The Ultimate Fighter 17: Team Jones v. Team Sonnen – Week 5 Recap

I’ll admit that I bought into all of the “Bubba” McDaniel hype.  He has a sturdy professional record and a history with Jon Jones that suggested his involvement with this reality show was strictly a formality.  He was due for a UFC contract and while he might not win the whole thing, he definitely wasn’t going out in the first round especially to a nobody like Kelvin Gastelum, right?

Team Colours:

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

Jones and Chael Sonnen continue to be chummy and I can’t help but feel that this is all part of Sonnen’s plan.  I don’t think he has a chance in hell of beating Jones (and the pessimist in me fears an injury derailing the match altogether), but I’ll be damned if he isn’t taking an interesting approach to the whole thing.  As the saying goes: “Keep your friends close and keep your enemies closer.”

You could argue that the show was forecasting an upset with testimonials from both sides emphasizing how heavily the fight is weighted in Bubba’s favour.  Still, I’ve seen this kind of build before and it can go either way.  Editing the show is a delicate balancing act as you have to be even-handed, but you also have a lot of control over audience expectation; thus, the editing team has the power to influence how we perceive the fights and the fighters themselves.  This week’s narrative is obviously that of the plucky Gastelum challenging the veteran Bubba.

We get a game of charades to fulfill the entertainment portion of the episode.  It comes off as tame (much like the previous weeks’ freestyle battle), but I still prefer these forced team bonding sessions over the traditional TUF pranks.  I’m not sure if this group is more mature or if the producers just told them to avoid the usual in-house dumb-assery, but seeing people having fun and actually getting along is refreshing.

The fighter hype further conveys the divide between Bubba and Gastelum, with Bubba being a full-time fighter and Gastelum carrying the responsibility of a full-time job along with his MMA dreams.  It’s hard not to like the kid, who seems to have made a lot of sacrifices for someone who’s only 21 years old.

On the coaching front, Sonnen continues to deliver.  He shares a simple, but effective parable with his team:

On fight day, the only thing that changes is the environment.  If I was to give you guys an example, there was a very famous study done.  This gentleman brings in a long 2×4.  He sets the 2×4 down and has a group like this and he asks random people to walk the 2×4 heel to toe.  So they lay the 2×4 on the mat, everybody gets up and they walk it like it’s no big thing, right?  Big deal.  He brings in two big step ladders.  He hangs the 2×4 across the ladders and he asks them “Who’s ready to walk it?”  Nobody raises their hand.  The environment changed, but the act doesn’t.

They really couldn’t have picked a better coach for this new format.  Everything is portrayed as more dramatic, more cinematic and there’s no better actor in the UFC than Chael Sonnen.  He’s the Christoph Waltz of TUF.  Whether or not he actually believes in the things he says and does, he creates compelling television and that is more valuable to this program than anything.

Josh Samman continues to play the politician, letting everybody know about his aches and pains to manoeuvre himself into a more favourable match.  Team Jones seems to catch on and while they encourage communication, they can see that he might be taking things too far.  I don’t like Samman.

Then Mickey Rourke showed up.  I…I don’t know what to say.  I’m assuming he’s a Vegas regular so it’s not too much trouble for him to show up and he is a humble and appreciative guest, but I’m still not sure what the point of this segment is.  They wisely choose to show the testimonials of the fighters who can relate to Rourke’s struggles and not the ones that said Why the f**k is Mickey Rourke here?

Earlier in the episode, Sonnen pulled some strings to get Gastelum a call from one of his favourite fighters, UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey.  Even though he has a girlfriend, he was still giddy at getting to talk to her especially after she promised to train with Team Sonnen if he managed to beat Bubba.  That might explain why Gastelum attacked Bubba like a wild dog.  Bubba definitely has skills, but Gastelum stuck to a simple game plan and just kept going after his opponent until he was able to secure a tight rear naked choke.

Probably a good time to tap out.

There is no question that Rousey’s call boosted Gastelum’s spirits, which goes to show that not only can you fight with an erection, it can actually improve your performance.

Next week: Mouthy Samman takes on silent, but deadly Tor Troéng.  Won’t say who I’m rooting for here.

The Ultimate Fighter 17: Team Jones v. Team Sonnen – Week 4 Recap

Wit the internet buzzing about Uriah Hall’s spin kick last week, “King” Kevin Casey and Collin Hart, have a tough act to follow.

Team Colours:

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

As if to assuage everyone’s concerns, we open on Adam Cella returning to the house, seemingly none the worse for wear.  On the one hand, he apparently didn’t feel a thing; on the other hand, shouldn’t everyone be worried that he didn’t feel a thing?  According to Cella, he doesn’t even remember fighting.  His brain got shut down hard and while it’s good to see him in his usual high spirits, the lack of recognition is troubling in and of itself.  He goes to find Uriah Hall in the shower to congratulate him and let him know that he’s okay.  The whole sequence is not awkward or gay at all.

Even stranger: Cella still wearing the hospital gown

In the kitchen, King discusses the virtues of fighting early despite the cut he suffered in the preliminary round.  If he gets a win out of the way early, it will give him more time to heal.  It’s a reasonable theory, but you have to wonder if Team Sonnen might be playing themselves in their attempts to get into “Bubba” McDaniel’s head.

Speaking of McDaniel, he continues to strategize, this time drawing the ire of Aussie Dylan Andrews.  The discussion is mirrored on Team Sonnen, with Tor Troéng explaining the pointlessness of stressing over match-ups.  This is a prominent theme this season: Who is looking for more television time and who is fighting to be amongst the best of the best in this sport?

Hart is depicted as being the quiet type, which he understands can be off-putting to those around him.  Team Jones strategy for him revolves around getting in close with King and making the fight ugly.  At first, that might seem to favour King who is a Gracie Jiu-Jitsu black belt, but Jon Jones is convinced that King’s inflated physique won’t be able to go the distance with Hart.  He couldn’t have thought of this when he was matching up poor Gilbert Smith with Luke Barnatt?

Fun and games ensue when some of the more, *ahem*, “urban-inclined” members of the house hold engage in an impromptu freestyle session.  Word gets out that King is a budding rapper, which all but forces Smith to step to him.  King fires back and as he disses Smith, the self-proclaimed “Gigantor” does some weird (sexy?) dancing.  Clint Hester tries to get in on it but he chokes badly.  Cella jokes that he didn’t want to jump in and embarrass anyone.  In truth, none of them are that good so Cella would have fit right in.

Less amusing is the first official prank of the season.  The power goes out in the house and King has the oh-so-clever suggestion to drape toilet paper over the sleeping members of Team Jones.  Someone throws the roll instead, which only serves to awaken the fighters from their precious rest.  Hart is deeply perturbed and when King goes to shake his hand at the weigh-ins, Hart flips him off.  The move starts a scuffle between the two teams.  Hall is particularly insulted and he expresses his disappointment back at the house, which Hart could care less about.  King tries to play it cool, but respect is a huge issue with him and you can tell it’s eating at him.

The actual fight is uneventful.  Hart comes out with some crazy flying crap…

Not exactly the stuff viral gifs are made out of

…and follows up the unorthodox maneuver with a strong single leg.  He has King down within seconds.  The fighters stay close throughout the first round, with Hart scoring frequently with short punches, elbows and knees in the clinch.  Near the end of the first and the beginning of the second, King has some success with his hands.  You can see he has some power, but he lacks confidence and continuity.  His first instinct is always to grapple and while that might work against most opponents, it’s exactly the wrong thing to do against the relentless Hart.  Hart opens up another cut and then pounds on King from top position for the remainder of the period.  After taking the decision, Hart coolly walks over to a treadmill and goes for a jog.  That’s how you show somebody up.

Next week: Bubba finally gets to fight and Team Jones picks on Kevin Gastelum (the youngest American TUF participant ever).  It looks to be a huge mismatch in both size and experience, but stranger things have happened.

The Ultimate Fighter 17: Team Jones v. Team Sonnen – Week 3 Recap

Here’s what I wrote about Uriah Hall after episode 1:

“Hall comes into the competition with a reputation as an exciting, dynamic striker and with luck this opportunity could lead to him becoming a breakout star in the UFC.”

If this week’s episode is any indication, the UFC doesn’t have to worry about him not doing his part.

Team Colours:

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

Still no fighter introductions in the opening, so I guess that’s how it’s going to be this season.

All of the talk surrounds the match-up of Hall and Adam Cella, which everyone expects to be a barnburner.  Both men are known for their stand-up, which excites Cella.  He tries to hype up the fight, looking for confirmation from Hall that they’ll remain standing but Hall plays it cool.  It’s a friendly exchange, but you can tell the Cella is nervous and Hall is all business.

“Bubba” McDaniel and Josh Samman have emerged as the collective mouthpiece of Team Jones.  Speaking of which, it’s Samman’s smart mouth that creates some tension when he inadvertently offends Hall.  Hall describes Tor Troeng as a “professional cooker”, to which Samman replies “you mean ‘chef’”?  The seemingly innocent comment brings back memories of youthful inadequacy for Hall, who had trouble fitting in when he moved here from Jamaica.  He threateningly squeezes an orange, vowing to eventually call out Samman.  If that whole segment seemed silly, it was, but the best athletes can use even the tiniest perceived slight for motivation.

“King” Kevin Casey is still fuming over Bubba challenging him last time.  King says Bubba wanting to exploit a fresh cut over his eye makes him look weak.  The story continues later in the episode and Jimmy Quinlan is tired of it.  He indirectly calls King a coward, echoing the sentiment that I wrote about before: If you’re here to win, you fight anyone!  I knew there was a reason I liked Quinlan.

Back to Cella and Hall, it’s fascinating how differently the two men view the possibility of losing.  Cella says that he has nothing to worry about.  He has a job waiting for him back home, a life outside of fighting.  Hall says that he has nothing outside of fighting and thus, everything to gain from winning this tournament.  Both view their situations as a positive.

The show does an excellent job of spotlighting the two coaches, with Jon Jones offering sound advice on – what else? – doing damage with elbows and later visiting his team at the house.  Chael Sonnen has an emotional talk with Hall about confidence.  Say what you want about the man, but whatever role he’s asked to take on he embraces it.  In this case, he provides advice and support in such a way that you believe he genuinely cares about the success of his fighters.  Hall seems to sense that and he’s moved by Sonnen’s words.

In a testimonial, Sonnen offers a compelling theory on dealing with failure:

When doubt seeps in, you’ve got two roads.  You can take either road.  You can go to the left or you can go to the right and believe me, they’ll tell you that failure is not an option.  That is ridiculous!  Failure is always an option.  Failure is the most readily available option at all times, but it’s a choice.  You can choose to fail or you can choose to succeed…failure is always there and it’s okay to recognize that.

Another thing I noticed: Frank Mir is one laid back dude.  From the footage we see, it looks like he’s always able to find a comfortable spot to sit on his ass and coach with minimal effort.  He’s coached on the show before, so only having to be an assistant must be pretty sweet for him.

Chillaxin’ with his hand on his dick, like he do.

Meanwhile, Sonnen continues to manage the delicate ego of Hall.  He tells him to envision adversity as well as triumph.  For someone as gifted as Hall, it looks like Sonnen is pushing all the right buttons.

The fight itself is a good one, with Cella coming forward and attacking with no fear.  It’s a smart strategy and he gets his shots in, but there’s one problem: Hall looks completely calm.  Everything he does is faster, crisper, and harder hitting.  Cella gets knocked down twice by push kicks to the body and Hall is well ahead on the scorecards going in to the final minute.  It looks like this is going to a second round, but at the sound of the ten second clapper Cella pauses.  In that brief window, Hall executes a gorgeous spinning wheel kick that demolishes the right side of Cella’s face.  It’s a no-doubter and Hall proceeds to celebrate: as my cousin Derek pointed out, Hall did indeed throw a fireball and yell “Hadouken!”

Hall apologizes when he sees the damage done, but everyone accepts that this is the fight business and there’s no hard feelings from Cella (who can’t recall what happened anyway).  “You just stole my money!”  Luke Barnatt says to Hall, “No one’s beating that.”  Dana White has to go and congratulate the winner, pointing out that it’s the kind of finish you want to celebrate, but not too much because of how bad it looked for the loser.  Despite the brutal outcome, fight fans everywhere should celebrate the technique demonstrated by Hall.  Frankly, I haven’t seen a reality TV show contestant give ‘em something to talk about like this since Sanjaya Malakar. Yeah, I went there!

Sonnen picks Collin “The Dick” Hart to fight King Casey next week, sticking it to Bubba.  With match-ups that are both favourable to themselves and frustrating for the other team, the Sonnen-ites (?) are in complete control.

I leave you with this question: Are ring girls really necessary when there’s no actual audience?

Next week: Who cares?  How about that f**kin’ kick?!?

The Ultimate Fighter 17: Team Jones v. Team Sonnen – Week 2 Recap

I nearly killed myself recapping two editions of The Ultimate Fighter at once last year, so being able to focus on a single season will be a welcome change.  Let’s get right into it.

Team Colours:

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

The first thing I noticed is that the intro didn’t include the fighters themselves.  The opening sequence is short and to the point, but counterproductive to building up these names (which is something they did a superb job with last week).  After that we get a standard scene of the fighters excitedly entering the house.  That’s always fun to see since you know they’ll be cursing the place and tearing it down by episode 6.  Even with its glossy look, the show is falling into its old trappings.

Gilbert Smith is the focal point of the episode, immediately revealing himself as the sensitive one by suggesting that the others build him up with positive reinforcement after a difficult training session.  This is like telling the other inmates that you have the softest butt cheeks in the penitentiary.  The members of Team Jones (specifically “Bubba” McDaniel and Josh Samman) have no sympathy for him, especially after he confides in Adam Cella about his doubts and what he fights for.  He starts crying and Cella later reports this to the team, making them even more down on Smith.  That is cold.

Team Sonnen seems a lot more relaxed, especially Smith’s opponent, no. 1 overall pick Luke Barnatt.  There isn’t much to say here as Barnatt is the opposite of Smith: Calm, laid-back and as he tells it, a “natural” when it comes to MMA.  It still boggles my mind that Jon Jones chose to pit the shortest guy with the worst cardio on his team against Barnatt, the tallest guy with maybe the best cardio in the house.

The theme of this week’s episode was competitiveness; not only in regards to Smith’s performance, but also how the fighters approach the show itself.  It makes perfect sense that you would want to manufacture a favourable match-up, but I hate seeing guys complain about fight picks.  If you’re on the show, aren’t you in it to win the whole thing?  You should be capable of beating anybody.  If you’re just looking for as much TV time as possible, then you’re in the wrong place.  Putting all the blame on Jones and Smith for possibly costing them control of the picks is weak.  The show drives this point home when Chael Sonnen tells Uriah Hall that he’s one of his favourites to win the whole thing.  Sonnen wants to formulate a plan to get him an easy path to the finals, leading to this exchange:

Hall: If it was up to me I’ll take out all their big guys first.
Sonnen: Oh, really?
Hall: Yeah!  I’ll take out Bubba…Josh…
Sonnen: Right away?
Hall: I’ll take ‘em out first.
Sonnen: Really?
Hall: F**k yeah!  Why not?
Sonnen: You’re the man.

See the difference?

Even worse, when the team confronts Smith about his problems in the locker room, they pretty much just pile on without offering any useful criticism.  The fight can’t be changed so what is the point?  Jones and his staff eavesdrop and wait until it’s over before going in to assure Smith that they still believe in him.  It’s not the most rousing speech.

Unintentionally comedic/homoerotic moment of the week: As Smith stepped up to the scale for the weigh-in, Jones hooted “Yeah, look at that muscle, baby.  Yeah.”  There’s no tone, inflection or context that could make that any less gay.  Smith plays along by striking a bodybuilding pose, which draws a laugh from everyone.

A completely unrelated picture of me with my shirt off.

The fight itself is poor, with Smith executing a one-dimensional game plan comprised of takedown attempt after takedown attempt.  The problem is that his shot is slow and his clinch work is limited.  When Smith is successful, Barnatt is able to repeatedly get up and reverse, ending up in top position.  Smith doesn’t fare better in the striking department, with Barnatt outpointing him for the majority of the action.  That’s going to happen when your opponent is 9 inches taller than you.  Team Jones’ fears come to fruition as Smith fades in the middle of the 2nd round.  Looking exhausted, he sloppily shoots and Barnatt finishes him with a knee to the skull.  It is perfectly timed and Barnatt gets to take a comfortable victory lap around the octagon.

After the fight, McDaniel tries to shake things up in a transparent attempt to keep control by calling out Kevin Casey.  Casey pegs the act as disrespectful and I’m inclined to agree.  In the locker room, we get more tears from Smith as he goes out Andy Wang-style.

Next week: Hall takes on Cella and we get the hard sell with the show promising an insane knockout.  Get yo’ popcorn ready!

The Ultimate Fighter 17: Team Jones v. Team Sonnen – Week 1 Recap

I’ve got a bunch of column ideas bouncing around my skull, but as one of the last proud, card carrying fans of The Ultimate Fighter I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer a few thoughts on the season 17 premiere.  After all, they’ve brought out the big guns for this one: Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen are two proven draws and even though the basis for the match-up is farcical at best, it’s exactly the kind of scenario that can bring in casual fans and even appeal to the morbid curiosity of hardcore fans.  After my initial viewing, I can happily say that the show has made some aesthetically pleasing changes and, cliché as it sounds, if you were ever looking for a time to jump back into TUF, this is it.

The testimonials no longer have that low-rent, generic reality TV feel, having been abandoned in favour of rich, film-quality close-ups.  There’s a determined effort to make the show look more like their Primetime series and I can tell you that that effort is appreciated.  On a completely racist note, is it a bad sign that I’m already having trouble telling most of the generic white dudes apart?

Sonnen enters the gym in top form; walking up to Jones and talking to him like their old friends as if hasn’t spent the last two months denigrating his character.  Normally I wouldn’t support Sonnen’s act, but there’s something about his psychotic two-facedness that is disturbingly impressive.  Jones, to his credit, is cordial but not buying into that shtick for a second.

Before I get to a brief recap of the fights, it should be mentioned that for the first time the contestants were allowed to invite friends and family to watch them battle to get into the house.  So you know…no extra pressure or anything:

(note: the competitors this season are all middleweights)

Jake Heun v. Adam Cella

The last time I saw Heun, he was being overwhelmed in a heavyweight bout by 2009 NCAA Wrestling heavyweight champion Mark Ellis.  He was doughy then and he looks like a completely different person at his natural weight class.  He’s so physically imposing that he’s called “The Honey Bear” apparently.  He also started his career through Chris Leben.  I could not be rooting harder for this guy.

Sure enough, Heun comes out swinging like a crazy person and you can tell that Cella is intimidated…but only for a moment.  Coolly and calmly, Cella works off his back and locks in an armbar that he refuses to release even after Heun nearly drops him on his head.  Heun has to tap.  I should have known to pick Cella since he has a hot girlfriend and the hot girlfriend corollary is infallible.

Winner: Cella

Zak Cummings v. Nik Fekete

Speaking of attractive significant others, Fekete’s wife is built like Christina Hendricks.  Victory is guaranteed.  I mean, forget all of the big show experience Cummings has.  Hot girlfriend corollary!

Cummings knocks out Fekete in about 10 seconds.

Winner: Cummings

Eldon Sproat v. Kevin Casey

Sproat might be the first Hawaiian hipster cowboy (he brags about how cowboys existed in Hawaii waaaay before they popped up anywhere else).

Like Cummings, Casey has fought for Strikeforce before and he’s got some serious BJJ credentials having grown up and trained with the late Rockson Gracie (son of Rickson).  This is the first fight to get condensed into highlights and Casey represents the Gracie’s well with some nice grappling.  A nice cut is opened up on his forehead, but he takes Sproat’s back and wins via rear naked choke.  Casey’s bloody, but victorious visage provides a memorable week 1 image.

Winner: Casey

Scott Rosa v. Tor Troéng

“Who beats a guy named Tor?” Jones asks.  Not Scott Rosa apparently.  Troéng (whose first name is pronounced “Thor”) sounds a lot like Dirk Nowitzki, even though he’s Swedish and not German.  This fight also gets the highlight treatment, which gives us time a chance to see some of the banter between Jones and Sonnen:

Sonnen: Jon, you wouldn’t long kick me across the ring would you?
Jones: Possibly.  I might go for some crazy s**t, I just might.
Sonnen: Would you really?  I misjudged you.  I thought we were friends.  I thought we were hitting it off.  You’d really do that?
Jones: I wouldn’t hurt you with it.  I’d just tap you.

Like I said, maybe the fight shouldn’t happen but these two have a lot of potential as rival coaches.  Sonnen can handle most of the talking and Jones just has to play off that.

Winner: Troéng

Clint Hester v. Fraser Opie

Hester is clearly a physical specimen and Opie…well, he’s a guy whose last name is Opie.  Even though his background is in boxing, Hester mixes in some takedowns and even whips out a nice suplex.  Jones gets hyped and he gets up to start offering Hester some tips.  Sonnen laughs at the bias, but both guys agree that Hester is one to watch.

Winner: Hester

Ryan Bigler v. Bubba McDaniel

There’s no question that McDaniel is the favourite here.  He’s a training partner of Jones and he sports a gaudy 20-6 record.  The book on him is that he lacks consistency and that’s certainly supported by a lacklustre first round.  Jones puts his coach’s hat on again and he spurs McDaniel on to a second round TKO win, prompting another great exchange:

Sonnen: There’s your pick, huh?  There’s your first guy.  I’m gonna have to cross him out, because I know you’re gonna…
Jones: Maybe.
Sonnen: Of course you’ll pick him ‘cause he’s your teammate and everything so that guy’s gone.
Jones: Is he my first pick?
Sonnen: Yeah!  For sure.  Of course, he’s your teammate!  What are you gonna do?  Go back and see him be like, “Oh, I didn’t want you first.”  That’d be weird.  That’d be weird for the next ten years of your career.

Winner: McDaniel

Josh Samman v. Leo Bercier

There’s no getting around it: Samman reeks of douche.  Hopefully the coaches won’t hold that against him.  Bercier is a Native who seems really serious and stoic.  So, like every other Native person I’ve met.

It’s not much of a fight as Samman takes Bercier down within seconds.  He shouts “Are you guys ready?” and then starts rifling off the always never, ever, ever effective double fists to the head.  He also shouts a lot and heaven help us, he wins the fight.  Ladies and gentlemen, we have a weiner!

Winner: Samman

Kito Andrews v. Kelvin Gastelum

I have to give the show a lot of credit for not telegraphing who the winners of these fights will be.  They spend a large amount of time on Andrews’ story of single fatherhood with two children, but it’s Gastelum who squeaks out a decision.  White mentions that Gastelum is the youngest fighter in TUF history at 21, but Patrick Iodice and I would like to have a word with him.  I don’t care if I’m the only one who watched it, TUF: The Smashes happened!

Winner: Gastelum

Jimmy Quinlan v. Mike Persons

Jones calls Quinlan the best wrestler they’ve seen so far, which bodes well for him.  If you have one specialty that you can fall back on, it can take you a long way in this tournament.  Add in the fact that he seems to be all business and Quinlan is a solid sleeper pick.  He runs through persons.

Winner: Quinlan

Uriah Hall v. Andy Enz

Hall comes into the competition with a reputation as an exciting, dynamic striker and with luck this opportunity could lead to him becoming a breakout star in the UFC.  To Enz’ credit, he’s more than up to the challenge and both guys put forth a great effort.  In truth, a lot of Hall’s fancy stuff doesn’t really connect, but his fundamentals are solid and as this is my first time seeing him, I now know what the hype is all about.  The good news for Enz is that he’s got to be first on the UFC’s replacement list.

Winner: Hall

Gilbert Smith v. Eric Wahlin

Because I haven’t been racist enough, it needs to be said: there are some big ass black mothafu**as on this show.  Case in point, Wahlin by no means embarrasses himself (he’s got some tricky jiu-jitsu), but Smith is straight diesel and I can’t imagine too many people wanting to have to work from under him.  He’s relentless in going for an arm-triangle, eventually suffocating Wahlin.  It remains to be seen how that physique lasts over a longer fight.

Winner: Smith

Nicholas Kohring v. Luke Barnatt

Englishman Barnatt is hard to miss, standing at 6’6” tall.  Kohring is a game opponent, fearlessly closing the distance, but Barnatt’s physical gifts are going to be a huge advantage no matter who he’s facing.  He’s more than just a tall guy though, showing crisp kickboxing and ground and pound.  I like his demeanour too.  He could play a heavy in a Guy Ritchie film, no problem.

Winner: Barnatt

Dylan Andrews v. Tim Williams

Laced with noticeable scars, Williams looks flat-out dangerous and he’s got a nickname to go along with it: “The South Jersey Strangler”.  I believe it!

Andrews wins the fight.  He’s from Australia and since Barnatt won the last fight, we’re getting an early sequel to the Smashes.  It happened!  The fight almost ends in the opening minutes, but Williams is like a zombie and he doesn’t let up against Andrews for a second.  Even in defeat, Williams joins Enz on the UFC radar.

Winner: Andrews

Collin Hart v. Mike Jasper

Dana White says that executive producer Craig Piligian nicknamed Hart “The Dick” at casting.  Guess I’ll have to buy the Blu-ray to get the whole story there.  Jones picks Jasper, but Hart’s dirty boxing and gritty approach draw a flattering Randy Couture comparison.  Much more flattering than “The Dick”, anyway.

Winner: Hart

At this point I have to say that the production overhaul did the show wonders as the whole experience just felt like a big deal.  It’s an old showbiz adage: if you don’t treat your stars like stars, why should the audience?  The days of filling the house with slobs and scumbags in an insulting attempt to appeal to the “common people” are over; let’s get back to romanticizing the sport.

Here are the teams, with Sonnen winning the coin toss and choosing the first fighter (7 picks in total, 1 wildcard spot):

Team Sonnen

  1. Barnatt
  2. Hall
  3. Cummings
  4. Troéng
  5. Quinlan
  6. Casey
  7. Gastelum

Team Jones

  1. Hester
  2. Samman
  3. McDaniel
  4. Smith
  5. Hart
  6. Cella
  7. Andrews

The top picks are no surprise as the raw tools of Barnatt and Hester are unquestionably compelling.  Hall expressed disappointment at being picked by Sonnen, but when you consider that he’s already a strong striker, being coached by a world class grinder like Sonnen could be the best thing to ever happen to him.

At the fight selection, Jones shocks everyone by going right after Sonnen’s top pick with his 4th pick, Smith.  Not only that, but Barnatt is 9 inches taller than Smith.  Curiouser and curiouser…Jones must know something we don’t, so with the strong possibility of an upset in the 1st fight here are the four names I can see making the finals: Hall, Quinlan, Hester, McDaniel.  If my sterling 0-3 record at picking the TUF 16 and Smashes winners is any indication, these poor bastards won’t even sniff the semis.

Apropos of nothing.

Casting Stones – The Jon Jones Situation

Amidst all of the criticism and posturing and filibustering over the last few days surrounding the cancellation of UFC 151, I found that something important emerged from the whole mess: genuine discourse.  This fiasco is about so much more than just Dana White and Jon Jones.  Here are the major players involved:

  • Jon Jones
  • Dan Henderson
  • Dana White
  • Greg Jackson
  • Chael Sonnen
  • Lyoto Machida
  • Anderson Silva
  • Vitor Belfort

That’s not even including all the other fighters on the card, the Zuffa management and employees who must have been scrambling to save the event and the millions of fans who were looking forward to watching said card.  When you think about how many people are affected by the event’s cancellation, it would be insane to think that any one person could be responsible for it but that’s not what White would have you believe.  The commissioner of the UFC has chosen to lay all of the blame on Jones and his camp.

This is, as the Chinese say, “f**ing stupid”.

I am strongly supporting Jones in this situation, but that is just my opinion and one fact is undeniable: If Jones had stepped up (or down as I see it) and agreed to fight Sonnen, we would have a night of UFC fights this weekend.  There’s no arguing that.  However, allow me to list some other facts:

  • Sonnen is coming off a loss.  The only other time a fighter received a title shot in another weight division after losing his last fight was Henderson, who at the time was carrying the PRIDE Welterweight Championship (the equivalent of the UFC Middleweight championship).
  • Jones and White both agreed that Sonnen was not going to talk his way into a title shot.  With Henderson out, White offered Sonnen a title shot despite having not fought at 205 in years.
  • Henderson’s MCL tear occurred weeks ago and he chose not to inform the UFC about it until August 23, nine days away from his scheduled fight with Jones.  The tear will require surgery and Henderson had to miss the main event.
  • Sonnen trains with Henderson and started a verbal campaign against Jones weeks ago.
  • The co-main event was originally supposed to see Jake Ellenberger face Josh Koscheck, but Koscheck was forced out with an injury.  He was replaced by Jay Hieron, who has not fought in the UFC since 2005.  He is 11-1 in his last 12 contests.  With the removal of the Light Heavyweight Championship bout, Ellenberger-Hieron would have become the de facto main event.
  • White decides to cancel UFC 151.  He states that Jones and Jackson “murdered” the event and blames them for all of the fighters not getting paid and for all of the fans wasting their money on travel and accommodations.
  • It is revealed later that Silva volunteered to fight any light heavyweight besides Jones, but the event had already been called off.
  • White announced that Jones would be fighting Machida at UFC 152 in Toronto, but Machida declines.
  • There are several rumours involving fighters in both the 185 and 205 pound division, but eventually Belfort, a former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, is awarded the opportunity to fight Jones at UFC 152.

You may have noticed that I avoided adding too many qualifiers to that list.  The information should speak for itself.  Obviously, there are certain connections that I choose to draw from these facts, but my conclusions are bound to differ from someone else’s and that’s fine.  Jones has already proven to be one of the most hated fighters in the sport based on his aloof persona, his perceived arrogance and the speed with which he’s ascended to the top.  Some of us are thrilled when we witness brilliance at such a young age, but we also live in a society where we are taught to wait our turn and when someone refuses to do that, we resent them.

This is not to say that Jones is beyond reproach.  He struggles to communicate and connect when addressing an audience.  He appears inconsistent in his philosophy (does he fight to elevate the tenets of martial arts or to elevate his brand?).  And he does make silly, insufferable mistakes (most recently being charged for driving while intoxicated a month before signing a deal with Nike).  You know who all of that reminds me of?  EVERY OTHER PERSON I KNOW IN THEIR EARLY 20S!  Like I said, youth is not an excuse but failure is also not an excuse to start piling on another human being.  It’s one thing to admonish him and insist on contrition, it’s another to claim that these actions are indicative of who he really is or who he is going to be.  He will make more mistakes, he will learn and he will grow and if you think there’s something wrong with that, then there’s no helping you.

I am glad that there is another side to this coin though because I can acknowledge that I act as an apologist for athletes far too often.  Of course I’m going to side with Jones in this scenario if only because he plays a major part in a product that I enjoy.  I don’t pretend to know anything about him personally and if it turns out he’s the biggest scumbag on the earth, I’d be disappointed but it wouldn’t affect how I feel about his performances.  However, I can completely understand why this recent transgression matters to people.  Unlike other sports where violence might be a means to an end, violence is the end in mixed martial arts and there is well deserved respect and admiration for these warriors.  Anytime a fighter steps back and says “No, I choose not to fight” it is disappointing; disturbing even.  We feel betrayed.

The truth is that being a fighter is not only a legitimate way to make a living these days, it can be extremely lucrative if you play your cards right.  Until last Friday, Jones and Jackson had played the game superbly, but there’s no question that refusal has done major damage to the champ’s Q score.  Still, from everything I’ve read online, whether it be carefully crafted columns, angry fan mail, barely legible tweets or rambling, psychotic message board posts, I take comfort in knowing that people can still develop independent and informed opinions about this debacle without feeling like they have to follow the rhetoric of Jones, Jackson, White or anybody else.  If we take anything positive away from this situation, let it be that.

Cash Rules Everything Around Me: UFC 145 Salary Report

For sports nerds, there are two subjects that always come up when evaluating an athlete: One, pertinent statistics and two, how much money does this guy make?  An athlete’s salary is fascinating for a number of reasons.  Is a player worth what he’s getting paid?  How much is his contract potentially hurting my team’s chances to succeed?  What kind of lifestyle does this person have?  A few digits on a piece of paper have a dramatic effect on our perception of a human being.

The physicality of mixed martial arts provides some resistance against this kind of scrutiny.  As long as someone isn’t making Mayweather money, even the biggest critics of athlete compensation would be hard pressed to call someone overpaid when their job description includes “getting the piss beaten out of them”.  Even at the highest levels, fighter income can seem absurdly low, assuring fans that the competitors they’re watching are truly doing it for the proverbial love of the game.  The problem is that MMA is frequently touted as the fastest growing sport in the world.  So what is proper compensation for a UFC fighter?

The second fastest growing sport.

 There are many things to consider beyond wins and losses.  I want to analyze the salaries for every future UFC card as the information is made available (some commissions choose not to disclose this information) in an attempt to better understand the sometimes bewildering accounting of combat sports.  Let’s take a look at a selection of payouts from UFC 145:

(source: MMAJunkie.com)

Total payroll: $1, 241, 000

The Breakdown

Starting at the top with the biggest earners…

Jon Jones – $400,000 (no win bonus)
Rashad Evans – $300,000

The standard fighter payout is broken down into show money and a win bonus.  You get paid just for stepping into the cage and winning the fight doubles your salary.  Once you get to the main event, the win bonus is usually a little different.  Jon Jones doesn’t have one (he’s guaranteed a larger show fee) and Rashad Evans’ is modified ($225,000 to show, $185,000 to win at UFC 114, May 29, 2010).

More importantly, Jones and Evans’ are both entitled to a cut of the pay-per-view profits.  To provide some reference, Alistair Overeem made $2 per PPV buy for his fight against Brock Lesnar.  Lesnar himself was rumoured to make at least $5 per buy.  That event did about 800,000 buys, meaning that made an extra 1.6 million and Lesnar an extra 4 million.

How did Jones and Evans do?  I don’t have exact numbers, but there are some safe assumptions we can make here.  Overeem is an established international star so it’s understandable that the UFC would have to open up the wallet to get him.  Jones is not a proven PPV draw, but I have to think he’d be similarly valued.  As a main eventer (UFC 128 v. Shogun Rua, UFC 135 v. Rampage Jackson, UFC 140 v. Lyoto Machida) he’s produced strong, but unspectacular returns (around 400,000 to 500,000).  That said, the UFC is heavily invested in him and I’d be amazed if he wasn’t also making at least $4 per buy, possibly more.

Evans is a proven PPV draw as he has been in the main event of three pay per views that topped 950,000 buys (UFC 92 v. Forrest Griffin, UFC 98 v. Lyoto Machida, UFC 114 v. Rampage Jackson).  However, even after winning the title back in ’08, it’s unlikely that he had the contract leverage that an established name like Lesnar would have.  Let’s say he’s due about $4 per buy.

According to MMAMania, UFC 145 did around 700,000 buys.  That’s over 2 million dollars in PPV bonuses for Messieurs Bones and Suga.  Evans and Jones undoubtedly benefited from the UFC’s recent sabbatical and their deeply personal feud.  Still, that’s a great number and the UFC should feel good about Jones as their leading man if he’s going to be bringing in those numbers on a regular basis.

One more thing to consider is that Dana White has stated on several occasions that there are always undisclosed discretionary bonuses paid out to the fighters.  He’s been known to reward exciting undercard fights, so I’m sure he takes care of his marquee talents as well.  Add in sponsorships, and a conservative estimate would be that both fighters cashed in around the $3,000,000 dollar mark.  That’s about ten times their reported salary.

On the flip side…

Chris Clements – $12,000 (includes $6,000 win bonus)
Keith Wisniewski – $10,000

It should be mentioned that there were a ton of Canadian fighters on this card as it was originally scheduled to take place in Montreal.  Clements hails from Chatham, Ontario.

Even taking into account the aforementioned discretionary bonuses and sponsors and the fact that the UFC handles most of the accommodations and medical considerations, $12,000 is not a large chunk of change.  Let’s not forget that the fighter has to pay their manager, training staff and that a lot of these men have families to take care of.  Swingin’ bachelors like myself might think ten grand for a night’s work sounds pretty good, but it’s really not much in the grand scheme of things.  Clements would have only made $6,000 if he hadn’t won.  Now that’s fighting out of passion.

$6,000 for 15 minutes of work?  I’m RICH, BITCH!

 How about those Ultimate Fighter winners…

Mac Danzig – $54,000 (includes $27,000 win bonus)
Efrain Escudero – $10,000

Danzig was the TUF 6 Welterweight Division winner.  Escudero was the TUF 8 Lightweight Division winner.  The Ultimate Fighter prize works like this:

  • Three year contract
  • Three fights a year
  • Only the first year is guaranteed
  • Year one salary (show/win): 12K/12K
  • Year two salary: 16K/16K
  • Year three salary: 22K/22K

This was actually Escudero’s second fight since returning from a 2010 release.  Thus, his base salary is akin to that of a fighter making their UFC debut.  The Ultimate Fighter is not a guaranteed path to fame and riches.

Danzig, despite having a middling record (5-5 in the UFC after Saturday), has carved a nice niche for himself as a considerable challenge for any opponent.  UFC 145 marked Danzig’s tenth fight with the UFC, meaning he just passed the nine fight mark on his original contract.  While I’m sure he’s renegotiated before, it’s still an impressive milestone.  Congratulations, Little Mac.

Ben Rothwell – $104,000 (includes $52,000 win bonus)
Brendan Schaub – $14,000

Coming in with the third highest pay, “Big” Ben Rothwell!  This has to be surprising considering that your average MMA fan has no idea who Rothwell is.  Throw in the fact that he earned the Knockout of the Night ($65,000) and he made off with a couple hundred grand for about a minute of work.  How does someone with a 2-2 UFC record pull that off?

Heavyweights are always going to be the highest earners.  Just like NBA centers, quality size is hard to come by.  You might be able to find a legion of tall, chubby dudes out there, but it’s hard as hell to find one who can move without tripping over his own ankle fat much less compete in a high level martial arts contest.

I got nothing but love for the immortal Butterbean.

Rothwell actually entered the UFC with considerable hype, having competed in the ill-fated but respectable International Fight League.  He also fought Andrei Arlovski at the first Affliction event.  Both the IFL and Affliction had to hand out bloated contracts to convince talent to sign with them instead of the UFC, which is how Rothwell ended up getting $250,000 to face Arlovski (who got $750,000!).  He actually took a pay cut under Zuffa employment!

One last tidbit: Big Ben had a higher base salary than fellow heavyweight Travis Browne (undefeated in five UFC contests), Miguel Torres (former no. 1 ranked bantamweight) and Mark Hominick (one half of the main event of UFC 127) combined.  Speaking of Browne…

Travis Browne – $24,000 (includes $12,000 win bonus)
Chad Griggs – $27,000

Yep, Griggs made more money than his opponent by getting subbed in two and a half minutes.  (Browne won the Submission of the Night bonus, but that ruins the gag).  It might seem unfair, but Griggs was a holdover from Strikeforce (yet another organization forced to overpay its roster) and Zuffa has to honour that contract.  Hopefully, they won’t hold this drubbing against him at his next performance review.