Should we really root for Michael Johnson over Alex Caceres? No doubt Caceres has had his annoying moments, but after seeing Johnson flip out over a pretty harmless kitchen-sink prank and falsely blame Caceres, the sympathy meter might flip toward Bruce Leeroy a bit.
Kyle Watson, probably the most polished of the four quarterfinalists we’ll see in action tonight, trains with GSP, who must have spent most of the morning squeezing into an Under Armour top. Or maybe it’s just paint.
Watson will be up against Team Koscheck’s Aaron “English” Wilkinson, who has shown a lot of heart and surprising skill in getting this far. The American vet attempts some trash talk having to do with fish and chips. What are you saying about ordering fish and chips, Kyle? You come say that to my face. I outweigh you by quite a bit. Probably because … I eat a lot of fish and chips.
Fight starts early in the episode, with Steve Mazzagatti reffing. Watson quickly gets Wilkinson down, where Watson should have a decided advantage. Wilkinson does well to tie him up and work for the escape. Watson isn’t doing much, and Koscheck justifiably yells for Mazzagatti to stand them up. Wilkinson gets to his feet on his own, but only for a moment. Watson takes his back and sinks in a secure body triangle with two minutes left to work for the rear naked choke. It only takes a minute.
“How many rear naked chokes have my team …,” says a disgruntled Koscheck, who now has just one fighter, Nam Phan, left in the competition.
(The answer is five rear naked chokes, by the way. And the other three losses, including the Kos-vs-Kos wild-card bout, were by triangle or guillotine. So all eight Koscheck losses have been by choke. The good news — Phan has never been submitted.)
Wilkinson puts on a hairshirt in his confessional, calling it his worst performance ever. But he showed plenty of guts and guile in the tournament, and it’d be interesting to see him in action at the finale.
After the ad break, legendary boxing trainer Freddie Roach comes in to work with Team GSP. Koscheck’s team has to be getting a little jealous by now. GSP brought in Mike Tyson to chat, along with a big-time wrestler and Muay Thai specialist. On Koscheck’s team — hey, it’s Jon Fitch!
The drawback of being on Team GSP is watching Caceres and Johnson rev up for a grudge match. Caceres plays the “more pressure on Johnson because I’m *supposed* to lose” card.
In the break, we get the disturbing Jaime Pressly ad for Axe’s “detailer.” And another of those Miller Lite “man up” ads. How insecure is Spike’s target audience?
Back from the break, Koscheck roots for Caceres at the weigh-in and gives Johnson some razzing.
“You’re a black version of Georges!” Koscheck says.
“Feels good to be a winner,” Johnson replies.
At some point, someone should step up and stop Koscheck’s trash-talking. He’s clearly not intelligently defending himself any more.
Johnson expresses a whole lot of confidence. Caceres says Johnson is overconfident.
The corner situation is interesting. GSP and the coaching staff refuse to take sides. Kyle Watson corners Johnson, though the two could easily end up facing off later. In Caceres’ corner, it’s Team Koscheck’s Jeffrey Lentz, who still says Caceres was lucky to beat him. Shown but not discussed — GSP semifinalist Jonathan Brookins is also in Caceres’ corner.
Herb Dean is our ref, and we’re off at 10:39. That’s probably enough time for two full rounds but not three.
Johnson gets a quick takedown, then opts to stand rather than let Caceres establish guard, heeding cornerman Kyle Watson’s warning. Caceres loses his mouthpiece, we pause, we restart, and Johnson takes him down again. Caceres defends pretty well and gets up with a barrage of punches. Johnson takes Caceres to the cage. Caceres lands a knee. Johnson responds in kind. They exchange, and the off-balance Caceres hits the mat again. Johnson lets him up, then presses him against the cage. Caceres catches Johnson in the groin just before the round ends.
Koscheck yells that Caceres won the round. Probably not.
Round 2: Johnson gets the takedown 17 seconds in. This time, he hangs out in side control for a bit, working knees to the body and some short-range strikes to the head. Caceres establishes guard but is pressed against the cage, and Johnson tees off a few times. Caceres flips around, and Johnson works for the guillotine. Doesn’t get it, but they stand cleanly.
Caceres hits the mat again, but for once, he’s able to reverse it and briefly has Johnson in trouble. It doesn’t last long, and Johnson looks more accurate in his punches when they stand. And once again, it’s a takedown. They stand again after a minute, and Caceres lands two good punches. Johnson agains presses him to the cage and gets a takedown that should clinch it. The clock runs out, and it’s a fairly obvious 20-18 win for Johnson.
Or is it? Yes, it is — 20-18 across the board.
Johnson concedes that Caceres has good movement and is difficult to hit. Caceres says he didn’t do a good job avoiding the takedowns.
GSP liked the fight. Dana loved the fight. Johnson and Caceres have a newfound mutual respect. The only person not feeling it is Koscheck, who asks GSP what fight he was watching.
We go to semifinal selection. Dana expects a tough meeting. Kos says Phan-Johnson. GSP agrees. Dana agrees.
Johnson playfully charges at Phan, and they clown around a bit at their staredown.
Next up: Two-hour “semifinal extravaganza.” That’ll be Dec. 1. So we’ll have no recap next week. Happy Thanksgiving.
Recapping the tournament:
Round of 14+2:
– Alex Caceres (GSP) def. Jeff Lentz (Kos), submission (triangle choke), second round. Lentz looked better than expected, or maybe Caceres looked worse.
– Michael Johnson (GSP) def. Aaron Wilkinson (Kos), submission (rear naked choke), third round. Koscheck thinks Wilkinson deserved the win after two rounds. Johnson only came to life in the third, and Wilkinson showed a much better ground game than anyone expected.
– Kyle Watson (GSP) def. Andy Main (Kos), submission (rear naked choke), second round. Experience gap showed.
– Nam Phan (Kos) def. Spencer Paige (GSP), unanimous decision. Maybe the best fight of the tournament so far, though Paige’s broken hand surely made Phan’s win a little easier.
– Cody McKenzie (GSP) def. Marc Stevens (Kos), choked out (guillotine), first round. Stevens’ strategy was the equivalent of facing the Patriots and saying, “Hey, let’s stop the running game and make that Brady guy beat us.”
– Jonathan Brookins (GSP) def. Sevak Magakian (Kos), submission (rear naked choke), first round. Brookins’ performance was the best so far.
– Sako Chivitchian (Kos) def. Dane Sayers (GSP), unanimous decision. Decent fight, but a solid win for Sako.
– Wild card: Aaron Wilkinson (Kos) def. Marc Stevens (Kos), submission (guillotine), second round. Stevens fares pretty well in the first round, then walks straight into another guillotine. Wilkinson may not be quite as slick as McKenzie, but he gives a good squeeze and forces the tap.
– Jonathan Brookins (GSP) def. Sako Chivitchian (Kos), submission (rear naked choke), first round. Brookins is looking like someone with a long-term UFC future.
– Nam Phan (Kos) def. Cody McKenzie (GSP), TKO, second round. The veteran never gave McKenzie a chance to use his favored guillotine and dropped the tiring McKenzie with a powerful shot to the liver.
– Kyle Watson (GSP) def. Aaron Wilkinson (Kos), submission (rear naked choke), first round. Watson got the early takedown and never gave Wilkinson a chance.
– Michael Johnson (GSP) vs. Alex Caceres (GSP), unanimous decision. Good fight, but Johnson still looks far less dominant than we expected from GSP’s top pick.
– Jonathan Brookins (GSP) vs. Kyle Watson (GSP)
– Michael Johnson (GSP) vs. Nam Phan (Kos)
Team score: GSP 7, Kos 3. Phan could win out, and GSP still wins 7-5.