After 4 weeks of double dipping with The Ultimate Fighter 16 and The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes (the UK/Australia edition of the series), I was burnt out. Maybe I oversaturated or maybe it was too difficult to provide stimulating analysis or maybe (most likely), TUF is a flat-out horrible program to watch these days. Still, as time passed by without writing recaps I felt guilty. I was ignoring my duty and even though nobody gave a damn about it but me, I knew what had to be done: Over twenty hours of TUF programming later I emerged with a greater understanding of self and an even lesser understanding of what it means to have a life.
It’s a dirty job but someone’s gotta do it…
I’m going to have to tack on another eight plus hours this weekend as the two shows wrap-up with the Smashes finale on Friday (Sportsnet ONE, 6 PM preliminaries, 9 PM main card) and the TUF 16 finale on Saturday. You might notice that I didn’t put the Canadian listings for the second event. The TUF 16 main card is on FX Canada, with a replay on Sportsnet at midnight so even I won’t be able to watch it live. This would normally be the part where the MMA fan complains about a major sports network choosing curling over MMA, but the fact is that curling would crush the TUF finale in the ratings and rightfully so: curling rules. Even if there wasn’t a more favourable event to broadcast, the TUF finale would fare poorly due to the malaise around the series and the main event being changed from Roy Nelson vs. Shane Carwin to Nelson vs. Matt Mitrione; an exciting match to be sure, but one lacking in intrigue.
What I really want to talk about is the potential talent emerging from these shows. TUF doesn’t produce high calibre fighters anymore. Flyweight contender John Dodson won TUF 14, but he’s been fast-tracked in a thin flyweight division (and he would have become a contender with or without the show). Before Dodson, the last two TUF participants to earn title shots were lightweights Gray Maynard and Nate Diaz. They came from TUF 5 back in 2007 and that was arguably the last great TUF class (it also included Matt Wiman, Joe Lauzon, Rob Emerson, Cole Miller and featherweight contender Manny Gamburyan). Out of the 32 contestants I’ve forced myself…*ahem*…had the pleasure to watch over the last few months, do any of them have a chance of making a dent in the UFC?
Team Carwin (actually yellow on the show, but brown for the purposes of this article)
Team Pearson (actually blue on the show, but red for the purposes of this article)
*Michael Pastou (lightweight) and James Vainikolo (welterweight) are excluded due to the fact that neither man fought on the show. Pastou was injured early; Vainikolo was a late replacement and was unable to make weight.
Luke Newman & Bola Omoyele (welterweights) – best friends, training partners and partners in crime. These two had credibility coming from the same camp as opposing coach George Sotiropoulos. All of that went out the window with their lacklustre performances, not to mention the ensuing controversy that arose from them sneaking a cell phone into the house and then letting a teammate text the result of his fight to his girlfriend! That’s a huge no-no and Dana White showed leniency in allowing them to stay and train. He punished them by ignoring them when it came time to replace an injured fighter and it was such an egregious offence that I doubt they receive a call the next time the UFC heads over to the UK or Australia.
Julian Lane (welterweight) – Lane was the most notorious member of the house, going off on a rampage at the slightest provocation.
While he was meant to follow in the illustrious footsteps of fellow psychopaths Chris Leben and Junie Browning, Lane’s antics only served to amuse his housemates and annoy viewers. His act became so contrived that you actually wanted to see him throw a punch just so they would have an excuse to get rid of him. Based on his lame performance in the octagon, he isn’t capable of hurting anybody anyway.
Eddy Ellis (welterweight), Nic Herron-Webb (welterweight), Patrick Iodice (lightweight) and Valentino Petrescu (welterweight) – all four lost in the first round and none of them showed enough to warrant a second look. Ellis is too vanilla, Herron-Webb is too douche-y, Iodice is too young and Petrescu is too much of a carny.
Ben Wall (lightweight) – he got lots of face time during the season, both for his charming nickname (“Foxpiss”) and his rapidly ballooning weight. After losing early, Wall was liberated and he proceeded to eat half the house. Completely oblivious to the possibility that he might be needed to replace an injured fighter, Wall just wanted to eat. Regardless, nobody will be able to take away the “fat man” championship that he won as the fighter to gain the most weight during the show. On the final day, he weighed in at 198 pounds. He fights at 155.
Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You
Xavier Lucas (welterweight) – better known as simply “X”, Lucas was one of the most beloved cast members in the house. An injury to a teammate allowed him to fight twice, but he fell short both times. With his easy-going personality and eagerness to scrap, Lucas is on the short-list of fighters the UFC will look to when booking their next Australian card.
Matt Secor (welterweight) – I’m probably overrating his chances here, but I thought Secor stood out on the show with his superior trash talking. Anyone who engaged in a war of words with him usually ended up getting “ether’d”. A smart mouth doesn’t guarantee results in the cage (often the opposite), but Secor did enough in a split decision loss to stay on the UFC’s radar.
Dom Waters (welterweight) – Waters had the misfortune of facing off with Mike Ricci in the quarterfinals and he wasn’t ready for that challenge just yet. He had one of the best showings getting into the house and he has a marketable look (read: he’s big and black and he looks like Jay Pharoah from SNL).
Cameron Diffley (welterweight) – I’m putting Diffley here because of his accomplishments as a jiu-jitsu trainer. I imagine he has some connections that could get him back to the big show sooner rather than later as long as he’s willing to put the necessary work in.
Win And You’re In
Brendan Loughnane/Mike Wilkinson (lightweights), Benny Alloway/Manny Rodriguez (welterweights) & Neil Magny/Jon Manley (welterweights) – the TUF finales traditionally fill out the preliminaries with contestants from the show, but for whatever reason the majority of the cast will not be participating in this weekend’s events. The Smashes finale has some big names (Mike Pierce, Chad Mendes) along with Loughnane, Wilkinson, Alloway and Rodriguez who all made it to the semi-finals. The TUF 16 card doesn’t include a single fighter from the show outside of the two finalists, emphasizing just how weak this particular class was (though Magny and Manley have been booked for UFC 157 in February).
For all six men, a win gets them another fight and a loss sends them back to the minors. The opportunity is especially sweet for Wilkinson and Rodriguez who were removed from the tournament due to injury.
A Change Of Scenery, Perhaps?
Sam Alvey (welterweight) – Alvey had a solid resume going into the show and was one of the favourites to win it especially after delivering a massive KO to get into the house. Unfortunately, the cut to 170 took a lot out of him and he was upset in the first round. He said he’d like to return to middleweight and he’s the kind of fighter who should be prepared if called in on short-notice.
Grant Blackler and Richie Vaculik (lightweights) – Australia must have a shortage of talented lightweights, because Blackler and “Vas” were thrown to the wolves in this competition. Blackler is undefeated at featherweight and Vas is actually one of the top bantamweights in Australia, so neither guy could get off against the supersized 155ers that Team UK trotted out. Both men have promising careers in the UFC at their natural weight classes, particularly Vas who showed solid striking and footwork in the semi-finals against finalist Colin “Freakshow” Fletcher.
So You’ve Made It To The Quarter-Finals…
Bristol Marunde, Igor Araujo, Michael Hill and Joey Rivera (welterweights) – none of these guys lit the world on fire with their performances, but they did enough to eke out a victory and that has to stand for something, doesn’t it? The good thing is they all have a hook: Marunde is “the bleeder” (after every fight it looked like he’d stuck his face in a wood chipper); Araujo is “the homicidal maniac” (for threatening to murder his opponents in the streets); Hill is “the homeless guy” (for refusing to wear a shirt like Vaughn from Community); and Rivera is “Tantric” (for his words of wisdom that I am shamelessly posting again):
You’re not supposed to have sex before you fight, but having sex with my wife, it makes me feel proud. I don’t always finish and I’m just doing it for her to make sure that she’s being taken care of properly. Before I fight I try not to have, um, ejaculation…so I can keep my spiritual energy, keep it all in there.
The next wedding I go to that’s going in the guest book.
Colton Smith (welterweight) – I’m listing this last grouping in order of potential. We begin with military man Colton Smith. Smith made it clear that his plan was to take opponents down and pound them out on the ground, which he did with great success. Unfortunately, his stand-up was terrible and he didn’t come close to finishing any of his opponents. Good enough to compete on the show, but not good enough to be memorable, Smith epitomized the efforts of the cast this year. He’s already discussed a drop to lightweight, but I don’t see him sticking around long.
Norman Parke (lightweight) – only 25 years old, Parke had the most experience of the Smashes crew and he showed it, looking calm and composed and using his size to his advantage. Parke is young, well-rounded and has the right attitude but I didn’t see enough to tout him as anything more than a project. Still, could be a sleeper.
Robert Whittaker (welterweight) – out of the 32 TUF participants this year, nobody showed more power than Whittaker. Another young gunner at 21, Whittaker’s naiveté is almost a blessing in disguise as he throws hard strikes from all kinds of unorthodox angles. More importantly, when he hits he hits hard as evidenced by the two first round knockouts that landed him in the finals. Like Parke, it’s too early to be making any bold proclamations, but he has those heavy hands that some fighters are lucky to be born with.
Colin Fletcher (lightweight) – were this based solely on whom I think will become the most popular fighter, “Freakshow” would win by a landslide. With his penchant for bizarre pranks and spontaneous nudity, Fletcher would have stood out even if he never threw a single punch. Luckily, it turns out he can scrap and he turned out to be one of the more level-headed members of the house, refusing to become embroiled in any silly drama. His best bit was when he pretended to be a replacement fighter for Team Australia named “Russell Bandingo”, a transformation that involved slapping on a blonde wig and “tanning” his face with a marker. Not racist at all.
Mike Ricci (welterweight) – like Smith, Ricci is likely to drop down to a more comfortable weight of 155 when all is said and done; unlike Smith, Ricci looks poised to become a name in the UFC. However, it can’t be stressed enough just how bad the competition was on this show. Ricci took out Waters and Magny to get to the finals, neither of whom is near his usual level of competition. The Canadian’s performance and demeanour were eerily similar to TUF 6’s Mac Danzig, who also ran through overmatched competition. Danzig has become a reliable mid-carder, but hasn’t come close to matching his tournament dominance. Expect Ricci to follow a similar arc.
Brad Scott (welterweight) – now this guy is a sleeper! With his scrunched up face and monotone voice, Scott drifted through the house, writing in his diary and taking care of his business in the cage. His diary nearly got him in trouble with the others (though even this situation didn’t cause too much distress), but he persevered and worked his way to the finals with two gutty performances. His opponent, Whittaker, is the more exciting and explosive but Scott is too cerebral to allow himself to get caught up in a brawl. Like his American doppelganger Forrest Griffin, Scott is more likely to grind it out than go for a highlight reel finish and while that might not get the heart racing, it should lead to a consistent and meaningful career.