Recapping The Ultimate Fighter, frankly, is too fun not to do. So that’s what we’ll do over the course of the next three months, each Wednesday night after the 10 p.m. ET showing on Spike.
At least, most nights, it’ll be at 10 p.m. — the premiere was delayed a few minutes by a long break in the UFC Fight Night card followed by a power outage.
Coming into the season, the rumor mill has claimed that something goes awry and coach Tito Ortiz has to drop out, replaced by ever-loyal UFC soldier Rich Franklin on the show and in the coach’s fight that comes afterwards. If so, rival coach Chuck Liddell is throwing everyone off the trail. He spent most of a conference call this week talking about how much he was looking forward to beating up Tito, saying Tito not only talked about his personal life but made stuff up.
UFC and Spike officials guard these secrets like Roy Nelson guards his spot in a buffet line, so we won’t get any sort of confirmation one way or the other. When I asked Dana White about it recently, he told me I’d just have to watch and see. OK, then.
In any case, we can count on a lot of Liddell-Ortiz back-and-forth during the season, which probably isn’t a good thing. That got a little tedious last season with Rampage Jackson and Rashad Evans, and they’re both a lot funnier than Liddell and Ortiz.
But we won’t hear much of it this week because we have to get through 14 fights. They brought 28 middleweights to the training center, but only 14 will make it into the house and the collective consciousness of UFC fans over the next three months. And here they go …
Jamie “Crabman” Yager (so nicknamed in our household because of his resemblance to the My Name is Earl character) is first in against Ben Stark, who tells us he’s an Orthodox Jew. Hopefully people in the house will keep kosher restrictions in mind when sabotaging his food. Actually, never mind — Stark never even gets to throw a punch or kick, as Yager just swarms him and knocks him out with a good head kick.
Now it’s Jordan Smith, a science teacher with a listed record of 10-0. We’ll check that with Sherdog, as you should do with any TUF record. (It checks out, but the promotions are beyond obscure.) He’s fighting Brad Tavares, out of the fighting hotbed of Hawaii. Tavares catches a Smith kick and tries to take it to the ground. Then he creates a bit of distance and bam — Hawaii 1, science teacher 0.
Cleburn Walker is listed at 9-3 (Sherdog says 9-4), and he talks about his car being repossessed. He’s fighting Kris McCray — Northern Virginia in the house! And the UWC veteran is indeed in the house with a big slam that pops out Walker’s shoulder. If that were an official fight, it might be a UFC record for shortest fight. Not too surprising — in five fights, McCray has never been out of the first round and took out his last three opponents in the first minute. See some highlights:
Norman Paraisy arrives from France by way of Coconut Creek, Fla., and Sherdog verifies the safe bet that he has been training at American Top Team. (So has Stark.) Paraisy fought Dave Menne in the first second of up-and-coming U.S. promotion Bellator, and he has fought all over the globe. He’s taking on James Hammortree, who lives up to his name with hammerfists and other ground-and-pound.
Paraisy said before the fight he wanted to show that Frenchmen weren’t soft. Then he quits between rounds, much to the surprise of the folks around him. Those of us with French last names may be a little embarrassed, but that fight was 5 seconds away from being stopped, anyway. They prolong Paraisy’s agony with a couple of guys yelling at him to keep going. They do everything but throw him back at Hammortree, but it’s not happening.
Now we get a montage of other fights — Nick Ring (10-0, with wins in Bellator and Icon Sport) beats up Woody Woodpecker, er, Weatherby.
Kyle Noke has the best resume of these guys, getting a draw against current Bellator champ Hector Lombard and beating George Sotiropoulos before losing a rematch to his fellow Australian. He goes to a second round against Warren Thompson but dominates and opens up a big cut with an elbow. Easy decision for Noke.
Court McGee, who has a Scott Ian-style long beard and has lost only to well-traveled Jeremy Horn, takes on Seth Baczynski in a fight that goes to the misnamed “sudden victory” round. McGee’s wrestling wins out in the end.
Victor O’Donnell, whose last fight was a loss to fellow cast member Costantinos Phillipou, can only say “This is the (bleep)” as he heads in against Chris Camozzi. And it’s clearly the fight of the night, going to the overtime round — overtime, OK? Not “sudden victory.” McCray’s fight — THAT was “sudden victory.”
Anyway, Camozzi wins, and then we see O’Donnell leaving on a stretcher. He says he broke his orbital in the first round, then beats himself up for not focusing. If you break your orbital, wouldn’t it be inherently more difficult to focus?
Kyacey Uscola brings an 18-15 record with him from Urijahfaberville (aka Sacramento). Brent Cooper says he loves to punch people in the face. Let’s forget the whole pep talk about making sure you don’t miss the opportunity in the cage — this might be the only time these guys will ever speak on camera. Bring something more interesting, dudes. Especially if there’s a good chance that YOU might get punched in the face and knocked out, and that’s exactly what happens to Cooper inside the first minute.
Uscola’s losses include some big names — Chael Sonnen, Gegard Mousasi, Joey Villasenor and Josh Burkman. And new housemate Kyle Noke.
Joe Henle, who looks like poker star Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, takes on Costantinos Philippou. Henle has been in all the ads, so it’s surprising that he gets beat up in the first round. And the first part of the second. But he falls back on the best friend of a fighter who’s getting pounded on the ground — an armbar. Henle asks to be called “Leonidas” for some reason, and he gets his wish when his hand is raised. Upset special?
Rich Attonito vs. Lyle Steffens — Attonito is a Top Team guy who wins praise from Ortiz for his wrestling. And it must’ve been a typical wrestler’s bout, because they show about 10 seconds of it before raising his hand and moving on.
Josh Bryant is listed at 10-0 as he faces 9-2 Greg Rebello (Sherdog says 8-1 and credits him with a win over “Eddie Knuckles”). A majority decision gives it to Bryant as we learn very little about either guy.
Jacen Flynn vs. Charles Blanchard — Blanchard has good ground-and-pound, though he gets away with some shots to the back of the head. Flynn can’t come out for the second round, but they’re nice enough not to make a big deal of it. He’s not French, after all. Flynn has beaten Denis Kang and Dean Lister in his 10-year career but has taken several long breaks from pro fighting.
Charley Lynch gets his walk-out on camera, boasting a 6-0 record from Minneapolis. Turns out he’s buddies with his opponent, Clayton McKinney. It’s easy to spot McKinney because his hair is half-normal, half-green, like he fell asleep in Jello. McKinney opens with sharp leg kicks and a double-leg takedown. When Lynch stands, McKinney answers with a judo throw. He ends up on his back, where his guard isn’t quite enough to shut down Lynch’s ground-and-pound.
They finally stand, and then we actually hear cage conversation — McKinney tells Lynch, “Your nose is smashed.” Lynch reaches his hand to verify that it is indeed smashed. Fight goes on for another 20 seconds or so, but McKinney tags him again on the nose, and ref Steve Mazzagatti immediately yells “Stop!”
McKinney has his shoulder in a sling, but he’s happy to report that he’s not just hair and jokes, he’s one gnarly dude.
That’s our 14.
A preview of the season shows a few good training shots and one argument in the house involving Crabman, or “The Chosyn 1,” his nickname according to Sherdog. And yes, Tito and Chuck yell at each other, and Tito takes down a door. Apparently fixing up the flimsy doors was not part of the UFC Training Center renovation. It’s one thing when Rampage takes one apart, but Tito’s an aging wrestler.
If you’d care to verify any fighter’s record, check Sherdog — can’t guarantee that a smaller show didn’t slip through the cracks, but it’s the best reference we have. There’s no clear-cut favorite like Roy Nelson among the heavyweights, but if the preliminary fights here are any indication, the talent pool is much stronger than last season. But Tito may try to steal every scene. Wonder if that’s why we don’t hear much about his acting career these days.