Matchups to make in wake of Rampage-Tito announcement

In a mixed martial arts landscape dominated by the UFC, Bellator has made inroads with an alternate approach — mixing just a couple of UFC alumni with some younger or lesser-known fighters in tournaments broadcast for free, now on former UFC channel Spike.

So it’s a little strange to see their big announcement yesterday of a pay-per-view event featuring two fighters waaaay past their primes.

Tito Ortiz was a star of the early UFC. Great. Now let’s check out his last 10 years:

– Convincing losses against the other two light heavyweight stars of the 2000s, Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell.

– A five-fight win streak that included two split decisions and two wins against the aging Ken Shamrock.

– Since then, he’s 1-7-1.

Then we have Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, whom you might remember from the time he “motorboated” a female interviewer. He had a good run when he moved into the UFC in 2007, beating Liddell and Dan Henderson before giving up the light heavyweight belt to Forrest Griffin. Then he knocked out Wanderlei Silva in 2008 to avenge a couple of spectacular losses in Japan.

Since then, Jackson offered little in his grudge match with Rashad Evans, got a dubious decision against Lyoto Machida, beat the faded Matt Hamill, and lost his last three.

So in honor of this matchup, let’s consider a few other pay-per-view possibilities:

– Men’s basketball: Duke-UConn 1999. The rematch. (Hey, at least 3-4 of those players are still in the NBA.)

– Golf: Lee Trevino vs. Jack Nicklaus in a long-driving contest.

– Boxing: Evander Holyfield vs. anybody.

– Tennis: Anna Kournikova vs. Jennifer Capriati.

– Men’s basketball: Duke-Kentucky 1992. The rematch.

– Cycling: Lance Armstrong vs. the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Now here’s the sad part: I bet Rampage vs. Tito actually does pretty well.

Sure, some of the others might draw some attention for the novelty factor. But people won’t turn away from the actual NCAA Tournament to sit in rapt attention as retired basketball players get back on the court. A thrilling finish at The Masters will still outdraw a fun afternoon with Trevino and Nicklaus, who would be more likely to entertain the crowd with a few stories and jokes — something Rampage and Tito won’t really have time to do.

But MMA fans, especially the “casual” crowd, may still react more to the old favorites than the younger, more advanced fighters who have come up behind them. The UFC’s numbers aren’t what they used to be.

The UFC has four pay-per-view events scheduled this fall. The main events:

– UFC 165: Light heavyweight champion Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafson.

– UFC 166: Heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez vs. former champion Junior dos Santos, the third match of a trilogy.

– UFC 167: Welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks. (Yes, “Johny.” The other n is hidden in his beard.)

– UFC 168: New middleweight champion Chris Weidman vs. Anderson Silva, a rematch of Weidman’s stunning upset July 6.

St. Pierre and Silva are two of the best fighters ever, and Jones is in that conversation as well. Velasquez and dos Santos smashed aside the old guard in the heavyweight division. The UFC cards also will be far deeper than what Bellator has to offer — interim bantamweight champion Renan Barao, fast-rising heavyweight Daniel Cormier and former Strikeforce champion Nate Marquardt are among the undercard fighters already announced.

So the UFC cards should do far better than what Bellator is offering. Will they? We’ll see.

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‘The Ultimate Fighter’: Season 11, Episode 10: Iceman 1, Crabman 0

We start with Chuck Liddell taking out his frustration over Tito Ortiz pulling out of their fight, ranting in front of an amused Dana White. Tito says Chuck doesn’t understand what he’s going through.

Then, in one of the most abrupt segues in Ultimate Fighter history, we have the weigh-in for the Josh Bryant-Jamie “Crabman” Yager quarterfinal.

As we get to the part with teammates talking up each fighter’s chances, we see Kyacey Uscola casting doubt on Yager. They’re both on Team Ortiz. Or is Yager officially on Team Yager now?

Yager, though, gives a good analysis of the Bryant bout. Bryant is busy taking out the trash.

Crabman should be the favorite, based on the speed of his prelim and first-round wins. Bryant needed a majority decision to get into the house, then labored his way to an upset of Kris McCray.

Steve Mazzagatti is the ref. Crabman is the tall one. It’s one of the biggest height differentials in Ultimate Fighter history. We’re off.

Continue reading ‘The Ultimate Fighter’: Season 11, Episode 10: Iceman 1, Crabman 0

‘The Ultimate Fighter’: Season 11, Episode 9: If only Tito could burn the tape

Two quarterfinals and the explanation of what happened to Tito Ortiz to scrub his fight with fellow coach Chuck Liddell? Seems promising.

Must be busy, because we start with a weigh-in. Kyle Noke and Kris McCray are bummed because they’re buddies, and they have to fight. They’re also two of the best guys on the show, and one of them has to go out early.

Tito went to his neck doctor, and they want to do surgery. He says he has fought hurt for the last six years and doesn’t want to fight Chuck at less than 100 percent. Someone on the Web is surely cataloging all of Tito’s devastating setbacks and miraculous recoveries. I’ve written at least one of them.

Seems anticlimactic, doesn’t it?
Continue reading ‘The Ultimate Fighter’: Season 11, Episode 9: If only Tito could burn the tape

‘The Ultimate Fighter’: Season 11, Episode 8: Wild

Already at the eighth episode? And we still don’t know why Tito isn’t fighting Chuck. We still don’t know if any two fighters will be healthy enough to fight in the finale. We still don’t know if anyone eventually tapes Crabman’s mouth shut.

We do know the wild-card matchup. One wrinkle: Kyacey Uscola gets special dispensation to take a phone call from his wife, who has just delivered their baby boy. It’s a touching scene. Kris McCray, his opponent, sincerely congratulates him. No trash-talking going into this one. McCray, humbled by his earlier loss, says he’s probably the underdog. No, Kris, you’re not.

Steve Mazzagatti is our ref, and we’re underway before the first ad break! That has to be a record.

Uscola seems looser and more confident early, letting his hands go a bit. McCray answers with kicks. Then an Uscola leg kick catches McCray badly, and his corner urges him to pounce on his grimacing opponent. But McCray recovers quickly and lands some shots against the cage.

It’s one of the quietest fights in the show’s history. Tito, as promised, is keeping his mouth shut, not willing to pick sides between teammates. Other fighters are also staying out of it. You hear one or two guys from each corner.

McCray catches Uscola in the groin with a knee, and Mazzagatti breaks them up, giving Uscola time to recover and, more importantly, escape from being pinned against the cage. But McCray presses the action again and easily takes the first round.

Continue reading ‘The Ultimate Fighter’: Season 11, Episode 8: Wild

‘The Ultimate Fighter’: Season 11, Episode 6: Overwork pays off

Since we last saw our 14 confined middleweights, we’ve learned that the Tito Ortiz-Jenna Jameson domestic drama was a misunderstanding. But we still have no idea why Tito has been pulled from his fight against coaching foe Chuck Liddell.

We begin with a debate about the intensity of Tito’s practices. Kyacey Uscola think they’re being overtrained, and he appeals to his experience. Others disagree.

Tito calls a team meeting, which Uscola rightly recognizes as a bus set to roll over him. He tries to make his point, but he obviously has a choice of going to the mat over the issue or letting it go. He chooses the latter. Veteran experience again. He already lost his fight, so his only hope of getting back in through the new “wild card” is to play nice.

We have four remaining fighters for the first round, and we know very little about the two on Chuck’s team aside from their facial hair. Joe “Chris “Jesus” Ferguson” Henle stood out in the promos but hasn’t made a peep since. Same with Court McGee.

Continue reading ‘The Ultimate Fighter’: Season 11, Episode 6: Overwork pays off

‘The Ultimate Fighter’: Season 11, Episode 5: Epic struggle

After a week in which Tito Ortiz traded accusations with longtime girlfriend Jenna Jameson, with whom he has started a family, it’s a relief to see an episode that focuses on the fighting.

We don’t see much in the house besides some idle speculation of which losing fighter should get a wild-card slot to return to action. Clayton McKinney is out of action with a shoulder injury. Rich Attonito won but can’t continue because of a broken hand. But with three first-round fights to go, we’re still a long way from getting an answer on this.

Tito has the right to pick the matchups, and he sends out Kris McCray against Josh Bryant. McCray cracks up Bryant at the staredown, and other fighters says Bryant doesn’t really act like he wants to fight. Not sure why else someone would spend six weeks cooped up in a house with these guys.

Continue reading ‘The Ultimate Fighter’: Season 11, Episode 5: Epic struggle

‘The Ultimate Fighter’: Season 11, Episode 4: The doors of perception

To review from last week (check the recap for a full rundown of the episode and the teams):

– Chris Camozzi’s jaw injury forced him to leave the house and show. Seth Baczynski, who lost a close decision to Court McGee in the prelims, took his place.

– Charles Blanchard gives massages, which some insecure people in the house find funny.

– Brad Tavares beat James Hammortree on every scorecard except that of Tito Ortiz, who apparently blacked out for the last 3:30 of the fight. Luckily, his card doesn’t count.

– Crabman (Jamie Yager) is getting closer to being this season’s Junie Browning.

On to this week …

We start with a recap of last week’s fight, and we learn that Yager was cheering for Tavares. Tavares is not on Yager’s team. Yager’s teammate, Nick Ring, isn’t happy about that. Ring already had feuded with Crabman, but they patch things up. We think. Yager has formed his own “team” that he calls “Minority Report.” It’s Yager (African American), Tavares (Hispanic), McCray and Kyle Noke (Australian). The others call it “Team Yager.” And worse.

Continue reading ‘The Ultimate Fighter’: Season 11, Episode 4: The doors of perception

‘The Ultimate Fighter’: Season 11, Episode 2: Get off my back!

We met our 14 fighters last time as they won their way into the house. Now we’ll see what they’re really like.

Clayton McKinney, who stands out with the brightly dyed hair typical of the Tom Lawlor-Seth Petruzelli Jungle MMA camp, leads the charge into the house. Did Lawlor tell him which room to pick?

Injury update: Chris Camozzi has an infection from breaking a tooth in his bout. McKinney has a shoulder problem.

Off to team selection we go, and both coaches look prepared. Dana White decides first pick with a coin flip, which seems too conventional. Shouldn’t they arm-wrestle or compare film resumes or something? Tito Ortiz wins and has the option of picking first fighter or first matchup. He goes with first fighter, and it’s Nick Ring, who indeed looked impressive and has good credentials.

Chuck Liddell picks Kyle Noke, the guy who has a couple of decent names on his fight record. Tito goes for experience with Kyacey Uscola, who’s 18-15. Chuck follows with Rich Attonito, which is a surprise because Kris McCray is still out there and because he won his prelim with less striking and more wrestling, impressing Ortiz.

Tito, smartly, picks Kris McCray, the undefeated pro who wins fights in the blink of an eye. Chuck takes Charles Blanchard.

Continue reading ‘The Ultimate Fighter’: Season 11, Episode 2: Get off my back!

‘The Ultimate Fighter’: Season 11, Episode 1: 14-fight whirlwind

Recapping The Ultimate Fighter, frankly, is too fun not to do. So that’s what we’ll do over the course of the next three months, each Wednesday night after the 10 p.m. ET showing on Spike.

At least, most nights, it’ll be at 10 p.m. — the premiere was delayed a few minutes by a long break in the UFC Fight Night card followed by a power outage.

Coming into the season, the rumor mill has claimed that something goes awry and coach Tito Ortiz has to drop out, replaced by ever-loyal UFC soldier Rich Franklin on the show and in the coach’s fight that comes afterwards. If so, rival coach Chuck Liddell is throwing everyone off the trail. He spent most of a conference call this week talking about how much he was looking forward to beating up Tito, saying Tito not only talked about his personal life but made stuff up.

UFC and Spike officials guard these secrets like Roy Nelson guards his spot in a buffet line, so we won’t get any sort of confirmation one way or the other. When I asked Dana White about it recently, he told me I’d just have to watch and see. OK, then.

In any case, we can count on a lot of Liddell-Ortiz back-and-forth during the season, which probably isn’t a good thing. That got a little tedious last season with Rampage Jackson and Rashad Evans, and they’re both a lot funnier than Liddell and Ortiz.

But we won’t hear much of it this week because we have to get through 14 fights. They brought 28 middleweights to the training center, but only 14 will make it into the house and the collective consciousness of UFC fans over the next three months. And here they go …

Continue reading ‘The Ultimate Fighter’: Season 11, Episode 1: 14-fight whirlwind