This week features a match-up between veteran Zak Cummings and Australian Dylan Andrews. Forgive me if hearing Andrews speak causes me to drift off into fond memories of the criminally underrated TUF: Smashes spin-off.
Team Sonnen (actually black on the show, but blue for the purposes of this article)
It’s time for the always popular coaches’ challenge and this year they’ve got a good one: Excavators! While the challenge has traditionally been based around traditional athletic competitions (even Smashes’ destruction derby kind of counts as a sport), the producers have stepped outside of the box to come up with something unique for Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen. Using heavy construction vehicles, the two coaches have to complete three courses: filling up a dumpster with dirt, building a pyramid made of three large tires and taking a basketball off of a cone and dropping it into a tire. This whole concept seems extraordinarily dangerous and there’s a near fatality as Jones nearly takes out a bunch of the fighters while rotating the excavator bucket.
I have to think that they’ve taken some liberties with the editing, but regardless it is a thrilling back and forth battle between the two coaches and it’s easily one of the most memorable coaches’ challenges ever. This means Sonnen beat Jones at bowling, he won the this challenge and his team is up 4 wins to 2. I wouldn’t take this as any indication of how their fight will go in April.
Andrews has a compelling story involving athletic brothers who squandered their potential through drug use mixed in with his own struggles with the fight game. He explains how he stumbled across a gym in his hometown and took to the sport naturally, but that he “hates the experience” of fighting. It sounds like he feels obligated to be doing what he’s doing, whether it’s for spiritual or financial reasons. His motivations are in stark contrast to Cummings, who says that he’s always been a bright guy who was expected to pursue a career in engineering or physical therapy, but he dedicated himself to something that he truly loved and he’s proven good enough to fight for major promotions like Strikeforce and Bellator. Now he’s close to a shot at the UFC. I admire Andrews’ sense of duty, but also Cummings for taking a chance on his passion even when there were more obvious alternatives. When they reveal later in the episode that this was his seventh time auditioning for the show, you can’t help but be astonished.
The fight is a good one. The first round is tale of two halves as Cummings has top control for the first couple of minutes. Andrews does a poor job of defending himself and takes a lot of short elbows to the side of the head, but nothing that can put him out of commission. I misjudged how hurt he was as right around the 2:30 mark, with Cummings advancing to mount, Andrews manages to scramble and reverse into top position. He does a ton of damage from guard and the sheer volume of his ground strikes earns him the first round. The Australian has a cut on the side of his head, but stays as calm as he’s been throughout the fight so far.
Cummings opens the second with his best Uriah Hall impression, throwing a spinning kick that hits…a whole lot of nothing. Still, the attempt draws a chuckle from Andrews and the two touch gloves again (something I hate seeing in the middle of a fight). The power that Cummings displayed in the preliminary round is on display as he connects solidly and actually has Andrews on the run for a brief moment. Unfortunately, he chases awkwardly and completely whiffs on a flying knee making it easy for Andrews to plant him on his back. Andrews transitions to half-guard and fights from there for the remainder of the round, pinning Cummings against the fence and landing more ground and pound. It’s a clear-cut decision victory for Andrews.
With the wild card round returning, Dana White leaves it up to Jones and Sonnen as to who they think deserve a second shot. The eligible fighters are Cummings, “King” Casey, Clint Hester and “Bubba” McDaniel. For Sonnen it’s an easy pick as he is confident that King underperformed and that he’ll be ready for this opportunity. Jones, on the other hand, has to decide between the ultra-promising Hester and early tournament favourite Bubba. Someone on Team Jones also adds that Hester is black, which should settle it right there, but in all seriousness I have no idea how he could pass on Bubba. He’s not only one of the most well-credentialed fighters, but he trains with Jones and I don’t see how he’d be able to look the man in the eye back home if this wild card was given to anyone else.
One last observation: The octagon girls usually accompany White to the coaches’ challenges but since this one was so different, I thought that might not be the case this season. Bless her heart, Arianny Celeste soldiers on!
Next week: In a fight that’s been hyped all season, King and Bubba finally clash. I am looking forward to some quality trash talk, even if it comes in the form of another mediocre freestyle.