An all fight episode always leaves me feeling a mixture of disappointment and happiness. At this point we’ve learned everything we’re going to learn about the fighters and the majority of the episode is in-cage action. It doesn’t give me a lot to write about.
On second thought, that makes it about the same as every other episode this season.
Cathal Pendred starts us off with a philosophical question: would performing in the competition be easier if the fighters weren’t distracted by emotional ties? It’s a topic that has come up in the past, with some guys saying that the personal stakes are what drive them to compete at such a high level while other guys thrive without the weight of friends or family depending on them.
More specifically, he asks Roger Zapata how the TUF experience would be different if it weren’t for his girlfriend waiting for him back home. The way it’s phrased and the way they shoot the scene, it kind of feels like Pendred is coming on to him.
BJ Penn’s talk with him is less flirtatious. His staff is predicting that Dhiego Lima will try to take the action to the ground. All Zapata has to do is stay patient and “sit him down”, as he puts it. John Hackleman responds with a “that’s what she said”. I’m not sure that one works.
Because both fighters have shown strong striking skills (well, Lima anyway), Zapata predicts that this could be the fight of the season. Why would you predict something like that? I recall Joe Lauzon saying that he never aimed to get any of his “Fight of the Night” awards because that usually meant that he got f**ked up in some capacity (I’m paraphrasing). How about guaranteeing a good performance first and let your opponent worry about what they’ll decide to do, huh?
In another episode, Tim Williams did everyone a favour by informing us that he needed to take a dump. Following in that grand tradition is Lima:
What I’m gonna do here is just get a bunch of vegetables, put it on the juicer and then juice it. Drink that. Eat some protein, like some eggs and then a piece of toast and I should be ready to go. That way I got plenty of time to digest. The only thing is the toilet in the morning, you know…the toilet feels it. (laughs)
What is with these guys telling us about their bowel movements? Is it at all related to everyone sleeping all the time? Who thought all these shots of human beings in their most inert state would make for good television? It’s a good thing I’m past the point of caring since these questions will never be answered.
Roger Zapata v. Dhiego Lima
Lima’s leg kicks are on point early on, but it’s Zapata who lands the first big blow. He lands a right hand just as Lima throws a body kick. It puts Lima on his butt, much to the excitement of Team Penn. He’s careless going in though and Lima catches him with an arm bar. Just thirty seconds in, this one is over! Zapata definitely suffered some sort of arm injury.
In the locker room, Lima’s team celebrates how much money he’s in for since he’s the most likely candidate for the Knockout and Submission of the Season. Up until that point he was the only fighter to win by either method.
“The Iceman” Chuck Liddell pops in to give Daniel Spohn some pointers on how to keep the action where he wants it to go. I miss Liddell. Still, I’m glad he retired. Maybe it’s just because I haven’t seen him in a while, but he seems much cheerier and more eloquent since he stopped having his brain shut down by concussive force. Funny how that works.
Matt Van Buren says the personal beef he had with Chris Fields made him fight too aggressive and…wait, that was him fighting aggressive? Speaking of delusional comments, Zapata takes a moment during the season ending celebration dinner to declare the cast to be the future of the UFC. There’s a terrifying thought. Van Buren is upstairs trying to relax before fight day and he gets in one last good line: “Don’t eat my pizza you mark ass tricks!”
Daniel Spohn v. Matt Van Buren
I’ll give Spohn credit. He looks like he knows what he’s doing in there. More specifically, he is good at executing a game plan. Van Buren is more of a “go with the flow” type and Spohn is all over him to start. The problem is that much like in the quarterfinals, Spohn prioritizes control over doing damage or finishing the fight. Van Buren gets out. You can’t help but feel that Spohn’s lack of activity is going to cost him. He does get another takedown, sealing a 10-9 first.
Spohn connects with a counter left to start round two that causes either a knockdown or a slip. Either way (surprise, surprise), he doesn’t capitalize. Van Buren rocks Spohn with a flurry and then slices his head up with elbows after stuffing a desperation takedown attempt. Much respect to both men who start throwing hay out there. Even Dana White is pleased. He anoints it the Fight of the Season. Van Buren smacks Spohn with a straight right and he’s had enough.
Mark Coleman does his best to console Spohn right after. Spohn thinks it might have been an early stoppage, but it wasn’t going anywhere good for him. He’s a smart, thoughtful guy. Stoppages like that will keep him that way.
For those of you keeping score at home, your finals are:
Middleweight – Eddie Gordon (6-1) v. Dhiego Lima (9-1)
Light Heavyweight – Corey Anderson (2-0) v. Matt Van Buren (6-2)
That’s four Team Edgar fighters! That’s only the second time this has happened in a two-tournament season (TUF Nations: Canada vs. Australia had an all Canuck finale) and the first time on an American version of TUF. Congratulations Frankie Edgar, you join the illustrious ranks of all time great coaches Chael Sonnen, Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira, and Matt Serra.
Sunday, July 6, 2014: Matt Van Buren v. Corey Anderson! Dhiego Lima v. Eddie Gordon! BJ Penn v. Frankie Edgar! Penn and Edgar fought each other on two PPVs, once as the headliner. Now it’s being given away for free on a Sunday evening. Think about that for a second.
My picks are Anderson, Lima and Edgar. Always Edgar.
As for the season itself, there’s no reason to continue to kick dirt all over it. From the lacklustre cast to the over the top promos (“critics agree it’s the best season yet!”) that included a commercial telling viewers to tune in for an eye poke, everything just reeked of going through the motions. I confess that writing these recaps and trying to critique the show was a slog especially when you could read a one paragraph summary of the show and come to the same conclusion I did: TUF 19 was a pointless waste of time.
I expect the discussion over the necessity of TUF to continue even though I doubt it will ever be cancelled due to its value to the FOX Sports network. Just as the atrocious TUF 16 set the stage for an overhaul of the series, the weakness of TUF 19 will only make TUF 20 shine brighter. The ratings are going to spike next season with two fresh and relevant coaches and the first exclusively female cast. Add in the intrigue of the tournament winner also becoming an instant UFC champion and you have the recipe for the biggest comeback since TUF 4. From the buzz I’ve seen, it sounds like everyone is planning to catch at least a few episodes.
None of that justifies the UFC having to crank out mediocre seasons like this one. They need to become more adventurous with the format, especially when it had to be obvious from the first day of filming that this cast didn’t have much to offer. Take advantage of the fact that this is a reality television show and not documentary programming. Manufacture situations that allow the fighters to show their true personalities for better or for worse. Make the show fun again. It might not be real, but if this season was an honest in-depth look at how fighters live day to day, then give me fantasy anytime.