Review: Bellator’s “Fight Master”

For those who don’t know, I’ve written a book on The Ultimate Fighter. It is not yet published.

So with Bellator bringing “reality” MMA back to Spike, I simply had to check it out.

The first word that sprang to mind: Awkward.

It’s awkward in the sense that they’re trying so hard not to be The Ultimate Fighter. Bellator commentator Jimmy Smith welcomed the fighters to the cage with roughly the same speech Dana White always gives — two five-minute rounds, if we don’t have a winner, we go to sudden vic … I mean … overtime! Yeah! Overtime!

It’s awkward in the sense that the winning fighters stand in front of four coaches, sitting in chairs like the judges on The Voice, and (A) get fawned over or (B) get tepid congratulations. After these brief conversations, akin to speed-dating, the fighters pick their coaches.

It’s awkward in the sense that the coaches include the top coach in MMA (Greg Jackson), a legendary fighter who made a solid transition to coaching (Randy Couture), a legendary fighter better known for commentary than coaching (Frank Shamrock) … and Joe Warren, a former world champion wrestler who has had an erratic MMA career so far.

And it’s awkward in the sense that we’ve seen all this before. One guy was an alcoholic but has stayed sober since he turned to MMA. One guy is a self-professed geek who does this for his kid. One guy has a lot of experience, and they allude to it without saying outright that he has already fought in Bellator. One guy got in a lot of trouble in college but found God, who told him to build a gym. One guy is a brash blonde from Kentucky who’s adept at trash talk but has a wicked temper … OK, I’m kidding. Junie Browning is not on this show, as far as I know.

All that said, it’s not a bad hour of MMA programming.

The first winning fighter, Tim “Ginga Ninja” Welch, stood out. He came across as confident but amiable, proud of his Irish-Native American heritage. And he looked sharp in recording a quick knockout. All four coaches were impressed, with Shamrock trying to play up the shared Native American ties. Welch still chose the guru, Greg Jackson.

The next winner, Eric Scallon, opened on a sour note by punching when his opponent tried to touch gloves. Christopher Curtis responded with a big flurry of punches and knees, then spent the rest of the fight fending off takedown attempts.

Some coaches were open with their indifference. Jackson said Couture or Warren would be better fits. Shamrock asked the dazed Scallon if he was scared to get hit. Warren saved his lamentations for a confessional, away from Scallon’s eyes and ears. Bad move — Scallon chose Warren.

The third fight was a good one. Brendan Tierney is one of the more interesting characters introduced, a former ballet dancer who looks at fights as “active problem-solving.” He has long legs and creative submission work, along with some good knees. But Nick Barnes is a better striker, especially on the ground. He won and chose Shamrock.

The fourth winner, AJ Matthews, confesses that Shamrock fought before he was interested in MMA. Ouch. He chose Couture.

Last up was the veteran, Chris Lozano, in a fight that really should’ve been stopped. Josh Quayhagen, he who built the gym as instructed by God, was a bloody mess.

I have a lot of positives, a lot to look at. Just not the mirror right now,” quipped Quayhagen.

Shamrock pulled an interesting gambit. In confessional, he said Lozano was his man. But face-to-face, he told Lozano to pick Jackson, with whom the veteran had already worked. Somehow, it worked — Lozano thanked Jackson for their previous time together but said he’d like to learn from “two great minds,” picking Shamrock.

Next week on The Ultimate Fighter, chaos erupts in the house … oh, no, I’m sorry — a few more fights, with winners picking their coaches.

I’m not going to be recapping each week, but it’s a show worth checking out while the MMA community awaits Ronda Rousey’s TUF exploits.