The Ultimate Fighter Nations: Canada v. Australia – Week 13 Recap & Finals Breakdown

We made it!  Now, let’s not pretend this was the most exciting or high stakes or talented season of The Ultimate Fighter.  The coaches barely interacted, the feuds in the house never escalated beyond “catty” and there was a noticeable disparity in the skill level between the Canadians and the Australians.  That said, I feel this show as good enough to justify its own existence.  That might be damning it with faint praise, but what I mean to say is that as long as there are people like me who are willing to watch international editions of TUF and the production costs remain in line with most reality television programs then I don’t see the harm in continuing to crank these out.  Since the cast changes every year, they don’t even have to worry about paying the performers more.  Kind of like how it works when you actually make it to the UFC.  Heyo!

Team Colours:

Team Côté
Team Noke

Everyone is talking about Olivier Aubin-Mercier’s performance.  Sheldon Westcott tries to console Richard Walsh by assuring him that Aubin-Mercier kills everyone in practice.  I’m not sure I’d find that particularly comforting.  He may as well say “You never really had a chance buddy, don’t worry about it.”  Walsh says he over-thought the whole situation, which makes sense since he normally comes off as a sharp, down to earth fellow.  That might not lend itself to dealing with extreme anxiety.  Westcott tells Walsh that he’s welcome to train with him in Edmonton anytime.

The whole season I was wondering if Dana White would actually make an appearance on Canadian soil.  Once Georges St-Pierre showed up, I didn’t care so much anymore.

The Champ Is HereLook, it’s Batroc the Leaper!

It’s no surprise that all the welterweights idolize him.  Several of the Canadians train with him, and Walsh and Jake Matthews are on record as saying that he is their favourite fighter.  He’s dropping truth bombs all over these cats.  Nobody moves, nobody even blinks because they’re afraid that they might miss something important.  GSP even addresses the Johny Hendricks fight.  He and his corner thought that he won and they wouldn’t say that if they didn’t truly believe it.  If he felt that Hendricks had beaten him, GSP says he would give away the belt.  Oddly enough, isn’t that what he ended up doing?

This close to the finale, both Westcott and Vik Grujic are facing some treacherous mental hurdles.  Grujic can’t stop thinking about the guaranteed money that would come from just making the finale.  He has felt flat and has a serious look plastered on his face for most of the episode.  Then again, he always looks like that.

Westcott says that “the general rule in fighting is if you’re not going in injured or you’re not going in hurt you didn’t have a good training camp.”  I’m not sure if I agree with that line of thinking, but if that’s the case then Westcott must consider his time with Team Canada to be the best camp ever.  He’s been nursing injuries to almost every part of his body since the beginning of the show.  That he’s even in the semi-finals is somewhat of a miracle and a testament to how gifted he is.

In what probably seemed like a good idea on paper, Patrick Côté dresses up as a yeti to have some fun with the fighters.  The prank fails miserably and he ends up getting tackled by Tyler Manawaroa and spanked by Elias Theodorou.

The Abominable CoteBoogaboogabooga!

Later, Grujic meets a horse.

HorseSo majestic.

The fight

When he beat Dan Kelly, Westcott said it was important that he come out fast so that he wouldn’t worry about the injuries that he was dealing with.  Just rush in and whatever happens happens.  He adopted the same strategy here.  The fighters smash into each other to start like two Japanese movie monsters.  Westcott takes Grujic down with a big slam and Grujic makes the mistake of hanging on for a guillotine without proper position.  Seconds later, Grujic is tapping out to what looks like a Von Flue choke.  Côté says it should be called the “Westcott” since Jason Von Flue popularized the move from side control while Westcott was in half guard.  Grujic is kicking himself after for losing to what he considers to be a low level choke.

Waiting for him in the middleweight final will be Elias Theodorou, while the welterweight final will see Chad Laprise versus Oliver Aubin-Mercier.  For the first time in TUF history, a two tournament season features four finalists from the same team.  Give credit to the Australians.  They’re the ones who had to leave the comfort of their home country.  While that meant they got to enjoy a lot of winter experiences for the first time, it also meant a massive adjustment period.  I respect the effort they put into their fights, regardless of whether they were finished quickly or made it to a decision.  Seemed like a loveable bunch too.  Cheers, mates.

There’s time to spare in the episode and we get to see the fighters reminisce as they pack up to leave.  Can’t say I recall them showing this on previous TUF seasons.  Couldn’t they have licensed a song for this moment like it’s an MTV show about 8 teenagers on spring break?

 

Famous ShortsVik showing off his shorts that were signed by GSP and Bones Jones.

Grujic says that it is strange going back to his normal life after being immersed in nothing but MMA for weeks.

Luke Harris, sounding like the veteran he is, points out that no matter what team they’re on, the fighters will always have more in common with each other than most of the general population.  It makes the TUF house sound like some kind of retreat.  Maybe that explains why Nordine Taleb has signed on for another tour of duty.  If reports are true, he was one of 32 men competing for a spot on TUF 19 (which starts next week!).  I’m not even sure if I would root for him to make it since I can’t imagine anyone going through the show twice.  Then again, he never really had to leave home, did he?

Next week: The TUF Nations finale on April 16th!  Raise your hand if you forgot that there was a coach’s fight this year.  Here are is some information on the match-ups and my thoughts:

Welterweight Division Final: Chad Laprise (7-0) v. Olivier Aubin-Mercier (4-0)

Chad LapriseOlivier Aubin-MercierHow they got here: Laprise outworked Chris Indich on the feet in the quarterfinals leading to an unfortunate meeting with his teammate and friend Kajan Johnson.  After some good back and forth action, Laprise shattered Johnson’s jaw with a thunderous overhand right.  The emotional win catapulted Laprise into the finals.

Aubin-Mercier entered this contest with plenty of hype, including some lofty GSP comparisons.  Not only does he display the superior grappling of the former welterweight champ, he also shares French Canadian heritage and has a quirky attitude all his own.  Like Laprise, he won his first fight against Jake Matthews handily though he wasn’t able to finish.  The semi-final fight was a completely different story.  He took some shots from Richard Walsh, but once he got his hooks in the rear naked choke was academic.

The hook: The Disciple v. The Québécois Kid!  I was unsure how to feel about Laprise after the Johnson fight.  Yes, he showed that his stand-up was legit and that he has some power, but the way he stacked his corner and his enthusiasm over the KO afterward made me feel uneasy.  It hinted at the sinister past that Laprise himself discussed during the show.  Aubin-Mercier, on the other hand, comes off as this happy-go-lucky guy who also just happens to be a high level martial artist.  In addition to a tough opponent in Laprise, Aubin-Mercier will also be facing the challenge of great expectations, a weight that many before him (TUF 16 finalist Mike Ricci comes to mind) have been crushed by.  He’s still learning how to take a punch too.  After seeing what Laprise is capable of, it might be a good idea to put those lessons on hold.

The pick: Aubin-Mercier.  Whoever wins, expect a drop down to lightweight after.

Middleweight Division Final: Sheldon Westcott (8-1-1) v. Elias Theodorou (8-0)

Sheldon WestcottElias TheodorouHow they got here: Blink and you might have missed Westcott’s appearances in the cage.  He blasted Dan Kelly inside of a minute, then did the same to Vik Grujic, choking out both fighters.  Not only that, Westcott also emerged as one of the more quotable members of the house.  This show did wonders for raising his profile.

Theodorou came off as the most confident guy in the world, just taking care of his hair and having a fun time.  Competing against Theodorou was anything but fun for his opponents.  Both Zein Saliba and Tyler Manawaroa were dragged into the proverbial deep waters and Theodorou was able to make it through the tournament with nary a blemish.  Hater proof.

The hook: Twilight v. The Spartan!  Is it not enough to see two of the “dreamiest” (uh, so I’m told) fighters in MMA going at it?  A glance at Westcott’s record shows that 5 of his 6 career finishes ended in less than sixty seconds, which tells us that his results on the show might not have been a fluke.  He gets in to get out.  This is in direct contrast to Theodorou, a proud grinder.  I had the chance to see Theodorou fight in Windsor a couple of years ago and even though he won by TKO, it was more the result of him pushing his opponent to the point of exhaustion.  This one is really a toss-up as these two are likely each other’s toughest competition yet, so their previous fights don’t give us much to work with as far as analysis goes.  A long battle should favour Theodorou, but just because Westcott knows how to sprint doesn’t mean he can’t run a marathon.  It’s a toss-up.

The pick: Theodorou.  Regardless of the outcome, he’ll always have that legendary coif.

The Ultimate Fighter Nations: Canada v. Australia – Week 12 Recap

Team Colours:

Team Côté
Team Noke

The episode begins with a trip to a hunting lodge, where the team gathers for this season’s coaches’ challenge.  The owner looks like a real man’s man and he has the taxidermy to back it up.

Wolf HeadI can see you…

The challenge is comprised of three stages: axe throwing, crossbow shooting and log cutting.  The winning coach gets $20,000.  As in recent seasons, it’s unclear whether that prize is only for the coach or if it is meant to be distributed amongst the fighters.  I’ve never been able to find a consistent ruling on it.  Usually the fighters are given a separate prize, but they don’t mention it here.  Even though this season features Australians and Canadians, the prize is distributed in US bills.

GreenbacksYour currency lacks “flava”.

Canada takes first blood with the axe throwing, which looks really hard and really dangerous!  Patrick Côté wins by virtue of having his axe land closes to the bull’s-eye, though it looked like it was the only one to land cleanly at all.  The crossbow challenge follows a similar pattern, with Kyle Noke getting the win this time.  They have to shoot an apple hanging from a string and it gets nicked on several occasions without actually getting pierced until the final shot.  It’s all very dramatic, though I have a feeling that it wasn’t as neat and tidy as the show would have you believe.  They show the coaches getting three turns each for the axe throwing and crossbow shooting, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some “TV magic” involved to make sure neither of them embarrassed themselves.

Tied at one apiece, it comes down to who can saw through a thick log the fastest.  I don’t know the first thing about wood cutting.  It strikes me as odd that instead of straps or a harness to hold the logs down, they ask one of the fighters from each team to lay on top of them to keep them from moving.  That seems impractical.  Côté ends up winning the challenge, earning himself a “Côté Côté Côté” soccer chant.

The hunter serves the fighters a delicious feast comprised of animals that he caught.  Noticeably absent is “man, the most dangerous game”.  For lack of a better word, the Aussies come off as precious when they get to enjoy their first taste of maple syrup.

Maple VirginDon’t you just want to pinch his cheeks?

Back to business, we spend a little time getting to know more about semi-finalists Richard Walsh and Olivier Aubin-Mercier.  Walsh’s straightforward attitude has endeared him to me.  He’s provided good sound bites while still taking the competition seriously.  Here, he points out how the wrestling in the US is on a whole other level than anything he’s experienced in Australia.  You can tell he’s making the most of his training.  He also has the benefit of working with elite judoka Dan Kelly (essential to surviving Aubin-Mercier’s grappling) and he gets excellent advice from jiu-jitsu coach Roberto Tussa: If he’s losing the fight, offer up a finish to lure Aubin-Mercier into taking a risk and possibly making a mistake.  That’s easier said than done, of course.

Aubin-Mercier is painted as a Rory MacDonald-like quiet killer, though he comes off as more likeable than the at times alien MacDonald.  Kajan Johnson and Chad Laprise are responsible for coining his nickname: “The Québecois Kid”.  The Georges St-Pierre comparisons that permeated throughout the Canadian fight scene are now being broadcast on a national level (and international level for you more intrepid viewers).  He brushes off the GSP comparisons, which is smart.  For one, he’s a natural lightweight and two, GSP was a much more advanced striker at the same age.  Still, with his affable personality and floppy, Micky Dolenz do, it’s hard not to think about the marketing possibilities.

Sheldon Westcott: Olivier is unbelievably talented.  If I would have fought him at 4-0 when he’s 4-0 right now, he would have kicked my butt.

Over the course of the season, the Canadians and the Australians have grown to like and respect each other…making this the perfect time to strike with one final prank.  Johnson and Luke Harris sneak into the Australian locker room to decorate their portraits with lipstick and markers.  It’s completely harmless and inoffensive.  These two guys are mature and have been in the business long enough to know not to…hmm…

Defaced Picture…that’s disappointing.

Brendan O’Reilly (as he is wont to do) chafes at the incident.  As far as pranks go, this doesn’t seem anywhere near as bad as messing with someone’s bed or their equipment.  I never know where these guys draw the line between friendly ribbing and outright dickishness.  Regardless, as in all good hood movies, it’s an innocent that pays the price.

RetaliationOh!  The moose-manity!

In his investigations, O’Reilly finds that the Canadians are a tough nut to crack.  We discover that Elias Theodorou may or may not be keeping a notebook filled with penis sketches.  O’Reilly demands to see it, presumably to compare the art style, but Theodorou isn’t budging.  None of the Canadians do.  O’Reilly doesn’t understand that the prank itself is nothing; it is his frustration that makes it so sweet.

It’s not all bad news for O’Reilly.  He and the rest of his team get to experience another TUF first: Snow day!  A flurry forces them to miss training, giving them a chance to enjoy the fluffy wonder of winter.  They practice “snow surfing” (because, you know, Australia) and Tyler Manawaroa breaks out an incredible shooting star press!

Snow SurfingDO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME

Flying ManawaroaDEFINITELY DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME

The fight

I give Walsh a lot of credit for being the first to get off here.  He’s landing straights and leg kicks whenever he wants.  Aubin-Mercier definitely loses the first minute or so, though I’m always influenced by a guy getting punched and seeing his hair fly around.  Makes the hits look twice as hard.  Walsh is able to defend an initial shot, but falls prey to a trip.  Aubin-Mercier gets the waist lock of death and is relentless in fighting for back control.  Walsh looks lost on how to defend.  He’s wrestled to the ground and finished with a rear naked choke at around the 2:45 mark of the first round.

Other than the ref saying his name wrong, everything went perfect for Aubin-Mercier.  He says Walsh hurt his knee at the beginning of the round so he was determined to make him suffer.  Adrian Pang gives Walsh the tough love, pointing out how his hands were against the fence when they should have been protecting his neck.  Out of the competition, Walsh ditches the “playoff beard”.

Australian HairlessWeird…

Next week: Sheldon Westcott v. Vik Grujic.  If Westcott advances, this will mark the first time in any TUF season (featuring two weight classes) where all four finalists are from the same team.  My money is on Grujic, if only because Westcott has been dealing with so many nagging aches and pains.  Then again, that didn’t stop him in his first fight and it wouldn’t surprise me if he brought the same aggression to this semi-final bout.  Grujic also ended his last fight in impressive fashion.  Could we be in store for another decisive finish?

The Ultimate Fighter Nations: Canada v. Australia – Week 11 Recap

Welcome to the dog days of every Ultimate Fighter season, when the fights are three rounds and a match that goes the distance all but kills any chance of anything else interesting happening in the episode.  We’re long past the days where having a fresh fight every week was enough of an incentive to tune in, so while it makes sense for the semi-final matches to be regulation length it also makes for some dreadfully dull television.  Then again, maybe an episode like this is what we needed after the brutal end to last week’s program.

Team Colours:

Team Côté
Team Noke

Once again showing what a class act he is, Vik Grujic continues to be vocal about how Kajan Johnson’s team didn’t do their job when it came time to support their fighter.  The other Australians agree that Johnson should have had more support, with Brendan O’Reilly going as far as to say that he would have cornered Johnson if he had been asked.  Johnson and O’Reilly are not friends by any measure, so that tells you a lot about how dire the situation must have been.  They also discuss the possibility that Fábio Holanda was negligent as Johnson’s lone corner man because he didn’t like the Canadian’s know-it-all attitude in training.  If that’s the case, then it makes Holanda look incredibly unprofessional.

I viewed Chad Laprise harshly after his win, not only because of the coaching discrepancy but because of how he was a little too excited after knocking his friend’s lights out.  That was an unfair judgment since Laprise was going through a torrent of emotions at the time in addition to the adrenaline rush that he was just coming down from.  With the moment having passed, we get to see a more subdued Laprise and how Johnson’s injury has affected him.  He mentions that the two of them probably sparred around hundred rounds at Tristar.  Having to fight with so much on the line has got to be a mind f**k to say the least.

Regardless of whether they got along with Johnson or not, everybody in the house is waiting for him to come back from the hospital with good news.  It turns out his jaw was broken in two places.  The swelling has scarcely gone down from when we last saw him.  Imagine being Laprise and having to look at that every day.  Imagine being Johnson and having to sit at the table and break bread with someone who not only smashed your face but crushed your dreams.

Broken JawNo hard feelings.

The narrative for the Elias Theodorou-Tyler Manawaroa match revolves around their polar opposite mindsets when it comes to game planning.  For Theodorou, strategy is everything; for Manawaroa, it is non-existent.  The young Aussie is a classic wild child, right down to the piercings (that Israel Martinez can’t stand) and the array of tattoos.  We get a quick rundown of them, including a large owl on his chest.  Seeing Manawaroa decorate himself with an animal so strongly associated with wisdom is funny to me.

Tyler's TattoosManawaroa: I got an owl.  I just got it ‘cause it looks cool.

If that’s not enough, they also show Manawaroa chowing down prior to the day of the weigh-in and going so hard in practice that he accidentally kicks Adrian Pang in the dick.

WhoopsTyler auditioning for the 2014 All Balls Brawl.

In contrast to the laissez faire attitude of Manawaroa, Theodorou has been focused on being a professional fighter since he graduated from high school.  He’s particularly pumped that the fights are now three rounds since that favours his style which is based on constant pressure.

Former UFC Middleweight champion Murilo Bustamante makes an appearance and Patrick Côté bigs him up by saying that Bustamante never actually lost the belt.  According to Matt Janacek, that didn’t happen until Bustamante dropped a split decision to Dan Henderson in the 2005 PRIDE Welterweight Grand Prix Final.  Bustamante is well prepared and understands exactly what Theodorou’s strengths are.

At the weigh-in, Theodorou can’t help himself.  He breaks out the Spartan headgear and yells out “This is Sparta!”  I love 300, I love Theodorou, but this was as corny as it sounds.  Grujic (also called “Spartan” due to his resemblance to King Leonidas) says that the scene was more like something from Meet The Spartans.

300 EliasAny wardrobe decision that covers up that hair is the wrong one.

The fight

In terms of actual damage, there wasn’t much to talk about here though I found it to be a somewhat entertaining grappling affair.  Theodorou wasn’t kidding when he said he gets a game plan and sticks to it.  If the two men were on the feet for any extended period of time, Theodorou was doing everything in his power to draw Manawaroa in so he could get a body lock.  He threw kicks fearlessly, knowing that Manawaroa would have to close the distance and when he did he fell right into the trap.

Manawaroa showed great balance in resisting slams, though the few times he got careless lead to Theodorou powering up and tossing him to the mat.  I was also impressed by Manawaroa’s ability to avoid damage on the ground and get back to the feet, but he was never able to find a rhythm.  Kyle Noke made the post-fight observation that Manawaroa seemed to be waiting on Theodorou instead of pushing the action.  It was the opposite of how Manawaroa handled Nordine Taleb.  A more aggressive approach would likely have made him an easier target for takedowns, but he was fighting an Elias Theodorou fight the whole time, not a Tyler Manawaroa fight.

Theodorou wins by unanimous decision.  After seeing how he’s performed on the show, I doubt he will be one of Dana White’s favourites.  He’s got the looks and the personality, which would normally make him a shoo-in for stardom; conversely, he has fought intelligently and safely and that is usually construed as boring.  The UFC can’t sell intelligent and safe.

Sheldon Westcott is already thinking about how he would do better against Theodorou.  I’m always rooting for my fellow Canadians, but I wouldn’t be heartbroken if Grujic was able to get past him and set up the much anticipated Spartan vs. Spartan match.

Meanwhile, Manawaroa is as disappointed as you’d expect.  He walks out barefoot and bare-chested into the cold Québec air to process his feelings.  It’s his first loss in MMA.  There was no stoppage controversy, he didn’t get caught by a flash KO or submission, he was simply outworked for fifteen minutes.  Despite the controversy that erupted from his Instagram album that resulted in White saying he wouldn’t be fighting for the UFC after the show, I hope that he’s able to grow up and find his way back to the Octagon.  There’s a long road ahead for this young man.

The winning fighter has only one concern:

Theodorou: How’s the hair doing?
Côté: Solid.  Solid.

Next week: Olivier Aubin-Mercier v. Richard Walsh.  Also, we all agree to never mention Meet The Spartans again.

The Ultimate Fighter Nations: Canada v. Australia – Week 10 Recap

I was surprised how much I missed the show after taking last week off.  As much as I complain, there are plenty of positives.  For the most part, the cast is diverse and memorable, the fights have been solid and there’s just enough drama to keep things interesting without being overly manufactured.  That last point definitely held true this week in one of the most emotional entries yet in the Nations season.

Team Colours:

Team Côté
Team Noke

Sheldon Westcott returns to the house with what would only be considered “good news” if you’re an athlete.  He has various strains that were severe enough to cause numbness in his arm, but other than that there are no breaks or tears.  The house is happy for him.  I’d be bitching and complaining about the discomfort; Westcott is thrilled because it means he can still compete.

Watching the fighters make their requests for the next round is usually one of my favourite segments, but it’s fairly obvious who all of the welterweights are going to pick so that removes most of the intrigue.  All the Canadians want to fight Richard Walsh, while Walsh chooses Kajan Johnson.  Johnson mentions that he knows he’ll have to fight the best anyway so he’d be happy with anyone and that may have sealed his fate, as it were.

All four middleweights get the fights they wanted, which makes me wonder if they spoke to each other about what to say to White.  Here are the semi-final matches:

Welterweights:

Johnson v. Laprise

Johnson v. LapriseJohnson: I’ll look at your hair.  You look at my chest.

Aubin-Mercier v. Walsh

Aubin-Mercier v. WalshFilthy judo versus…just filthy.

Middleweights:

Theodorou v. Manawaroa

Theodorou v. ManawaroaFirst one to have their hat turned forward loses.

Westcott v. Grujic

Westcott v. GrujicVik trying not to get lost in Sheldon’s eyes.

The majority of the episode is geared towards developing the identity of Chad Laprise.  Prior to this episode, he came off as a mostly non-descript housemate who was quick to smile even as he did little besides discuss the competition.  There was the hint of something bubbling underneath and it’s Laprise himself who chooses to delve into his own past of shameful violence.  The emotional recounting gets him fired up, causing a previously suppressed stutter to come out in full force.  His dream is to open up a “fight church”, where martial artists can train and then learn about God together.

Laprise’s desire to succeed spills over into his fight preparation, where he makes sure that he will have a coaching edge.  This leads to a convoluted cornering situation.  Initially, the plan is for Fábio Holanda and Nordine Taleb to corner Johnson while Laprise would go with Kru Ash (who he trains with outside of the show) and Roberto Tussa (Team Australia’s jiu-jitsu coach).  Somewhere along the way, Taleb drops out because he doesn’t want to corner against his teammate and David Zilberman (Team Canada’s wrestling coach) joins Team Laprise.  The final corner total 3-1 in favour of Laprise.

The editing team does a masterful job with the set-up for this fight, including a fine use of split-screen to show the disparity in support for Laprise and Johnson.  My theory is that they want to change the perception of Laprise, not so much making him into a villain but definitely someone who stands in contrast to Johnson, Walsh and Olivier Aubin-Mercier (who can’t even talk about knocking someone out without breaking into a chuckle) as far as going to any lengths to get an advantage.

Split ScreenCollusion!

Laprise is shown hanging out with the Aussies who have taken a shine to him.  Walsh says everyone wants Laprise to win.  He also mentions that he didn’t want to fight Laprise because Laprise wanted it so badly.  You gotta play hard to get!  Jake Matthews is unconvinced, suggesting that he is politicking to get the support of the Australians.

When it comes to deciding who gets the Canada locker room, Johnson compromises again.  His reasoning is that he needs to know that Laprise is at his best to make the fight worthwhile, but I have to wonder if it’s just in his nature to not make waves.  He might be giving up too much here ahead of such an important bout.

So AccomodatingCan I interest you in a pre-match back rub too, bro?

Case in point, the coaches all take the opportunity to encourage Laprise, especially Patrick Côté who says that Johnson is overconfident.  Even Holanda says not to worry about Johnson’s wrestling and that there is no way Laprise will be taken down.  Holanda is in Johnson’s corner!

Aubin-Mercier PoutNotice how sad Olivier looks.

Johnson takes a moment to visit the Canadian locker room to give hugs to everyone, but I can feel the tension through my television screen.  He goes across the hall to prepare, hitting pads with Taleb while Laprise is surrounded by the majority of Team Canada.  Johnson would later say that it felt like everyone was against him.

Ragin' EntranceSweet dive.

The fight

As you’d expect from training partners, the two are evenly matched in the opening minutes.  There is lots of movement by both guys, though Laprise looks as tight and focused as usual.  Johnson lands a clean punch that causes Laprise to slip, but only for a second.  That seems to wake him up and now it’s Laprise who starts to connect.  I actually lean narrowly towards Johnson getting the first round (10-9), factoring in a near takedown that was only stopped by an obvious cage grab.  Shouldn’t judges be allowed to use their own discretion when scoring that?

In round 2, Laprise is definitely landing the heavier shots.  He looks steady while Johnson is becoming more loose, more careless.  Watching the fight a second time, it’s incredible to see Laprise’s corner being so vocal as Johnson struggles to score a takedown and the Australians rallying behind Johnson when they see how alone he is.  Grujic in particular cheers for Johnson to do well.  You can see the growing distress in Johnson’s face.

Johnson is down to landing single shots with no combinations.  He ends up throwing fancy s**t that doesn’t land.  The walls are closing in on him.  Laprise lands a beautiful counter shot and Johnson goes down face first.  His jaw is broken, possibly by the follow-up punches that are hard to watch.

It is crypt quiet in the gym.  You’d hesitate to celebrate a knockout like this against a hated enemy, much less a close friend.  Even the Australians that butted heads with Johnson look concerned.  Brendan O’Reilly, his rival, talks about how much he respects him.  The losing fighter reacts with a mix of shock and fading adrenaline.  Awww, this sucks!  Johnson says, which is about as accurate a summation as you can make.

Training partners rarely fight in MMA, even on TUF.  The last time I saw a finish this devastating between close friends was on TUF: Brazil 1 when Rony Jason broke Gasparzinho’s arm.  Those two lived together!  This knockout was worse, though.

Back in the locker room, the Australians are there to console Kajan.  One of them (Grujic, I think) says “You’re amongst friends, Kajan.”  I’m not sure he hears it.  Aubin-Mercier, Grujic and Johnson himself talk about how he might have been hung out to dry by his team.  I know I could barely see Holanda moving or talking during the fight while Laprise’s corner (and possibly Côté) were as vocal as possible.

Johnson struggles to speak, his jaw is so messed up.  Having to see him subtitled only makes his words more impactful:

I just didn’t want to go through this again.  I didn’t want my face to break again.  I didn’t want to lose the biggest fight of my life...It’s just another test.  I just don’t know why I am tested so much.

Next week: Elias Theodorou v. Tyler Manawaroa.  Also, I might try and break a friend’s jaw to see how that affects our relationship.

The Ultimate Fighter Nations: Canada v. Australia – Week 8 Recap

I touched upon this last week, but this current iteration of The Ultimate Fighter just isn’t very fun.  From the darker, saturated look to the greater emphasis on the financial benefits of being a fighter, everything is so serious and so dour that following the show can be exhausting.  Somehow, they need to find a balance between life and death stakes and giving the audience some time to breathe.

Meanwhile, over on TUF: Brazil 2, they brought in a pole dancer to help the guys work on strength and balance.  A pole dancer.  Why didn’t I review this show instead?  Let’s carry on.

Team Colours:

Team Côté
Team Noke

What better way for a French Canadian to celebrate than with a poutine?  While that might have been a warm and familiar meal for the victorious Olivier Aubin-Mercier, apparently it could have been better:


Jake Matthews is less enthused.  It’s his first loss.  For someone so young, that’s an eye opener.  He had finished all of his professional fights in the second round.  Here, on the biggest stage of his career, Aubin-Mercier was able to completely control him on the ground.  It was a sobering reminder of how far Matthews is from being a finished product.  As a fan, I find that exciting, but it can’t be easy for him to see the forest from the trees right now.

Jake In BedAt nineteen, I also spent a lot of time under the bed covers when dealing with disappointment.

The Australians rally behind him, showing a surprisingly soft touch.  Rather than tell him to get over it, they essentially allow him a grieving period to sort through his emotions.  Richard Walsh wonders if Matthews’s loss is made worse by his father’s involvement in his career: His coach is his dad.  So he feels like he’s probably let a big part of his family down whereas my dad doesn’t even know what a f**king jab is.

Two of the oldest guys in the house, Vik Grujic and Luke Harris had to sacrifice quality time with their loved ones to be in the house.  Grujic has three little girls back home and he’d love the financial security that being a UFC fighter would provide them; Harris on the other hand just got married.  So yes, he chose to be crammed in a house with fifteen other men instead of going on his honeymoon.

Looking to get his team over the top, Noke brings in the UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones.  Well played, Australian.  Upon meeting Matthews, even Jones can’t resist making a Justin Bieber joke.  You know, Jones takes so much flak that you almost forget what an enormous star he is.  Just look at the faces of these grown men when they see him walk into the gym:

Vik AweBrendan & Zein Awe

Chris AweElias Awe

THIS…IS…SPA…OH S**T JON JONES!!!

If you’re wondering what’s going on in that last shot, both Elias Theodorou and Grujic go by the nickname “Spartan” so this was Team Canada’s way of helping him claim some territory.  Of course, he ended up looking like a complete ass in front of Bones, his favourite fighter.  That was nice of Noke to bring Jones over anyway, even if it resulted in him getting molested.

Warm WelcomeJones: This guy’s trying to hump me!  He’s trying to hump me!

The rigors of the competition are starting to weigh on the remaining contestants, whether they’re still in the running or not.  After an accident in training, Sheldon Westcott is now looking at a potential injury on top of his other maladies.  He can’t practice and he might need surgery.  On a lighter note, Brendan O’Reilly has a Nerf gun now.  Why do they allow this?

NuttedSeriously, have they just started programming Nerf guns to automatically target people’s dicks?

We’re treated to more Jones, who apparently is not too busy that he can’t spend some time chilling at the house, getting to know Grujic better and asking questions like “How do you shoot a kangaroo?”  He’s also nice enough to share the secret of his success: a scoop of honey twenty minutes before his fights.  That’s all it takes, people.

Chest Signing“This is definitely going on my Instagram.  You should check it out, Jon.”

If you’re a fan of Tyler Manawaroa, then you’ll be happy to know that he’s back to getting some camera time…I just wish we didn’t have to see so much of him.  He decides to sit naked in bed for some reason.  If you think you’re getting a screenshot of that, you’re sorely mistaken.

Team Côté’s guest star this week is an esteemed MMA and movie star.  Anyone who tuned in part-way and thought that was Cung Le, congratulations: You’re a raci…

Cung LeOh wait, that actually is Cung Le.

The fight

Somewhat awkward start for both men, who take on stances respectful of their opponent’s styles.  Harris is making it obvious that he wants to grapple and Grujic is completely unafraid of Harris’s stand-up.  Grujic lands a couple of big shots and Harris is dazed.  An aggressive takedown gets Grujic in side control as soon as they hit the mat.  A flurry of elbows slice Harris’s face to ribbons and that’s all she wrote.  That’s what happens when you study with Bones!

Luke's BruiseSome honeymoon, huh?

The stoppage was so nasty looking that Aubin-Mercier openly questions whether he’d ever want his girlfriend, mother, or daughter to ever see something like that happen to him.  Hearing that from him after coming off his own one-sided performance, you have to believe he’s genuinely shaken up.  For whatever reason, Harris is intent on finding a mirror.  I’ll chalk it up to shock and morbid curiosity.

As the first round comes to a close, the overall score is 5-3 in favour of Canada.  In the welterweight division, the fighters advancing are Kajan Johnson, Chad Laprise and Olivier Aubin-Mercier for Team Canada, and Richard Walsh for Team Australia.  In the middleweight division, the fighters advancing are Elias Theodorou and Sheldon Westcott for Team Canada, and Tyler Manawaroa and Vik Grujic for Team Australia.

That’s a more than respectable showing for the Aussies after a slow start.  Grujic ends things on a high note for his team and you know what that means…

Kahili Blundell Nations Week 8Never gone.

Next week: The semi-final match-ups!  Here are my predictions:

Welterweight

Laprise v. Walsh
Aubin-Mercier v. Johnson

Harris posited that the UFC is looking for a Canada v. Australia final and I think this is the best way to get there.  Either way, I think they’d be happy to have Aubin-Mercier make it through so they can continue the “Next GSP” buzz.

Middleweight

Theodorou v. Grujic
Westcott v. Manawaroa

If Westcott is injured and replaced by Nordine Taleb, I don’t see them booking a rematch with Manawaroa.  In that case, Westcott should face Grujic and Theodorou should face Manawaroa.  Then I’d have to root for both Manawaroa and Taleb to lose because I want to see some Spartan on Spartan action!  Yeeeeeah…wait, that didn’t come out right.

The Ultimate Fighter Nations: Canada v. Australia – Week 7 Recap

I’m currently binge watching The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 2 and it is so much better than TUF: Nations.  All due respect to my Canadian and Australian homies, they’re doing what they can.  The show just has no spark.  I fully support their efforts to get away from the pranks and juvenile behaviour that were hallmarks of the early seasons, but what we’re left with is a straightforward competition for a prize that doesn’t mean as much as it used to.

Don’t let the old production values of TUF: Brazil fool you: the total lack of self-consciousness by the contestants is what makes it refreshing.  These guys will play along in any scenario.  At times, it’s like watching a foreign game show.  Winning the contest and making money are secondary concerns.  The Brazilians also have ways of showing respect and affection that you just won’t see in our stuffy culture.  They laugh and sing and kiss and hug and everyone just carries on like it ain’t no thang.  They also cry a lot.  And I love it.

Team Colours:

Team Côté
Team Noke

Back to our regularly scheduled programming.  The house is feeling the aftershocks of the Dan Kelly loss.  When we last left off, the Australians were outraged at the exuberance displayed by Team Canada, particularly Elias Theodorou and Kajan Johnson.  Johnson is singled out for allegedly yelling “He’s done!  He’s done!” an incredibly offensive sentiment considering Kelly suffered a serious injury.  They show a replay and all we get is Johnson screaming “That’s f**king right!”  That could be construed as offensive in its own way, though it doesn’t lend much credence to the accusations against him.  Few things are more frustrating than being accused of saying something you don’t remember and having no way to prove it.

The person to really feel bad for is Sheldon Westcott.  He has to deal with this drama instead of getting to enjoy the most exciting performance of the season.  I also feel bad for Kelly, especially now that TRT just got banned.  We could have pumped him up and thrown him right back into the cage.

Vik Grujic has his own take on it:

I don’t know whether he’s denying it, but at the same time you know, there’s that moment after a fight where you kind of just…“Yeah!”…you’re so excited and s**t will blurt out and…“eat s**t motherf**ker!”

Then we get a rap from Brendan O’Reilly:

I lost my ??? in an accident
It’s not my fault ‘cause it’s subsequent
You ever been to Melbourne come to Dan Kelly’s gym, resilience
Is what we got up in Oz
‘cause we f**kin’ smash you
With the scissor kick
Cut my dick (???)

That transcript makes it sound better than it actually was.

The spotlight shines on young Jake Matthews during the Australian training session.  He’s young and confident, part of the new generation of MMA fighters who dabble in all of the disciplines from the go rather than specializing.  The majority of his training has been handled by his dad, so you have to imagine he’s nowhere near reaching his potential unless his dad is Anderson Silva.  It will do this kid a lot of good to move to a bigger camp at some point.

Matthews makes the mistake of calling Olivier Aubin-Mercier “overrated”.  That is one of my least favourite critical terms.  Overrated relative to what exactly?  The word does not exist in a void!  The word always carries an air of condescension to it too, as if the speaker knows something we don’t.  I can’t stand it.  And in the fight game, calling someone overrated is senseless because you’re diminishing your own achievement if you end up beating them.  That’s Pro Wrestling 101!

On the Canadian side, les bon temps continuent à rouler…except for the fact that the team has been too successful.  The more they win, the greater their chances of fighting a teammate.  Johnson laughs at how intense the sparring is getting and posits that both he and Chad Laprise would rather fight each other than Aubin-Mercier.

BestiesWith friends like these…

Aubin-Mercier is getting the Nordine Taleb hype job.  In his young career, he’s established himself as a fighter with an intense motor and unstoppable takedowns.  Johnson goes as far as to say he could snag the French-Canadian fan base with Georges St-Pierre out of the picture.  Not surprisingly, GSP was the inspiration for Aubin-Mercier’s decision to get into MMA.

In a touching moment with Luke Harris, we find out that Aubin-Mercier had to miss his daughter’s 2nd birthday to be on the show.  I also enjoyed this scene because Harris, as the conscience of Team Canada, has to remind Aubin-Mercier to start working on his diary.  Do your homework or you’re going to bed without supper, young man!

I have to pay some bills now by mentioning that Kyle Noke rolls up to practice in a Ferrari, setting the stage for a Forza Motorsport 5 contest.  They set up an Xbox One and a sweet driving apparatus in the house.  The player with the fastest time wins a console and a ride in the Ferrari.

PlugThis recap brought to you by Forza Motorsport 5 available now on Xbox One!

 It’s shameless product integration, not unlike the constant Bony Açai and Gillette references over on TUF: Brazil.  I do find it disconcerting when the show goes to break and I’m hit with yet another Forza ad.  However, the short sequence does give us an opportunity to check in on some of our favourite cast members:

Forza EliasElias: Worried about his hair.

 Forza ChadChad: Stoic.

 Forza Brendan

Brendan: Naked.

Chris Indich ends up winning.  He doesn’t get to actually drive the car.  LAME.  Maybe it’s the filthy ‘stache he’s rocking.  They do have an image to maintain, after all.

Forza ChrisWould you let this man borrow your car?

Pardon the flurry of pictures, there were just a lot of good shots in this episode.  It only got better at the weigh-ins.  One look at Matthews and it is hard not to think of one of Canada’s most universally beloved exports…

Olivier, Jake And JustinBest moment of the season.

Love him or hate him, the kid brings people together.  Matthews challenges Justin Bieber to a fight, but not before signing the photo for Aubin-Mercier who I’m sure is a fan of the music.

BelieberOMFG it’s spelled “Beliebing” you guys!

The only concern left on the Canadian side is that Aubin-Mercier might want to win one for his friend Taleb, rather than concentrating on his own performance.  They bond over crepes, as French people do.

Classing It UpFighters in robes are awesome.

The fight

Going into this, I’d heard of Aubin-Mercier but knew nothing about Matthews.  It’s always hard to guess how unknown properties like Matthews will turn out.  Kelvin Gastelum anyone?

Everyone is surprised by how strong his striking is.  I think he’s too upright, but he’s landing and he’s the aggressor in the early going.  Aubin-Mercier later admits that he allowed himself to get hit since he’d never been touched in any of his previous fights.  O…kay…

It takes half a round for Aubin-Mercier to get a trip.  From there, the action goes as you’d expect.  Give credit to Matthews for having an active guard, but Aubin-Mercier is patient.  He picks his spots and lands effective ground and pound.  There’s little positional advancement, not that it matters.  Aubin-Mercier takes the first round 10-9.

The second round is more of the same.  Matthews ignores his corner’s advice and shoots for a takedown, which turns out to be a huge mistake.  Aubin-Mercier counters with a standing kimura leading to them going back to the mat with Aubin-Mercier on top.  He takes the back and stays there.  Johnson predicted that Aubin-Mercier would win via rear naked choke and this is about as close as you can get without an actual finish.  The lack of a decisive sub has Aubin-Mercier feeling bummed out after.  They remind him he’s getting an Xbox One and he does a little dance.

Matthews is convinced that there wasn’t anything more he could do technique-wise, that it was all just a matter of execution.  There’s some truth to that; however, anyone could see that Aubin-Mercier was on a completely different level on the ground.  With more work in that area, Matthews could have a serious future in the UFC.

The first round of the welterweight bracket is done.  All three Canadian winners are from Tristar, which isn’t too surprising.

One last thing.  I’m baffled at the complete lack of heat between the two coaches.  From what we see, there is minimal contact between the two and any interactions are cordial.  They’re extensions of their teams and vise-a-versa.

Question for the readers: In terms of a potential fight, can you recall there being less anticipation for a TUF coaching match-up?

Next week: Team Canada’s Luke Harris v. Team Australia’s Vik Grujic.  Also, I try to fit in even more Justin Bieber references in a shameless attempt to get more traffic.

The Ultimate Fighter Nations: Canada v. Australia – Week 6 Recap

For a season of The Ultimate Fighter to be enjoyable, you’re looking for three things:

  1. Memorable personalities
  2. Heated rivalries
  3. Good fights

If you have all three, then we’re talking about an all time great season.  You can get by with just one.  The personalities this season aren’t bad and they’ve at least tried to manufacture rivalries, but I can’t say I’ve been overly impressed with the fights.  There’s only been one finish so far, which means we could be heading towards the depths of TUF 16, a season that had only 2 finishes in 14 fights going into the finale.  That isn’t to say that finishes equal excitement or that decisions equal boredom.  The problem is when the decisions happen because neither fighter is able to kick it up into another gear.

I’ve been entertained by the matches thus far; however, I don’t see myself going back and watching any of them anytime soon.  When this happens, should we take it as an indicator of even competition or subpar fighters?

Team Colours:

Team Côté
Team Noke

Richard Walsh and Matt Desroches are still buddy buddy after beating on each other.  They exchange pointers, with Desroches referring to Walsh as a “disciplined human being” in a testimonial.  This TUF house exudes civility.  Maybe it’s the dull winter conditions, but I can’t imagine anyone getting their blood up surrounded by all that soothing wood panelling and fur accoutrements.

Perhaps I should have chosen a word besides civility because the next scene shows one of the Australians having to run “the gauntlet”.  I’ll let Kajan Johnson explain it:

The house rule is as follows: If one is playing pool and is unable to sink a single ball, then said person must complete a minimum of one lap around the house in the nude. While this person is attempting to complete his lap, it is the duty of the rest of the cast to pelt him with snowballs, buckets of water, etc., forming a “gauntlet” of sorts. After the offending person has completed his run, he is allowed to once again dawn [sic] clothing and rejoin society. Obviously, our youngest cast member, Jake Matthews, is the first one to have to complete this and does so like a champ, barefoot, at high speed with a sock on his dong.

I’m thankful they decided to edit out the majority of this tradition.

Running The GauntletI know there’s some joke to be made here about sticks and balls and holes but…it eludes me.

Dan Kelly is apparently known as the “wine guy”, while Olivier Aubin-Mercier is the “wine and cheese” guy.  I wonder if it makes him mad when he goes to a party and nobody tells him how good the cheese is.

The welterweight semi-final bracket is starting to shape up, so Chad Laprise takes it upon himself to write his own contract to challenge Walsh.

Laprise's ContractLegally binding.

Johnson also wants to fight Walsh because he’s confident that Aubin-Mercier is going to advance and he has no interest in fighting his friend.  Walsh is fine with that as he doesn’t like Johnson’s attitude and he considers him to be the easier fight.  Luke Harris and Elias Theodorou compare Walsh to “The Bachelor” and all the Canadians are trying to get the final rose.  Okay…

Skeleton PantsI have no excuse for taking this long to screen cap Elias’s skeleton pants.

Patrick Côté is away fulfilling other UFC obligations forcing him to miss practice.  Team Canada doesn’t lose a step.  Again, a poor choice of words on my part as Sheldon Westcott is battling a knee injury.  He describes it as having one of his weapons taken away from him.  There is also some drama with Johnson and Laprise who are starting to realize that they could be fighting each other soon.  That must suck to have to distance yourself from someone who is both a friend and an ideal training partner.

Head MovementThe always important “teabag” defence.

Over on Team Australia, Israel Martinez continues to take charge.  I like how he cusses folks out with a smile on his face.  This episode, he dishes out some tough love for young Jake Matthews who is slacking off because his tummy hurts.

Service With A SmileHa ha ha, f**k you mother**ker.

He pushes Matthews to fight through it.  Martinez and the other Aussies know that for a young guy like Matthews, the mental aspect of the game is the most difficult part.  This training situation has to be a massive upgrade compared to what they’re used to back home.  If the Australians weren’t used to high level conditioning and drills, they definitely are now.  I should also mention that Martinez shows off some of the most impressive butt wiggling since Ronda Rousey.

It's All In The HipsI’m sorry I couldn’t animate this for you.

We get to see some more pad work from Kelly.  According to a couple of comments last week, it’s not exactly high level.  Nevertheless, Kyle Noke makes sure to hype up his man:

If you look at him, he’s very unassuming.  He looks like he can’t do much.  He doesn’t look athletic at all.  He comes in, he hobbles around.  His hands are all funny.

Let’s not set the bar too high, coach!

Faced with the prospect of fighting a dangerous opponent while on one leg, Westcott has a great quote:

Every time, in life, you ask for strength…you get struggle.

What he’s saying is that the darkest, most difficult times are when we find the strength that we need to get by.  Kelly can relate.  His child was diagnosed with cystinosis and will need a kidney transplant.  The whole season he’s had this grizzled, weary look to him and you can understand why.  Everyone in the house has great respect for his accomplishments, not only as an Olympic athlete but as a father and a human being.  Westcott even goes as far as to say that he’s the most well rounded fighter on Team Australia, which can’t possibly be true.

Sheldon's StomachSheldon might not have time to properly assess his opponents because ABS

As a bonus, the fighters get to watch UFC 167, a card that lives in infamy among us Canucks.  That was the night that Rory MacDonald lost to Robbie Lawler and Georges St-Pierre announced his retirement.  I’m sure the Aussies must have enjoyed seeing the Canadians squirm, especially guys like Johnson and Aubin-Mercier who have trained at Tristar.

Feeling The HeatThis brought back some unpleasant memories.

The only thing worse than watching your teammates in trouble would have to be seeing all that junk food brought to the house when you still have to make weight.  That seemed cruel to me.  At least there’s no mystery since there are only two fights left, but I admire Aubin-Mercier, Matthews, Harris and Vik Grujic for making it through the night without punching anything.  Westcott has his own plan to stay relaxed:

I’m gonna eat some good food.  Then I’m gonna watch some fights, go to bed, and most likely try to kill Dan Kelly in the morning.

They show the house’s reaction to GSP’s razor thin split decision win.  Harris yells out “We’ll take it!”  The Australians moan about the dodgy decision.  I would have really enjoyed seeing more footage of the post-fight discussion, which must have carried on for days.

The fight

Kelly and Westcott both came in with injuries.  Only one of them showed it.

Westcott comes out with the proverbial guns-a blazing, striking fast and efficiently.  Kelly turtles up, which allows Westcott to get a body lock on him.  Post-fight, Westcott says he was advised not to do this as judokas have a variety of throws from that position.  Kelly might have been too hurt to capitalize, particularly after a couple of slams damaged his knee.  He manages some sort of toss, but leaves himself open to an arm triangle.  Showing incredible strength, Westcott drags Kelly down and secures the hold.  The fight lasts less than a minute.

There is still a lot of show to go.  That’s a pleasant surprise.  Usually, you can figure out whether a fight will end in a finish or a decision depending on how much time is left.  They should tweak it like this more often.  Not only would it be less predictable, it would allow them to be more flexible with their format and narratives.

The recap and reactions are taking longer than the fight itself.  Theodorou and Johnson are freaking out and you can tell the Australians aren’t happy about it.  There’s no way the Canadians could contain themselves after Westcott’s beastly performance.  Theodorou yells out “that’s a white belt!” in reference to Westcott’s relative lack of grappling acumen, another comment that the Australians take personally.

The mood is understandably more subdued in the Team Australia locker room.  This is likely Kelly’s last shot at the big show.  I really feel for him.  He refuses to take a towel off of his face, unable to look his teammates in the eyes.  The doctor says they will need to do an MRI on his knee.  If something is broken, it will affect his ability to make a living outside of fighting.

Dan's ChinThey can’t get enough of Dan’s quivering chin.

Westcott had the right attitude regarding his injury.  There was no reason to come out slow.  If the knee was going to go it was going to go; it didn’t matter whether it happened at the beginning of the fight or later.

Next week: The last welterweight match-up, Team Canada’s Olivier Aubin-Mercier v. Team Australia’s Jake Matthews.  Côté says it will be “the fight of the season”, which is as tired as Magic Johnson screaming that “the dunk contest is back”.

The Ultimate Fighter Nations: Canada v. Australia – Week 5 Recap

Hmm…what to do for an introduction this week?  If only there had been some controversy surrounding one of the contestants.  That would make my job so much easier.  Alas, this cast has been drama free up to this point and I highly doubt…

Oh?

What’s that?

I see.

Race remains one of the touchiest subjects in our society, as it should.  The cultural makeup of North America is ever changing, usually at a quicker pace than people can adapt to.  It’s not uncommon for there to be a clumsy adjustment period as we combat old prejudices while integrating new, unfamiliar customs.  I mention this not only to try and understand Tyler Manawaroa’s mistake, but also the UFC’s severe response.

I’m not sure what Manawaroa was thinking.  The picture he posted could certainly be construed as satirical in the right context.  It’s the hateful words that accompanied it that were so disturbing.  Being a person of colour, he might have his own interpretation of what those words mean and he genuinely might have meant no offence, but there’s one important rule I learned a long time ago: we don’t get to choose what is and isn’t offensive for other people.  That rule can have some grey area.  There isn’t much grey area when we’re talking about words with almost a century of vile misuse.

People make mistakes.  Young people like Manawaroa make lots of stupid mistakes.  What I find particularly troubling is that according to his manager, it was “a joke to share with his friends that have grown up with him and know how he’s been treated”.

Okay.  Why the HELL would you spread it over social media?

Confession: When I’m in the privacy of close friends and family, there are lots of inappropriate jokes tossed around.  Really heinous, inexcusable stuff.  And I’m not saying that’s a good thing.  I’m fully aware that this kind of humour, even unheard, can colour one’s perception of and interactions with other races and cultures.  I’m working on it.  We all should be.  But we have the good sense to keep these stupid comments to ourselves.

I want to forgive.  I choose to believe that the incident stems from insensitivity and ignorance, not hatred.  That is a small consolation when people are hurt by these actions, and those three motivations often overlap, but I’m going to err on the side of caution when it comes to judging someone who is so young and shows so much potential in a sport that I enjoy watching.  So call me biased or naive or hopeful.  Regardless, I’m rooting for the kid to learn from this, to better himself.  Because the alternative would truly be a waste.

Team Colours:

Team Côté
Team Noke

In the wake of Nordine Taleb’s loss, the mood has completely swung for both teams.  Team Canada can’t believe that their number one guy won’t be advancing past the opening round.  Team Australia is ecstatic.  It falls on Matt Desroches to take back the hammer this week, but first we see the Canadians engage in some alternative methods of retribution.

A celebratory Aussie snowball fight is interrupted by Elias Theodorou.  Nobody shows up to support him, so he ends up taking on the Aussies commando.  I mean “commando” as in he’s taking on a solo mission, not that he isn’t wearing underwear.  Though he might not be wearing underwear.  It’s unclear.  Regardless, he does well for himself despite being outnumbered.  He credits his success to eight years of baseball.  Is there anything this man can’t do?!?

As for Taleb, he is both older and more French than Manawaroa.  That means there’s only one proper way to get back at him: drinking competition.  Shots, shots…shots, shots, shots!

Missing ArmTyler, taking his amputation in stride.

Desroches and opponent Richard Walsh can’t match the fiery dynamic of Taleb and Manawaroa, which is either disappointing or refreshing depending on how you look at it.  I think it’s cool that Desroches is unlike previous contestants in that he is thrilled with the peaceful seclusion.  He’s a young cat, only 21 years old, so it’s understandable that he doesn’t have the common longing of missing a wife or a child.  He’s free to enjoy the wild, the meditation and the slippery roads (a concern expressed by Sheldon Westcott).

Icy SituationCanadian problems.

Walsh got the “Filthy Rich” nickname from a t-shirt one of his training partners was wearing.

Filthy RichAlso, all of that stinking hair.

Like Desroches, he takes a laid back approach to the competition.  His expectations are modest (not once does he indicate any desire to be a world champion or even a contender in the UFC).  He’s strictly fighting for his love of the sport.  He’s losing me until he mentions the entrance music for his first pro fight: Danger Zone by Kenny Loggins.

On Team Australia, Coach Martinez continues to be far more vocal than Kyle Noke.  This could be a choice of the show’s producers as he has a distinct and loud voice while Noke is for the most part monotone.  Some guys just aren’t interested in being on TV.

On Team Canada, Taleb’s injury has essentially turned him into another assistant coach.  I joked about his stuffiness before, but seeing him hop around the gym on one leg is endearing.  I haven’t seen gimpy coaching like this since Nate Quarry.

Injured NordineLiterally a one-legged man in an ass kicking contest.

Bad mojo continues to plague the home team, as Westcott aggravates a knee injury while working with Theodorou.  He’s a grappling specialist who requires maximum mobility to be able to get takedowns and work his ground game, so this is a serious roadblock.  They plan to save him for the last fight, making a Desroches victory even more important.  Kajan Johnson is worried that Walsh will look to win by lay-and-pray, even if it means enraging Dana White.  This is the most pessimistic the Canadians have been since the start of the competition.

Wanting to do his part from the bleachers, Brendan O’Reilly finds the time to work on some arts and crafts.  As the first one eliminated, it falls on him to do some dumb s**t.  Dan Kelly is not amused.

Fog Horn 1“Jake.  Chuck me a knife.”

Fog Horn 2Fog Horn 3

“I’m makin’ a fog horn to shout at Richie.”

Fog Horn 4Fog Horn 5

Fog Horn 6Fog Horn 7

“This is great.  It’s gonna bring me so much joy.”

Fog Horn 8The Fight

I was stunned by how badly Team Canada seems to have misevaluated Walsh.  While he did focus on pressuring Desroches, he showed a lot more patience and intelligence than they were expecting.  In fact, it was Desroches who ended up losing composure.  His corner implored him to focus on boxing, but as he fell further behind on the scorecard he couldn’t stop looking for the one shot kill.  All of the combinations and footwork we saw in his training segments are nowhere to be found.

It’s no coincidence that Walsh really started to take control when he started following instructions.  This was apparent in the second round when he finally switched to a double leg takedown grip after his corner had been yelling at him to do so whenever they were pressed against the cage.  He ended up getting the takedown and sealing the round.

Post-fight, Desroches admitted that he got nervous and frustrated.  Most of his power punches hit nothing but air and Walsh did solid job of countering.  One jab even scored a knockdown, which disrupted whatever was left of Desroches’s game plan.

Another win for Team Australia, another week of Kahili…

Kahili Blundell Nations Week 5Next week: Team Canada’s Sheldon Westcott v. Team Australia’s Dan Kelly.  On Kelly’s insistence on battling through a litany of injuries, Noke had this to say: Dan’s just chomping at the bit to get in there, you know.  If we don’t pick Dan, we’re scared he’s going to attack us and start ripping our heads off.

How do you feel about this match-up, Mr. Kelly?

Happy DanCan the Aussies completely turn this competition around?  Also, I read as much Bill Barnwell as I can to remind myself that there’s no such thing as momentum.

The Ultimate Fighter Nations: Canada v. Australia Week – 4 Recap

Hey readers, remember when I said I’d be ranking the best looking Ultimate Fighter contestants…

…I lied.

Okay, I didn’t quite lie, but I’ve made the decision to turn it into a separate post at some undetermined point in the future.  There’s some political speak for ya.  For now, let’s concentrate on what really matters:

TEAM CANADA 3-0 BABY WHOO WHOOOOOOO!  Surely, nothing can go wrong.

Team Colours:

Team Côté
Team Noke

In the aftermath of last week’s brawl, Chris Indich expresses his displeasure at the Canadians saying they’re going to sweep.  Nordine Taleb is hanging around and it falls on him to explain the unkind criticisms he and his team have had of Team Australia.  Indich says that all the talk of a sweep is premature, a comment that is in itself premature since he didn’t actually do anything to disprove that argument.  Don’t get me wrong, he definitely showed that he belongs in this competition, but I’d say he takes a punch better than he takes insults.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he suffered a concussion during that fight even though he wasn’t knocked out.  I won’t hold him accountable for his indignant attitude.

Just to remind everyone that us Canucks are all class, Chad Laprise makes sure to give Indich the first slice of his celebratory cheesecake.  That’s a nice way of apologizing for f**king someone’s face up.

Piece Of CakeMatt Riddle got an Xbox 360 and all I got was this lousy cheesecake.”

They get to talking about their respective strategies.  Both men are surprised that the other wanted to keep it standing, especially Laprise who inquires about Indich’s jiu-jitsu credentials:

Laprise: You’re a purple belt, aren’t you?
Indich: Yeah.
Laprise: Thought so.
Indich: You?
Laprise: I don’t really train a whole lot of gi.
Indich: I should have took you down.

The good vibes continue with a short scene featuring the Australians having a snowball fight.  That has to be a new thing for most of them.  I wish I could remember what it was like seeing snow for the first time.  Though after having to shovel my driveway several times in the past week, I also wish I never had to see it again.

SnowballManawaroa: “It’s so soft, but then it can be hard as well.”  That’s what she said…wait, what?

There’s not much to say about this episode since they’ve done a solid job of laying out the groundwork for the Taleb/Tyler Manawaroa matchup over the previous weeks.  It’s a good thing too because the fight itself ends up taking up a huge chunk of the program.  All we need to know is that Taleb is the intense killer and Manawaroa is the wild card.  Here’s what Vik Grujic has to say:

Tyler’s our madman.  He’s a crazy son of a bitch!  He’s wild as all hell.  When you spar, when you train with the guy that’s pretty much what you get.  Martial arts is about self-expression so, you know, when you’re watching somebody like Tyler fight that’s just him expressing himself.

I like Grujic.  I’m actually rooting for him to make it past the first round so that he and Elias Theodorou can battle over the nickname “The Spartan”.  The stakes could not be higher.

The boys engage in some slap fighting after weighing in.  There’s a noticeable difference in musculature, which you’d think I’d have learned to overlook by now.  I just can’t help but think that Taleb is going to kill this kid.  All of the testimonials back me up, which actually makes me worry about misdirection.  Do I sense an upset?

Taleb Manarawoa PhysiqueIf this were proposed as a bodybuilding contest, no commission would authorize it.

The fight

Earlier in the episode, I thought Indich had overstated the effect that his performance had on Team Australia’s morale.  I may have spoken too soon.

Manawaroa has a decent jab.  It lands often, particularly when Taleb is trying to set up his heavy stuff.  Taleb seems unsure of how to proceed.  Nothing he throws lands with any real impact, not enough to slow Manawaroa down anyway.  Neither fighter can find any sort of rhythm.  Team Australia has to be encouraged by Manawaroa hanging in there with Taleb who had been established as one of Team Canada’s aces.  It’s a tough round to score.  I’d lean towards a draw, but the judges might give Taleb the 10-9 due to some good knees in the clinch.  Coaches will need to make adjustments.

There’s a rough looking low blow by Taleb to start the second.  Manawaroa foregoes the standard five minute recovery period.  He wants to scrap!

The Canadians have been trying to steal points with coordinated cheering.  It’s most noticeable in this fight due to Taleb’s sporadic offence.  The tactic reminds me of Greg Jackson’s constant chatter when he corners.

A nice jab by Manawaroa causes Taleb to fall or maybe trip.  Either way, it’s the most significant blow of the fight and Manawaroa is definitely winning the second round.  Taleb throws an awful spinning backfist as time winds down, made only worse by the fact that he’d taken a spinning elbow from Manawaroa seconds earlier.  We’re headed to a third (I would have given a 20-19 win to Manawaroa) and neither man looks fresh.

Taleb continues to stalk Manawaroa, but he doesn’t cut him off.  He hasn’t cut him off the whole fight.  Manawaroa lands just enough to stay ahead.  It’s not looking good for Team Canada.  Taleb almost steals the round with a takedown.  He manages to get to side control and that should clinch it…but Manawaroa sweeps into full mount!  He fights hard for a rear naked choke that’s going to look good to the judges even if he doesn’t get it.

The fight is almost too close to call.  Manawaroa takes it and I can’t argue.  I can, however, disagree with the assessment that it was a great fight.  It reminded me of the praise that was heaped upon Jessamyn Duke and Raquel Pennington last year.  Tough?  Gritty?  Hard fought?  No doubt.  But I don’t think either fight was particularly entertaining.  The personal investment of the fighters and the live atmosphere obviously add a lot to the experience, something anyone who’s attended even a minor league MMA event can attest to.

TUF Nations Week 4 WinnerThe Aussies, terrifying in victory.

It turns out Taleb injured his foot in the first round, which explains a lot about his performance.  He and Manawaroa get to talk and recount the battle in the hospital afterwards and it’s kind of awesome.  Taleb talks about how impressed he was with the younger man’s ability to control distance and Manawaroa compliments Taleb on a punch that messed up his nose.  I’m surprised we haven’t got more scenes like this in the past.  I like to think this is how it usually goes when fighters meet up in the hospital (*cough* Joe Riggs, Nick Diaz *cough*).

Hospital VisitThe glitz and the glamour of professional cage fighting.

The upset of Taleb got me thinking of other TUF favourites who were supposed to have their way with the competition.  This isn’t the first time the show has built someone up only to see them fall flat.  Here are some past contestants who suffered ignominious flameouts.

  • Bobby Southworth – the future Strikeforce light heavyweight champion struggled to make weight, but did manage to knock off Lodune Sincaid in short fashion. He would lose to Stephan Bonnar and then Sam Hoger at the first TUF finale, Southworth’s only fight in the UFC.
  • Chris Leben – Leben was nigh-unstoppable before entering the house, even having knocked out fellow contestant Mike Swick in the past (something he was not shy about bringing up).  He was blanketed by hated rival Josh Koscheck and then brought back as an injury replacement.  His second chance resulted in an emotional upset loss to Kenny Florian.
  • Keith Jardine and Mike Whitehead – the first two heavyweights picked, neither made it past eventual winner Rashad Evans.
  • Kimbo Slice – in retrospect, can any Kimbo loss really be considered an upset?
  • Marc StevensGeorges St-Pierre pretended to be invested in Stevens, only to trick Coach Koscheck into picking his boy first overall.  It was all downhill for Stevens after that as he lost by guillotine choke in both his elimination round and wild card appearances.  He never made an official UFC appearance.
  • Justin Lawrence – it might be unfair to list Lawrence here, since he did win his first fight in impressive fashion; however, he came into the tournament with a gaudy kickboxing record and flashy striking skills and it wasn’t enough to overcome the spirited Michael Chiesa in the quarterfinals.
  • Bubba McDanielJon Jones’s friend and training partner, he had a huge experience advantage over his first round opponent: Kelvin Gastelum.  Gastelum turned out to be pretty good.  Bubba was then given a wild card spot, which did net him a win before he was stopped in the quarterfinals by Uriah Hall.
  • Shayna Baszler – in a battle of 1st overall picks, Baszler was submitted by Julianna Peña, a talented upstart who would go on to become the first female TUF champion.

The funny thing is, there have also been plenty of situations where a fighter was expected to destroy his competition and they did exactly that.  I always enjoy an audience getting suckered into believing some schlub has a chance.  Sorry Jason Thacker and Wayne Weems, the fight gods care not for your underdog story.  Here’s a short list of fighters who lived up to or surpassed their lofty expectations (TUF champs only):

  • Diego Sanchez
  • Joe Stevenson
  • Mac Danzig
  • Roy Nelson
  • Diego Brandão
  • John Dodson
  • Cezar Ferreira
  • Rony Jason
  • Chris Holdsworth

Next week: Finally, Kyle Noke got to pick a fight!  He goes with Australian Richard “Filthy Rich” Walsh v. Canadian Matt Desroches.  Also, I continue my elusive hunt for the Canadian ring girl.  Until then…KAHILI!

Kahili Blundell Nations Week 4

The Ultimate Fighter Nations: Canada v. Australia – Week 3 Recap

I really was going to write about the “best looking TUF contestants”, but I’m skipping the preamble this week (in favour of…“post-amble”?).  Besides, I didn’t feel I’d put the proper amount of research into those rankings yet.  You’ve got to treat a subject like that with the utmost seriousness!

Team Colours:

Team Côté
Team Noke

This marks the third week in a row where the Australians are being made to look like chumps.  In the training segments they show, the Canadians come off as super soldiers and the Australians are shown gasping for air and vomiting.  Considering how dominant Patrick Côté’s boys have been so far, segments like this only serve to make the Aussies look even worse.

ContrastA fair and even handed portrayal.

There is also some manufactured drama with Canadian conditioning coach Jon Chaimberg helping out Team Australia.  I’m not buying into the Côté/Chaimberg beef for a second.  If anything, the Canadians should have called him up themselves and sent him over to make the fights more competitive!  They can’t seriously be criticizing him for assisting Kyle Noke.  Not only does he work with Noke regularly, this is what he does for a living.  If he can get himself some free publicity in the process, why not go for it?  If the Canadians are that aggrieved, then those fighters who have a working relationship with him should end that relationship after the show.  Somehow I don’t see that happening.

TraitorWearing Team Australia’s colours might have been pushing it.

The boisterous Kajan Johnson and the magnificent Elias Theodorou would be a tough act for anyone to follow, so I can’t be blamed for not gushing over Chad Laprise this week.  He’s a nice guy.  He pushes himself as a role model and preaches modesty and family values.  Smell the ratings!  LaPrise’s nickname is “The Disciple”.  I wonder if Dustin Pague will sue him for gimmick infringement.  Then again, “Disciple” might be the Christian version of “Pitbull”.

Chris Indich fares somewhat better, recollecting a troubled youth while espousing his personal philosophy in regards to martial arts competition.  There was one section that stuck with me:

I’ve thought so much about this and I’ve thought about a lot of things after this.  None of that happens if I don’t win.

That sounds like a dangerous mindset to carry into a cage fight.  I would think you’ve got enough to worry about when stepping into that cage, what with trying not to get your head kicked in or your arm ripped off.  It’s one thing to self-motivate, it’s another to add pressure to what must already be a stressful situation.  The question is whether or not Indich is the type to ramp up his performance to overcome those expectations.

The true stars of this week’s episode are actually the gentlemen who will be battling next week, Nordine Taleb and Tyler Manawaroa.  There is an obvious stern disciplinarian/class clown dynamic between the two, something that Manawaroa is probably aware of.  When he breaks out the didgeridoo to give the Canadians a rude awakening, it seems designed to drive Taleb crazy.  He is pissed and he’s pissed in French!  That’s, like, super pissed.

Taleb (en français): I’m gonna run over him, he’ll be paralyzed.  I’ll cut him into six pieces.  Like I’m telling you, the only bad luck is that there is a referee in the cage.  Vengeance will be terrible.  I’m the last person you want to mess with.

DidgeridooHe’s just asking for someone to shove that up his ass.

The fun continues when Manawaroa takes part in vandalizing the house moose.  Oh, come on!  They don’t do any permanent damage, resorting to hanging various objects like tampons off of the antlers.

Defaced MooseThis juvenile behaviour should only last a short period of time.

Perhaps all of these hijinks are meant to distract Manawaroa from the more serious issues he’s dealing with: a thumb injury and weight problems.  When he steps up to the scale, Israel Martinez likens the poor result to missing curfew and getting smacked by your mom.  Could this lead to…WEIGHT CUTTING DRAMA?!?  Don’t tease me like this, TUF Nations!

ConcernIn this situation, Coach Noke is mom.

Not to be outdone, Taleb gets a piece of the spotlight when he decides now would be a good time to start taking ice baths.  He does a ton of pre-bath stretching and posing without actually getting into the tub.  When he finally does, well…

Frozen FrenchmanI was just saying last week that Nordine needs to “chill out”.

He also adds this gem: On Titanic, I will die in two minutes.

The fight

Johnson describes Laprise as a “pretty fighter”.  He certainly looks the part in round one.  What he lacks in gregariousness, he more than makes up for with his deadly hands.  Right out of the gate, he lands a stiff jab and that sets the tone for the first five minutes.  He catches the occasional lunging punch, but other than that he’s in complete control.  His stand-up is fun to watch.  He lands a flurry that Indich survives.  The guy is tough!  I have no idea how he wasn’t dropped in that round.  There were a couple of punches that I could have sworn he jumped right into.  It’s an easy 10-9 first round for Team Canada.

The second round is more of the same, though Indich picks up the pace; still, he needs a miracle shot to get the win.  He’s just a step behind everything.  What a chin on him though.  With the second round closer than the first, Laprise makes a statement in the final thirty seconds with a pair of beautiful spinning back kicks.  He gets the unanimous decision victory.

Indich wasn’t finished, but he may as well have been.  He’s laid out in the locker room after, a pack of ice pressed against his forehead.  Shades of Josh Koscheck after Diego Sanchez drilled him on TUF 1.  Martinez says that’s the kind of fight that nobody should feel bad about and he’s right.

Indich FaceWith Team Canada running wild with seemingly no end in sight, I started to think about the most successful TUF teams:

  • Seasons 1 through 3 had the screwy schedules where fighters didn’t even have to fight to make it to the semi-finals so they were out of consideration.
  • The first time we saw one side truly dominate was during season 4 (“The Comeback”).  Team Mojo and their de facto leader Matt Serra won 7 of the 8 quarterfinal match-ups including a sweep in the welterweight bracket.  Team No Love’s Travis Lutter did manage to take the Middleweight crown though.
  • Serra’s second stint on the show, this time officially as a coach saw him earn a 6-2 record against his rival Matt Hughes.  Unfortunately, Team Hughes’s Mac Danzig and Tom Speer ended up making it to the finals.
  • On the flip-side, Rampage Jackson is easily one of the worst coaches in TUF history, with his two stints resulting in an unconscionable 3-13 record.  His only guy to make it the finals was C.B. Dollaway, a replacement for Team Griffin psychopath Jesse Taylor.

So we’ve had a couple of 7-1 records, but never a 1st round sweep.  This is a scenario more likely to occur in a Nations setting.  Normally, it would be almost impossible for all of the good fighters to end up on one team with coaches pickings sides, but in this situation where it’s simply the best of the best unsigned talents…hmm…add in the fact that (as I mentioned before) the loser of the opening coin flip got nothing while the winner got to control the fights and Team Australia could be in some deep doo-doo.

At least they’ve still got Kahili.

Kahili Blundell Nations Week 3Next week: Taleb v. Manawaroa.  Also, I rank the best looking contestants in TUF history (maybe). Suggestions?