Here’s what I wrote back in September 2012 in a post about fixing The Ultimate Fighter:
This is an idea that I’d like to elaborate further on some other time, but how about a season dedicated to two prominent camps? It would be good publicity for the camps themselves and their young fighters. The cast mates wouldn’t be forced into a team dynamic, instead training with friends who they already like and trust. There’s even the possibility of including more than two teams (something that Survivor has done before with great success). Just imagine the possibilities: American Top Team v. Tristar? Jackson’s MMA v. Xtreme Couture? Team Nogueira v. Alliance MMA? Nova União v. Team Alpha Male? If a team is too dominant, it could even result in teammates having to face each other (though their reluctance to do so would be a major hurdle for the show).
I’ll admit, I’m embarrassed. I had no idea that Dana White and the UFC put so much stock in my ideas. Lorenzo, my preferred method of payment is check, though I’m not against the sack with a dollar sign on it.
American Top Team
Blackzilians (actually black on the show)
In all seriousness though (yes, that was me being funny), I can’t express enough how much I appreciate the show runners making a major overhaul to the program.
To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the show, TUF invited two of the most prominent teams in MMA to participate in a head to head battle for camp superiority. On one side, we have American Top Team cofounded and owned by Dan Lambert. On the other, we have the Blackzilians owned by Glenn Robinson. I’m not going to lie, the first few times I saw Glenn Robinson’s name in MMA articles, I thought that “Big Dog” had invested in an MMA gym.
This is the first domestic edition of TUF to not take place in Las Vegas. Instead, we’re in sunny South Florida, the site of both gyms as well as the all-new TUF house. One major difference is that the fighters have to travel there by water.
Let’s get the nitty-gritty of the season out of the way for those of you who, like me, might not have been keeping up with the previews leading up to the show:
- There will be 12 fights during the regular season and unlike previous editions, not everyone has to fight.
- A fighter can fight up to a maximum of three times.
- The 12 fights will be broken into three tiers, each worth a different amount of points. So the last four weeks will be more important than the first four weeks.
- The fighters are selected by their teams before the weigh-in, but until then they have no idea who they will be facing At last, the Blind Date/TUF mash-up I’ve been begging for.
- You will only be able to fight in the TUF finale if you fought at least two times during the “regular season” (as Dana calls it). It is unclear if this means you have to have fought twice to be on the card at all, or to be in consideration for the TUF Final (if there even is a traditional final match this season).
- The team with the most points at the end of the regular season gets $200,000.
- The team with the winning fighter in the finale gets $300,000 and the TUF trophy.
Call me crazy, but these are ideas that could be expanded on outside of the TUF format, no? Especially with all the programming the UFC has, it is not unreasonable to think they could establish some sort of regular season with major rewards at the end. Just something to consider.
They highlight Robbie Lawler’s recent world title win, a first for ATT after a handful of missed opportunities. Unfortunately, we soon go from highlighting ATT to slinging mud at the Blackzilians. Dan says that Glenn is simply a student who had enough money to buy his way into martial arts relevancy. He accuses Glenn of bringing in big name fighters to comprise his camp as opposed to developing his own.
Glenn’s side of the story is that Dan became upset with him after he became professionally involved with other fellow ATT members Jorge Santiago, JZ Cavalcante, and the Villefort brothers. This resulted in Glenn being banned from ATT. Jorge, JZ, and the Villeforts would follow him to his new enterprise, soon joined by Rashad Evans and Anthony Johnson.
For those of you keeping score at home, by my unofficial count (only fighters who have already made at least one appearance) ATT has 33 fighters currently signed to the UFC, while the Blackzilians have 12.
It’s cool that they show us some of the ATT roster selection process. I’ll take that over elimination fights any day. Heck, even if they don’t do camp wars every year, I’d love to see how those responsible for casting select the people for the show. Anyone who has watched DVD extras of any previous TUF season knows that the unseen auditions and table discussions are highly entertaining.
Here is a quick and dirty reference guide for the ATT team:
- Marcelo “Grilo” Alfaya (16-7 [1 NC])
- Crazy man
- Hayder Hassan (6-1)
- Knockout artist
- In his last two fights, he knocked out a pair of Blackzilians (Jason Jackson and Felipe Portela)
- Nathan Coy (14-5)
- The captain
- Has fought for both Bellator and Strikeforce
- “Creepy” Steve Montgomery (8-2)
- 6’4”, Southpaw
- Michael Graves (4-0)
- Fast paced
- Sabah Homasi (8-4)
- Uros Jurisic (4-0)
- 22 years old
- Wild card
- Steve Carl (21-4)
- Former WSOF welterweight champion
Hayder likens ATT to playing for the New York Yankees. He gets a lot of play in this episode and based on his past experiences with the Blackzilians, expect him to be a prominent character this season.
On the Blackzilian side:
- Jason Jackson (4-2)
- Top cardio
- Luiz “Buscape” Firmino (18-6)
- WSOF and PRIDE veteran
- His last three wins were against Luis Palomino, Jacob Volkmann, and Tyson Griffin
- Natural 155er
- Kamaru Usman (5-1)
- Olympic alternate wrestler
- Andrews Nakahara (4-2-2)
- Karate world champion
- Carrington Banks (3-0)
- Unproven athlete
- Hasn’t fought in two years
- Heck of a dancer
- Vicente Luque (7-4-1)
- Most improved
- Ground game
- Felipe Portela (8-2)
- Sick mustache
- Originally an alternate
- Valdir “BBMonstro” Araujo (14-5)
- Ground game and power
The South Beach mansion somehow looks even more opulent and unnecessary than the Las Vegas location. When I’d heard that the show would focus on actual teams this year, I had hoped they would move away from the reality show house format. I love the team concept, I love the points system, I HATE that the fighters still have to live in the same house. How does that make any sense? This went from fresh to disturbingly familiar real quick.
Creepy Steve: The initial reaction was a little bit of awkwardness. Tension. Competitiveness. You could tell everyone was semi-sizing each other up, but at the same time not necessarily trying to be seen sizing the other up.
This year, the coin flip determines home gym advantage. I hate when there is no consolation prize for the losing team because it puts too much importance on random chance. Especially this season where the winning team gets to keep the fights in their gym. The Blackzilians get it.
We move to the home of Glenn where he has invited the Blackzilians over to watch the UFC on Fox event where Rumble took out Alexander Gustafsson. It is neat to see how the owner and his team react to Rumble pulling off the upset. Glenn’s home set-up looks pretty sweet and we get another glimpse into his resources later in the show when he has a war room to discuss the fighter picks with some of his crew overseas via satellite. That was in contrast to ATT who are shown discussing their business inside the cage. We could have ourselves a “haves” vs. “have nots” angle.
Dana comes to the house to give the traditional pep talk and go over the points system. It might not make for exciting television, but it’s a smart thing to do because it’s so different from how every other season has been handled.
After that, we get a great quote from Jason: I’m only living by three codes: Whup ass. Cash checks. And take gold. That’s all.
For ATT the plan is simple: to stick with their best four to have the best chance of winning everything. Michael is up first.
Michael is a wrestler, but he calls his style “madness”, which probably falls somewhere between “Trap Fighting” and “Ranger International Performance” (RIP). MMA used to be all fun and games but now that he has a fiancée it is time to get down to business. Dan says that Michael came to the camp with little experience. It didn’t take long before he was proving to be a handful for most guys in the gym, even those in the UFC.
There is some kitchen drama revolving around labelling of items in the fridge and (*sigh*) not cleaning the dishes. For the rest of the season, that’s the last I’m going to write about that.
On the Blackzilian side is Kamaru. He was called in during the fight selection meeting and asked if he wanted to fight this early in the season. After some hesitation, he agreed. Glenn tells everyone to make it a point to deceive the other team as to who they might have picked.
I’ll say this: halfway through the episode, the show has a different feel and that’s a good thing. People might not find the emphasis on the coaches and their decisions to be that interesting, but it’s a change of pace from manufactured house drama and generic training footage.
Kamaru is from Nigeria, raised in Texas. He moved to Colorado Springs to compete for an Olympic spot and then…they don’t tell us why he decided to make the switch to MMA. There is actually a pause for dramatic effect and then nothing. Let’s assume this is a blank to be filled in later.
When we get to the weigh-ins, Dan admits to being surprised when Kamaru steps forward to fight. ATT was expecting the Blackzilians to lead off with Buscape. Kamaru had been watching the habits of the ATT members closely and he suspected it would be Michael or Nathan, so credit to him for his observational skills. That doesn’t mean he should be rocking the shades in-doors look though.
The emphasis during the faceoff is actually on the two coaches standing behind their fighters. This rivalry could get tiresome quickly if they don’t lay off on it.
Welterweight Bout: Kamaru Usman (5-1) v. Michael Graves (4-0)
There is a big fight feel with recognizable fighters from both camps in the audience. It reminds me of one of the things I do like about past season’s elimination fights, friends and family of the competitors being allowed to attend. Kamaru comes out in a crouch and…
Kamaru catches a kick and gets the first takedown of the fight, though Michael is able to recover. He tries to switch position but Kamaru is hanging onto that single leg like a rabid dog. We move to some clinching against the cage and Michael is able to slip out and start connecting with kicks.
Great balance and flexibility by Michael keeps him on his feet where is able to score a lot of points. On the other hand, he is also allowing Kamaru to land, which isn’t good because Kamaru is supposed to be a one-dimensional wrestler. Kamaru connects with straight rights and shoots in again, but Michael’s takedown defence holds up. I had the first round for Michael 10-9, though I wasn’t sure whether to credit Kamaru with several somewhat successful takedowns that didn’t go anywhere.
I can’t believe I’m saying his, but these ring girls seem superfluous in this environment. It’s one thing to have them in neutral territory like the usual TUF gym, it’s another to have them where these teams do their actual training.
In round two, Kamaru can’t seem to land a clean takedown. Even when it looks like Michael is headed for a fall, he has the magical ability to levitate his butt from the canvas.
Michael gets away with grabbing the cage in both rounds (oh, maybe that’s how he does it), which drives me nuts. Just take the point, ref! A sloppy takedown attempt by Kamaru bounces Michael off the cage and he dives in to take Kamaru’s back. Kamaru is forced to carry Michael’s weight as he stands up, with Michael looking for a choke the whole time. Kamaru shakes Michael loose and is able get his first real top position in the fight…with 30 seconds to go.
It’s a majority decision win for Kamaru. I guess they did count those takedowns. This is why I don’t gamble on fights and why I should never be allowed to judge them.
Post-fight, Dan concedes that the stand-up was even, something they hadn’t accounted for. He also says Michael shouldn’t have accepted bottom position to close out the fight as it likely cost him the round. I like Dan already. He’s not going to cry too much over a close fight.
Hayder refuses to go quietly from ringside. He calls Kamaru out and Dan tells Hayden to keep it “in the cage”. We’re already seeing the benefits of this format, since this fight could still happen without both guys having to advance to another round. The coaches could simply agree to let them step into the octagon and we have ourselves a fight. If only Joe Silva’s job was so easy.
Surprisingly, Dana doesn’t feel the guys from either team showed him enough. I thought the fight was alright, so I don’t know why they felt the need to show that criticism this early in the season. Let’s hope it’s because they want us to know that the best is yet to come.
Next Week: American Top Team’s…s**t, they don’t announce the fights ahead of time anymore. How am I going to do these this season?