SMASH Wrestling – Any Given Sunday 2

I’ve been to a few concerts in my day.  If I had to choose I’d say my favourite one was seeing Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto.  Haines is the lead singer of the much more well known Metric and this was her side project of piano-driven indie rock.  It was the group’s first live performance.  I’d bought their album earlier that day, but didn’t listen to it before seeing her.  That meant I’d be hearing it for the first time performed by Haines herself.  In the background, spooky images from Guy Maddin films were projected onto a screen, the perfect complement to Haines’s ethereal vocals.  I’ve seen Arcade Fire, Justin Timberlake and Kanye West.  Emily Haines is the one I remember the fondest, the memory that I revisit most often.

The audience was comprised of no more than a hundred people, so it was intimate to say the least.  If you’ve ever heard Haines’s songs, then you know that intimacy is her forte.  Now imagine that you’re only a dozen feet away from her.  I couldn’t even risk moving from my seat because I might lose my balance and end up tumbling into her lap.  Perhaps I should have risked moving.

I haven’t had a concert experience quite like it, though I did go to a show on Sunday that reminded me of it.

*****

 In Etobocoke, I kicked a man in the head and faced no repercussions for my actions.  Let me explain.

Sunday, January 26, 2014.  SMASH Wrestling.  Any Given Sunday 2: the sequel to what was arguably the best show in the company’s brief history (that I was lucky enough to attend).  Accompanying me was my faithful ally in all things wrestling, Paolo.  We decided to go all out and get front row tickets.  They were relatively cheap compared to what we had to pay for the nosebleed section of a Monday Night RAW taping.  I’m saying, if you live within driving distance of an independent wrestling show, you owe it to yourself to splurge and get as close to the action as possible.  I can’t promise it will be as good as SMASH, but there’s nothing quite like being inches away from live professional wrestling.  Again, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Paolo and I waited around like a couple of chumps not realizing that our first row tickets meant we could skip the line.  I told him that I didn’t mind standing around because I didn’t consider myself to be above the common man, but these VIP tickets said different.  I AM above the common man.

Bumper CarsI would lose my s**t if the action spilled out to the whirly ball arena.

The crowd was particularly large due to the booking of former TNA everything champion, AJ Styles.  SMASH brought in one of my personal favourites, Lance Storm, for their last show (Tapped Out).  Styles is a hell of a follow-up.  Paolo and I snagged tickets 1 and 2.

We managed to get seated just before the pre-show match, a six-man tag between a team from the US and a team from Canada.  I completely missed the names of the wrestlers and can’t seem to dig them up anywhere, so my apologies to the guys who put in a great effort.  Right away, I felt a sense of empowerment being in the front row, hooting and hollering at the bad guys who were right next to me.  This proved to be a huge mistake as my vocal chords were shot before intermission.  I couldn’t help myself.

Front row moment: The American team started using some dirty tactics and I barked, “That’s not how we do things in Canada!”  That drew a sneer from one of the dastardly Yanks.  This was the beginning of the shenanigans.

Team CanuckMatch 1: Alex Vega v. Brent Banks

At the first Any Given Sunday, these two were tag team partners.  Now they’re embroiled in a blood feud.  They’ve had a series of matches and each one ends with Banks cowardly attacking Vega afterwards.  I was eagerly awaiting this match since we got a taste of Banks’s over the top heel persona at Tapped Out.  After that show, they did a goofy year-end awards ceremony and when Banks won for “Most Hated” he couldn’t even be bothered to look away from his cell phone as he accepted the plaque.  What a jerk!

Front row moment:   As Banks made his way to the ring, I booed lustily.  Then I broke out an insult I’d been working on for a month:

You suck, Banks!

He turned and glared right at me.  Staying consistent with a chicken s**t fan persona I’d established, I immediately started pointing at fans around me to avert suspicion.

As for Vega, he has improved a lot since the first time I saw him.  He’s really tightened up the execution of his moves and he’s got a better physique too.  I came to see Banks, but Vega definitely won me over.

The match itself was fantastic.  The action was high paced indie fare, made better by the intensity of their rivalry.  It goes to show you how a simple, well played storyline can add so much to a match.  Banks had a couple of brilliant moments where he would tease going for a chop (always a crowd pleasing move), then do something different like rake Vega’s eyes.  We ate it up.  I couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face no matter how hard I booed.

Veda Scott v. Seleziya Sparx

After that white hot opening match, they made a wise decision to schedule the ladies to wrestle next.  A women’s match has a totally different feel to it, not to mention they have their own ways of getting the crowd riled up…

Front row moment: Seleziya stopped right in front of me, shook her groove thang and then blew me a kiss.  I believe she also said “That’s for you”, but she may as well have been talking to every man in the audience.  I’m pretty sure my heart stopped for a second there.

SeleziyaThere were some slow spots, particularly when transitioning between big moves but Seleziya and Veda definitely have some chemistry.  This was the second time these two have locked up, with each woman getting one win apiece.  Post-match, Veda got on the mic and challenged Seleziya to a rubber match, which I’m eagerly anticipating.

Gregory Iron v. Tyson Dux

I went to get some badly needed bottles of water, so I missed the video that hyped this match.  I was confused as to why everyone was so down on Dux, since he’s a SMASH Wrestling staple, but I learned later that he was making fun of Iron’s cerebral palsy.  That’s kind of uncalled for.

CyborgFront row moment: Iron furiously attacked Dux before the bell even rang, tossing him around ringside and bashing him with a chair.  As they passed by, Iron called to me to raise my boot.  I blanked completely, nearly blowing the whole thing, but Paolo yelled at me and I got my foot up in time to have Dux’s face rammed into it.  I’ve seen this sort of thing done at lots of indie wrestling shows.  I always assumed that the victim barely glances the boot, but I felt the impact as Dux threw himself at it!  What these guys do for their love of the business astounds me.

Dux managed to put Iron away with a Death Valley Driver into the corner, the second one of the match.  Then he cut a promo afterwards putting Iron over big time.

Matt Cross v. Scotty O’Shea v. Kyle O’Reilly v. A.C.H.

This was originally scheduled to be a triple threat match with Cross, O’Shea and O’Reilly.  The ring announcer pulled an amusing bait and switch, telling us that the match was no longer happening.  He allowed for the expected boos before telling us that A.C.H. had come up all the way from Texas to make this a fatal four way!  The action was absolutely insane.

Front row moment: Where do I begin?  The wrestlers picked our side to do all the crazy “flying out of the ring” spots and I feared for my life at times.  I wasn’t just staying in character!  There was an elderly woman sitting right next to me (who apparently goes to all of these Etobicoke shows) and I felt like I had to protect both her and myself.  Easier said than done when large, sweaty dudes in spandex are hurtling towards you.  I’m going to look like an a-hole when the DVD comes out as you’ll be able to see me visibly cowering in fear of the airborne wrestlers.

A.C.H. was the last man out, doing a spectacular flipping dive out of the ring.  He looked like he needed to chill so he used the woman and me as arm rests.  All I could do was pat him on the elbow pad and tell him to take it easy.

I felt a kinship with A.C.H. after that, so I felt really bad when Cross unloaded on him with fifty forearms to the noggin.  That’s not an exaggeration.  The whole place counted along with him.

Another great spot saw O’Reilly eat a stunner, stumble into the ropes and use them to flip back towards the ring and add momentum to a clothesline that looked like it killed A.C.H.  They really knew how to welcome the new guy to SMASH wrestling.

Cross ended up winning with a wicked Shooting Star Press.  He’s undefeated in SMASH Wrestling, which is why several fans were chanting “Goldberg” in recognition of his streak.  It’s going to be a huge deal when someone finally beats him.  Maybe Jay Lethal, who’s booked to appear at the next show?

M-Dogg 20Checkmate (Christopher Bishop & Lionel Knight) v. The Overdogs (Sebastian Suave & John Greed)

This was the SMASH wrestling debut of the NEW Overdogs, after Suave turned on his partner Josh Alexander at Tapped Out.  I like that he chose Greed to join the team.  He’s one of the few guys in this promotion with a different body type.  It’s a disgusting body type, but it is certainly different.

This match had an odd placement after that breathtaking multi-man match and with the co-main and main events forthcoming.  Still, the wrestlers did an admiral job and the action revved up near the end.  Bishop actually executed what I thought was the most impressive move of the night.  As Knight beat on Suave in the corner, Bishop maintained a headstand in that same corner for a solid 10 seconds.  When Knight was clear, Bishop released and landed a gorgeous split-legged moonsault.

Front row moment: There actually wasn’t one.  I’m glad because I’m not sure I could handle Greed getting up in my business.

Johnny Gargano v. Michael Elgin

I’d seen pictures, but until I saw him in person I didn’t realize what a big ass motherf**er Elgin is.  He’s kind of like a cross between Chris Benoit and Rhyno.  He’s built like a tree stump.

I was openly rooting for Gargano since this is my third time seeing him and that’s what I choose to base my allegiance on.  He’s put on a good show every time so how can I not have his back?

Gargano & ElginFront row moment: Gargano is great at getting the crowd involved and he kept looking at our section, mainly because we were in the minority in cheering him on.  Elgin hails from Ontario so I understand why he was favoured.  Still, when Gargano managed to make Elgin submit, us Gargano fans (Garganites…Garganoans…?) were made to feel like we were a part of it.

At one point, Gargano got hit so hard that he spit gum out of his mouth and I think it hit Paolo so that was pretty great.

Gargano GumThe rest of the match was filled with stiff strikes and high impact manoeuvres, though the complete lack of psychology left me somewhat cold.  I’m told that Elgin is meant to be a beast who can take a beating, but there were some sequences where they were just murdering each other and then springing back up like nothing happened.  From an athleticism and execution standpoint, it was astounding.  They really went all out in fitting in as many moves as possible.

Elgin’s strength is unbelievable.  His delayed vertical suplex, where he holds his opponent upside down for about a minute, is stunning to see in person.  Time and time again he was able to dead lift Gargano for various slams and suplexes.  He connected with a Falcon Arrow from the tope rope that I thought was the end of the match for sure.

The match had an amusing B-plot, involving a referee with some questionable counting skills.  I loved it because his counts seemed to favour Gargano, but the crowd turned on him quickly.  They even started a “kill the ref” chant.  Harsh.  Post-match, Elgin asked the audience to focus on the quality of the match and leave the referee alone.  Then he clocked the poor bugger with a spinning backfist.

The crowd had also chanted “we want Jimmy” (in reference to fan favourite official and big show veteran Jimmy Korderas).  Jimmy came out to check on his fellow zebra and as soon as he saw that he was fit to stand, he tossed him out of the ring.  That got one of the loudest pops of the night.  A bunch of savages in this town.

Chris Hero v. AJ Styles

Front row moment: Nothing in particular in this match, but being able to slap hands with Styles and all the other wrestlers was the whip cream on the sundae for me.  I’d seen Styles on TV countless times, watched his matches from Japan and now I was giving daps to the guy in a small gym in Etobicoke, Ontario.  How awesome is that?

The Phenomenal OneDamn, AJ Styles looks bad ass.

Early on, you can see why these two have had such decorated careers.  They’re just so damn crisp.  They really fill in the spaces between the high spots too.  That is to say, it never looks like they’re thinking about what to do next.  All of their movements and mannerisms make sense.  They make it easy for us to suspend disbelief, which I find can add a lot to a wrestling match.

I won’t say it was the best match of the night (I actually felt the Vega/Banks and the 4 way were superior), but it’s also a difficult match for me to evaluate because I was somewhat star struck.  It was just like seeing Emily Haines again.  I’d seen her on TV, in music videos, at festivals, but to be that close was surreal.  What might have been just another match for Styles and Hero was an unforgettable encounter for the rest of us.  It seemed to mean something to them.  I hope it did.

Hero won with his discus elbow to the back of the head, a move that has been heavily protected from what I’ve seen.  One shot and you’re done.  He now has consecutive SMASH victories over Lance Storm and AJ Styles.  Not bad.  He proposed a best of 7 series with Styles after and if that hasn’t already been arranged with companies across North America, then promoters everywhere should be lining up to get a piece of it.  If it swings back to this part of town, I know I’ll be there.

As it stands, they already have my money for the next show in February.  Will Matt Cross be able to keep his streak alive?  How will Vega and Banks deal with the pressure of the main event spot, a ladder match to boot?  Will seeing Mickie James in person cause me to melt (sorry, Seleziya)?

What else can I say?  I don’t drink, but I love to get SMASHed.

The Ultimate Fighter Nations: Canada v. Australia – Week 2 Recap

Before we proceed, can I pour one out for my man Chris Leben?  I’m a late bloomer fan that didn’t get into MMA until around 2007.  I didn’t know what full guard was, I didn’t know what a superman punch was and I certainly didn’t know what The Ultimate Fighter was.  All I knew is that when I saw Leben knock out Alessio Sakara, I thought he was the greatest fighter in the world.  I had a lot of misconceptions about MMA at the time.

Even after scouring YouTube for old fights and doing everything I could to educate myself, I still considered “The Crippler” to be appointment viewing.  He was clearly outpointed in his next fight against Michael Bisping, but still insisted that he won even as his face was swelling post-match.  Then he got choked out cold by Jake Rosholt, a moment that left me cold.  Seeing him flopping around like a fish as he was resuscitated was a reality check for me.

Still, when he won, he won big.  He punched Aaron Simpson until the NCAA All-American was stumbling around like a drunkard.  He submitted Yoshihiro Akiyama with one of the sloppiest triangle chokes I’ve ever seen.  He knocked out Wanderlei Silva in less than 30 seconds.

Even through two drug related suspensions, I stood by him.  There was something about the inner torment that was so clearly expressed in his fighting style that made me sympathize rather than condemn, even when the latter was the more sensible course of action.  I rooted for him so hard inside the cage that I couldn’t turn it off when he was outside of it.  That’s loyalty to a fault and I accept that.

As it stands, there are now only three cast members of the original Ultimate Fighter still active in competition: Josh Koscheck, Diego Sanchez, and Mike Swick (who is currently in limbo).  They’re the last of a dying breed, fighters whose reputations were enhanced by the show, not dependent on it.  Love them or hate them, they’ve been a major influence on this generation of fighters.  Yes, even Chris Leben.  Every time I see two guys throwing caution into the wind and choosing to engage in a mind-numbing brawl over, you know, winning a fight, I shall think of him.  See you at tha crossroads, brotha.

Team Colours:

Team Côté
Team Noke

Speaking of great TUF contestants, we move on to one of my new favourites: Elias Theodorou.  There’s no getting around it.  He’s one handsome mother**ker.  And he talks.  A lot.  If the purpose of this show is to create stars, you’d be hard pressed to find someone working harder to promote himself who also has the natural gifts that appeal to casual fans.  It’s like that old saying, Women want him and men want to be him…though in this envious age, it’s more probably like Women want him and men want to see him get his ass kicked.  Whatever gets people watching.

As I mentioned last week, Theodorou is a fighter and a model.  This week we learn that he’s also an actor and a stuntman and an undefeated kickboxer.  Not too shabby.  He claims to have the “best hair in MMA” and Luke Harris jokes that he might have to cut it off if he has trouble making weight.  That’s no laughing matter, Luke!  I think we’re all in agreement that we’d rather see Theodorou cut a finger off than a single lock of that immaculate do.

Also, the show is kind enough to provide us with a caption telling us that he once charged $500 for a date.  There’s not even a joke to be made here.

His opponent, Zein Saliba, decides to start calling him “Buzz Lightyear”.  Saliba chooses the Pixar icon over the more obscure (though no less entertaining) “Roger Ramjet”.  It’s one of those weird, cutesy nicknames that isn’t really insulting.  Like when one guy can’t stop calling another guy “pretty boy”.  Just stop with the foreplay and bang each other already.

I should mention that the Canadians celebrated last week’s win with wine.  All class.  On TUF 16, the two Canadians (Mike Ricci and Michael Hill) were also known for their wine drinking.  Is this a Canadian stereotype that I’m unaware of?  Is this what the rest of the world thinks of us?  The two teams also take some time to get to know each other in the manliest way possible.

Hot Tub Time Machine 2No ladies, no Chris Holdsworth, no deal.

Nordine Taleb has the look of a guy who takes things too seriously.  He doesn’t enjoy the fraternizing and calls a team meeting to make sure that they don’t share any sensitive information.  Lame.

Teachable MomentNordine is that teacher you had in elementary school who would say “I’m strict, but I want to have fun!”  They never wanted to have any fun.

He’s got a smile that could be described as both “friendly” and “crooked”.  When one of the Aussies asks him if “he’s good”, he acts like they just said something about his mother.  It’s another non-confrontation in a season that I expect to be chockfull of them.

Weak PoseIt’s difficult to look like a hard ass when you’re lounging around on a La-Z Boy.

Patrick Côté reminds me of how Georges St-Pierre was when he coached the show, choosing guest coaches based on effectiveness rather than celebrity.  To help with their ground game, he employs Vitor “Shaolin” Ribeiro, one of the top lightweights to never compete in the UFC and the proud owner of one of the sport’s best nicknames.  He’s not a household name in North America, but the Canadian team is more than familiar with him and recognize that this is a huge get.

They also get a visit at the house from Jean-François Gaudreau, a nutritionist who helps Côté to stress the importance of a healthy diet.  At this level, what you put in your body can make all the difference in the world.  Somewhere, Anthony Gutierrez is sobbing.

You might notice I haven’t had much to say about Team Australia and that’s because neither has the show itself.  For the second week in a row, I feel like they haven’t been properly showcased.  It’s possible that there’s just more substance to the Canadian fighters; I, for one, am aware of the buzz surrounding several Team Canada members but, you know…I live in Canada.

Dan Kelly, a judoka who represented Australia at the past three Olympic games, gets a birthday cake and a piñata.  To nobody’s surprise, that cake ends up getting stuffed in his face and that sets off a food fight!  It’s a nice break for the Australian team and a chance for all of us playing at home to daub the “food fight” square on our TUF bingo cards.

The coaching situation shows some signs of life as Kyle Noke welcomes Adrian Pang, an Australian fighter with almost three times a much experience as any of Noke’s charges.  The other bright spot is Israel “Izzy” Martinez, who is emerging as a distinct voice on his staff.  He calls Tyler Manawaroa a “lazy ass” and says it’s his mission to “active the crazy” in him.  Sounds like my last girlfriend.  Heyo!

Before this show, I’d never heard of Martinez. A quick Google search reveals that he’s the head wrestling coach of some rinky-dink fight camp called, uh, Jackson’s MMA or something?  Doesn’t ring a bell.

The weigh-in

Look, I’m just going to ask what everyone else who saw this scene was thinking: What kind of underwear is Saliba wearing?

Mystery UndiesIt looks like his junk is being censored by the “Ultimate Fighter” logo.

Not to be outdone, Theodorou casts aside all face-off etiquette in a juvenile attempt to psyche out Saliba.  He paws at him and makes like a sexy cat.  It is amazing.

RoarI’ve got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire…

I’m disappointed that we don’t learn more about Saliba’s personal life, especially since the Theodorou segments were like an extended dating profile.  We do find out that he likes to relax before a fight rather than over-train.  He describes himself as an opportunist.  Coach Noke could be pushing him harder.

Noke: It’s not really our job to make these guys fight like us.  It’s just trying to make these guys better at what they do.

You’re 4-2 in the UFC, coach.  It IS your job to make these guys fight like you!  Saliba comes off as too one-dimensional.  Jake Matthews is convinced that Saliba will have the advantage over Theodorou, who has sold himself a kickboxing specialist.  The Australian camp not doing their homework and Saliba’s complacency in scouting his opponent do not bode well for what’s to come.

EliasI’ll admit it.  Elias has a punchable face.

The fight

There’s lots of clinching and short strikes, which is probably the opposite of what Saliba was expecting.  He doesn’t do too badly early on and though he’s wild, he looks to have some power.  Theodorou’s persistence pays off and he eventually scores a takedown.  He has a noticeable advantage in both the size and cardio departments.  Saliba can’t get off the cage and Theodorou slams him again.  That’s a pretty man with an ugly (and winning) strategy.  There’s not much in the way of substantial offence, but the takedowns should be enough to give the Canadian the round 10-9.

Early in round 2, Theodorou takes Saliba down again with a spinebuster-like maneuver.  Theodorou is heavy on top and Saliba can’t get up.  The minutes tick by and he’s just being dragged around.  At one point, he tries to counter a takedown by…turning his back to Theodorou?  It doesn’t work.  A last second scramble to Theodorou’s back creates some suspense, but the Canadian calmly reverses position.  The buzzer sounds and Saliba pounds the mat in frustration.  The Aussies are pissed.  Noke resists burying his fighter even though you know he’s frustrated by Saliba’s performance.

Flawless CoifElias, ready for his close-up.

If I’m Theodorou, I’m riding this “Dashing” image until people get sick of it.  Just when I think he can’t pose or preen anymore, he gives his own picture the gun finger as he puts it up on the tournament board to signify his advancing.  Damn it, Elias.

Two weeks in and I still can’t tell if there’s a Canadian ring girl or not, which is unfortunate because I thought I’d be able to show the winning country’s ring girl.  Alas, we’re going to have to deal with Kahili for another week.  UGH.

Kahili Blundell Nations Week 2Next week: Olivier Aubin-Mercier Chad LaPrise v. Chris Indich.  Also, I rank the best looking contestants in TUF history.  Suggestions?

The Ultimate Fighter Nations: Canada v. Australia – Week 1 Recap

While I still have to catch up with TUF: Brazil 2 and only realized today that TUF: China has been going on since mid-December, there was no way I was going to pass up on watching the first edition of TUF filmed in Canada.  In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that I am both Canadian and a lover of Australian accents.

If this is anything like TUF: The Smashes, then the rest of you should be in for a treat.  Smashes was essentially the precursor to this season, matching up fighters from the UK with fighters from Australia.  For what they lacked in skill, the cast more than made up for with natural charisma.  The show ended up producing two solid additions to the UFC roster, lightweight winner Norman Parke from Ireland and welterweight winner Robert Whittaker from Australia.  While recent TUFs have featured some of Canada’s top prospects, I’m confident that they were able to scrounge up enough unsigned talent to produce a legitimate, UFC-caliber fighter (whatever that means these days) from this season.  As for the Aussies, your guess is as good as mine.

Team Colours:

Team Côté
Team Noke

There is minimal pomp and circumstance to begin, other than a short hype video to establish the atmosphere of the UFC and the national pride at stake.  It is not all that different from how the other international editions of TUF usually start.  Oh wait, there is one key difference:

Maple LeavesOh… Canada

Patrick Côté opens with some gamesmanship, deferring the ritual tossing of the coin to Kyle Noke.  It turns up red, meaning Team Canada is going to start off with control of the fights.  It seems somewhat unfair to me that the winning team maintains control because that coin toss may have decided the whole competition from day one.  In a different season, Noke would get to pick the first fighter but since the teams are already made, he walks away with nothing.  Bummer.

Does this mean we could possibly have our first Canadian TUF winner?  Is it still as big a deal when half the house is from Canada?  If you’re curious, the only Canadians to make it to the finals were Mike Ricci (TUF 16) and Jessica Rakoczy (TUF 18).

One last thing I have to say about pre-set teams is that I don’t mind when there isn’t an elimination round.  There are pros and cons.  In theory, starting a season with two hours of fights seems like a great idea.  In practice, it can be a slog.  Think about how many free fight cards you struggled to get through this year.  Now imagine you have no idea who the fighters are and that most of them probably aren’t at the UFC level.  You can see why it might be in everyone’s best interests to leave it in the hands of the casting director rather than the fighters or the judges.

I’ve barely mentioned Noke, though that’s not really my fault.  Taking place in Québec, this is Côté’s home field as it were and he’s the de facto MC.  Noke does have a funny moment where he declares a “no crying” rule, which would last about six seconds if this were TUF: Brazil.

I wondered how the TUF contestants who grew up watching the sunny locales of Las Vegas, São Paulo (Brazil) and Sydney (Smashes) were going to react to the first cold weather residence in the series’ history.  It couldn’t be more Canadian…

TUF Canada House ExteriorTUF Canada House Moose

TUF Canada House Wilderness…the Aussies are forced to counter with their own stereotype by throwing one on the baaaaaahbie.

Australian BBQSurprisingly, the Australian team really takes to the unique setting, with its taxidermy and country styling.  That good feeling deteriorates quickly when Kajan Johnson gets settled and breaks out into a freestyle.  This is getting ugly fast.  He also has a bad habit of calling everything “money” or “gangster”.

Ragin' KajanAfter years of toiling away in the Canadian MMA scene, I get the feeling that Kajan is enjoying the newfound exposure.

I mock, but Johnson breaks out from the pack with his informative testimonials and quirks.  He does an excellent job of bigging up his teammates, which is particularly helpful even to someone like me who recognizes most of the names, but only in passing.  He’s a pioneer of the Canadian MMA scene, having competed in almost thirty professional fights.  When you are in such an intense sport for that long, you pick up lots of little peccadilloes.  He relaxes himself by “smudging”, which involves burning vegetation and rubbing the smoke over his body and he asks that Côté yell “energize” if it looks like his output is waning during a fight.

SmudgingYep, that’s sweet grass smoke.  Don’t get excited Diaz brothers.

The day arrives for the first fight pick and they make a big deal about how these guys have worked their whole lives to get to this stage.  Now they finally get to meet Dana White face to face…via satellite.  I’ll be disappointed if he doesn’t actually visit the fighters.

Dana HeadroomCatch the wave!

Johnson is picked to fight Brendan O’Reilly.  Both guys are small welterweights, which I didn’t understand.  In the past, I’ve seen coaches looking to capitalize on a size advantage rather than minimize a disadvantage.  Johnson has a ton of experience, but he’s also suffering from a litany of injuries and he hasn’t fought in two years.  He doesn’t seem too worried.

All SmilesCheer up, Kajan.

Noke erroneously states that Johnson has lost half of his fights (his record is 19-10), but whoever said these Aussies could do math, eh?  I think he meant to say that he has lost half as many fights as he’s won, something Johnson has in common with bums like Randy Couture and BJ Penn.

I can’t tell you much about O’Reilly other than that he has a great beard and he’s labelled as an “amateur cowboy”.  That seems vaguely insulting to me.  I’m not the only one who isn’t familiar with the Australian team as they admit that they knew little about each other before the show.  This is in stark contrast to the Canadians who are the most tightly knit team I’ve seen.  Côté is surprising me too.  I used to hate him so much when he somehow scraped and clawed his way to a middleweight title shot (I challenge you to name who Côté beat last before challenging Anderson Silva), but in truth he’s always come off as a pretty cool guy.  So far he’s been the consummate coach.

The trash talk has been predictably tame.  What would you expect from one culture that is known for being polite and another culture that is known for being laid back.  Here is a summary of the mud slinging:

These are the guys that should be here.  These are the guys that in Canada are the cream of the crop.  And in Australia too.  These are the best Australians they could get and…we’re gonna fight.

Oh wait, did I say that was a summary?  I was actually quoting Sheldon Westcott verbatim.  Sick…burn…?

Even when the Canadians get caught questioning the credentials of the Australian team, there is absolutely no follow-up.  They get accused and weakly deny ill intent, barely moving from their comfy positions on the couch.  I’m not envying the work that the production team had to do for this season.  Later, Olivier Aubin-Mercier remarks: “…they don’t look like athletes like us…”  Leave it to the French Canadian to bring it!

The Fight

If O’Reilly’s goal was to prove that the Australian team isn’t intimidated by their Canadian counterparts, then he succeeded.  If his goal was to win the fight, then he failed miserably.

“The Badger” is as strong as an ox, there’s no questioning that.  It’s his technique and patience that fail him.  He shoots in carelessly and even though he gets the takedown, he also gets a knee to the head that busts him open not 30 seconds into the first round.  Johnson’s superior ground game makes sure that O’Reilly’s aggression doesn’t pay off.  He rolls into a nice heel hook that O’Reilly somehow manages to survive without messing up his knee.  It might have taken a toll on him though as he’s looking shaky after they get back to the feet.  We see how Johnson’s experience advantage allows him to remain calm while O’Reilly is looking gassed after only two minutes of action.  Johnson takes the back and secures a choke that O’Reilly barely defends.  He survived the heel hook with sheer toughness so maybe he thought that strategy would work again.

Have To TapO’Reilly using the rarely effective Admiral Motti choke defense.

The fight was easily the most entertaining part of what was otherwise a flat premiere.  Even though O’Reilly and Johnson were sloppy, it was the good kind of sloppy that should earn them both at least one official UFC appearance in the future.  As for the episode itself, were it not for the “nations” gimmick, there wasn’t much for a TUF fan to chew on.  I hate to say it, but the whole thing gave me a tired TUF 16 feel and that was arguably the worst TUF season.  I will remain optimistic.

As consolation to the Aussies, this episode also saw the return of Kahili Blundell, arguably the breakout star from The SmashesThere’s nothing like a cute ring girl to soothe wounded pride.

Kahili Blundell NationsNext week: Elias Theodorou v. Zein Saliba.  Theodorou is a fighter/model…or is it the other way around?  And has he ever worked with Josh Hill?

Theodorou is my pick to win, mostly because I saw him fight when Bellator came to Windsor and I want to sound cool.  He also trains in Ontario and that’s a big plus.  Also, this is the kind of modelling work he does:

Harlequin Elias (Thanks to this Vancouver Sun piece for the background information on Theodorou)