Grant

Women’s Bantamweight Fight 2*

Jessica Rakoczy (1-3) v. Revelina Berto (3-1)

There’s a marked contrast in fighter backgrounds here as the 36-year old Rakoczy talks about doing this to provide a better life for a child while Berto has a more romantic view of things.  She comes from a family of fighters, including her father, one-time UFC vet Dieusel Berto, and her brother, boxing champion Andre Berto.

This is the first fight to get the “highlights only” treatment (indicated with a “*” from now on).  The coaches are surprised when what was expected to be a striking battle turns into a gritty grappling match.  Rakoczy has better submission defence than expected, staying alive until she’s able to attack with a hold of her own.  It’s funny looking, but Rakoczy manages to get a rare omoplata submission win.

Winner: Rakoczy

I’m loving how they’re portraying Rousey as being stone cold to Tate in-between fights, but as soon as the action starts up again she gets all jumpy and excited just like any other fan.  I find that endearing.

Men’s Bantamweight Fight 2*

Michael Wooten (6-0) v. Emil Hartsner (4-0)

Dana White notes that Wooten is the top bantamweight prospect in Europe.  That’s about the only nice thing he has to say about this match.  It turns into an ugly clinch-fest against the cage and White jokes that his allegiance kept switching between whichever fighter looked like they were actually going to do something.  He despairs over the time in his life he’ll never get back.

Tate: Did he just slap him in the face?

Wooten swears he’s better than that performance suggests.  Guess it’s important to guarantee a spot in the house, right?

Winner: Wooten

Women’s Bantamweight Fight 3*

Peggy Morgan (2-0) v. Bethany Marshall (4-1)

Morgan and Marshall both have stories that are too charming for the manly-man world of MMA.  Morgan says her son thinks his mother fights in a “lion’s cage”; Marshall smiles as she recalls her and her boyfriend having their first fights on the same night.   This is about where the cutesy stuff ends.

Tate: (pointing to Marshall) This girl over here, she’s a ‘25er.
White: Oh, is she really?
Tate: Yeah.
White: (pointing to Morgan) And she’s a f**ing ‘55er.

This is a showcase fight for Morgan, who is hard to ignore with her red hair and enormous stature.  She’s 6’1”, the same height as George Roop.  Might I remind you that she is a bantamweight.

Marshall is smothered from the get-go.  Her takedown attempt is countered by Morgan falling forward on top of her, right into mount.  Morgan dishes out a ton of punishment, whether it’s because she’s unwilling or unable to attack with a submission.  The referee eventually calls this one off.

Rousey: Peggy don’t give a f**k.

Winner: Morgan

Women’s Bantamweight Fight 4

Roxanne Modafferi (15-10) v. Valérie LeTournéau (4-3)

LeTournéau trains with Georges St-Pierre.  As for Modafferi…

Modafferi: I first started martial arts as a middleschooler doing karate because I saw the Power Rangers and I wanted to be a good person and beat up the bad guys.

Advantage: Modafferi.  That quote is only surpassed by her mother signing off from their phone call with “May the force be with you.”  Can I live with the Modafferis?

I suppose it’s also worth mentioning that Modafferi is one of the most experienced female fighters around and it shows when she imposes her will against LeTournéau.  She takes her down with a single leg and barely takes any damage en route to winning via rear naked choke.

Modafferi: I feel outstanding!  No stopping me.  I’m happy…that was really lame.  That’s okay! (dorky laugh)

Marry me.

Winner: Modafferi

Men’s Bantamweight Fight 3

Tim Gorman (8-2) v. Lee Sandmeier (8-0)

Like previous TUF contestant Matt Hamill, Sandmeier is hearing impaired.  He was worried kids would make fun of him for wearing a hearing aid, so he taught himself how to read lips at a young age.  That’s determination right there.

Gorman is a tiny guy, just 5’4”.  He may as well wear a sign that says “future flyweight”.  White and Tate joke about how Gorman looks ready to bang and then he immediately shoots in for a takedown.  Strategy or not, Gorman makes the most of his advantage and works to back control before getting full mount.  There’s a prolonged beating and (surprise, surprise) Steve Mazzagatti probably waits a few seconds too long before shutting this one down.

Rousey thinks Gorman is “ballsy”.  White says he seems like a “nutball”.  Ladies and gentleman, we might have a pre-season favourite for the Chris Leben House Psychopath Award (other winners include Junie Browning and Julian Lane).

Winner: Gorman

Women’s Bantamweight Fight 5*

Raquel Pennington (3-3) v. Tonya Evinger (11-6)

Before the fight, Tate dishes out some personal information about Evinger:

Tate: Always has too much drama going on with her girlfriends. 
White: No s**t.
Tate: That’s the story of her life.  All the fights she’s lost, she probably should’ve won.

That’s “Inside Baseball” right there.  There must be some truth to it as Evinger becomes the first of the “big four” to get taken out.  Pennington is down on the scorecards after one, but she takes advantage of a gassed Evinger and finishes her with a guillotine choke in the second round.  Afterwards, Evinger mentions that she might have too many distractions in her life giving credence to Tate’s analysis.  It would have been fun to see this woman in the house.

Winner: Pennington

Men’s Bantamweight Fight 4*

Chris Beal (7-0) v. Sirwan Kakai (9-1)

It’s a shame that we don’t get to see more of this one as Beal seems to have a crowd pleasing style and Kakai is a highly touted bantamweight free agent.  Beal’s past involves a serious battle with sarcoma of the leg.  That ordeal must make a cage fight seem trivial.  His perseverance shows as he’s able to take a decision with confident striking and good work from the bottom.

Winner: Beal

Men’s Bantamweight Fight 5*

Josh Hill (9-0) v. Patrick Holohan (9-0-1)

Holohan is from “the ghettos of Dublin” according to White.  Huh.  As intriguing as that sounds, it’s not likely to do him much good against Hill, a top bantamweight prospect with elite wrestling.  White is mortified by Hill’s indefatigable top game and makes sure everyone knows about it.  Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing, Dana.

And yes, my Canadian bias is showing.

Winner: Hill

Women’s Bantamweight Fight 6

Colleen Schneider (4-4) v. Shayna Baszler (15-8)

It would be a massive understatement to say that Baszler has a chip on her shoulder.  It’s more like a nacho platter.  She boasts that she is higher ranked than some of the women already fighting in the UFC and that she is “offended” by the whole situation.  Arrogant?  Maybe.  I’m not sure she’s wrong though.  She’s playing the grizzled veteran role to a tee.

Baszler: It’s easy to be hungry when…when the feast is at the table now.  I was hungry when all we were being fed was crumbs.  That’s hunger.

Schneider puts in a good effort, but Baszler is really f**king strong.  She is in complete control of the clinches and winds up on top whenever the action hits the mat.  This is what they call “walking the walk”.  An armbar makes it official and Baszler celebrates by playing some air guitar.  Some Bachman-Turner Overdrive, perhaps?

Winner: Baszler

Men’s Bantamweight Fight 6

Louis Fisette (6-1) v. Chris Holdsworth (4-0)

I couldn’t be rooting harder for Fisette.  He’s from Winnipeg and his storyline revolves around how much he mooches off of his father so he can follow his dream.  Something I can relate to.

Holdsworth is yet another top prospect, a grappling prodigy training at Team Alpha Male.  He’s got Urijah Faber and Chad Mendes watching him from the stands so, you know, no pressure.

It’s a fast start for Fisette, who is annoyed that everyone underestimates him.  He gets on top but he also gets lazy and nearly succumbs to a triangle.  Holdsworth is only getting stronger as the match goes on.  He has deliberate jiu-jitsu, constantly improving his position and eventually winning with an arm triangle.  Tate, his fellow Alpha, er, Female, says that he has the best BJJ in the house.  The hype train rolls on.

Winner: Holdsworth

Random question: how does Gilbert Smith get front row seats to the TUF tapings?  Is he the Damon “Basketball” Jones of the UFC?

Women’s Bantamweight Fight 7*

Gina Mazany (3-0) v. Julianna Peña (4-2)

Mazany is a former ballerina/figure skater, which makes for a mesmerizing beatdown.  She’s not exactly a pretty picture with her dyed hair flying around as she’s getting her face smashed.  Peña is presented as a monster, though you have to give Mazany credit for making it to a decision.

Winner: Peña

Men’s Bantamweight Fight 7*

Matt Munsey (4-1) v. Anthony Gutierrez (4-0)

Another fight that draws poor reviews from the coaches.  Gutierrez takes the “better safe than sorry” approach, vowing to be smarter in his next appearance.  Whether that means he’ll be any more exciting is unclear.  It is cool that he skipped school to become a fighter and is now getting this shot at the UFC four years into his MMA career.  Consider this his graduation.

Winner: Gutierrez

Women’s Bantamweight Fight 8*

Tara LaRosa (21-3) v. Sarah Moras (3-1)

Up next is the last of the marquee names, Greg Jackson disciple Tara LaRosa.  Even Moras is impressed by LaRosa’s reputation, recalling that when she started her training, LaRosa was arguably the best women’s bantamweight in the world.  She also says that she’s “stoked” with a completely blank expression on her face.

Aside from Baszler, I would have said that LaRosa was the surest bet to get a spot on the show.  Shows what I know.  Moras is a whirlwind on the mat, constantly attacking whether she was on top or on her back.  Add in some timely takedowns and Moras has the recipe for a decision win.  You have to think LaRosa might have overlooked her opponent here.

Kelowna, B.C. is IN DA HOUSE!

Winner: Moras

Men’s Bantamweight Fight 8

Rafael de Freitas (6-0-1) v. Cody Bollinger (14-2)

Two of the more well known names are paired up to close out the elimination round.  De Freitas is a renowned BJJ practitioner in Brazil, who has only dipped his toes into MMA until recently.  Bollinger has been on the UFC’s radar for some time.

Freitas’ jiu-jitsu is as good as advertised, though he wastes a lot of energy going for submissions that just aren’t there.  He and Bollinger are both gassed in the second.  It takes Bollinger about sixty unanswered punches to finally do enough damage for a TKO.  Sloppy finish, but that fight wouldn’t have looked out of place on an actual UFC card.  Both De Freitas and Bollinger should have a future in this sport.

Winner: Bollinger

*****

Right off the bat, I hate that Rousey won the coin toss and chose to pick the first fight instead of the first fighter.  Why would you do that?  Wouldn’t you always want to take the person with the best chance to win, regardless of match-ups?

Here are your teams (women were selected first, the men second):

Team Tate

Women

  1. Julianna Peña
  2. Sarah Moras
  3. Rocky Pennington
  4. Roxanne Modafferi

Men

  1. Cody Bollinger
  2. Chris Holdsworth
  3. Josh Hill
  4. Tim Gorman

Team Rousey

Women

  1. Shayna Baszler
  2. Jessamyn Duke
  3. Peggy Morgan
  4. Jessica Rakoczy

Men

  1. Chris Beal
  2. David Grant
  3. Anthony Gutierrez
  4. Mike Wooten

Notes on the draft:

  • Tate goes with Peña as her first pick.  This isn’t the first time a coach has used a top pick based on friendship.  It rarely goes well.  Joe Scarola (with Matt Serra), Marc Stevens (with Josh Koscheck) and Bubba McDaniels (with Jon Jones) immediately come to mind.  In the case of Scarola, his poor showing and subsequent request to leave the house so he could hang out with his girl ended up ruining a close relationship with Serra.  He was the best man at Serra’s wedding!
  • I’m surprised Holdsworth didn’t go first overall, though I wonder if Tate knew that Rousey wouldn’t pick him since Holdsworth and Tate are in the same camp.
  • It’s a good thing that Rousey didn’t pick Moras.  After winning her fight, Moras said she wanted to take the champ out.
  • After being picked by Tate, Gorman endeared himself to her fans immediately:

Gorman: I got picked by Miesha Tate.  Is that her name?  Is “Miesha Tate” her name?  I don’t even know what her name is so, really, I don’t even care that she picked me last ‘cause I don’t even know who she is.

This guy isn’t even pacing himself, bringing the a-hole attitude right out of the gate!

  • Rousey’s girls look slightly stronger, with Baszler leading the way along with two giantess’ in Duke and Morgan.  Tate’s guys look way better.  Bollinger, Holdsworth and Hill are all UFC-calibre fighters, while Rousey’s males are mostly unknown properties.  Then again, this is why they fight the fights.

It’s matchmaking time and Rousey goes straight BJ Penn on Tate, booking Baszler and Peña right off the bat.  She’s not just going after Tate’s best fighter, she’s going after her friend.  Tate was high on Peña’s ability to grow during her time on the show, but it won’t do her much good if she gets eliminated in the first week.  Okay, maybe Rousey does know what she’s doing.

*****

A decent first episode, though none of the fights were particularly memorable.  Most of them got the highlight treatment, which is telling.  Still, as I said before, the freshness of the female division and the genuine animosity between the coaches is going to go a long way towards continuing the TUF renaissance that started last year with the fantastic Jones/Sonnen season.  If I had to pick, I’d go with Baszler for the women and Holdsworth for the men, with Hill, Morgan and, of course, Modafferi as dark horse candidates.

Who you got?

Welcome to the Stage of History: UFC 164 Perspective

Maybe I’m reading into things too much, but UFC 164 seemed to have an abnormal amount of compelling outcomes.  Even though the UFC hype machine would have you think differently, not every card has fights that matter in the long term.  Some might be for a number one contender spot, some are completely senseless and some are flat-out fun.  How will history look back on UFC 164?

The Big 2-0

Gleison Tibau, congratulations on your twentieth career UFC appearance!  You join the ranks of Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Frank Mir, BJ Penn and Georges St-Pierre.  At just 30 years old, you’re the youngest to ever reach this milestone.  Your reward?  The main event slot…on the preliminary card.

Look: I’ve never tuned into a UFC show just to see Tibau.  Neither have you.  But twenty octagon appearances is rarified air and the company should always find a way to celebrate these workhorses and get them onto the main card.  Melvin Guillard suffered the same ignominious fate and he’s actually been the last fight of the night before.  Again, I’m not saying you need to put any effort into building it up, just quietly give him the opening slot and make sure your announcers mention it.  Your average professional fighter might get five UFC appearances if he’s lucky.  Twenty is a big deal.  Let’s treat it that way.

Leaders of the New Generation

One reason Dustin Poirier and Erik Koch continue to benefit from positive hype despite their recent setbacks is that they’re so darn young and so darn good.  If this were boxing, you’d never see these two fighters matched up this early in their careers.  That’s the beauty of MMA: nobody is protected.  If you want that number one spot, go get it.

In defeating Koch, Poirier separated himself further from the other young prospects at 145.  He showed great resilience and maturity, escaping submissions and making sure to pace himself so that he could survive Koch’s comeback in the third round.  It would have been easy for Poirier to gas himself out early on searching for a finish that might never come.  He kept his wits about him and picked his shots wisely.  It’s only a matter of time until he starts knocking off bigger names on his way to the top.

The End of an (V)Era

I had to do it.

Anyone who saw Brandon Vera’s early returns in the UFC would have been convinced that this was a superstar in the making.  He was flashy and fun and he said all the right things.  Most memorably, he boasted that he would win both the light heavyweight and heavyweight titles.  This did not come to fruition.  He did headline three non-PPV cards, which shows that the company had faith in his ability to draw an audience.

During his walkout for the Ben Rothwell fight, he looked lost and not at all enthusiastic about his return to heavyweight.  On some level, it was an acknowledgment that his lofty goals were done for.  He moved back up in weight because moving back up got him another fight.

The size difference between Vera and Big Ben was shocking.  Vera still looked like he was fighting at 205.  He showed flashes of his past brilliance, arguably winning the first two rounds with some deft movement and counter kicks.  Then Ben turned it on, shuffling like LMFAO before putting Vera down for the count.

The sight of Vera crumpled down on the mat was disheartening and worse, all too familiar in the latter part of his career.  In sixteen UFC appearances (including one no-contest), Vera did not even fight for the title, much less win one.  That’s still a fine career and only disappointing when held up to the hype generated by the fans, the media and himself.

Making a Statement

Chad Mendes finds himself on the same path once travelled by former welterweight contender Jon Fitch.  He is far and away the second best featherweight in the world, but he can’t seem to shake off the notion that a rematch with José Aldo would be as one-sided as their first encounter.  So what is a guy to do?

How about become the first person to defeat Clay Guida via strikes?  Guida inserted himself into the top ten of the division with a controversial split decision win against Hatsu Hioki.  In forty three career fights, he had never been knocked out.  Tyson Griffin, Diego Sanchez, Takanori Gomi, Anthony Pettis, Gray Maynard…these are just some of the names that tried to separate Guida from his consciousness and failed.  Ten years after Guida’s first professional fight, Mendes blessed him with a new experience.

On top of that, nobody (the champ included) has won four straight fights in the UFC’s featherweight division via KO or TKO.  If you’re looking for historical impact, Mendes delivered in spades.  That rematch could still be a long time coming.  When it comes, there won’t be a single person who can say Mendes isn’t ready for it.

Apparently, You Can Go Home Again

It was awkward seeing Josh Barnett, one of MMA’s most well-spoken and affable personalities, welcomed back with such open arms.  During the post-fight conference, nobody even thought to mention why he had to forfeit the UFC heavyweight title all those years go.

Look, I don’t want to be a buzzkill, but this has to be setting some sort of precedent, doesn’t it?  The UFC hasn’t been interested in doing business with Barnett until recently and it would be ridiculous to suggest it had nothing to do with his previous steroid use.  I’m not sure what message it sends when you give him such a high profile spot on a fight card and then get right back to hyping him as a contender considering Dana White’s recent crusade against PEDs and TRT.

I’m a big Barnett fan and I’m more than happy to welcome him back.  I’m also not the commissioner of the UFC.  They better pray The Warmaster can stay clean, otherwise this will go down as another blemish on the sport’s tempestuous relationship with PEDs.

Showtime

The lightweight title has proven difficult to defend; not surprising considering the depth of talent within the division over the last few years.  Benson Henderson had been hanging on by a thread and many would argue that he failed to definitively protect his championship against both Frankie Edgar and Gilbert Melendez.  You can only tread that thin line for so long before someone catches up to you.  Many predicted it would be Anthony Pettis.  I would never have predicted a first round submission.

For the UFC, this has to be considered a blessing.  This is their best shot at turning the 155 pound title into a drawing belt again.  As gifted as both Edgar and Henderson are, for some reason they failed to connect with the fans on a massive level.  BJ Penn had a unique look and skillset and he knew how to sell a match.  There was a big-time fight feel whenever he was in the spotlight.  Pettis has the potential to live up to the “Showtime” moniker.

Henderson had hoped to not only break Penn’s record of four straight lightweight title defences, but also to surpass Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre as one of the most dominant champions of all time.  It had to be painful to have those plans derailed by Pettis, the second time he’d dropped a title to his rival.  What was supposed to be a shot at redemption turned into a case of history repeating.