Vintage TUF – The Ultimate Fighter Season 10: Heavyweights – The Finale – Round & Round

Reliving The Season That Cardio Forgot

NewChallenger: We are now officially entering Twilight Zone territory for some people as we head back to December of 2009 where many of the faces look the same and YET…the world was very different.

The Palms Casino Resort was the host of The Ultimate Fighter: Heavyweights Finale and on paper, this is a heck of a card! In addition to our charming TUF 10 housemates, we have an appearance by Frankie Edgar who was on the verge of stardom and Jon Jones in his first big test at light heavyweight against Matt Hamill.

All that and the old trappings of these Spike TV broadcasts that we are all so fond of. Well…me, anyway.

Young GoldieAstonishingly, the guy in the middle is what I imagine a young Mike Goldberg would look like.

PunisherBass: As we’re shown interview clips of Kimbo Slice and Houston Alexander, which is in black and white and has been run through a very cheesy filter, it dawns on me that Kimbo has a real knack for dragging most of his opponents down to his level. Between his vastly superior experience and the fact that he wouldn’t have to cut any (or at least not nearly as much) weight for this fight, Houston should have taken this easily.

NC: Things that I miss from this era: the opening confessionals (Kimbo: “Houston…you got a problem”), the Zuffa gladiator, the aforementioned Face the Pain, and Logan Stanton.

Logan Stanton

PB: Allow me a moment to pour one out for Natasha Wicks. Her time spent cageside was brief but she’ll never be forgotten.

NC: Before we get to the main card, I’ll touch upon the two preliminary fights that aired on the television broadcast. Yes, this was the dark days when we would only get the highlights of the prelims and not be able to watch every plodding split decision between two regional fighters/TUF rejects/flyweights.

How did we survive?

Lightweight Bout: Mark Bocek (7-2) v. Joe Brammer (7-0-1)

I’m showing my Canadian bias here as I give a shout-out to the pride of Woodbridge, Ontario, Mark Bocek. Bocek retired a couple of years ago after a fine UFC career that saw him go 8-5 inside the Octagon. One of those wins was the curtain jerker of this card against Joe Brammer.

Brammer was an undefeated prospect that never became more than that after getting dominated by Bocek in this fight. He would actually only compete two more times before moving on from MMA. Bocek completely outclasses Brammer here, dictating pace and distance the whole time until he gets it to the mat. Once there, it only takes a couple of minutes to set up a fight ending rear naked choke.

Bocek Choke

Hope retirement is treating you well, Mark.

Heavyweight Bout: James McSweeney (3-4) v. Darrill Schoonover (10-0)

And now, more relevant to the subject at hand, we have Team Rashad favourite James McSweeney and Rampage’s best bud Darrill Schoonover. I remember rooting for Darrill in this one and if you’ve read any of our recaps over the last few weeks you’ll know why.

As much as we’ve dogged McSweeney, this isn’t a bad fight. I’m not saying it’s a good fight, but it’s not bad. That said, there’s still no reason for McSweeney to walk around like he’s King S**t of Kickboxingville. On more than one occasion he lets Schoonover hit him with potentially fight ending punches and Schoonover isn’t exactly Igor Vovchanchyn himself. McSweeney is at least able to stay a step ahead for the most part.

McSweeney TeepIt’s like that dude getting hit by a cannonball.

Credit where credit is due, McSweeney finishes with a nice combination starting with a flying knee. That win would improve his record to a sterling 4-4.

McSweeney Combo

Now onto the main card!

Heavyweight Bout: Marcus Jones (4-1) v. Matt Mitrione (0-0)

PB: Marcus Jones has to be one of the most awkward fighters I’ve ever seen. You know how a baby looks when they first learn to walk? Well picture a 6’6” 265 lb. man doing the exact same thing. It’s like a cross between Frankenstein, The Mummy, and a zombie. Arms out forward and incredibly stiff legged, no fluidity at all.

His basic movement isn’t his only problem here either, it’s his total lack of footwork. Any time he’s going to throw a punch, he plants his feet before leaning far forward and then swinging, sometimes he’ll also lunge in with his whole body. All it does is leave him open and his chin exposed.

On top of his piss poor gas tank, glass jaw, and other obvious flaws in his striking, his supposedly “excellent” grappling looks like anything but when he’s taking on a guy closer to his size. At one point he has Meathead locked in a guillotine for around 30 seconds, which Matt never attempts to push out of, he just stays posted up and lets Marcus burn his arms out and sap what little energy he had left.

Not that Matt is anything to write home about here, but I think the plan was that he could take whatever Marcus threw at him and give it back just as hard, so all he had to do was just wait him out. Let him make mistake after mistake until he hit E, and then go for the kill. Just a few seconds into Round 2, Matt lands a right to Marcus’ jaw and he goes down like a wet bag of s**t.

Mitrione KO

NC: Post-fight, Mitrione breaks out his classic line about having “retard strength”. I know it’s terrible to laugh at that…but I am laughing.

Before we proceed, I should mention there are things I don’t miss from this era: Hulk Hogan, Eric Bischoff, and Dixie Carter from TNA Wrestling in the crowd, 1000 Ways to Die, and Manswers.

Lightweight Bout: Frankie Edgar (12-1) v. Matt Veach (11-0)

NC: Frankie is, like, my favourite fighter ever, you guys. And Veach has all the charisma of a lemming.

This was the fight that earned Frankie a title shot if you can believe it. Keep in mind he had already knocked off most of the other lightweight contenders: Tyson Griffin, Spencer Fisher, Hermes França, and Sean Sherk.

Veach was no push-over, actually slamming Edgar twice in the first round. He couldn’t do much on the ground with Frankie’s ability to get up and Frankie was taking him apart on the feet, but you could argue that Veach got the first round. He was a big guy with big muscles and as you’d expect he experienced gas tank problems in the second round.

Even back then, the announcers were talking about Edgar dropping to 145, which would have relegated him to the WEC. He stuck around anyway, which proved to be a wise choice considering his next opponent would be B.J. Penn. I still thought he was a couple of fights away, but he would win this fight by submission (his first finish in almost two years) and that was enough to make him the mandatory challenger to Penn’s throne.

Edgar Combo

The rest is history.

Catchweight Bout (215 lbs.) Kimbo Slice (3-1) v. Houston Alexander (9-4 [1 NC])

PB: And now it’s time for the “Special catchweight fight” between Kimbo and Alexander. I don’t remember a whole lot about the buildup to this, other than Kimbo almost killed himself while trying to make weight. And I should note that this fight was given higher placement than any other TUF fight save for Nelson/Schaub later on, because f**k those other guys who actually notched at least a single win.

Before I go any further, this will be only the second time I’ve ever watched this fight, when I saw it live I thought it was so terrible that the scores should have been 3-2 instead of 10-9 because so little was actually accomplished. I’m also writing this on a Saturday afternoon, so drinking a whiskey sour right now doesn’t make me look like an alcoholic.

Since the fight itself is deepfried dogs**t on a stick, I’d rather talk about a couple gems from Goldberg.

“So, you wanna be an Ultimate Fighter!? Both of these men do!” The f**k are you talking about? Is Goldie not aware that Houston wasn’t on the show or that when offered a “chance” to be a replacement, Kimbo turned it down?

“We saw on the show that Kimbo’s knee is a little worn out.” If you mean bone on bone due to a total lack of cartilidge and needing a complete replacement, yeah I guess that could be considered “a little worn out” if you compare it to say… needing it amputated. Here in 2015 I don’t think Kimbo ever did go through with that surgery either, far as I know his knee is just as bad if not worse today.

Do you want to guess how many minutes tick by before the crowd gets sick of Alexander just circling counter clockwise around Kimbo? It takes two full minutes until they start booing this bulls**t. There’s a very brief flutter of excitement from them after a short exchange of kicks and punches, and then guess what happens. Nope, there’s no knockout, he just starts circling again. Round and round and round he goes, maybe his plan was to make Kimbo dizzy like he just got off a merry-go-round?

Too bad this foolproof plan has backfired since all he’s done is make himself tired, he continues going in circles but at a much slower pace than before.

Round & RoundLoop this for 15 minutes and you’re good.

Some people still bitch about Carlos Condit “running” from Nick Diaz, but Alexander LITERALLY just spent five minutes playing Ring Around The Rosie with Kimbo, just with a dash of leg kicks thrown in. Only in the UFC can you find this kind of excitement and skill!

Ashes, ashes, nobody’s going down…

If this was a videogame, Kimbo would be an end level boss and his knee would be the glowing red “AIM HERE!” magical weak spot. It’s too bad Houston didn’t manage his ammo very well and since Kimbo isn’t making any drops, all he can do is continue to circle strafe.

With cat like reflexes, Houston actually changes direction at one point and starts circling clockwise for a bit, but he’s soon back to circling to his right. Going out of his comfort zone was just too risky I guess. If you look closely you can actually see a rut starting to form near the edge of the mat. No one is enjoying this fight in the least, Goldberg sounds more enthused to rattle off a 1000 Ways to Die promo than describe any of the non-action taking place in the cage.

NC: I’m pretty sure watching this fight is actually one of the thousand ways to die.

PB: Seven. We had seven minutes of continuous circling before anything significant actually happened, which was a Kimbo jab followed by a takedown. Don’t get too excited because 10 seconds later Houston is back to his feet and goes back to work playing Runaround Sue, it’s paying off because the rut is now a full on ditch, if he keeps this up for another few passes he’ll turn the octagon into a dome, the inverse of the YAMMA pit.

No, I will not talk about these two trying to grapple with each other. F**k. That. Noise.

NC: I’ll just leave this here then.

Kimbo SuplexHow jealous was Fedor when he saw this?

PB: Ah wonderful, they finally decide to try fighting for a change in the third round. Too bad it’s little more than sloppy wild haymakers being thrown by two guys too pooped to s**t. For any aspiring fighters who might be reading this in the future, learn from these two, masturbation is NOT a form of cardio training.

As if the fight itself wasn’t bad enough, the commentary makes it even worse since they do nothing but praise Kimbo and criticize Alexander. I’m sure they had marching orders to make Kimbo sound as good as possible, but they’re in full on shill mode here, stop being so god damn biased!

Why oh why am I wasting my life watching this fight again? I could be doing something more productive like waiting around at the mall while my girlfriend shops or playing Fallout 4.

The end finally comes with the now infamous GIF.

Slice-Alexander

I’d like to think that somewhere, quite possibly in Quinton Jackson’s basement, Tiki was sitting on a couch watching this fight. One of those pink stuffed unicorns clutched in his arms, tears rolling down his face. He finally manages to eke out “Atta boy Kimbo… atta boy”. And then he falls into an eternal slumber due to an undetected gas leak.

Come on, you knew there was no way in hell I was going to let this be our final entry without taking some sort of pot shot at him, and if you didn’t you obviously haven’t been following along for the last couple months.

Light Heavyweight Bout: Matt Hamill (8-2) v. Jon Jones (9-0)

NC: To this day, I bet there are a lot of people who don’t know how Jon Jones got that one loss on his record. Anyone who saw it will never forget it, though I don’t mean that in a good way.

PB: This was the first time I actually saw Jones fight. I had seen that GIF of his spinning elbows and read on Cage Potato that was on the cover of FIGHT magazine, and that he had just made the move to Greg Jackson’s camp, so I was really excited to see him in action. I thought “This guy is going to be the king of 205 in two to three years”, little did I know he’d beat that estimate by a full year.

NC: Make no mistake about it, even back then Jones was being touted as a future champ. This is a short fight, but you can already see his great use of range and footwork, his speed, how he was blending his styles together. It helped that he was matched up with Hamill who he had a massive speed advantage over so he could throw pretty much whatever he wanted.

When Hamill finally got in close, Jones delivered a whip quick trip and then unleashed some of the most vicious ground and pound you’ll ever see. There were several points where Mazzagatti could have called this off, though I’ll play devil’s advocate and say Hamill always showed some signs of intelligent defence and if Jones wanted to end it definitively he could have gone for a submission from the mount. Instead, this happens:

12-6The angle these are thrown from would make Travis Browne flinch.

Now I’m as against the “12-6 elbow” rule as anyone, but the rules are the rules and Jones should have known better. There is a lot of confusion as Steve Mazzagatti initially takes a point away but then calls the match because Hamill says he can’t continue. Goldberg and Rogan say it’s a TKO victory for Jones and that carries on even through the commercial break.

It isn’t until Bruce Buffer makes the official announcement that we find out Jones has been disqualified.

Bones ReactionBuffer: “Ladies and gentlemen, referee Steve Mazzagatti has called a stop to this contest. Due to intentional elbows there’s been a disqualification of Jonny ‘Bones’ Jones. Therefore, the winner is Matt Hamill!”

PB: For those who might not be aware, Hamill was born deaf, but while he can’t hear anything he can read lips and knows sign language. So normally it’s not a problem for him to communicate, but when his face is full of blood and he can’t see jack s**t, it becomes a big big problem. So when Mazzagatti asked him if he was “okay”, he got no response because Hamill had no idea he was even being asked a question, so he took it as a “no I’m not”.

Steve Mazzagatti is an idiot. There’s also the fact that Jones dislocated Hamill’s shoulder with that slam of his, so it should have been ruled a TKO victory for him anyway.

NC: And that’s the 1 in Jones’ 21-1 record.

Hamill DownStill waiting for his shot at the belt.

Heavyweight Bout: Roy Nelson (13-4) v. Brendan Schaub (4-0)

PB: I had totally forgotten that Nelson walked out to Weird Al’s Fat, and it makes me giggle like a little girl.

NC: My friends were like, “Is he coming out to Michael Jackson?” And it took me a second to figure it out and then I just laughed and told them it was Weird Al. Roy is the best.

PB: There’s not a whole lot to say about this fight, Schaub is the faster fighter but Nelson is the harder puncher, and when it hits the ground we see that Roy has a lot more depth than simply smothering people.

Eventually that sledgehammer right hand of his finds it mark, and it’s the start of his reputation as a knockout artist and the first cracking of Schaub’s suspect chin.

Nelson KO

NC: Poor Brendan. He really does have a habit of getting knocked out in awkwardly memorable ways, eh?

And there we have it, our first all-heavyweight season winner, and really the first true heavyweight since it was Rashad Evans won the last time they implemented the big boys. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, though you can tell Dana is almost choking on his smile the whole time. Roy takes the plaque from him and proceeds to press it against his face and his belly.

Did I already mention that Roy is the best?

Nelson TriumphantThe first of many victory rubs.

Before I sign off, I’ll just say that if anyone out there is keen to the idea, I encourage you to give it a shot and do a retro recap series of your own! If you can watch and you can read and you can write, then there’s nothing stopping you from taking a crack at it.

Nobody here is trying to be Hemingway. Write for fun and who knows, you might even find out that people are interested in what you have to say.

PB: Well here we are, we’ve finally reached the end of TUF 10. We really hope you enjoyed following along over the last three months. While we hardly broke new ground with this series, for me personally it was a milestone since I had never had a co-writer or anything even resembling an editor before. And I think the results speak for themselves. So thank you all for reading and thanks for all of the kind words and praise you’ve given us, it made all this hard work worth it.

Since people ask us each week if we’re going to do another retro season after this, and the answer is “maybe”. Neither of us have any qualms about continuing this partnership, we’re both totally down for it. The problem is time and our schedules.

We started planning this out way back in July, well before the series started running on BE, so there was a good amount of time invested just in the lead up. And that’s something we can’t put together right now, the time. Hopefully there will be a follow up in the future, but it could be six months, 12 months, or possibly never. We just have to say how the stars align.

So I want to thank everyone once again for joining us on this pain train, but all good things must come to an end. And in honor of the Alexander/Slice fight…

UFC 165 Main Card Breakdown

(*You can find my preliminary breakdown for the card at MMACanada.net.  It is chock-full of Canadian goodness.  I also did a main card breakdown for them, not realizing that they’d already had one put up.  D’oh.  Can’t hurt to post it here.)

“UFC 165” airs live on PPV, Saturday, September 21.  Preliminaries will be broadcast on Facebook/Youtube starting at 6:15 PM (EST).  Coverage will continue on Sportsnet 360, with televised preliminaries beginning at 8 PM (EST).  The main card starts at 10 PM.

Lightweight Bout: Pat Healy (0-1 UFC [1 NC], 29-16) v. Khabib Nurmagomedov (4-0 UFC, 20-0)

No matter what your stance is on the rules surrounding marijuana use and professional sports, you have to feel bad for Healy.  Defeating Jim Miller should have been the highlight if his career and it was until a failed drug test officially erased the contest and cost Healy two bonus awards totalling $130,000.  The fact that he’s still considered a top 10 lightweight is small consolation.  Rankings don’t feed the bulldog.

A look at the odds will show you that Healy is the underdog in this fight even after that fine performance, a testament to the reputation that Nurmagomedov has made for himself.  His grappling credentials are some of the most impressive in MMA, with mastery in both Sambo and judo.  If you lock up with “The Eagle” you better be ready to fly.  He also has a high motor that allows him to stay competitive on the feet, a necessity until he cleans up his undisciplined striking.  His worst performance was a win against Gleison Tibau, where he did just enough to win over the judges.  At his best, it only took him two minutes to bludgeon Thiago Tavares and he tossed around Abel Trujillo like he was a flyweight.  He has a staggering 20 fight win streak and at 24 years old, is nowhere near a finished product.

There are two ways to look at this booking for Healy: Punishment for hurting the UFC’s image or a chance for him to get right back into the title hunt by knocking off one of the best young fighters in the organization.  As dangerous as Nurmagomedov is, you’d want to face him now rather than in a couple of years when he might be unstoppable.  Nurmagomedov hasn’t faced an opponent yet who can pressure him like Healy will.  Undefeated records tend to go down in ugly fashion and ugly is just how Healy likes it.

Middleweight Bout: Costa Philippou (5-1 UFC, 12-2 [1 NC]) v. Francis Carmont (5-0 UFC, 21-7)

Carmont has to be relieved that he’s fighting in Canada.  His knack for squeaking out decisions in grueling contests that have fans heading for the washrooms has essentially turned him into a pro wrestling heel.  The only place he’s likely to get love at this point is on home soil.  He’s essentially become Bret Hart circa-1997.

Fighters that are frustrating to watch must be even more frustrating to compete against and Carmont is no exception.  He’s a strong wrestler with top notch cardio.  Even when he’s not connecting with takedowns, he is going to keep going until he gets one.  As we saw in his previous fights (and Phil Davis-Lyoto Machida), all of those attempts can add up even if they’re unsuccessful.  Carmont might not always be able to take the fight where he wants it to go, but it’s just as important that his opponent can’t either.

Philippou has all the tools to stifle Carmont and potentially knock him out.  His style is classic “sprawl-and-brawl” and he worked it to perfection in a gritty win against Tim Boetsch.  That TKO confirmed that Philippou is a top 10 middleweight.  Interestingly, Philippou only found himself in that position when Boetsch’s original opponent got injured.

That opponent?  Current UFC Middleweight Champion Chris Weidman.

Philippou recently left the Serra-Longo camp, perhaps in anticipation of having to one day face Weidman, the camp’s star pupil.  He’ll have to get past Carmont first.

Heavyweight Bout: Brendan Schaub (5-3 UFC, 9-3) v. Matt Mitrione (6-2 UFC, 6-2)

For the social media inclined, please choose the appropriate hashtag:

#contrived #manufactured #unnecessary

It’s regrettable that the impetus behind this meeting is based on a Twitter beef.  It’s not even worth going over the specifics (suffice to say there are cheap shots ranging from Schaub’s much maligned chin to comments about Mitrione’s wife) and I’m not sure what would be sadder: that this whole situation is phony or that it isn’t.

Considering that Schaub and Mitrione are a combined 15-4, you’d think this was a more important match up than it actually is.  The majority of these wins have come against opposition that is no longer in the UFC: Chase Gormley, Chris Tuchscherer, Mirko Cro Cop, Tim Hague, Christian Morecraft, Phil De Fries and the immortal Kimbo Slice.  Once you reach this level, there are no easy fights but it’s fair to say that that list has a “canned” quality to it.

We all know why this fight is on the main card.  Should the initial bouts fail to create fireworks, the inevitable earth shattering knockout one of these men will provide will surely be enough to ignite the crowd.

Bantamweight Interim Championship Bout: Renan Barão (5-0 UFC, 30-1 [1 NC]) v. Eddie Wineland (2-2 UFC, 20-8-1)

UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz won’t be back until at least 2014, making every defence of the interim belt even more meaningful.  It’s becoming easy to make an argument for Barão being on the same level as (if not superior to Cruz).  The term “undisputed” doesn’t mean what it used to.

Wineland seems like an unlikely challenger, having dropped his first two fights in the UFC.  It helps that those two fights were against Urijah Faber and Joseph Benavidez, two all-time greats, and that neither of them could put Wineland away.  He finally broke out with wins against two perennial top ten fighters: a KO of Scott Jorgensen (the first to defeat him in such a manner) and a split decision (not as close as it looked) over Brad Pickett.  Wineland is another challenger with the misfortune of going from preliminary fighter to title challenger.  The UFC needs to do a better job of anticipating who is going to break from the pack so as to give them proper exposure.  I applaud Wineland for being the last man standing amongst the contenders in what is rapidly becoming a deep division.  He’s in the prime of his career and he’ll never be in better position to capture a world title.

If only that world title wasn’t held by Barão.

Opening as a 5-1 favourite, the odds have actually tilted even further his way as fight night approaches.  That sort of thing happens when you’ve won 30 of your last 30 fights (not including a no-contest in 2007).  A training partner of José Aldo, at times Barão has looked like a more compact version of the featherweight kingpin.  Bruising leg kicks, inhuman timing and a slick ground game: the hallmark of the Nova União camp, skills that Barão has honed to perfection making him all but unbeatable.  It will take everything Wineland has and a whole lot of luck to create an upset and interrupt the anticipated Cruz-Barão unification bout.

Light Heavyweight Championship Bout: Jon Jones (12-1 UFC, 18-1) v. Alexander Gustafsson (7-1 UFC, 15-1)

The ridiculousness of the pre-fight hype surrounding Jones’s and Gustafsson’s respective measurements has been discussed ad nauseam, so I won’t pile on.  I’ll just say that if Mark Hunt and Antonio Silva don’t get the same treatment in December, I will be sorely disappointed.

The problem with hyping up a Jones fight, as magnificent as he is to watch, is that all of his challengers have seemed like they were chosen out of necessity as opposed to an overwhelming desire to see them fight or their viability as a true threat.  Rampage Jackson and Lyoto Machida (who presented Jones with some unique problems) were holding down the fort until Rashad Evans got healthy.  From a perception standpoint, Jones is facing some of the same criticisms that Floyd Mayweather has had to deal with.  His opponents are viewed as not being in their prime and they look even worse after he’s through with them.  Being the best can make you your own worst enemy.

Let’s look at the positives: This is still the same guy who is essentially undefeated.  This is still the same guy who in just 5 years as a pro once defeated 5 straight former UFC light heavyweight champions.  This is still the guy who might already be the greatest light heavyweight of all time.

And Gustafsson is no slouch.  The UFC’s ad campaign is a necessary evil, since “The Mauler” excels in so many aspects of MMA that he lacks a significant hook.  It doesn’t help that he didn’t exactly kick the door down in his wins over Thiago Silva and Shogun Rua.  They were certainly one-sided, but they lacked a signature moment.  A finish of either man would have done wonders for Gustafsson’s Q rating.  Prior to those wins, Gustafsson did have an excellent finishing rate.  He surprises opponents with his deceptive punching power and a meat-and-potatoes ground game that makes good use of his long, lanky body.  Just going by BJJ belt ranking (a dubious proposition in MMA), Gustafsson should have a slight advantage on the ground.

There will be methodical feeling out process in the first round.  Both men fight intelligently and will take their time looking for openings.  A finish is difficult to foresee here as neither man is likely to sacrifice good sense or position in search of a crowd pleasing ending.  There is just too much on the line.  Expect a chess match between two of MMA’s youngest and brightest and don’t be surprised if there’s a rematch somewhere down the road.

The Bigger They Are

If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything…it’s that you can kill anybody.

It was billed as one of the most intriguing title contests in recent memory and to say that Chris Weidman/Anderson Silva lived up to the hype would be an understatement.  That is not to say it was a great fight, it was a rather bizarre affair and an inarguably disappointing performance from Silva.  I give all the credit in the world to Weidman who I see as someone who will have several successful title defenses, but to say that Silva’s behaviour had nothing to do with the title changing hands would make me look more foolish than the man himself.  I’d even go as far to say that a Silva in his prime might have actually been able to get away with that kind of chicanery.

As I stressed in my main card preview, there were just too many factors working against Silva and in Weidman’s favour to view this as another routine defense for Silva.  So much of what I was reading and hearing revolved around Weidman’s virtues, with the arguments for Silva mostly comprised of He’s Anderson Silva!  Two or three years ago, that argument might have held weight.  In the here and now, we’re reminded of the harsh reality of professional sports.

If Silva, arguably the greatest mixed martial artist of all time, can lose…then who might be next?

*****

The UFC has taken a lot of deserved criticism for their recent handling of title matches.  Jon Jones has had to defend his belt against two middleweights.  Georges St-Pierre talked the matchmakers into granting him his (highly profitable) grudge match with Nick Diaz, who was coming off a loss and a year-long drug suspension.  José Aldo faced Frankie Edgar, who was 1-3-1 in his last 5 fights.  There were perfectly valid reasons (injuries, intrigue, incompetence) for making those match-ups, but none of them involved the challenger legitimately earning their spot.

With all that nonsense out of the way, there is now at least some semblance of a meritocracy.  Antonio Silva was granted a second shot at Cain Velasquez based on the fact that he knocked out Alistair Overeem, the presumed number one contender.  It didn’t go well for Big Foot, but the logic was sound.  The UFC wanted to set up a rematch between Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey, but Cat Zingano ruined their plans with a 3rd round comeback finish (due to a Zingano injury, Tate would later get the title shot anyway along with a juicy TUF coaching spot opposite Rousey).  Those are a couple of minor examples where the UFC did right by its winners.  Four more upcoming match-ups not only feature the worthiest of challengers but the possibility that a group of nigh invincible champions will fall.

In order of least likely to most likely to see a title change:

Light Heavyweight Title Bout: Alexander Gustafsson (7-1 UFC, 15-1) v. Jon Jones (Jon Jones (12-1 UFC, 18-1)

September 21, 2013 – UFC 165

How Gustafsson got here:

…by growing up.  Gustafsson’s only career loss came against Phil Davis in a fight that he was winning until he decided to take it to the ground.  Davis, a stronger grappler, was able to reverse the situation and sink in a match ending anaconda choke.  Since then, Gustafsson has fought a lot smarter, dominating when he’s supposed to and playing to his strengths to overcome the likes of Thiago Silva and Shogun Rua.  The victory over Shogun was a signature win and enough to cement Gustafsson as the number one contender, something many fans and critics had been clamoring for.

The match-up will also do wonders for dispelling the notion that Jones is only getting by on his physical gifts and that he is only capable of beating fighters who are past their prime.  Neither criticism is particularly valid, but a win over Gustafsson should be hater-proof.

Why Gustafsson could win:

I’m honestly not sure he can.  The only reason I added this match is because my uncle was working hard to convince me that the Swede is a live underdog.  I’m not seeing it.

If I had to make an argument for Gustafsson, it would go beyond just the fact that he can match the champ’s reach.  With every fight, Gustafsson gets better and better at using his range to score points and keep his opponents off balance.  When you can sweep the scorecards against Shogun, the most aggressive light heavyweight around, you have to be doing something right.

Another department that Gustafsson has improved in is his takedown defence and controlling scrambles.  They will have to stress this in his training as Jones has a good shot and an array of throws with which to set up his merciless ground and pound.  His best chance remains on the feet.

Let’s not forget that Jones had trouble with Lyoto Machida in the first round of their match.  If Gustafsson can do a reasonable job of emulating Machida’s tactics, an upset could be in order.

Why Gustafsson could lose:

As much as people talk about Jones never facing someone built like him, the same could be said for Gustafsson.  Does anyone think Gustafsson would have been able to pick apart Thiago Silva and Shogun so efficiently without those freakish limbs?  If all things are equal body-wise, I’m not sure there’s any area skill-wise that Gustafsson can claim an advantage.  Jones is faster, more explosive, more creative with his strikes and a monster on the ground.  Gustafsson should be able to go the distance, but expect Jones to take all five rounds.

Featherweight Title Bout: Chan Sung Jung (3-0 UFC, 0-2 WEC, 13-3) v. José Aldo (4-0 UFC, 8-0 WEC, 22-1)

August 3, 2013 – UFC 163

How Zombie got here:

…as much as anything, we’re the ones who have put Jung in this spot.  The Korean Zombie became an instant sensation in his WEC debut against Leonard Garcia.  I remember showing that fight to everyone I knew, not caring if this was a legit new star or an oddity.  Thankfully, he’s turned out to be the former and his distinct, exciting style carried over to the UFC where he found the wins to match the adulation.  A submission win in a rematch with Garcia removed any doubt that he was the better fighter.  He followed that up with an astonishing 7 second knockout of Mark Hominick (who had previously fought Aldo) and by coming out on top in another fight of the year candidate against Dustin Poirier.

When Anthony Pettis suffered an injury, there were two possible replacements for UFC 163: Ricardo Lamas and Zombie.  Despite his last three wins all coming against top ranked featherweights, Lamas remains relatively unknown.  The UFC sees dollar signs with the Jung-Aldo match so the Zombie gets to feast.

Why Zombie could win:

If he lives up to his moniker, there’s a chance he could outpace Aldo.  People often point to a difficult weight cut as to why Aldo faded in the Hominick fight.  What they forget is how Hominick stayed aggressive and even though he lost the majority of the rounds, it wasn’t as one-sided as the scores suggested.  Zombie doesn’t have Hominick’s consistency; rather, I expect his scrappy and unpredictable nature to work to his advantage.

There’s also the issue of Jung’s resiliency.  He’s only been finished once in his career (a picture perfect head shot courtesy of George Roop).  That stat is made even more incredible by the fact that he regularly engages in all-out wars that are undoubtedly shortening his lifespan.  Aldo is no stranger to decisions, having gone the full five rounds with Hominick, Kenny Florian and Frankie Edgar.  Neither Florian nor Edgar known for their risk-taking, so it should be interesting to see how Aldo reacts to an opponent who has no regard for his own well-being.

Why Zombie could lose:

As mentioned above, the UFC couldn’t wait for an excuse to put Zombie in the cage with Aldo.  He’s an international property and he’s got a cool gimmick that has caught on like wildfire in North America.  You could easily make an argument that his popularity exceeds his credentials.

It’s always fun to look at results and say that one guy is finishing his opponents while the other guy is winning by decision, but that doesn’t tell the story of Aldo’s dominance at 145.  Facing a murderer’s row of opponents (Urijah Faber, Hominick, Florian, Chad Mendes, Edgar), Aldo has rarely been in danger.  A lack of finishes speaks to how high the level of competition is when you reach Aldo’s level.  He’s soundly beaten elite strikers, elite jiu-jitsu practitioners and elite wrestlers.  That’s not a good sign for Zombie, who is more of a jack of all trades.

Welterweight Title Bout: Johny Hendricks (10-1 UFC, 15-1) v. Georges St-Pierre (18-2 UFC, 24-2)

November 16, 2013 – UFC 167

How Hendricks got here:

…by smashing just about everyone who got in his way.  Nobody on this list has been waiting longer or had a stronger claim to a title shot than Hendricks, who was egregiously passed over as a challenger in favour of Nick Diaz.  While the Stockton bad boy was losing to Carlos Condit and getting lifted, Hendricks was tearing through the division.  From March 2011 to March 2013, Hendricks had one of the most impressive runs in welterweight history.  A riveting win over Condit capped off a six-fight streak that displayed Hendricks’ guts (close split decision wins against Mike Pierce and Josh Koscheck) and sheer supremacy (finishing Jon Fitch and Martin Kampmann in less than one total minute).  Bigg Rigg might not have the name recognition or a squeaky clean look, but the UFC couldn’t ignore his results any longer.

Why Hendricks could win:

Anyone who has seen a St-Pierre title fight is familiar with the image of the champ scoring a takedown, establishing top position and neutralizing his victim for 25 minutes.  That’s how you defend your title in the toughest division in the UFC.

It’s hard to imagine Hendricks suffering the same treatment.  He’s lived up to the hype of being a 2-time national champion wrestling for Oklahoma State University.  That background has forged him into a mini-Iceman, able to control where the fight goes and set his opponents up for his infamous left hand.  A dream scenario sees GSP relying on a takedown heavy gameplan that Hendricks is able to stifle until the champ makes a rare mistake that leads to him getting laid out.

It’s somewhat unfair to bring it up, but St-Pierre’s ability to take a punch has been in question since his last loss to Matt Serra.  Since then, you can count on one hand the number of times he’s actually been rocked but people still insist that he’s always one solid punch away from losing the strap.  If there’s any credence to that theory, Hendricks is surely the one to prove it.

Why Hendricks could lose:

Hendricks’ only career loss was to Rick Story and surprisingly it was a match in which he was out-grappled.  While that loss clearly made him a better fighter, it’s worth noting that he is not unfamiliar with being put in bad positions.

On paper, Hendricks presents a lot of the same problems as Josh Koscheck, who boasted that he had the advantage as long as he could keep the fight standing against St-Pierre in their rematch.  St-Pierre was able to pick Koscheck apart with stiff jabs and was never in any real danger for the duration of their bout.  There is no evidence that Hendricks is uniquely equipped to deal with the latter.  Against a similarly gifted striker in Condit, Hendricks relied on his chin to absorb damage so he could get in close and attack.  He didn’t shut Condit down, he was able to land more consistently and land harder.  Getting St-Pierre to engage in a firefight like that is a near-impossibility.  Even with 25 minutes to work with, Hendricks will have to avoid getting desperate and focus on winning rounds if he cannot finish St-Pierre.

Lightweight Title Bout: TJ Grant (8-3 UFC, 21-5) v. Ben Henderson (7-0 UFC, 5-1 WEC, 18-2)

August 31, 2013 – UFC 164

How Grant got here:

…he went on a diet.  Fighting at 170, Grant had a respectable 3-3 record in the UFC, but there was no indication that he’d be challenging GSP anytime soon.  Changing weight classes is a popular move for fighters who appear to be stuck in a rut and it’s hard to name anyone who has made it work out better than Grant.  This wasn’t a big name moving down in the hopes of getting an immediate title shot.  No, Grant made the decision to jump into the increasingly deep lightweight waters.  The results speak for themselves: Five straight wins including a first round TKO of Gray Maynard, the only person to ever dispatch him that early.  He’s an exciting fighter and a proven finisher, leaving fans starving to see him test Henderson who has been criticized for being too safe.

Why Grant could win:

To understand why Henderson always seems to go to decisions, you have to look at his last few fights.  As great as Clay Guida, Edgar and Gilbert Melendez are, none of them are known for their finishing prowess (there was also Nate Diaz, but Henderson had an overwhelming physical advantage that he won’t have with the sizeable Grant).  If you know that your opponent doesn’t have the tools with which to put you away, it affords you certain luxuries.  Luxuries that Henderson won’t have against Grant.

This is not to say that Grant is necessarily better than the aforementioned names, only more likely to look for a finish.  The Maynard fight stands as proof.  Canadian MMA aficionado “Showdown” Joe Ferraro expressed his dismay at seeing his friend Grant willingly trade punches with Maynard.  One mistake and the fight easily could have gone the other way, but it is Grant’s temerity that has got him this far.  Don’t expect him to change his approach now that he’s this close to being the best in the world.

Why Grant could lose:

It’s a hard thing to quantify, but Henderson definitely seems to have the same gift as St-Pierre for attacking an opponent’s weaknesses.  This is likely why both men are maligned as “point fighters”.  I’ve never been a fan of using that term in a derogatory fashion because the last time I checked scoring points was how you won games.  Henderson wins games.

To draw another St-Pierre comparison, Henderson is unparalleled as an athlete in the lightweight division.  He’s incredibly strong and agile and he has an unlimited gas tank.  Grant has assured everyone that he normally trains for five round fights, but it’s an entirely different beast once you actually reach those championship periods.  Fighting Henderson can be a frustrating experience and Grant’s mental strength is going to be as important as his physical ones.  The last thing Grant wants is to go to the scorecards with Henderson, who has shown a knack for pulling out close decisions.

*****

As fun as it is to say, upsets are not contagious and the fall of Silva has no metaphysical impact on the rest of the title holders.  However, for the first time in a while you get the feeling that it wouldn’t be a surprise if the titles did change hands.  It remains to be seen if MMA will be like every other sport, with competitors being inextricably attached to each other in their respective eras: Spouting off names like Liddell-Ortiz-Couture or Minotauro-Cro Cop-Fedor or Silva-St-Pierre-Jones can conjure up unmistakeable images and provide timestamps for the most important events in this young sport.  Perhaps one of Gustafsson, Zombie, Hendricks or Grant will be the first to take their place in the world that’s coming.

The Ultimate Fighter 17: Team Jones v. Team Sonnen – Week 12 and Finale Recap

At 21 years old, Kelvin Gastelum was the youngest contestant ever on the American edition of The Ultimate Fighter (Patrick Iodice, a member of Australia’s TUF: The Smashes was 19).  He was the last pick of Team Sonnen.  His boyish admiration for Ronda Rousey made him seem more like an overachieving fan boy than a legitimate mixed martial arts prospect.  His character had a lot of negative hooks and nobody expected him to go on and win the whole thing but that’s exactly what Gastelum did.  In any other year, Gastelum would be the story.

But this was supposed to be the year of Uriah Hall.

Explosive.  Unique.  Handsome.  Complex.  Black.  Hall’s flashy kicks seemed to extend beyond the octagon and out of our television screens.  We’ve seen so many editions of TUF that we know better than to make too much out of any competitor’s success no matter how easily they dominated on the show (Mac Danzig, anyone?), but Hall was something else.  He wasn’t just knocking people out, he was doing it in new and unorthodox ways.  A spinning hook kick right on the button.  A one-shot cross while fading away.  Rapid fire strikes from bottom position.  It was like catching a hotshot rapper’s first mix tape.  Raw and undeniable.

So what happened?  Rewind to last Saturday, where two new stars were born.

*****

You won’t see me at the front of the women’s MMA bandwagon.  I fully support the legitimacy of the concept and I absolutely think that women have a place in the UFC, but I believe people need to be more realistic about their expectations.  Pat Barry recently said that the women’s fights are usually the most exciting fights on any card and while that may often be the case, it has as much to do with those fights being sloppy, undisciplined affairs as it does with top shelf martial arts acumen.

The Miesha Tate-Cat Zingano fight was a good one, worthy of the “Fight of the Night” award it would later win, but it was also an example of a contest being held to a different standard because of the gender of the competitors.  Not better or worse, but different.  One thing I’ve noticed in a lot of female fights is that the females are not as adept at maintaining dominant positions.  This negates the methodical grappling that casual fans have no interest in and leads to a lot of scrambles that translate into more action.  More action is always good, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of technique.  That is why champions like Rousey are such a valuable asset, as she steps into the cage and takes care of business even if it does come at the risk of making her opponents look overmatched (and thus, less marketable).  Women’s MMA is deservedly on the up and up, but let’s not pretend that it’s anywhere near the depth or skill level of the male ranks yet.

If I hear one more person criticize Dana White for not integrating the female’s earlier I might throw a hissy fit.  That’s right, a hissy fit.  He was quoted a couple of years ago as saying that women’s MMA just wasn’t ready for the big stage yet and now that he’s pushing it so hard some are calling him out as a hypocrite.  Isn’t it possible that a couple of years ago, women’s MMA wasn’t where it was today?  Tate, Zingano and Rousey were nowhere near the fighters they are now and they’ve undoubtedly improved every aspect of their game since then so why would White have been in any rush to start a women’s division before?  It’s especially befuddling when you consider that they were bringing in the 145 and 135 divisions around that time.  If anything, White’s timing couldn’t be better with several high profile prospects rounding into shape and, of course, the ascension of Rousey.

*****

It wasn’t the finals most were hoping for, but that’s about the only thing you could say was disappointing about this season of TUF.  With better production values, better fights, more compelling personalities, and less sophomoric hijinks, everything about this season kicked ass.  It might seem like the quality of the fights isn’t always something the show runners can control, but in the past they’ve sacrificed credentials in favour of controversy.  This season they were able to find a balance between guys who could bring it in the octagon and on the testimonial set.  There is nothing more compelling than the human drama surrounding the types of individuals who fight for a living and any other fluff only gets in the way of this basic narrative.  Sure, there comes a point where you’ve heard the same “hard times, hard man” origin one too many times, but this season the guys were able to back it up when the time came to throw down.

From Jon Jones’ initial misstep of sacrif…*ahem*…“matching up” Gilbert Smith with Luke Barnatt to Hall’s frenzy inducing annihilation of Adam Cella, you could tell early on that this was a special bunch.  They had to be to save this program from last year’s cast, the worst and most indistinguishable in TUF history.  The rest of the preliminary round was a mix of big names being exposed in front of a national audience (“Bubba” McDaniel and “King” Casey) and hard fought scraps that rendered the order of the fighter picks irrelevant.

All throughout the season, the theme stayed the same: who truly wants to win?  The focus was on the mental game, with Chael Sonnen seeming to have the magic touch when it came to pushing his team through various psychological obstacles.  Not to say that Jones was a bad coach, but his aloof persona and relative inexperience made it difficult for him to connect with his team on any meaningful level (the closest relationship on Team Jones was between Dylan Andrews and the older, wiser Stonehorse Goeman).  Jones is still in the “doing” phase of his career; the teaching will come to him eventually.

Hall was a fan and betting favourite every time he performed, but there were doubts swirling around Gastelum.  The experience of Bubba, the grinding attack of Collin Hart, the confidence of Josh Samman…all of it was supposed to be too much for the kid from Yuma.  He didn’t just survive these tests, he passed with flying colours.  Bubba and Samman got choked out, Hart suffered a sudden knockout and through it all Gastelum stayed humble and absorbed everything he could in his time in the house.  The show is designed for ratings and to push new faces for the UFC, but can you imagine how lucky these guys are to be worry about nothing but staying in shape and training with high level instructors for six weeks?  It might not be much fun, but Gastelum made the most of it.

Andrews fell to Hall as expected (though Andrews did not embarrass himself by any means), but Gastelum forgot to read the part where he was supposed to lose so that Hall and Samman could have their grudge match.  The two finalists ended up following a similar path to the finale, a decision win to get into the house followed by three straight finishes.  That fact didn’t do much to change the perception that Hall was the most unstoppable force ever to emerge from the TUF house.  Gastelum was pegged as a 3 to 1 underdog.

Not to take anything away from Gastelum, but Hall’s performance on Saturday was obnoxious.  It was as if all of our worst fears and assumptions about him were true.  He came out tentative, not looking to own the moment and then he started dancing around like Anderson Silva.  His gyrations made him look cocky and stupid.  He dropped his hands and backed himself up against the cage as Gastelum pressed onward.  Hall would later say that he was using the cage strategically, but all it did was give him less room to maneuver as Gastelum shot in and brought him down time and time again.  When the fight was standing, Hall had some nice stretches where the hype seemed warranted, but none of his trademark stuff landed and he just couldn’t sustain any offence.  Hall fought hard, but not smartly, making it easy for armchair corner men like myself to pick him apart.  He’ll be back and his name still has considerable buzz, but he needs to grow up and show what he can really do.

As for Gastelum, he did what he had done all season: attack, attack, attack.  It’s to his credit that he probably would have beaten even the best version of Hall.  The prevailing story going into the fight was Gastelum’s heart vs. Hall’s talent, but Gastelum showed that he’s got plenty of talent too.  He’s confident with his wrestling and he’s got power in his hands, a combination of attributes that has worked out well for many UFC stars.  He’s likely to drop down to welterweight, where he should fit right in with what is largely considered a wrestler’s division.  Gastelum might still not be the most talked about name, but I’m sure he’ll settle for a Harley, a fat contract and a tournament trophy from the best TUF season in ages.

*****

Other TUF 17 Finale thoughts:

  • Cole Miller saved his job with a submission win over Bart Palaszewski.  It seems like only yesterday that “Bartimus” was a top 10 featherweight, but the division got deep quickly and he will be looking for work elsewhere.
  • Okay, I think I should probably lower my expectations for Jimmy Quinlan at this point.
  • I’d lower my expectations for King and Gilbert Smith too, but I didn’t have any to begin with.
  • After having watched it a bunch of times, there’s no doubt that the last two elbows Travis Browne threw against Gabriel Gonzaga were illegal shots to the back of the head.  You could argue that they were inadvertent as Gonzaga had the misfortune of crumbling into their path, but they were illegal nonetheless.  As a Browne fan, I’d like to see the result stand but a change to a no-contest is more than reasonable.
  • I can’t be the only one who still looks forward to Urijah Faber fights.  We’re talking about a guy who has been the best or second best in whatever division he’s fought in for the better part of the last decade.  He has a high finishing rate and is nearly impossible to put away himself.  The only fights he’s lost are title fights and while one could argue he gets too many of those, who else should have them?  Faber is an all-time great and people should appreciate that while he’s around.

The Ultimate Fighter 17: Team Jones v. Team Sonnen – Week 11 Recap

I apologize for taking so long to post this.  I attended several Blue Jays games that threw my schedule off, so there’s my excuse for this week as opposed to every other week where these recaps are late for no good reason.

Team Colours:

Team Jones
Team Sonnen (actually black on the show, but blue for the purposes of this article)

The opening of the show reminds us that Dylan Andrews and Kevin Gastelum were the last picks from their respective teams, something that slipped my mind.  That oversight makes their quarterfinal wins even more remarkable.  It goes to show you just how high the level of competition was this year.

Shocker of shockers: Bubba McDaniel is complaining!  The editing on this show has not been kind to him as they always seem to show him doing nothing but sitting around instead of training.  It doesn’t help that he made it obvious how unhappy he was with the prospect of having to fight Uriah Hall.  In his defence, he has fought three times in a short period and he must be legitimately banged up.  Still, seeing him cry conspiracy (why would Dana White give a crap about him?) is just sad.  Bubba goes to get some blood work done to make sure there’s nothing seriously wrong with him and to nobody’s surprise, he’s only suffering from basic aches and pains.  There’s no ducking Hall.

There isn’t much hype for the Josh Samman/Jimmy Quinlan fight as Quinlan is one of the most well-liked housemates.  Samman says that it will be all business in the cage and he couldn’t sound more disinterested; for once, I agree with him.

As soon as the bell rings, Quinlan pushes forward and gets a high crotch.

Or as Kenny Florian calls it: a “high-C”.

The hold allows Quinlan to power Samman up into the air and down to the mat.  It looks like Quinlan was caught in the opening flurry as his nose is dripping blood.  An early arm bar attempt by Samman ends with him eating an elbow and a hammer fist, but he’s active from his back and I wonder if he’s taking the round like Luke Barnatt did last week.  Another showy slam helps Quinlan on the scorecards, but Samman is still doing most of the work.  Samman stays patient and explodes up before connecting with a couple of knees to the head.  He ends up on Quinlan’s back and…God help us Quinlan actually taps out to Samman’s stupid double fists.  Ugh.  I just hate him so much.

The first person to ever tap out to…*sigh*…”double fisting”.

I’m not sure whether it makes it better or worse that Quinlan admits to “quitting” in his post-match interview.  Honesty is the best policy?

In hyping the Bubba/Hall fight, an unfortunate sound bite sees Hall comparing his own mystique to that of Anderson Silva’s.  Luckily for all of us, Chael Sonnen swoops in later to save the day with another classic pep talk:

What they need is for you to beat you and athletes do it all the time.  They do it all the time…but it’s your choice.  You will choose to be confident or you will choose to concede and you know it, ‘cause you’ve done both.  So have I.

Gilbert Smith throws Bubba under the bus predicting that his teammate will get knocked out in 10 seconds!

For the third straight episode, the weigh-ins prove eventful as Sonnen again jokes about dropping the towel after his guy steps off the scale.  There’s an uncomfortable running gag.  The ensuing faceoff provides another significant moment:

Not in the face!

I, for one, thought that this was hilarious and a good sign that Bubba wasn’t too tense.  Plus, how else does one defend oneself from a Hadouken?  If anyone has any better ideas I’d love to hear them.  Jon Jones is bothered by the comical pose.  He thinks that Bubba is showing weakness.  Lighten up, coach.  It’s not like Bubba is actually going to get knocked out in 10 seconds.

Bubba gets knocked out in 9 seconds.  As soon as Bubba goes forward he’s hit with a hard knee to the chest (that may have also caught his chin) and a short right that puts him right down.  It’s amazing how much power Hall generated both backing up and with such little space to execute.  Carlos Condit is sitting with White and he looks genuinely disturbed.

When you can rattle a guy who goes by the nickname “The Natural Born Killer”, you know you’ve done something bad.

In a truly frightening scene, Bubba is lying on the floor asking “What’s wrong?” and “Why does my eye hurt?” while blood falls from his face (which turns out to just be a nosebleed).  He’s in good spirits the whole time, which is a relief.  Hall goes to apologize and Bubba laughs saying, “I would’ve done it to you.”  Of course, we all know there’s no way he would ever be able to do that to Hall.  White puts it best:

The way that this guy knocks people out, you don’t even want to clap.  You feel bad clapping.  It’s just vicious.  It’s quick.  It’s nasty.  This guy is the nastiest guy in “Ultimate Fighter” history.

A quick recap of the semi-final callouts:

  • Samman: Gastelum
    • he wants the biggest finale in TUF history and he knows that means facing Hall.  As much as I hate his assumption that he’ll win his next fight, he’s right about that
  • Andrews: don’t care
    • I’ve had too much s**t happen to me to worry about 15 minutes of fighting with these guys.
  • Hall: Samman
    • everyone is already aware that this is what Hall has wanted all season
  • Gastelum: Andrews
    • I think I can beat him.  Fair enough.

Both coaches decide they want to see Samman v. Hall and Andrews v. Gastelum, but White hilariously ignores them.  He sees where the money is and goes against the coaches’ preferences, betting on Samman and Hall being good enough set up what should be the most watched finale in ages.

Final note: the Hall meeting ended with the best, most inexplicable exchange of the season.

White: Hey…stay black.
Hall: I ain’t got no choice.

Alright fine, Uriah, we love you again.

Next week: The semi-finals are underway and as much as I like the underdogs, I bet most of us are hoping for Samman and Hall to come through, right?  I’m sad to see this season end.  It’s been a good one.

The Ultimate Fighter 17: Team Jones v. Team Sonnen Week – 10 Recap

It’s time for the quarterfinals meaning four fights in two weeks.  Normally this is where the show starts to lose its charm for me, but since this has been a season where the quality of the fights has matched the strength of the personalities, I’m actually looking forward to the upcoming episodes.

Team Colours:

Team Jones
Team Sonnen (actually black on the show, but blue for the purposes of this article)

I continue to have mixed feelings about “Bubba” McDaniel.  It’s admirable that he has a pragmatic view of fighting and the he understands how far winning the tournament would go towards setting his life in order.  However, his constant politicking and complaining makes it abundantly clear that he doesn’t see himself as a future champion in this sport.  He’s looking for a job and a paycheck, not a belt around his waist.  Mere moments after being told he’s fighting Uriah Hall, he’s back to complaining as usual and that should tell you everything you need to know about why it’s taken him this long to make it big.

A visit from Ronda Rousey has Kevin Gastelum choosing his words carefully as I’m sure he’s wary of the wrath of his girlfriend.  She shows up and proceeds to slap Gastelum around, much to the delight of his teammates.

I’d love to try this, even though I’d probably be unconscious or crippled seconds later.

They don’t show too much of the training session, maybe because of time constraints or not wanting to give too much away since she’ll be a coach on the next TUF season.  I also wonder if things might have been a little awkward, since I’ll bet most of these guys don’t have serious female training partners and they’re especially not used to taking instructions from one.  Tor Troéng definitely has a serious “women are good for serving ale and nothing else!” expression on his face, though I might just be thinking that because he looks like a Viking.

At the weigh-ins: Sweet, sweet blurred out genitalia.

The first fight between Gastelum and Collin Hart is a thriller…all 30 seconds of it anyway.  Hart lives up to his reputation, coming forward non-stop at Gastelum and pushing the action to the cage.  Gastelum is not shaken in the slightest and a furious exchange ends with Hart getting rocked and face planting:

It kind of looks like Hart is demonstrating the worm.

The funny thing is that Hart’s technique actually looks better, but Gastelum has got that power.  Hart partially regains consciousness, but he’s unable to defend himself from a huge hammer fist and Steve Mazzagatti gets in there for the save.  Thankfully, Gastelum had already stopped himself.  It’s another impressive victory for the youngest guy on the show.  The power of Ronda compels him!

Before the next fight, we learn a little more about Dylan Andrews and his close relationship with Team Jones kickboxing instructor Stonehorse Goeman.  The two bond over their tribal heritage and you can tell it’s benefitting their training sessions as well.  Andrews says that Goeman represents a father figure he never had.  Just after Andrews steps into the cage for his match with Luke Barnatt, there’s a nice shot of Goeman showing Andrews a picture of his family to remind him what he’s fighting for.

I suppose it’s worth mentioning that Mike Tyson makes an appearance, which I believe is the second time he’s been on TUF.

The first significant action sees Andrews landing a quick 1-2 and using that execute a takedown.  It’s an interesting reversal as Barnatt had considered himself to be the superior of the two on the ground and he had planned to bring the action down.  Andrews holds on tight and scores a second takedown when Barnatt goes for a judo trip (maybe too much Ronda…).  Throughout all of this, Barnatt is super active off of his back and it’s possible that he is winning from the bottom.  Andrews rolls for a guillotine, but it’s not tight enough and Barnatt gets back up again.  It’s a tough round to score with Barnatt looking good on the feet and off his back, but Andrews had positional dominance.  I gave Andrews a narrow 10-9 round.

Andrews gets in close over and over again and lands some thudding body shots.  Both men approach the second round like they might have lost the first and that leads to some fantastic work.  In the blink of an eye, Barnatt rips Andrews off the cage and falls on top of him and into full mount.  The British giant is showing off his cardio.  Andrews surprises me by having enough in the tank to reverse and get into Barnatt’s guard.  Barnatt needs to get up, but Andrews manages to stay on top despite lacking consistent ground and pound.  I thought Andrews took that round too, but apparently Barnatt did win one and we’re treated to a 3rd round.  Andrews’ corner shows him the picture of his family again.

Barnatt still looks good, but he’s allowing way too many hard shots to get through.  Andrews is relentless and looks like he’s almost in tears as he unloads a final volley of punches that give Herb Dean no choice but to call off the fight.  This was an emotional one and I’m not going to lie, it got dusty in my house by the end.  Best fight of the season so far.

Next week: Josh Samman v. Jimmy Quinlan and Bubba v. Hall.  I’m taking Quinlan and Hall.  Two more for the bad guys.

The Ultimate Fighter 17: Team Jones v. Team Sonnen – Week 9 Recap

With the wildcard matchup this week between “Bubba” McDaniel and “King” Casey, let us take a look at the brief history of the second chance:

  • TUF 11 (Liddell v. Ortiz): The debut of the wildcard means two less fighters in the house, which is a practical choice as a smaller cast should give us more time to learn and care about them: Unfortunately, this cast is horrible.  They were also snake-bitten and a multitude of injuries leads to journeyman Kyacey Uscola and one-dimensional Kris McCray being “chosen” for the wildcard spot.  I’ll give McCray credit for having to fight five times and making it all the way to the finals.
  • TUF 12 (St-Pierre v. Koscheck): Koscheck picks his boy Marc Stevens, who lost by guillotine choke to Cody McKenzie in the 1st round.  He’s confident that it was a fluke and that Stevens will blow through his next opponent.  Stevens proceeds to lose to Aaron Wilkinson by guillotine choke.
  • TUF 13 (Lesnar v. dos Santos): Chuck O’Neil and Javier Torres are the wildcard selections and I remember the circumstances as much as you do.

You can see why they ditched the concept until this season, where the circumstances lined up perfectly for a long awaited grudge match.  Bubba and King came into the show with storied reputations and they deserve a shot at redemption.

Team Colours:

Team Jones
Team Sonnen (actually black on the show, but blue for the purposes of this article)

Like many fighters looking to catch a break, Bubba has had to sacrifice time with his daughter to train with Greg Jackson in Albuquerque.  His 8 year old daughter is back in Texas.  The kind of money that comes with fighting in the UFC would not only provide financial security, but a chance for him to come home.  I sometimes wonder if these pressures that fighters put on themselves can get in the way of performing at their best.  I know there’s no greater motivation than money and love and family, but those can just as soon weigh you down as raise you up.

Jon Jones does a great job restoring Bubba’s confidence, telling him that he’s been one of his toughest sparring partners and that he trains with him to prepare for the best in the world.  Bubba’s face is etched with a mixture of concern and determination.  You can tell he’s still feeling the pressure.

Back at the house, Josh Samman calls out Jimmy Quinlan in a half-joking manner that turns into a serious suggestion.  Luke Barnatt wants to prepare Quinlan for when the coaches ask him why he wants to fight Samman and Quinlan makes a dreadful “expert fisherman” joke.  See, Samman’s name sounds just like…ah, forget it.  Everyone knows that Samman is picking Quinlan because his wrestling-based attack doesn’t seem like it would cause too much wear and tear to his quarterfinal opponent.  In other words, Samman is already looking ahead to the next round, which is just plain dumb.

A glimpse into a Team Sonnen training session sees Uriah Hall begging Quinlan to let him have Samman.  Hall had pegged Samman as his nemesis from their earliest encounters.  Quinlan says he wants to see Hall beat up Samman too.

Meanwhile, King is forced to wear a pretty scary looking mask to protect his cuts during practice.  He refers to his first performance as a “fluke”, which is…questionable.  If you assume you didn’t really do anything wrong when you fail, how are you going to improve?

Can we add kendo to MMA?

This week’s episode was filmed during Thanksgiving, which is a joyous occasion for everyone in the house…except the two dudes who have to stay on weight.  Chael Sonnen steps up with a speech (surprise, surprise) and he explains how he was disappointed to find out how much he ended up liking Jones.  The love-fest between the two is repulsive.  Thankfully, Bubba gives a blistering testimonial about how much Thanksgiving sucks when you can’t eat and you’re with a bunch of strangers.  His spite more than makes up for any gratuitous friendship.

The next day, King needs to strip behind a towel to make weight (someone snuck in an extra slice of turkey methinks) and he warns them not to drop it or everyone will be scarred for life.  Sonnen kindly offers to help him put his pants back on after, but King takes care of it himself.

That could have been awkward.

King never got off in his fight with Collin Hart, but he gets to show off his BJJ expertise in the first round with Bubba.  He takes advantage of Bubba’s aggressiveness and pulls guard right out of the gate.  They move back to the feet, but King maintains the clinch and trips Bubba down.  He soundly out-grapples Bubba, though neither man seems interested in throwing strikes from any position.  Someone says that Bubba has given up and he has a worried look on his face, but he does manage to battle back.  King trips him again and secures a 10-9 round.

The second round starts out well for Bubba, with King looking fatigued (which was a huge issue against Hart).  Bubba’s corner implores him to break away from clinches, but he manages to end up on top and he starts scoring points.  A fierce downward elbow knocks out King’s mouthpiece.  Bubba just brutalizes King from inside his guard and he gets a dominant 10-9 round.  It looks like we’re going to a third round, but King can barely get up on his own.  He fails to answer the bell and Bubba is awarded a $5,000 finishing bonus (though he has to confirm it with Dana White).  As King is put in an ambulance, he mentions that he might be experiencing kidney failure, something that happened to him during a match in 2010.  Sounds like King needs to work on having healthier weight cuts.

The elimination round is over and it’s time to decide the quarterfinal match-ups!  Here’s a brief rundown of who called out whom:

  • Bubba: Jimmy Quinlan or Luke Barnatt
  • Quinlan: Bubba
  • Andrews: Barnatt
  • Barnatt: Bubba or Andrews
  • Gastelum: Hart
  • Hart: Hall
  • Hall: Samman
  • Samman: Quinlan

And the announced matches:

  • Collin Hart v. Kevin Gastelum
  • Dylan Andrews v. Luke Barnatt
    • UK versus New Zealand!  The Smashes redux!  Thank you Dana!
  • Josh Samman v. Jimmy Quinlan
    • Hall is NOT happy with this decision
  • Bubba McDaniel v. Uriah Hall
    • Bubba doesn’t seem too happy either

Hall is NOT happy with the decision.  Bubba doesn’t look too excited either.

Next week: Two fight episode with Hart v. Gastelum and Andrews v. Barnatt.  I’m picking Gastelum and Barnatt.  Also, Ronda Rousey!

The Ultimate Fighter 17: Team Jones v. Team Sonnen – Week 8 Recap

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 Colours:

Team Jones
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.

This could have been taken from the set of a “Final Destination” film.

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!

I didn’t know I had a thing for hard hats until now.

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.

The Ultimate Fighter 17: Team Jones v. Team Sonnen – Week 7 Recap

Hooters.  It’s what’s for dinner.

Team Colours:

Team Jones
Team Sonnen (actually black on the show, but blue for the purposes of this article)

The group gets treated to an outing at the world’s most well endowed restaurant chain and even for the guys with wives or girlfriends it has to be a breath of fresh air.  Still, to go from a house full of dudes to a place filled with voluptuous women almost seems like it could be dangerous.  It’s like when the people on Survivor finally get to eat a huge meal after nibbling on plain rice for weeks.  They always overdo it and end up nearly exploding.  I’m not sure what the equivalent would be in this scenario and perhaps it is best if we don’t think about it too much.

In a shameless attempt to boost ratings, the show also threw in a gratuitous strip tease:

The most impressive chest in the room.

They do an outstanding job of conveying (manufacturing?) the drama around Uriah Hall.  Last week’s episode was all about him, but they follow up with a subtle scene where he chooses not to take a picture with the other guys after dinner.  Whether it’s because he’s some sort of prude or he has truly given up on being part of the group, it’s a strong image.  They are not doing anything to protect Hall’s character, which is fine because he’s become a polarizing figure.  He’s someone who you want to watch for all the right reasons.  This is a stark contrast to the usual “controversial TUF house member”, who is usually a loud, obnoxious drunk devoid of any real personality or talent that only exists to provide meaningless conflict.  Love him or hate him, Hall seems like a genuine person experiencing serious conflict.

After winning last week, Josh Samman begins to suffer from severe leg pains and a trip to the hospital is in order.  Every season features at least one or two episodes with an injury scare and it’s a stark reminder how well conditioned and lucky these contestants have to be to be able to compete in this tournament with little rest between fights.  When you look at the layoff fighters regularly get when they reach the major leagues (3-4 months), competing multiple times in the same month is almost miraculous.  I can only remember one season being seriously derailed by injuries (TUF 11: Liddell v. Ortiz).  Other than that, the majority of fighters have been able to stay healthy and thankfully that turns out to be the case with Samman.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the part where Clint Hester is pretending to ride the model Harley they have in the house.  Gilbert Smith walks up and starts beat boxing, explaining “This is where your song starts.”  Hester says Smith is going “too fast” and Smith immediately switches up to a slower, more methodical beat that transitions perfectly into a musical pick up by the show.  It’s a neat bit of programming.

This week’s inspirational Chael Sonnen speech revolves around positivity and enthusiasm.  With a few simple words, he derails the cliché “striker v. grappler” narrative, saying that it doesn’t matter if Jimmy Quinlan gets caught by a hard punch from Hester.  Too often do we see grapplers being told to play it safe and stick to the game plan, but Sonnen (who has decried the importance of game planning in the past) alleviates any worries that his team might have about Quinlan getting hit with a lucky strike:

Do you have a problem being hit in the middle of a fist fight?  Do you have a problem being hurt in the middle of a fist fight?  Then why do we keep bringing it up?  He’s gonna get hit and it’s gonna get hurt but he’s gonna stay on his feet and he’s gonna take care of business anyway!

Can we get a calendar full of Chael Sonnen quotes made, please?  You hear me, Zuffa?  Take my money!

I’ll never have a problem with athletes showing good sportsmanship and getting along, but one criticism I do have of TUF 17 is that the fighters might have gotten too friendly.  It’s not a bad thing and it’s always fun to see that two guys who get into a cage to fight are not necessarily out to murder each other, but at the same time it can lead to some flat encounters.  Hester and Quinlan are so buddy-buddy that they cannot get the smiles off of their faces during the post-weigh-in faceoff.  This does lead to a nice moment on fight day where Quinlan accuses Hester of using a bowl with his name on it and then challenging him to brawl down by the monkey bars.  It’s the kind of self-aware moment you rarely see on TUF.

Feel…the…HATE

Unfortunately for Team Jones, the fight goes exactly as Sonnen expected and Quinlan is able to take the fight to the mat within seconds.  Hester is a superb athlete and he’s able to get up more than once, but Quinlan is stuck to him like a backpack.  To Hester’s credit, both coaches note that he’s able to generate an unusual amount of power from some normally disadvantageous positions and that he might even have won the first round despite spending time on his back.  It becomes a moot point as Quinlan opens up the second with another takedown, eventually advancing to mount and then taking the back and finishing with a rear naked choke.

Team Sonnen regains control, but there’s only one possible match left.  It’s probably better that way since almost every fight the coaches picked ended up with the guy from their team losing (only Hall was victorious after being picked by Sonnen).

Next week: Zak Cummings against the last overall pick, Dylan Andrews.  Cummings calls Andrews the nicest person he’s ever met.  Somehow I don’t think that’s going to stop him from punching his face off.

The Ultimate Fighter 17: Team Jones v. Team Sonnen – Week 6 Recap

We’re halfway through the first round and I have to say I am thoroughly enjoying this season so far.  The coaches are better, the fighters are better and the show just looks better.  Making it through last season was a chore, but TUF 17 has been a delight so far.  Better get on with it before I jinx the whole thing.

Team Colours:

Team Jones
Team Sonnen (actually black on the show, but blue for the purposes of this article)

“Bubba” McDaniel congratulates Chael Sonnen on coaching Kevin Gastelum to a big win and it’s nice to see both teams continue to carry themselves with such class and digni…

Wait a minute…what?

This week’s theme is team unity.  Everyone on Team Sonnen seems to be getting along, with Luke Barnatt showing a lot of support for Tor Troéng, his fellow overlooked European.  Of course, there are always exceptions and we see Uriah Hall’s frustrations (which have been hinted at all season) boil over.  The prohibitive favourite keeps putting his foot in his mouth leading to clashes with just about everyone in the house.  He does not like to be corrected and anytime someone takes that tone with him he takes it as a sign of great disrespect.  Unfortunately, instead of working this out in a mature way he chooses instead to lash out with awkward insults.  At a Team Jones campfire gathering, he asks Adam Cella: “Is your girl like a bitch like you?”

I should mention that the only reason he was hanging out with the Jones’ is because his own team had enough of his attitude.  A heated sparring session the previous day put him on Barnatt’s s**t-list and the situation is exacerbated when Hall says he’d like to fight “Bigs” in response to a question from Gilbert Smith.  Even though he was just being honest about who would be a good match-up for him, it still comes off as incredibly rude to even mention fighting a teammate when the squads have been so tightly knit this season.  “King” Casey refuses to let Hall have the last word and I’m reminded why I’m so happy that there are four black guys on the show to escalate these disagreements.

Both teams agree that Hall has been transparent in his desire to be on Team Jones and that he should have stuck by his comments after he made them.  His reaction to being criticized is not to defend his viewpoint, but to say that he shouldn’t have spoken up in the first place.  Weak.  He also can’t handle playful banter, instead taking every minor remark as a grave insult.  When pressed on it, he keeps going back to how he was teased as a child, an excuse that is quickly losing credibility.  Cella has the most disturbing observation: It’s almost like he was trying to bully us.

Hall also has this annoying habit of punctuating his testimonials with the same finger snap every time.  I think even I’m starting to hate him now.

Like…THAT

From day one, I thought that Josh Samman had the potential to be an overbearing dick and if this episode is any indication, he’s following through on that front.  There’s just something about the things he says and does that make him seem arrogant.  Watching him lead backyard training sessions as if he’s king s**t doesn’t sit well with me or some of his teammates.  Still, I respect him a lot for putting in the effort to motivate the team and for his own personal triumph over a potentially life altering injury.  It helps that the dude is also a great fighter.

Troéng’s narrative revolved around him being technically sound and Sonnen prophetically laments not being able to figure out his weaknesses so they can fix them.  Come fight time, Troéng is too methodical and he seems a step behind Samman in every way.  He listens to Sonnen’s instructions, but in the middle of the fight if you have the time to listen to everything your corner says, you’re probably not being aggressive enough.  Troéng lowers his hands at the wrong moment and Samman smacks him with a big left-right combination that knocks him out cold.  You know that Hall is dying to face Samman in the next round.

Guess that pre-fight full body massage wasn’t enough:

Barnatt: And people say wrestlers are gay…

Next week: Team Jones’ no. 1 pick Clint Hester faces off with grappling champion Jimmy Quinlan.  Quinlan is one of my sleepers and I’m not giving Jones anymore undue credit.  Go with the upset pick.