‘The Ultimate Fighter’: Season 12, Episode 1: Fight! (x14)

Time for another season of recapping, deconstructing and dissecting The Ultimate Fighter!

We know the coaches — the venerated Georges St. Pierre and the vilified Josh Koscheck, subject of some guy’s USA TODAY profile today. Now we get to meet 28 prospective cast members in 40-some minutes of TV.

Let’s say this up front: I don’t like the current format of 28 guys trying to fight their way into a 14-man show in which two first-round losers will get another chance. In theory, the idea is that the prelim fights separate those who “want to fight” from those who don’t. In reality, an unlucky draw can eliminate a really good prospect.

What I’d rather see: Have 24 guys fight for 12 spots. THEN pick four “wild cards” to bring the field to 16. The “wild card” concept isn’t needed during the tournament because it forces someone to fight five times in six weeks. If a good fighter loses in the first round, chances are good that an injury will open a slot in the tournament. At the very least, they can bring him back to fight in the finale.

A 12-fight preliminary round would still be chaotic. With 14, it’s a mess. The only way to meet the fighters is to be a geek with misplaced priorities like yours truly, who has been rounding up info from MMA Junkie, the enthusiastic MMA Valor blog and the ever-helpful Sherdog fight finder. And Wikipedia.

Onward …

Dana White, St. Pierre and Koscheck greet the fighters, with White using more profanity than usual for some reason. Then we roll straight into the fights …

Marc Stevens vs. T.J. “The Spider” O’Brien

Stevens (12-5) wrestled for Koscheck, though Kos doesn’t seem to remember much about him. O’Brien (15-3) is a long-limbed dude, which means he has a long way to fall after Stevens lands a solid right. It’s over in about 15 seconds and might’ve been quicker if Steve Mazzagatti could’ve run faster. Stevens runs over and asks if Kos remembers him now.

Spencer Paige vs. Steve “The Dream” Magdaleno

Paige (7-2) has lost to past and present WECers Anthony Morrison and Josh Grispi. Magdaleno (6-2) won three fights in Pancrase but has lost his last two bouts. The first round proves my point about giving “wild cards” to prelim losers, as both guys trade heavy shots standing and on the ground. Magdaleno shows a great chin, but Paige pulls out the two-round decision.

Nam Phan vs. Mike Budnik

Phan (15-7) is the most experienced guy in the bunch, with fights in WEC, K-1, Strikeforce and Sengoku. Budnik (9-4) is the oldest at age 35 (at taping — now 36), and he’s making the rare X Games-to-MMA transition. Interesting guys. Why are they matched up in the prelims?

First close-up of Arianny’s chest, first Herb Dean appearance, and the fight is underway. Budnik clinches early and gets the takedown. Phan’s corner yells at him to get up, and he eventually complies. Budnik tries a judo-style throw, doesn’t get it, and Phan ends up on top. Budnik rises and reverses, goes for the guillotine and ends up standing again. Good body kick for Budnik, but then Phan lands a terrific punch to the midsection that crumples him. Budnik collapses by the fence, and Phan pounds him until Herb Dean steps in.

Highlights only: Jason “The Showstopper” Brenton vs. Andy Main

Main (4-1) fought back from early trouble and got the submission by armbar/triangle.

Highlights only: Ran Weathers vs. Jonathan Brookins

Weathers (13-7) fights for Greg Jackson but has lost his last three. Brookins (11-3) has a good resume, losing to Jose Aldo in WEC and winning a fight in Bellator, which tussled with Zuffa over his rights. We’re told Brookins just outwrestled Weathers for two rounds.

Highlights only: Toby “Tigerheart” Grear vs. Sako Chivitchian

Grear (7-4-1) is a marijuana activist who goes for takedowns, which may be a bad idea against judo veteran Chivitchian (5-0), who pursued judo during a 10-year lapse between MMA bouts. Chivitchian controls the fight. Then hurls.

Highlights only: Jeff Lentz vs. Dan Head

GSP counts out Lentz (5-1) before the fight start. Oops. Lentz makes a bloody mess of Head’s face before winning by rear naked choke. Kos happily informs Lentz that GSP counted him out. GSP: “I was wrong. Head will need a good vacation to recover from that fight.”

Paul “The Wheel” Barrow vs. Alex “Bruce Leroy” Caceres

Caceres (4-2) tells us with an ever-present grin he was kicked out of school, so he went to the gym instead. Sherdog has a photo of him posing with a comb stuck in his hair. We get it. He’s a colorful guy, while all we learn about Barrow (3-1) is an explanation of his name. (Get it? “Wheel” Barrow?) Caceres tries to get a rear naked choke from every conceivable angle and finally puts Barrow to sleep.

Highlights only: Pablo “The Scarecrow” Garza vs. Michael Johnson

Garza (9-0) looks OK in standup, but Johnson (8-4, not the world record-holding sprinter) takes him down and overwhelms him. White jokes that we should call him Michael Tyson. Johnson by unanimous decision, and he promises to “push a few buttons.” Great.

Highlights only: Aaron “The Daywalker” Wilkinson vs. Mike “The Marine” Richman

Kos is surprised that Wilkinson (6-3), being a product of England’s Wolfslair, is adept on the ground. Less surprising: TUF gives him the subtitle treatment. More surprising: Richman (8-0) gets no screen time despite his military nickname.

Highlights only: Kyle Watson vs. Joseph Duffy

They tells us Watson (12-6-1, losses to Spencer Fisher and Bart Palaszewski) is the more experienced fighter and it shows as he wins by rear naked choke. Duffy (7-0) is an Irishman ranked by Sherdog among Europe’s top prospects, but that’s all we’ll see of him.

Highlights only: Sevak Magakian vs. JJ Ambrose

Ambrose (14-3) boasts an appearance on the Affliction: Banned card, losing to Mike Pyle. He has a good kimura attempt from his back, but Magakian (8-3, won seven of last eight) escapes and slams. That’s all for Ambrose, and Magakian takes the unanimous decision.

Cody McKenzie vs. Amir Khillah

McKenzie (11-0) is a commercial fisherman in Alaska who has won nine straight fights by guillotine choke. Khillah (6-4) is from Egypt, and he says he wants to be the Michael Bisping of the Middle East, presumably in the sense of being a pioneer for his region rather than talking trash with subtitles. Wikipedia claims he has tried out for TUF multiple times, and he has fought some decent guys.

GSP tells White he’s going to win by guillotine. “The kid on top?” White asks, referring to Khillah. Nope. GSP apparently has exclusive access to Sherdog’s fight finder. And this time, GSP is right.

Dane Sayers vs. Ariel “Tarzan” Sexton

Sayers (7-1) is Native American with an orange Mohawk says he wants to be a role model. Sexton (6-2) is from Costa Rica. Sayers says Sexton’s strength is jiu-jitsu, so he’s going to strike.

Sayers tells referee Herb Dean he doesn’t want to touch gloves and asks if he should tell Sexton. Dean: “That’s up to you guys.” Sayers gestures that he’s not going to touch. Then we see why: He sprints across the mat and launches a flying knee. By the end of the round, though, he’s gassed and bleeding.

Second round, and Dan says Mohawk is getting knocked out. After Sayers survives an early onslaught, he switches to praise. Then Sayers nearly sinks a rear naked choke. Sexton escapes, but Sayers jumps on his back and tries it again. We get a good look at Sexton’s anguished face as he tries to escape but has to tap.

Michael Johnson tells us he plans to break everybody, which we think is code for filling the Chris Leben/Junie Browning/Jamie “Crabman” Yager (or Josh Koscheck) role as celebrity-by-reality-misbehavior.

Previews for the rest of the season show a contrived-looking scrap between Koscheck and someone from GSP’s team, a couple of arguments in the house and one good solid punch … in the house. That can’t be good.


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