Before we place this season in the pillory, allow me to be the voice of reason: This is still better than TUF 16 and TUF 19.
For those unfamiliar with either season, I’ll summarize. TUF 16 had the unfortunate timing of airing just as the UFC was starting to expand the brand globally and it paled in comparison to the relatively fresh TUF: Brazil and TUF: The Smashes (Australia/UK). The coaching pair didn’t help. Shane Carwin was known for his explosive punching power, not personality, and the normally reliable Roy Nelson seemed more determined to skewer Dana White (and vise-a-versa) than actually do his job.
What followed was a tepid season of forgettable fights and even more forgettable personalities…except for Julian “Nitrane” Lane who came off as a parody of every TUF malcontent that appeared before him. Let me bang, bro, indeed.
The finalists were Mike Ricci and Colton Smith. Smith would defeat Ricci in a snoozer of a finale and then lose his next three fights en route to being released. That has never happened to a TUF winner before. Ricci split two fights before washing out.
TUF 19 is only two years old, so it might be unfair to judge the resulting talent but I’m going to do it anyway. The show itself was an ordeal despite the coaching presence of two of my favourite all-time fighters, Frankie Edgar and BJ Penn. I don’t know what went wrong with the casting, but they somehow gathered the least interesting and least competitive crew imaginable.
It was a dual division season, and both the middleweight and light heavyweight finals ended in surprisingly quick fashion. It was the most passion any fighter had shown all season, and certainly more than the third battle between Edgar and Penn, which was more of a mercy killing of The Prodigy than anything else. Overall, an utterly depressing entry in the franchise.
The current season seems to have the same casting problem as TUF 16, so I can’t blame the show runners too much for that. Once they were saddled with the “camp wars” premise, it severely narrowed down their options no matter how much input they were allowed to give Dan Lambert and Glenn Robinson. That said, the genuine brotherhood aspect is at least interesting compared to the forced camaraderie of past seasons.
Another thing saving TUF 21 from historical ignominy is the new format, which I still stand by. It will be cool when a fighter has to perform a second time on the show. We’ve seen fighters come back before, but as replacements. If a guy can emerge as the ace of his team, it would make him a hot prospect heading into his UFC career. And isn’t that the best possible outcome for any TUF hopeful?
American Top Team
Blackzilians (actually black on the show)
That rant went longer than expected. Let’s join the American Top Team crew, fresh off their first win of the season. It’s a big one since it not only gets them on the scoreboard, but it means the next fight will be at the ATT gym. Hayder Hassan points out that he’s now 3-0 in his career against Blackzilian fighters.
Andrews Nakahara is down on himself. There isn’t much his teammates or coaches can do to console him at the moment. For the first time I notice that Andrews sounds like Grey Worm from Game of Thrones.
It becomes obvious early in the episode that the Blackzilians are going to go with Jason Jackson. He thinks the situation in the house has become too friendly and that has affected the team’s hunger. Rashad Evans gives the team a speech about always being ready to take that call from the UFC, which fits Jason to a tee. Glenn loves that Jason is actually enthusiastic about going into enemy territory.
ATT’s two top choices for the week are Grilo and Nathan Coy. It feels like they’ve been teasing deploying Nate forever. Keep waiting. It’s the veteran Grilo this week. He’s from Porto Alegre, Brazil and he’s been with ATT for five years.
Michael Graves jokes about Grilo’s unorthodox approach to cardio and we get a demonstration from the man himself. There are some valid points made by Grilo about how your breathing will change during the fight depending on where the action goes. He practices doing short, rapid breaths and then deep ones and I can’t help but be reminded of Peter Griffin clutching his shin.
During a video review session, ATT break down Jason’s tendencies. Luckily, they have Hayder who defeated Jason last year. He has specific instructions for Grilo as far as how to counter Jason and potentially knock him out. Dan is already looking ahead to Grilo fighting again in the 100 point round. Then he sees a bunch of chicken eggs and starts counting them well before they’ve hatched.
For the first time this season, we are in the ATT gym for the fight. It’s good to see that Steve Montgomery is well and that the home team is making the most of the environment.
American Top Team’s Grilo (16-7-1) v. Team Blackzilians’ Jason Jackson (4-2)
Tentative start for both men. Grilo’s jab is looking good early on, though he takes one back from Jason that knocks his mouthpiece out. Believe it or not, this might have been the turning point of the fight. Dana would later say that believes that shot scrambled Grilo’s brain and judging by the rest of the fight, it’s hard to argue that.
I give Grilo the first round (10-9) based on a couple of semi-successful takedowns and the pressure he was able to put on Jason. It wasn’t a dominant performance by any means. Most troubling was Grilo’s lack of response when his corner called out for him to throw his right hook more.
In the second round, it is Jason with all of the movement. He pecks away at Grilo, whose output has become non-existent.
“Put your hands up and fight!” Dan yells at him.
Both guys smile and laugh as the second round comes to a close. I know one person who isn’t smiling: Dana. This fight was a stinker.
It’s a clear cut 10-9 round for Jason. The scorecards haven’t been read yet and ATT are already acting as if Grilo lost. They’re right. One judge scores it a draw as I did, but the other two see the fight for Jason. Grilo just didn’t do enough of anything to win this fight.
Glenn feels the need to obnoxiously cram his face into the camera and say “That’s the way we f**king do it!”
The ATT staff are confused and frustrated with Grilo’s flat performance. He’s 36 years old and this could be his last real shot at making it to the UFC. Grilo says he wants to fight again on the show. Dan looks unconvinced.
Well, that’s it for this…wait, what the hell? They suddenly tell us that the coaches now have the option to cut up to two guys from their team and bring in two new guys. Was this mentioned before? It sounds to me like the season hasn’t been as competitive as they would have liked and they threw this out there to even things up. I hate when shows do that.
Next Week: Seriously, what?