We start with GSP telling Kyle Watson and Jonathan Brookins not to expect their coach to take sides. Time to be selfish, GSP says. You’re really on your own.
On Team Koscheck, they’re also on their own but not so happy about it. After a meandering training session, the fighters are tired of hearing from Team GSP — not about the fights but about all the great stuff they’re doing in training and all the great coaches who visited.
Marc Stevens, who was thrilled to be reunited with his college wrestling coach at the beginning of the show, can now do a vicious impression of him. Koscheck comes in and attributes it to alcohol. Then he asks everyone to do shots.
Meanwhile, Brookins is in his meditation spot. In future seasons, we’ll surely see people stake a claim to that tree. The easygoing Nam Phan trots out to greet him, which Jonathan seems to welcome. Alex “Bruce Leroy” Caceres comes out to “look for black widows,” which doesn’t seem to welcome.
No one seems happy with Nam, saying he talks stuff about people behind their backs. Given the dysfunction on Team Koscheck and the fact that he’s the only person still fighting, it’s hard to say how much of that talk is just petty jealousy and misplaced resentment. My guess: A lot.
Fight time. Watson looks like he made weight by shaving his mustache. Each fighter has a Team GSP cornerman and a Team Koscheck cornerman. We finally hit the first ad break after a long first act, and hard-core fans everywhere are getting ready. This ought to be a good one.
Round 1: Friendly glove-touch, then precise shots right away from each guy. Watson fends off a takedown attempt with a stiff knee, but Brookins gets the second attempt. Watson, an experienced jiu-jitsu coach, defends well on the ground and uses the cage to stand, landing a couple of knees on his way out. Watson has a small cut on his nose. Brookins gets another takedown, but advancing his position will be tough. Steve Mazzagatti could be justified in standing them up, but he doesn’t, and Brookins slowly gets into a position to throw a couple of punches. That softens Watson’s defense, and Brookins almost works his way around to his back. Watson re-establishes his guard, but Brookins ends the round with a couple of bombs to Watson’s face. Clearly 10-9 Brookins. Watson’s corner tells him otherwise. Sorry, but if you’re roughly even in the standup, you get taken down three times, and you get pounded. you’re not getting the round.
Round 2: Brookins wastes little time shooting for the takedown and ends up with an acrobatic throw. He gets in Watson’s guard and again lands a couple of powerful punches. Watson finally pushes Brookins away with his legs at the 2:50 mark, but Brookins pounces on his back before he can stand. Watson is gasping for air as he defends. Watson manages to roll away from the rear naked choke, but Brookins once again has a clear punching lane to his head. Watson tries to fight back with elbows, but Brookins isn’t deterred. Brookins spins to side control and doesn’t do much with it, but it’s already late in the round. Watson scrambles to his feet at the horn. This time, Watson’s corner knows better. They tell him he needs a knockout.
Round 3: Watson’s showing welts, and his jab looks slow and tired. Brookins gets Watson against the cage, but Watson fights his way out with knees. Then Watson lands a sharp punch to the head. Just as Watson seems to have a chance, Brookins shoots, forces Watson to the fence and takes him down. Watson is well-placed to work his way up, but it takes far too long. Brookins has his head buried in Watson’s midsection, and Watson angles his arms out to get a few punches in. But Brookins, whose quickness is exceptional, slides to Watson’s back. Watson defends but is slammed back down to th mat. Watson clearly will need to find a submission somewhere, but Brookins is too sound. The fight ends with Brookins going for the rear naked choke while blood streams down Watson’s face.
The scores: 30-27 Brookins, all three cards.
White praises Brookins’ talent and humility. Brookins hopes he’s worthy of the word “humble.” Now that’s an aspiration.
The next segment consists of Team Kos speculating about what Nam Phan does during his long showers, then sneaking in to gather evidence. They don’t get enough of a look to conclude anything, but they think do. Sevak teases Nam, who laughs and says he was washing his private area. In the confessional, he says he has to double up on the zen. He pleads with teammates to let him focus. Then he went to train by himself, saying his teammates had a late night the night before and the coaches “had stuff to do.”
Koscheck shows up and tells Nam to do whatever he wants. He’s winning. Nam, in the confessional, rips Johnson’s fighting style, calling it “street/ghetto.” Ouch.
But Koscheck is motivated to coach Nam, and he helps him work out a game plan.
Random cameo this week: The Boston Celtics’ Glen “Big Baby” Davis. Dana brings him in for five seconds of screen time. Then we’re off to the fight.
Round 1: Johnson gets Phan down quickly. Phan furiously lands elbows and gets back up. Back down. Back up. Phan kicks, Johnson catches and tries to take him down. Phan defends, and someone (doesn’t sound like Kos) yells for Phan to punch rather than kicking. A minute standing, but Johnson plows through him again. And again, Phan stands quickly. Johnson shoots again and gets Phan to the fence, where he pops him with a good uppercut. That seems to give Johnson some confidence in the standup, because he starts to unload, landing three good lefts and a right. Phan’s face is red with blood. 10-9 Johnson, nearly 10-8, but the question is whether Johnson will gas after fighting at such a frenetic pace.
Round 2: Another two minutes of solid work from Johnson, but then a takedown backfires and Phan ends up on top. He pounds Johnson’s ribs for a bit, then stands again. But Johnson’s just quicker in all the exchanges. Johnson may be tired, but Phan is tired and hurt. Maybe Phan’s round, but it’s close.
Round 3: Johnson goes for the takedown, but Phan changes it up and pulls guard. They stand again, and now we start to see the sharp striking we expected from Phan, especially to the body.
Koscheck thinks Phan won, saying “It’s not a wrestling match.” The Internet explodes with irony.
Hamilton: 29-28, Weeks: 28-29, Trowbridge: 29-28. Winner is: Michael Johnson. Phan’s shoulders slump in disappointment.
So the finale will be all-GSP. Kos refers to himself in the third person when he says he lost this competition.
So what sort of talent did this season find? Here’s a recap:
Jonathan Brookins (GSP): Phenom. Overwhelming in first two fights and dominant against experienced Watson. Seems to be 3-4 steps quicker than most and has strong top control. Win or lose, he’ll get a few UFC fights.
Michael Johnson (GSP): Made it through some tough fights and will be a huge underdog against Brookins. Showed plenty of toughness, quickness, wrestling skills and tough striking in the clinch. If he loses the finale, he’ll likely get another shot, but he’ll need to be more impressive than he was against Wilkinson and Caceres.
Nam Phan (Kos): Fundamentally sound, strong striker but perhaps a little undersized for the weight class. Also had trouble with Johnson’s quickness. He has been around a while and may not have the upside of some of his less experienced castmates. Still, he has shown enough to get a couple of UFC fights.
Kyle Watson (GSP): Solid fighter, with good stand-up to go along with jiu-jitsu experience. Would’ve liked to have seen more offense against Brookins, but his attitude and sound skills should earn him a good look on the finale and probably beyond.
Alex Caceres (GSP): Labored past the underwhelming Lentz but put up a good fight against Johnson. His wild fighting style is somewhere between undisciplined and unpredictable, as was his approach to the house. But he’s young, and he seemed to mature a bit in the house. He could make it to the UFC one day, but probably not yet.
Sako Chivitchian (Kos): Again, his judo history was overstated, but he’s a solid fighter who decisively beat a game Sayers and just ran into the Brookins buzzsaw. Might be worth a call to the big show soon.
Cody McKenzie (GSP): Not quite fair to call him a one-trick pony — he finishes his fights with a guillotine, including his win over Stevens, but he sets up the finish with skill and sound tactics. Still, he probably needs some more seasoning to get the UFC call. Had funniest trash-talking exchanges with Koscheck and could be marketable.
Aaron Wilkinson (Kos): “English” nearly upset Johnson in the first bouts and earned a wild-card spot, where he upset Stevens with a guillotine. Watson outclassed him in the quarterfinals. Best bet might be to hope for a call to fill in on a UFC card in the UK, then be ready for the opportunity. Likable, hard-working guy.
ROUND OF 16
Jeff Lentz (Kos): Showed little other than questionable training and health habits. (Really? Smoking?) Would need to make some changes to make major promotion.
Sevak Magakian (Kos): Hot-headed, kind of mean-spirited, overwhelmed by Brookins. Might need to find some Zen to get his career moving.
Andy Main (Kos): Didn’t get much screen time in fight (beaten by Watson’s experience) or in house, so it’s tough to get a read on him.
Spencer Paige (GSP): Intriguing prospect down the road. Gave Phan a terrific fight but broke his hand, ruling him out of the wild-card bout. He and Stevens should be the two fighters from this round who get a shot at an immediate UFC future.
Dane Sayers (GSP): Last pick in the draft, put up a decent effort against Chivitchian.
Marc Stevens (Kos): Looked great in his prelim, then fell into two guillotines against McKenzie and wild-card Wilkinson. Hard to tell how good he could be if he’d just defend that move. Fell out with Koscheck — possibly showing some attitude, possibly justified. Seems to be UFC-caliber talent and seems to understand where he needs work.