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.

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?!?