UFC champions’ declining star power

On July 3, 2010, Brock Lesnar defeated Shane Carwin to unify the UFC heavyweight belt, completing Lesnar’s comeback from diverticulitis. As compiled by Dave Meltzer, the authority on such matters, the pay-per-view buyrate for that event was more than 1 million — the sixth time that had happened in UFC history, the third involving Lesnar.

That has happened only once since then.

The champions as of that date:

  • Heavyweight: Lesnar
  • Light heavyweight: Mauricio “Shogun” Rua
  • Middleweight: Anderson Silva
  • Welterweight: Georges St. Pierre
  • Lightweight: Frankie Edgar

Edgar had recently upset BJ Penn for the lightweight belt, then showed later in the year that it wasn’t such a shock, defending the belt in a rematch. Rua had beaten Lyoto Machida — ending the much-hyped “Machida era” after less than a year — but would soon give way to Jon Jones, who held the belt until … Tuesday, when the UFC stripped him in the wake of a hit-and-run investigation in Albuquerque.

Today’s champions:

  • Heavyweight: Nominally Cain Velasquez, who beat Lesnar and traded it back and forth with Junior dos Santos in an engaging trilogy. But he hasn’t fought since October 2013. The interim champion is Fabricio Werdum.
  • Light heavyweight: Vacant until Anthony Johnson fights Daniel Cormier next month.
  • Middleweight: Chris Weidman, who pulled a Frankie Edgar by shocking a longtime champion (Anderson Silva) and doing it again.
  • Welterweight: Robbie Lawler
  • Lightweight: Rafael dos Anjos
  • Featherweight: Jose Aldo
  • Bantamweight: TJ Dillashaw
  • Flyweight: Demetrious Johnson
  • Women’s bantamweight: Ronda Rousey. Perhaps you’ve heard of her.
  • Women’s strawweight: Joanna Jedrzejczyk

Rousey is easily the champion with the biggest media exposure, gaining a Mike Tyson-style rep for fast finishes while appearing in action filns and making the talk show and magazine rounds like Jennifer Aniston. She has just recently established herself as a pay-per-view draw.

The lighter weight classes have been difficult sells. Aldo needs a compelling opponent. Dillashaw knocked off Renan Barao, someone the UFC had been trying to push without much success. “Mighty Mouse” Johnson has attracted a legion of hardcore bloggers trying to point out his brilliant technique, and his literal last-second armbar win in his last bout should give the UFC a highlight to tout, but casual buyers just aren’t biting. Jedrzejczyk didn’t do UFC marketing any favors — the company held an entire season of The Ultimate Fighter with the alleged 16 best women’s strawweights and crowned tournament winner Carla Esparza its first champion in the weight class, only to see the little-known Polish fighter dismantle Esparza in her first defense.

But the real problems are in those higher weight classes, where the UFC has to market people it pushed away not too long ago:

– Werdum was let go after a disappointing run in the UFC. While beating the invincible Fedor Emelianenko outside the UFC is a nice calling card, he then lost to Alistair Overeem. Since he first joined the UFC in 2007, he is 2-3 against other heavyweights in the UFC’s top 10.

– Anthony Johnson, until recently, was best known as a welterweight and a middleweight who could neither make weight nor beat top guys. His first UFC stint included losses to Rich Clementi, Josh Koscheck and Vitor Belfort. (We’re not counting the “loss” to Kevin Burns, a referee’s error that Johnson remedied in the rematch.) The UFC cast him out, and he pulled a stunning win at heavyweight over Andrei Arlovski before returning to the UFC as a light heavyweight. He fought off Phil Davis, pounded the ancient Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and shocked Alexander Gustafsson to earn a title fight against Jones.

– Lawler spent years in the MMA wilderness, getting cut from the UFC after a loss at UFC 50 in 2004. He fought what might have been the two best bouts in EliteXC’s brief history, both against Scott Smith. Then he compiled a 3-5 record in Strikeforce. In his return to the UFC, he moved to welterweight, with the only loss in seven fights being a narrow decision loss to Johny Hendricks that he avenged in December.

Cormier, an Olympic wrestler and a World Championship medalist, has long-term star potential. Weidman might — he did draw more than 1M PPV buys for his rematch against Silva, and no one who saw that can doubt his legitimacy.

Perhaps the lesson to take from this is that the UFC shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss fighters outside its own ranks. Fans can be excused for thinking, “Wait, was Werdum part of that tournament you said was crap?”

But outside of that, I don’t see many lessons here for the UFC. They’ve done what they can to build up Weidman, Cormier and company. They’ve been unlucky with injuries to Velasquez and former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, who had an entertaining rivalry with icon Urijah Faber. Then several of their best fighters and biggest stars have either been beaten (Silva, Benson Henderson, Anthony Pettis, Barao) or drifted into limbo (St. Pierre, Jones).

So these years are a test of the UFC’s staying power, and for the most part, they’re passing. Just don’t expect any Lesnar numbers any time soon.

Advertisement

Monday Myriad, Aug. 4: Flip and fight

Starting with a few bits of news:

– Both U.S. teams won their first matches at the 2014 Chess Olympiad, then faltered today against high seeds. The U.S. open team lost 2.5-1.5 to the Netherlands, while the U.S. women lost 3-1 to China. Only eight rounds to go.

– The U.S. women’s volleyball team had a disappointing 1-2 start in the monthlong World Grand Prix, righting the ship against Japan.

– Nothing else happened.

Seriously. It’s a slow week. Thank goodness two UFC fighters decided to throw down … at the press conference. That’s actually kind of rare for the UFC.

The week in tweets and videos …

Top THIS, Vegas …

Wiping the floor: Simone Biles won the Secret Classic, thanks in part to this:

Close finish: You’d expect a margin of 0.27 seconds in a 100-meter race, but 10,000 meters?

Weekly reminder of global press protocols (or lack thereof): 

Best prep for climate change: Hey, just make biathlon a summer sport.

Most dangerous PR position: UFC’s Dave Sholler had the unfortunate task of attempting to keep Jon Jones off Daniel Cormier.

One more reason to visit Barcelona 

You’rrrrre … um … out?: This isn’t supposed to happen in beach volleyball.

The Ultimate Fighter 17, Episode 12: Award time!

Wow, this is a long Harley-Davidson ad. Oh, wait, the show started. Yeah, one of the fighters gets a motorcycle. Whee.

Chael Sonnen jokes with Kelvin Gastelum that the semifinalist fighter has upgraded his diet from Krispy Kreme to brownies. Man, I miss my 20something metabolism.

Anyway, Gastelum and Josh Sannan both want to win. That’s a relief. Looks like nothing at all happened in the house after the first week or two.

Herb Dean is our ref. We start, we trade, we clinch, and Kelvin gets him down. Josh shows off his active guard, legs fluttering around Kelvin’s torso like wounded butterflies.

Kelvin’s second takedown finds him in better position, and he’s able to land some strikes. Josh scrambles but gives up his back. Kelvin grabs his neck with stunning ease. And so Josh, for all his bluster about being better than just about everyone here, taps out to a rear naked choke in the first round.

Josh is stunned. Kelvin is incoherent.

Next up: Dylan Andrews vs. Uriah Hall. Will Dylan and set up a battle of the last two draft picks? Or Uriah win and make it an all-Sonnen final?

Before the fight, we get more Sonnen hype of Uriah Hall. Uriah Hall can beat anyone in the weight class. Kids will grow up wanting to be Uriah Hall. Dana White will rewrite his will to leave his share of the UFC to Uriah Hall. North Korea will disarm just so Kim Jong-un can get floor seats to see Uriah Hall fight.

Dylan Andrews, meanwhile, is an underdog. He works hard. He wants to win.

Jon Jones builds up Andrews: “This is the finals match. We both know it.” Yeah, let’s keep overlooking Kelvin. That’s worked so well so far.

Fight time, and it’s clear Uriah isn’t overlooking Dylan. The overwhelming favorite is showing the soft-spoken Australian a lot of respect. He tries a couple of spinning kicks but seems a little tentative. Dylan lands a couple of half-decent shots. Neither guy seems the least bit interested in going to the mat, and they both seem intent on matching Rashad Evans’s unofficial record for most feints in one round. Dylan gets through Round 1, though the judges would likely give it to Uriah.

Jones isn’t happy with Dylan. “You threw like five punches that whole round. I don’t know why.”

Round 2: Hall slowly pecks away at Dylan, bloodying his face. Dylan finally decides to get aggressive, swinging with a wild combo and then taking Hall down. Hall passes the ground-game test, grabbing an armlock that looks dangerous. But it doesn’t fluster Dylan too much, and he keeps pounding away at Hall’s ribs. Sonnen keeps yelling, “You got it!” He don’t got it.

But Hall changes position and sets up guard. And he … somehow hits Dylan hard enough that Dylan gives up position and turtles. Hall pounces on Dylan’s back and pounds his ears a bit, but even Steve Mazzagatti is stopping this one.

“From the bottom? From the bottom!” yells Dana White, who says he hasn’t seen that in 13 years.

Hall is emotional. Dylan says his heart hurts more than his face. His face might beg to differ. That, or he needs to see a cardiologist tout suite.

Jones and Sonnen cap off a season of surprising sportsmanship and lead some handshakes between the teams.

Then Sonnen says the most improbable thing in show history. He says Gastelum and Hall were even in practice. OK.

The finalists face off and basically smile at each other. Dana White has to egg them into a true staredown, but they still clown around a bit.

Dana’s very happy and looks forward to seeing most of these guys in the UFC.

So that’s it, and let’s give some awards for a season that has already seen two guys fight in the UFC and will see 11 more in the finale, with Zak Cummings apparently just waiting for an injury to heal:

The Cristiano Marcello Invisibility Cloak Award: Tor Troeng. Seemed to be one of the most intriguing guys coming into the show. Can’t recall seeing him on camera any time other than his fight.

The Tom Lawlor Award for Post-Knockout Humor: Adam Cella, knocked out with such force that the rest of the house that the rest of the house treated Uriah Hall like Ron Decline from that point forward. (Yes, that’s Sen. Al Franken in that clip.) Yet Cella came back to have the funniest conversation ever recorded in a TUF bathroom, and he was a frequent confessional subject the rest of the way.

The Junie Browning House Lunatic Award: No award this season. These guys didn’t fight in the house about much of anything except occasional misunderstandings with Hall.

The Mac Danzig “What Am I Doing Here With Such Lesser Talents?” Award: Josh Samman. But unlike Danzig, he didn’t win.

The Colin Fletcher Quipmaster Award: Gilbert Smith, who got Kevin Casey to throw down in a rap battle.

The Michael Bisping Award for International Arrogance: Luke Barnatt apparently had an opinion on everything.

The Chael Sonnen Positive Coaching Award: Debut award given to its namesake, Chael Sonnen. Who would’ve guessed he’d be the John Wooden of TUF coaches, only with funnier quotes? Can he just retire from fighting and be a permanent coach?

The Danny Downes Recap Award: Also given to its namesake, @dannyboydownes.

See you Saturday for the finale. I have a bad feeling that Miesha Tate might be looking past Cat Zingano, who would be easily be the least experienced coach in TUF history if she should win. (OK, OK — Brock Lesnar, but at least he had won a UFC belt.)

The Ultimate Fighter 17, Episode 11: Bubba bounced

Last week … a couple of quarterfinals, and Ronda Rousey turned up for some grappleflirting. I was out of town, so check with Danny Downes.

This week … Uriah Hall finally fights again? That’s so exciting, I could swear Dana blinked more than usual in the opening credits.

Bubba McDaniel is worn down. Three fights and a lot of training in a short time will do that to you. Clint Hester starts getting his weight down just in case Bubba can’t go.

Also with Team Jones, Josh Samman, is pretty sure Jimmy Quinlan isn’t going to stand with him. “Jimmy’s going to shoot all the way from the other side of the cage.”

His teammates aren’t as confident, in part because Jimmy can hold people down and in part because Josh keeps getting hurt.

It’s a Frank Mir sighting! Anyone catch what he said?

Back to the ailing Bubba. “I don’t want to quit,” Bubba says. Jones says he had been waiting to hear that. “I don’t want to quit,” he says again. OK, good. “I don’t want to quit.” OK, we got it. “I lift things up and put them down.”

(Has anyone seen the techno mix of that ad? It’s not great, but it’s worth a quick peek. Here goes:)

We go to Team Sonnen briefly to hear Mr. Positive Chael tell Jimmy he’s fighting a lot better than he was a few weeks … oh, sorry, we’re back to Bubba. He goes for a blood test.

Fight day, but it’s Samman-Quinlan. So unless they reveal the blood test results between rounds, we’ll put the Bubba saga on hold briefly.

Round 1 — Jimmy does indeed virtually shoot from across the cage. Josh fights him off briefly, but Jimmy gets underneath and picks him for a slam. Josh tilts his weight, though, so Jimmy doesn’t get good control right away. Josh lands a few good elbows from the bottom, and Jimmy drips blood. Then Josh works a submission game from his guard. Then some simultaneous ear punches. It’s rare these days to see the fighter on the bottom dominating the fight, but that’s just what Josh is doing.

I see London, I see France, I see Jimmy Quinlan’s underpants. He should pull up his shorts so that he’ll at least be doing SOMETHING from top control.

Josh finally stands up and lands three big knees to the head. Jimmy crumples and turtles. Josh lands more double ear punches, this time atop Jimmy’s back. Jimmy taps to strikes, which is somewhat unusual unless Steve Mazzagatti is reffing. Which he is.

So now we’re back to Team Jones and Bubba. The blood tests are fine. Bubba may have a pulled muscle, but he’s got some adrenaline now that he knows he’s not having kidney failure or something.

Over to Team Sonnen, Chael thinks Uriah Hall is the greatest talent in the history of talent in any sport on any planet in any universe. But he sometimes lacks confidence. Chael takes Hall aside to do a Sonnen Mind Meld.

Summing up the next segment: They make weight. Uriah’s confident. Bubba isn’t. It’s about the closest you’ll ever come to seeing a guy say “I have no chance” in pre-fight hype.

Fight starts, Herb Dean is the … it’s over. Bubba’s on the mat, asking why his eye is messed up. Sonnen tells Hall he’s a contender. Replay shows a knee to the body, a straight right to Bubba’s eye, then a couple of punches on the ground before Herb Dean wisely stepped in.

Dana White on Hall’s KOs: “You don’t even wanna clap. You feel bad clapping. … This guy is the nastiest guy in Ultimate Fighter history.”

The remaining fighters: Each team’s No. 2 pick (Samman, Hall) and … each team’s last pick (Dylan Andrews, Kelvin Gastelum). So the fairest thing would be Samman-Gastelum and Hall-Andrews. Right?

The guys come in. Samman says everyone knows the final is made for him and Hall. He wants to beat Gastelum and set up the “biggest finale in TUF history.” Andrews says nothing. Hall can’t stand Josh and wants to fight him, but he knows that’s just an emotional thing. Gastelum wants Andrews because he thinks he can beat him. When the other options are Samman and Hall, that makes sense.

But the coaches want to see their top guys fight right away. Will Dana go with his coaches or his promotional instincts telling him a Samman-Hall finale could be huge?

The answer is … promotional instincts. It’s Josh vs. Kelvin. Then Uriah vs. Dylan. That’s why Dana makes the big bucks.

He explains: “My educated guess – Josh and Uriah are probably the best. Now we’re going to find out if I’m right or I’m wrong.”

Scenes from the next episode: Only four battle-tested competitors … does anything happen in the house in the last couple of weeks?

The Ultimate Fighter 17, Episode 9: Pores of a champion

The recap: Bubba wanted to fight Kevin, but Kevin fought Collin instead. And he stunk. But he’s happy to get another chance. The stitches in his forehead are frowning.

Bubba has a tearful confessional about wanting to see his daughter more. Then Team Jones’s coaches pump him up, saying he’s one of the best fighters in the house. The bad news: Bubba looks nervous. To drill that home, we get another confessional with an EXTREME CLOSEUP! SEE INSIDE BUBBA’S PORES! HE HAS THE PORES OF A CHAMPION!

The housemates recalled that Bubba’s callout of Kevin was the only callout of the season. Josh Samman can’t cede the spotlight that easily, so he calls out Jimmy Quinlan, mostly on the grounds that he’s … in the room.

But in practice, Uriah wants to fight Josh. And Jimmy, who tends to grapple people rather than knock them unconscious, says he wants to see Uriah beat the piss out of him.

Chael Sonnen then continues his transformation from trash-talking court-maneuvering bad boy to the Guru of Positive Coaching. “If his opponent is better, we can live with that. But we’ve got to see the real Kevin Casey.”

Casey has been practicing with a mask on to protect his cut. It looks like he’s auditioning for an MMA-themed remake of Silence of the Lambs.

Now it’s Thanksgiving dinner, and Sonnen proves himself the toastmaster. “Jon, it is a sheer disappointment, finding out what a nice gentleman you are.”

Some people are griping about not getting enough food. Bubba is cutting weight. Bubba angry. Bubba smash. Someone’s saving some food for after the fight, right?

But after another wholly unnecessary EXTREME CLOSEUP of Josh, Bubba steps up and makes weight. Kevin, on the other hand, needs to drop his drawers and step behind the Towel of Shame. He has trouble putting his pants back on. “I just don’t know what to do right now,” Sonnen says. He thinks maybe he should help, but …

Is it too late to have Chael replace Charlie Sheen on Anger Management? I’d watch that.

Dylan Andrews is afraid that Bubba might go crazy if he loses. Me too. Especially after the third “I should be able to smash this guy” confessional from Bubba in this episode.

Bubba and Kevin talk more. And more. And some ads. And Dana tells us it’s the wild-card fight. Finally, Steve Mazzagatti gets us started.

Kevin immediately gives up a takedown. I’d say he pulled guard, but he didn’t seem happy there, and he wall-walks his way up and out. Then he gets a takedown of his own, bending Bubba in all sorts of uncomfortable ways. Through 2:30 of the fight, it’s hard to recall a single strike.

Bubba eventually stands. Kevin holds him against the fence, but Bubba still manages to land some knees. Unfortunately, Kevin trips him down in the last 30 seconds, and Bubba just looks irritated for the rest of the round.

The second round finds Bubba again unable to remain at optimum kickboxing distance. He’s effective at dirty boxing, though, and he takes down Kevin in side control. Then he remembers the “pound” part of “ground and pound,” which Kevin doesn’t seem to enjoy.

An elbow sends Kevin’s mouthpiece flying, leading to some unusual corner advice: “You want that mouthpiece! Go get it!” Kevin works his way closer to it, but Bubba is effectively beating him up with good fists and elbows. The Sonnen staff is reduced to the Rampage-style corner advice of “Get up!”

So did the judges give a 10-8 in the second round? Of course not. We’re going to a third round. Kevin has to be helped to his corner.

We were promised a big finish, and we don’t have much time for much else. In fact, we have NO time, because Kevin can’t get up off his stool.

Bubba yells to Dana White, “Does that count as a finish?” Dana, smiling: “Good question! Yeah, we’ll give it to you.”

Fight recap: Chael is pleased that Kevin turned it into a grappling match rather than a fight in the first round. Then one of Chael’s team yelled into the cage that Bubba was breaking. Bubba angry. Bubba smash — for real this time. Afterwards, Bubba yelled not to tell him he’s breaking. Point taken.

Kevin’s departure puzzles Chael. “This was new to me,” the coach/philosopher says. Kevin says he once had kidney failure in a fight. He leaves in an ambulance. So we’re supposed to infer that he had kidney failure again?

Quarterfinal time. Dana says he usually brings in the fighters to get their preferences. This time … he also will do that. OK then.

One person (Collin?) actually calls out Uriah. But Uriah calls out Josh. They ask Josh about that, and he says Uriah is ducking Collin. Right.

As with Lesnar and dos Santos, the coaches surprisingly agree on everything. Dylan and Luke called each other out, so that’s easy.

But Dana has final say:

– Collin vs. Kelvin
– Dylan vs. Luke (New Zealand vs. UK)
– Josh vs. Jimmy
– Uriah vs. Bubba

Aw, come on. That’s not fair. Uriah: We all had this Scooby-Doo look on our faces. He does a good sound effect to illustrate — ah, the limitations of print render it impossible for me to replicate it.

So Josh and Jimmy get the fight that one of them really wanted and one sort of wanted. Dylan and Luke get their Battle of the Accents. The other four are going back to the house wondering what they did to piss off Dana.

On the next episode, we get an overhead shot of Brittney Palmer’s cleavage. Then two fights. And Ronda Rousey visits. Never say the producers don’t understand their demographic.

The Ultimate Fighter 17, Episode 8: Much more Mr. Nice Guy

Previously on The Ultimate Fighter: Nothing of interest. Not in the mini-recap, anyway. We’re quickly on to what passes for the theme music this season, a couple of French horn notes while Dana White squints.

Adam Cella thinks no one deserves a contract more than Bubba, based on his sacrifices and work ethic. I think he deserves because he stumbles over his cliches and ends up with something like “ducks in a basket with eggs in a hat.”

Jon Jones touts his last pick, Dylan Andrews, in advance of his fight against Zak Cummings. Of Cummings, Jones says he thinks he’s right-handed. Great scouting.

Andrews grew up with his brothers’ marijuana plants surrounding his bed. While many MMA fans seem to think that’s a cool thing, those brothers have apparently wasted their talents, while he was lucky enough to wander into a gym.

Uriah Hall bonds with Andrews over their fears of fighting. We only know that from Hall’s confessional. In their actual conversation, Hall looks like he’s staring daggers at Andrews. But we have to remind ourselves:

Next we hear that Cummings thinks Andrews is a really nice guy.

Coaches’ challenge time! Each guy is supposed to use heavy equipment to fill a dumpster, move tires and other stuff.

Dana White says this is the first time they’ve had a challenge that wasn’t some sort of sports challenge. Apparently, the Faber-Cruz “take large weapons and blow stuff up” challenge was sports-related.

“My father-in-law owns an excavation company,” Sonnen says. If he had known this would be the challenge, he would have called him.

But we get a thrilling back-and-forth battle. Jones gets the first scoop of dirt, then loses the hang of it. Sonnen races out to a big lead but has trouble with the third tire. Jones reclaims the lead and comes within one bad bounce of winning, leaving the door open for Sonnen.

Everything is going Sonnen’s way this season. Everything. The best we can say for Jones is that he’s taking it well.

Weigh-in goes smoothly. Dylan talks about his family. Sonnen generously says this looks like an even matchup because Dylan may not have stood out in the prelims, but Zak’s KO was a bit of a fluke. Let’s go back and check the draft — Zak Cummings was Sonnen’s third pick.

Herb Dean is the ref. He starts the fight. My closed-captioning tells me Sonnen says, “Need water.” We get 30 seconds of the anticipated strike duel before Zak presses for a takedown. Dylan defends that, but then Zak drops him. Dylan covers up. Zak gets in Dylan’s half-guard and lands elbows. Zak moves to mount but, to the shock of everyone, Dylan sweeps. Dylan gets in Zak’s guard and drips blood on him, but he also gets space for a good ground-and-pound assault.

Zak looks uncomfortable, but he does make things a little tricky by snaking his legs up. Dylan shrugs that off and advances to half-guard, raining elbows while Zak’s face shows the wear and tear of a tough first round. The horn sounds too soon for Dylan.

Round 2: Zak goes for an acrobatic spinning back kick, bringing a smile to Dylan’s face. Zak smiles back, and they touch gloves. A few seconds later, Zak touches his left glove to Zak’s face in a little less friendly manner. He chases a reeling Dylan across the cage, but Dylan recovers to dump him down. Dylan once again has a great position in Zak’s half-guard, with his corner yelling at him not to pass. Zak is trapped against the cage and can do little but defend and try to get Herb Dean to stand them up. Dean issues a couple of warnings, which encourages Zak to tie up Dylan tightly. But Dylan improves his position just a bit and gets some punches in there.

While this is going on, I have a great idea for a workout app. Call it “Herb Dean: Personal Trainer.” It’s a heart monitor. When your heart rate drops below a certain point, Herb says, “Work. Need some work.” When someone designs this, please send me a little portion of the royalties.

Anyway, Zak never figures out a way to get away from the cage. The horn sounds, Zak and Dylan hug, and Dylan raises his arms … in victory? We’ll have to see. Round 2 is definitely his. But Round 1?

Ad break builds the suspense, and …

We come back to see both fighters prepping for a third round. But no! Keith Kizer says that’s it.

Dylan admits he was close to tapping in Round 1 but somehow found another gear. “I went to another place, I don’t know what it is.”

It’s officially a majority decision. Cummings, like everyone else, hopes for a wild-card slot.

Ah, the ever-contentious wild-card discussion. Dana decides to leave it up to the coaches. He says two guys from each side are eligible: Team Sonnen’s Kevin Casey and Zak Cummings, Team Jones’s Clint Hester and Bubba McDaniel.

Sonnen says he’s an easier spot because Kevin clearly deserves it. And he empathizes with Jones having a tough call.

Remember when we all thought Sonnen and Jones were going to have nasty trash-talking sessions? Didn’t happen.

It’s all laughter in Jones’s dressing room as he jokes about being Bubba’s teammate but having a cool dude in Hester. “And he’s black!”

Ultimately, Jones decides to go with the guy who has put in more years. That’s not a bad criterion. Bubba gets the spot, and Hester immediately hugs him.

So it’s Bubba vs. the King. They wanted this fight all along. They’ve got it. The staredown is intense.

Next week: It’s a Thanksgiving dinner. And “one of the most shocking finishes in TUF history.” So the cage is electrified now?

The Ultimate Fighter 17, Episode 7: Bones does not know

We recap, and then Josh Samman, still in a towel in his post-victory whatever, starts planning matchups. What was Jon Jones saying about him coaching too much?

The gang goes to Hooters, and while I don’t make moral judgments, I refuse to acknowledge anything that takes place at a chain restaurant that encourages men to treat women as objects.

Actually, I may have gained some respect for Uriah Hall, who refused to join the gang for a photo with Hooters women.

Then it gets serious. Samman, who had a major problem with a blood clot, has pain in his leg. He gets it checked out. Nothing serious. But he gets to chill in a hospital bed for a bit.

Jimmy Quinlan, tonight’s underdog fighter, talks about going through the police academy after college. But like Forrest Griffin, he decided to go for the fighting thing first. (Unlike Forrest, as far as we know, he has a job waiting for him if the fighting thing doesn’t work out.)

Chael Sonnen goes through the fight plan, which we already knew. Quinlan is great on the ground. Clint Hester, his opponent and much-heralded top pick, comes from a boxing background. So Quinlan isn’t going to have much interest in standing toe to toe with him.

We meet Clint Hester, from my home state of Georgia. He used to hang out with smaller kids and threaten the guys who bullied them. For some reason, I have visions of him beating up Matt Hughes.

Quinlan, on the other hand, is no bully. He jokes that Hester used a bowl reserved for him, so now they’re going to have to fight today. Hester plays along: “OK, 4 o’clock by the monkey bars.”

These guys are almost as fun as the TUF Smashes cast. Probably better fighters.

Fight time. Quinlan shoots for the takedown right away. After some effort, he picks up Hester for a slam. Hester slowly works his way back up. Another slam. Hester gets up again and gets stuck in a clinch with Quinlan. But he’s able to creat some space for his knees, then his fists. The strikes are clearly bothering Quinlan, but he manages to get another takedown. Then another slam. And yet, Quinlan doesn’t seem to have landed a single strike. Hester strikes a few times for the bottom. Quinlan responds by moving down to Hester’s legs, as if to say, “Yeah, I took you down, and you’re still down, but I’m going to take you down AGAIN!”

So it’s a scoring dilemma. Do you favor Quinlan’s takedowns, as Luke “The Mouth of England” Barnatt seems to think?

Round 2, another takedown. And everyone yells at Hester to keep his hand on Quinlan’s head. He doesn’t. Quinlan gets mount. Hester decides to give up his back instead. Quinlan gets the choke, and we have another upset.

“That was a good fight,” says an unidentified voice. No, it wasn’t. It was a wrestler who has no other discernible fighting skills beating a guy who has no idea how to avoid being slammed by a wrestler. And it’s more proof that Jon Jones should just quit making fight matchups and flip a coin.

In fact — you know that bit about the fighters being better than those in TUF Smashes? I take it back. And I take back the bit about Hester beating up Matt Hughes.

Sonnen, as usual, offers up sound analysis. He was impressed with Hester’s striking from odd angles and less impressed with Quinlan’s takedowns. He leans toward Hester in Round 1.

Sonnen and Jones have some good-natured banter about their bowling bet from last week’s episode, and we’re on to the fight announcement. It’s Dylan Andrews vs. Zak Cummings because they’re the only two fighters left. And yet, it’s still probably Jones’s fault.

The closed captioning (yes, I need to keep the volume down) tells us Jones paid tribute to Dylan’s (speaks indistinctly). That’s promising.

Next week, Dana White gives the coaches construction equipment for the coaches’ challenge. This cannot go well.

The Ultimate Fighter 17, Episode 6: Oh, you mean this is EDITED?!

Before we begin, we’re reminded of a couple of minor issues from the season so far:

1. Josh might be speaking up a bit too much within Team Jones.

2. Uriah Hall was upset that someone corrected his word choice — cooker? Chef?

3. Dana White is blinking a lot in his closeup.

Chael Sonnen stops by to reassure Bubba McDaniel. Again, when did Sonnen become such a nice guy?

Moving ahead to the next fight, Sonnen is once again building up the other guy. He would’ve loved to have Josh on his team, but Tor Troeng is a sleeper.

No one seems to know anything about him other than he’s from Sweden and his teammates are making him a hammer. Because he’s “Thor,” right? Several roles of tape later, the hammer starts to look pretty good.

But we have discord on Team Sonnen. Hall is holding his hands low in sparring, so Luke Barnatt peppers him with a few light jabs. Hall responds by throwing hard. In confessional, Barnatt says Hall isn’t a team player, has an attitude, is an ego-driven machine, etc.

Maybe that’s what Hall means with this tweet:

Then Barnatt segues to a discussion of Americans always overlooking Europeans like Tor. The MMA scene is huge in Sweden. Also, Spinal Tap is big in Japan.

We meet Tor. He does math. He trains. Umm … can anyone say anything about him?

Sonnen to the rescue! He knows more about martial arts than anyone on Team Sonnen, but he’s unassuming and says little.

Out of nowhere, Tor lays a philosophical gem on us: “Speaking is silver and silence is gold.” Now I feel guilty about continuing this recap. Ah well — no one’s going to click on a blank blog.

After a break, we see Team Jones shadowboxing. At night. In the backyard of the house. Huh?

“Josh … thinks he’s coach,” says Dylan Andrews. Funny how each team has a complaining Englishman.

Adam Cella: “Josh is the guy I call ‘dad’ here.” We see him lecturing people on their diets. And the proper way to cut onions. Dude, everyone has a different way of cutting onions. I had a relative once tell me my girlfriend was doing it wrong.

Josh recounts his first tryout for TUF. He wound up with a blood clot and went in for surgery. Right before getting the anesthetic, the doctor tells him when he wakes up, he might feel a little dizzy. No, wait — they tell Josh might have only one leg. That’s a little more serious.

More about Josh: He was academically gifted and not allowed to do anything violent (football, playing with guns, etc.).

Oh wait, we’re not done with Hall and Barnatt. Gilbert Smith asks people who they want to fight, and Hall says “Biggs.” That’s apparently Barnatt, not the guy from Tatooine who died in the attack on the Death Star. Barnatt wonders who would say he’s ready to fight a teammate before the prelims are even done. Kevin Casey doesn’t like that.

Maybe that’s what Hall means with this tweet:

So Hall goes and hangs out with Team Jones. Smith starts recruiting him for the team, then badgering him about calling out Barnatt. Hall says he was joking. But it was the truth. But he shouldn’t have said it. Now Hall wants to talk about something else. Someone offers up a little comment about an upcoming field trip to a casino.

Then suddenly (at least according to the edit monster), Hall asks Cella if his girlfriend is a bitch like him. That requires some explaining.

Maybe that’s what Hall means with this tweet:

The next morning, Hall is reliving the conversation for Bubba McDaniel. He wants to get away from it, so he goes jogging through some leaves on a beautiful fall landscape, passing by a gazebo … wait, where the hell is he?!

Everyone goes bowling at the Red Rock. Fights are on big screens. Everyone’s having fun. Jones starts giving the usual interview about relaxing when Sonnen videobombs him, jumping into the camera frame. He challenges Jones to a three-frame bowling match in which the loser has to wear the winner’s shirt through a training session.

Sonnen: “I am not a bowler but I know HOW to bowl. … This isn’t rocket science.”

It’s far more entertaining than the Hughes-Serra coaches’ challenge, which took place at the same venue. But Jones still runs off a la Hughes after a close loss.

Fight day, and someone has drawn a “Thor Smash!” cartoon, reminding us all to pay tribute to the “Tour day schmalz,” the excellent Tour de France recaps at NYVelocity.com.

Sonnen tells Tor that he’d be thrilled if this fight exposes some holes in the Swede’s game. Then they could work on them and get him back in the wild card. Um … thanks, coach?

Josh said his experience was the reason he gravitated toward a leadership role. The tale of the tape tells us Tor has 20 fights to Josh’s 11.

It’s not a bad fight. Josh, wearing shorts not quite as tight as Colton Smith’s but in the neighborhood, trades positions with Tor several times. Tor ends up on top on the ground, but with Frank Mir yelling instructions, Josh scrambles out and lands several punches while they’re at an awkward angle. They stand, and Josh lands a massive knee to the body. After another exchange, Tor starts backpedaling across the cage. Josh lands a good body kick, Tor drops his hands, and Josh lands a massive 1-2 combo to the head. Tor falls instantly, and Herb Dean races in to pull Josh away. Might be KO of the season if not for Hall’s stunner.

Jones gets to pick. His last two fighters are top pick Clint Hester and last pick Dylan Andrews. He sends out Hester vs. Jimmy Quinlan. Sonnen is surprised, hailing Quinlan’s grappling skills against Hester’s boxing.

That only leaves two more fighters. They don’t say so, but the last match of this round, barring injury, has to be Andrews vs. Zak Cummings.

Scenes from next week: Josh Sannan’s leg acts up and sends him to the hospital, and the guys get a night on the town. At Hooters. Seriously? What, they spend all the production money on the new cameras?

The Ultimate Fighter 17, Episode 5: Sonnen the good guy?

The funny thing about this season: Chael Sonnen is making it difficult to hate him.

His pep talks to his team feel sincere and inspiring. He does a twist of the Hoosiers scene measuring the height of each basket, telling his fighters about a researcher finding people had no trouble walking across a 2×4 when it’s down on the ground but unwilling to do it when it’s suspended between two ladders. It’s not the fight making you nervous, he says — it’s the environment, with “Uncle Dana” watching.

While he drops the occasional Muhammad Ali rhyme (“How you gonna deal with the team of steel?”), he isn’t trash-talking. He and Jon Jones have had a cordial relationship throughout. They agree far more than they disagree. (We’ll see if that changes when the time comes to pick the wild cards.)

He’s impressed with Team Jones’ Bubba McDaniel, praising him for running on his day off and saying he wanted to push for a wild-card slot for whoever faces him.

This week, he called on his cool friends to help out. He got Ronda Rousey on the phone to talk with a smitten Kelvin Gastelum, promising to come out to Vegas to teach a session if he upsets Bubba McDaniel. (He does, and she calls back again while his teammates tease him.)

More surprisingly, he brought in Mickey Rourke, who has been a bit more successful as an actor than he was a boxer but is eager to tell stories of dealing with adversity. “Discipline into my life came very late,” he says to an attentive group of fighters.

In today’s MMA Fighting live chat, Luke Thomas said we may be seeing the real Sonnen now that he has talked and postured his way to comfortable positions as an analyst who is getting his third title fight. He no longer needs to do the act.

The counterargument to that would be that Sonnen did some bad stuff that wasn’t part of the act. His non-UFC career led him to court. He had a muddled testosterone-therapy case that may have affected the performance against Anderson Silva that vaulted him up the UFC respectability ladder.

But if that’s in the past, and this is “the real Sonnen” with a bit more maturity and responsibility, then a lot of people are going to like him.

Oh, and then his fighter upset Bubba. Not a bad fight at all, though Bubba broke down in tears of disappointment afterward. Kelvin, blasted by Josh Sannan as having “the worst diet in the house,” looked solid on his feet and terrific on the ground. After a first round that featured more sweeps than the 1-vs-8 matchups of the NBA playoffs (“Quit floppin’ around!” yells Sonnen from the corner), Kelvin established better control in the second round and eventually sunk a deep rear naked choke on the startled veteran.

Sonnen called it the best fight of the tournament so far, again complimenting Bubba. “One more for the bad guys,” he says, still willing to play the heel even if he isn’t acting like one.

We didn’t see much in the house other than an entertaining game of charades. Bubba didn’t participate, opting to stare at the fire and reflect on his troubled youth. “The law sometimes doesn’t agree with me.”

We also hear once again that Kelvin is the youngest fighter in TUF history. Not true. His TUF bio gives his age as 20. Patrick Iodice, who fought in TUF Smashes, is still just 19.

The next fight is Tor Troeng (Sonnen) vs. Josh Sannan (Jones). Sonnen says they made the matchup because everyone else in the house is scared of them. Everyone’s also scared of Uriah Hall. Maybe they should just let Hall fight the Troeng-Sannan winner?

But earlier in the episode, we see that all is not well with the show’s favorites. Samman is dealing with a few injuries to his finger and knee, and he asked the Team Jones coaches not to pick him next if Bubba gains control for the team. Jones appreciates the communication but worries that the better fighters are starting to dictate things on the team.

And in the scenes from the next episode, Josh is describing a nasty hamstring injury in his past. Over on Team Sonnen, Uriah Hall is falling into the old way of annoying TUF teammates, punching too hard in training. Ouch.

The Ultimate Fighter 17, Episode 4: Rap, rap, rippety rap …

Maybe we shouldn’t pick on Kevin Casey, the fighter/rapper who finagles an easy matchup in which he’ll take no damage and then proceeds to spend most of the fight on his back doing nothing of interest. He’s clearly quick-witted and thoughtful. He easily wins the rap battle in the house, and his video isn’t that bad:

But if you keep chanting “Never surrender, no retreat, God, way of life, etc.” in your video, shouldn’t you … back it up? With something?

Here’s how the episode unfolded …

Adam Cella returns from his KO in a hospital gown and seeks out Uriah Hall. The fact that he’s in the shower doesn’t keep him from stepping in to mess around with Hall, who seems relieved and genuinely happy that Cella’s up and joking around. Though maybe a little nervous to be standing naked behind a shower curtain.

Moving ahead: Kevin Casey rationalizes his decision to take Collin Hart instead of Bubba or someone else, saying he came in with an eye injury and wants to avoid taking more damage. Meanwhile, Bubba pumps up Collin with some confident talk.

Hart’s backstory is typical: Fought a lot in elementary school, got suspended a lot. If we improve public education in the USA, will our pool of MMA fighters decline?

Casey apparently has rap videos online. See above.

Gilbert Smith throws it down, and we have a rap battle in the house. It’s not bad. More rappers need a sense of humor like this. The housemates enjoy it, too.

Before you start to think Casey is just a funny rap dude ducking Bubba, we get his backstory. Casey studied with some Gracies and vowed to keep going in MMA after Rockson Gracie’s death.

Now a TUF first: The power went out! But all the camera crews still have power, so we get a little toilet paper prank from Team Sonnen. It doesn’t go well, by Team Sonnen’s admission. Hart is still angry because they had set a rule of not messing with each other’s sleep. Hart’s weight cut may also be making him a bit irritable.

Josh Samman says he would bet his house on Hart. Then Hart flips off Casey at the weigh-in. Hall: “Nobody saw that coming.”

Back at the house, Collin struggles at first to explain the middle finger. He then pegs it to his interrupted sleep. Casey gives a little bit of a lecture on professionalism, saying older fighters (Casey’s 31) sometimes need to remind younger fighters (Hart’s 22) of their responsibilities. Hart doesn’t reply, except in confessional, where he’s still mad about his interrupted sleep.

Fight time: Hart immediately rushes Casey and takes him down, landing in half-guard. Casey improves to full guard and ties him up. Casey stands and clinches, and the fighters demonstrate why the IOC got bored with Greco-Roman wrestling. Yell “knees” all you want — this is still boring as hell.

Round 2: Casey comes out swinging. Hard. Hart clinches, and somehow, Casey’s face starts spurting blood. Head butt? After a struggle, Hart takes him down in half-guard, then briefly gets side control. Then nothing. What does a guy have to do to get Herb Dean to stand ’em up?

Decision time: Hart wins unanimously.

Jones says the fight went perfectly. Sonnen says Casey settled into a position and waited for a mistake that never came. Dana White noticed that Casey did very little after his two offensive flurries, like “he didn’t even try to win this fight.” Sonnen is blunt, too: “Kevin Casey never showed up.”

Hart apologizes to Sonnen for the finger, saying he meant no disrespect. Sonnen doesn’t really care.

Then Hart gets on a treadmill. They weren’t kidding about his cardio. Dude’s a serious athlete.

Fight announcement. Jones has regained control. Will he blunder again, as he did in Episode 1?

He picks Bubba, as hinted earlier, against Kelvin. Who? Has this dude been on camera at any point this season? Let’s check the Episode 1 recap … he didn’t even say much in that one.

Ah … Sonnen reminds us he’s the youngest fighter in the history of the tournament. Sonnen says Bubba’s the favorite but that Kelvin can push the pace. Let’s hope so.