The Ultimate Fighter 21, Episode 5: The streak ends

What we learned this week:

– My cable company doesn’t have The Ultimate Fighter on demand. I had to wait to catch the Sunday rerun.

– Some guy from American Top Team is really good at climbing ropes.

– American Top Team finally picks Hayder Hassan to fight. They don’t mention the hand injury ruled him out of the last four.

– The Blackzilians pick Andrews Nakahara, who claims a world championship in Kyokushin karate. He is seen training on a beach. Then a 250-pound guy comes up to kick sand in his face, and Nakahara signs up for a Charles Atlas course.

– (The last sentence is fictional.)

– Hayder confronts Blackzilian Jason Jackson, saying Jackson has been spreading rumors that he’s a dirty fighter. It seems Hayder knocked out Jackson in 2013. Jackson at first plays down the “dirty fighter” thing, but says all he knows is that Hayder pulled his hair. Then Jackson says not to call him a bitch. Hayder doesn’t care to continue the discussion. In confessional, he says if he’s matched up with Jackson, he’ll just hit rewind and then play and beat him up again.

– We’ve established that Michael Graves was drinking a good bit. This time, he drank too much to wake up to roll out with the American Top Team van in the morning. The editors cleverly cut to shots of Graves looking very cozy in bed. When ATT leader Dan Lambert gets the news, he’s calm but unhappy. Will they kick him out of the house? Stay tuned.

– Oops — after the ad break, Graves shows up. The ATT guys don’t jump up and greet him like the prodigal son. “(Bleep) you, Graves” is heard from someone off camera.

– Both fighters make weight. Hayder smiles. Nakamura winks. Dana White, reporting from his bunker in a gym equipment warehouse, is intrigued with the striker-vs.-striker matchup. Jackson says Hayder only has an overhand and a hook, because no fighters ever add anything to their arsenals in more than 12 months of training.

– Hayder talks about his faith — he’s a Muslim who prays five times a day and feels totally at peace, which might be a surprise if you’ve been watching the show.

– Andrews is confident. That’s about all we hear. And it’s getting late in this episode, so we know it won’t be a three-rounder. Maybe not even a two-rounder.

– We go back to Hayder, who has all the good lines in this one. He says he’s going to get so close to Nakamura that the guy will know what he had for breakfast this morning. The Blackzilians, he says, just wrestle and hump you to kill time.

– Din Thomas! The TUF alum and ATT coach says Hayder has dynamite in his hands. Lambert reminds us that Hayder has never been to a decision.

– Fight time: They touch gloves. Nakamura tries several high kicks. Hayder just keeps walking him down. Then a little more than 40 seconds in, it’s left-RIGHT-LEFT. The combo bounces Nakamura off the cage and sends him down. Hayder pounces right away. The ref warns Nakamura to fight back, but it’s not happening. TKO in 48 seconds.

– Hayder jumps on the fence, says a few things that are bleeped, then bounces down and puts his finger to his lips to shush the Blackzilians.

– Blackzilians owner Glenn Robinson just shrugs. “It happens.”

– At the decision, Hayder again shows respect for Nakamura at least. They bow to each other, and Hayder raises Nakamura’s hand. It’s the first time Nakamura has been knocked out.

So now ATT gets home gym advantage at last. Robinson just feels bad for Nakamura.

“This season …” promo again tells us nothing about what’s coming up.

The Ultimate Fighter 21, Episode 4: A scare for Creepy

What happened in this episode:

– “Creepy Steve” Montgomery botched his weight cut and had a terrifying seizure. The panic on his American Top Team teammates’ faces was one of the harshest moments of reality on this long-running reality show. He’s OK. And he seems like a great guy, saying he just wants to spread positive energy, either through fighting or smiling. Most people watching would probably love to buy him a beer.

– Carrington Banks, the Blackzilians’ choice to fight this week, also seems like a great guy. He spent a lot of his childhood in Georgia, so I’m biased. He describes himself as a “chill” guy outside the cage. In the cage, he’s … a boring wrestler.

– Sabah Homasi, the replacement for Montgomery, also seems like a decent fellow. I hate to see him lose.

– But lose he does, in a controversial decision. They split the first two rounds and went to a third. A lot of online commenters gave all three rounds to Sabah. But that might be wishful thinking and rooting for a striker over a wrestler. Banks did more with his cage-leaning than most of the fighters so far, landing a lot of good knees to the body and Sabah’s legs in the first round. Both guys threw messy strikes; Sabah actually fell on one of his own kick attempts.

– Dana White, who has been reporting much of this season from an unidentified location, was there this time. The inset camera picked him up a couple of times during the fight, just to remind us. He was very impressed with the atmosphere, with the Blackzilians clearly bringing a lot of guys who aren’t on the show into the gym to surround the cage. He was less impressed with the fight, particularly the third round.

– Absolutely nothing else happened. You’d think putting these two teams in the same swanky house would create some conflict, but we’ve seen very little of that.

Tune in next week, when … wait, they’re giving scenes from the season. At some point, Jason Jackson and Sabah are involved in some arguments — maybe the same one, maybe not.

The Ultimate Fighter 21, Episode 3: Please, please throw a punch

A few observations on this week’s episode of the biggest fight series in South Florida since Kimbo beat Afropuff and Big Mac on the same day in the boat yard.

– The new theme song is as lame as it gets. The credits tell us nothing. No idea why they did this.

– Is American Top Team saving its best fighters for when the point values increase? But then the best fighters don’t get to fight twice. Are they just not that good?

– Was Valdir “Baby Monster” Araujo motivated by ATT’s Michael Graves stealing his wine?

– Does the house really have a spa and sauna — only on the Blackzilians’ side of the house?

– Where is Dana White filming all his cutaways? Is NORAD involved?

– Lots of cameos by TUF alumni: Rashad Evans (Blackzilians), Din Thomas (ATT), Robbie Lawler (ATT), Michael Johnson (Blackzilians).

– Will Florida refs ever break up the fight when it’s stalemated against the cage?

– ATT’s Nathan Coy might have made the snappiest comeback in TUF history. ATT’s Steve Carl missed weight and needed to cut a bit, so he headed for the Blackzilian sauna. A couple of Blackzilians took issue, to which the incredulous Florida commission guy asked, “Um, you guys didn’t work this out in advance?” Blackzilian Tyrone Spong tried to kick Carl out, justifying it with a trite “In war, there are no rules.” Coy: “If there’s no rules, we’ll stand here and barricade the (bleep) sauna.” Gotcha there.

– If your corner tells you to punch … punch! Steve Carl didn’t, and ATT is down 75-0.

The Ultimate Fighter 21, Episode 2: Psych!

Coincidentally, after the Jon Jones news, I found this fun recap from Jones’ stint on TUF.

Back to this year: Hey, we have a new theme song! It’s … short. It tells us nothing.

The Blackzilians won the first fight. sending top prospect Kamaru Usman against the underconfident Michael Graves. Back in the house, seven hours after the fight (guess they’re fighting in the early afternoon), Graves is beating himself up worse than Usman did. His American Top Team-mates try to build him back up but sound frustrated with the process.

Hayder Hassan, the one last seen yelling at Usman about being “next,” moves on from trying to pick up Graves to trying to psych out Usman by telling him how much he respects him. Usman seems either bemused or amused. Maybe both. But Usman chats about it with his teammates in the van, so maybe it’s working? No, probably not.

Speaking of people who are psyched out, the American Top Team brain trust is trying to figure out who to pick next. Hassan really wants to fight, but, oops, he actually has a hand injury. They call in Uros Jurisic of Slovenia, a student/postman, to tell him he’s getting the nod. His English is a little stilted, and the conversation with the ATT guys sounds like Slim Pickens telling Mongo he’s going to go into town to shake things up in Blazing Saddles. Mongo only pawn in game of life.

Speaking of pawns, Dana White shows up to remind us that the matchups are literally like a chess match. You might end up with a striker-grappler matchup. That sounds more like bridge to me. I bid two Muay Thais.

And it sounds like they’re just picking the best, healthiest fighters, anyway. That makes sense — whoever fights now has a good chance of fighting twice, and the winners earn more points as the season goes on. In that sense, it’s more like backgammon.

The Blackzilians pick Luiz “Buscape” Firmino, a strong grappler they call “the flea” because he’s impossible to escape. He has been around a while, fighting in PRIDE and other Japanese promotions before beating UFC vets Tyson Griffin and Jacob Volkmann in the World Series of Fighting.

Meanwhile, back in the house, some people are training in the small gym in the house. And someone gets mad, yelling “Do the drill right!” before storming through a door. The door looks more solid than the ones frequently destroyed in the old TUF training complex in Vegas, and it survives in tact. It seems the dispute is between Usman and Jason Jackson, but they bury it quickly. That’s either foreshadowing or a dull day at the house.

The weigh-ins will be fun this year because the fighters will learn what we already know — who’s fighting whom. Neither Uros nor Buscape seems especially perturbed by the matchup, a change from last week’s edition with Graves going into a shell when he saw Usman.

ATT boss Dan Lambert decides to bring the heat, ridiculing Blackzilian owner Glenn Robinson for standing there behind his fighter looking tough. “A makeup artist would kick your ass,” Lambert said. Dana White, broadcasting from his undisclosed location, seems happy. The fighters all have a look that screams “whatever.”

White has also told us Uros wants to keep the fight standing. These days, does that ever work?

Uros, incidentally, is 22. He’s 4-0 but hasn’t fought anyone. Maybe Lambert should quit worrying about Robinson being a tough guy and figure out how to get some matchups he can win. The good news — Uros has three wins by submission.

Uros and the coaches meet to do some game-planning, which is something TUF should do more often. Hardcores will love it, but it’s also accessible for casual fans. It ends with a nice new slogan: “Unleash the Uros!” If he changed his name to “Fury,” we’d have the Washington Capitals’ third-period rallying cry.

Fight day. Robinson tells Buscape this is nothing. This is the warmup fight. This is the guy you beat up on your way to a big fight. The Blackzilians chant like it’s a soccer game, which irritates Lambert. What doesn’t irritate Lambert?

Unnamed ref with heavy accent gives the “two five-minute rounds” speech. Robinson reminds Buscape to keep his hands up. Then he comes out throwing a kick straight up the pike. Then he gets stunned from a left hook, but it gives him the perfect position for a takedown less than 20 seconds into the fight. Uros has his head locked up for a possible guillotine, but no. Buscape works his way to guard and lands several punches from one inch away while Uros tries again to lock in a guillotine. Or an armbar. Or whatever. He’s surprisingly effective at nullifying Buscape’s offense by threatening so many submissions. You’d think a guy with Buscape’s experience would keep his head and arm out of danger.

Yeah, it’s a grinding fight. With 1:40 left in the round, Lambert is left yelling the rallying cry of the defeated coach: “GET UP!”

Round 2: Uros tentatively steps out, then tries a kick. Then a spinning kick. Then a takedown. They clinch at the cage, and then Buscape takes down Uros in side control. Maybe I should just hit fast-forward. Nothing else is going to … hey, Uros escaped! And he looks mad! He throws some punches. Including a wild right that may have left the gym entirely and scraped the castle at the Magic Kingdom in Orlando before returning to the gym and hitting nothing. Buscape takes him down again. Lambert yells “Get up!” again. Buscape isn’t doing anything. Uros looks like he’s checking his watch. I’ll be happy to never see either of these men fight ever again.

Buscape wins the unanimous decision.

Third ad for the Women’s World Cup!

“Uros is definitely not experienced enough to be in with a guy like Buscape,” Robinson says, almost sympathetically.

“Well, that fight sucked,” Dana White says. Again. He complains about Uros not doing anything his corner said, and he complains about the ref letting Buscape lay and pray for two rounds.

Next week, we see that an ATT fighter turns up ¾ of a pound overweight, and the Blackzilians make a stink about letting him use their sauna.

By this point, the only thing we can say about these teams is this: A plague on both your houses. (Oh, right … they’re all staying in the same one. Good. That’ll save time.)

The Ultimate Fighter 21, Episode 1: These teams matter

How do you keep The Ultimate Fighter fresh after 10 years? Give the UFC credit for trying.

In 2011, they used it to introduce their bantamweight and featherweight divisions. T.J. Dillashaw has gone on to do pretty well for himself, and John Dodson isn’t bad, either.

In 2012, they tried a live season. They decided it didn’t work, so they backed away.

Then — women! First as coaches and half the cast as Ronda Rousey yelled at Miesha Tate for a while. Then as the whole cast last season, with the winner getting the belt. (And, sadly, not successfully defending it.)

This season, things are totally new. Yes, you’ve seen it from the ads — they’re staying in a house that will be underwater when the ice caps melt.

(Disclaimer: Reading the preceding paragraph may be illegal in Florida and North Carolina.)

But this season has a few other novelties:

1. They’re in Miami, not Las Vegas.

2. It’s a matchup of existing teams, not something contrived through a draft. These are rival gyms in South Florida. The fighters are all from those gyms. The fights will be in the gyms. After a coin flip for the first fight, the winner gets home gym for the next fight.

3. To keep up the team-vs-team aspect, this isn’t a tournament. Teams are fighting for points — 25 points for each of the first four fights, 50 for each of the next four, 100 for the last. Fighters can fight once, twice, three times, or none. You have to fight twice to fight in the finale. (They don’t mention the criteria for an overall winner.) And the gym with the most points gets paid.

Oh, and the owners don’t like each other.

Dan Lambert runs American Top Team, which has been around forever and has 45,787 professional fighters, including 17,786 in the UFC. That includes Robbie Lawler, who has completed the improbable rise from middling Elite XC/Strikeforce fighter to UFC champion.

Glenn Robinson used to train with ATT, but he says Dan banned him after he helped some fighters work through … some stuff. Or something. They’re not specific. But Robinson and those fighters struck out on their own. And in a bit of good timing, Rashad Evans bolted from Greg Jackson’s gym and figured South Florida was a trade up from New Mexico.

The best early zinger, from ATT: “Glenn’s just a fat guy who makes tools.” (Thanks to commenters at Bloody Elbow, I know now it’s because he owns a big-time tool company, which may explain the opulent house he shows off later.)

So the only recognizable part of this season is the TUF house, which looks even more opulent than ever, occupying one of those little points out into the water that’ll be worth a lot of money until the next storm hits.

Each team’s arrival in the house looks like this:

The curious thing: Why just one weight class? Does each gym really have eight quality welterweights? I guess they think so.

We get a really quick intro to all the fighters. The standout name is “Creepy Steve” from ATT. The standout resume goes to ATT’s Steve Carl, the former World Series of Fighting champion. (Yes, they mentioned another promotion on the show, though not on the official site’s bio pages.)

We also get a trip over to Glenn Robinson’s dazzling house, where the Blackzilians watch teammate Anthony Johnson’s stunning demolition of Alexander Gustafsson. If you watched the lead-in program, you know that the UFC producers named Gustafsson’s close loss to Jon Jones the best UFC fight … um, ever, apparently. So Johnson’s win was a very big deal.

Over to the ATT gym, where they talk about their strategy for picking fighters. It’s sensible — if you want people to fight more than once, you’d better get them in that first fight early rather than trying to have them go twice with little rest in between in the last few weeks.

And they pick their first fighter: Michael Graves, who describes his style as “wrestling, but all over the place.” If you watched Bull Durham, you know that’s not a compliment. But he doesn’t care about that — he has a fiancee who’s expecting.

Back at the house, conflict has already arisen in the most obvious place — the kitchen. The ATT guys say the Blackzilians are writing their names on all the food, including stuff they didn’t order. Looks like they’re still making a nice meal, though. How did all these fighters turn into such good cooks? I know journalists in their 30s who can barely handle Lean Cuisine.

Speaking of journalism, the Blackzilians’ complex has office space that looks like something big newspapers built before the business model crashed. They do a quick video conference with their guys in Sweden before picking Kamaru Usman for the first fight. Bloody Elbow likes this guy.

Usman is shown praying at the fighters’ house before we get his back story — born and raised (until age 8) in Nigeria, pursued Olympic wrestling career in Colorado Springs (not mentioned: he won the 2010 NCAA Division 2 championship), switched to MMA under Evans’ tutelage, has a daughter.

And we get one of my big TUF Pet Peeves: The guy who says he’s fighting for his family’s financial stability. You want financial stability? Work at a bank. Work at Starbucks and get your degree in the process. If you’re a UFC veteran who continues to fight because you’re actually getting a payoff, OK — then you’re fighting for your family’s long-term financial stability. When you’re on The Ultimate Fighter? You’re chasing a dream. Like me when I ditch this whole writing thing and start my prog-rock trio.

Obligatory beach and water shots, then over to the weigh-in. This is the first time the fighters will know who they’re fighting. Game plan? What game plan?

Anonymous Florida commission guy (that’s right, we’re not in Nevada any more) runs the weigh-in with remarkable formality. Both guys weigh in at 170. They face off, sort of — Graves is looking at the floor.

This is a 90-minute episode, so we get Robbie Lawler on camera along with the usual training cliches. Did you know a lot of fighting is mental? (Funny, I did well on the SAT — can I beat Jon Jones?)

Quick trip back to the house — damn, what are they making in the kitchen? Can we make this a cooking show instead?

I still don’t know much about Graves. He was born three months before I graduated from college. I’m not sure whether to call his hair a mullet.

Usman oozes confidence. He says he scouted everyone on their team. Graves is talented at controlling distance, he says, but that’s against lesser opposition.

Dana White loves the atmosphere, which is strange when you consider that he isn’t there to do the “two five-minute rounds, then sudden victory” speech. He leaves that to our unnamed ref.

Round 1: Usman does the spider crawl across the cage to start, and he soon gets Graves down by the cage. Graves does a decent job of getting up and eventually out. He lands a glancing head kick, and Usman again goes for the takedown. Graves has blood on his cheek somehow, but he gets up again and gets stuck clinch-fighting. Usman gets the underhooks, but Graves powers out and fires a strong knee. His punches, though, lack conviction. With a minute left, Usman lands a solid punch to the face and another takedown, though Graves again bounces right back up. I hate to give the round to someone just because he got a couple of takedowns and did nothing with them, but Graves didn’t do enough to win it. 10-9 Usman

Round 2: Graves is picking up the tempo on the feet, flinging a couple of kicks and punches. Usman gets the clinch against the cage. Ah, my favorite part of MMA — the pointless clinch against the cage where the clincher occasionally tries to land a knee from two inches away to show that he’s busy. Graves gets out, Usman shoots again, Graves gets briefly on top, and … they clinch again. Usman gets him down briefly and very briefly gets on Graves’ back. They break again, and Graves tries a half-hearted spinning back kick.

You get the picture. It’s another one of these fights with a wrestler who has no other discernible skills facing a guy who can’t get his striking game going.

Then suddenly, with 1:40 left, Graves dodges a takedown attack and takes Usman’s back. Usman stands with Graves draped on his back. Graves grits his teeth, going hard for the rear naked choke, but he can’t get the arm under the chin. Graves is on the verge of sliding off Usman’s back when Usman flings him off instead, landing in half-guard and dropping a couple of elbows. “GET UP, MIKEY!” yells an ATT member.

The coaches think we’re going to a third round. It’s 11:21, so it’ll be a brief one if we go.

And we’re not. It’s a majority decision for Usman. ATT is pissed that Usman got the second round, but one submission attempt isn’t going to overcome a whole lot of positional dominance.

The highlights show Graves’ early kick to the face was pretty powerful. But that was it.

An ATT guy starts yelling at Usman that he’s next. Usman comes over to yell back at him. Pity we didn’t know who it was.

Over to Dana White. He is not impressed. At all. He says neither guy fought like he wanted to win. Each guy was trying to do just enough to get the decision.

And that’s the curious problem with so many recent seasons of this show. I don’t get it, either. A spectacular loss on TUF will do more to get you in the UFC’s good graces than a grinding win. But that’s easier said than done.

We get a name for the guy who called out Usman — he’s Hayder. That would be Hayder Hassan, whose bio tells us he has a degree from Florida State.

Glenn Robinson is amused in the locker room. “‘I’m next?’ What do you mean — you’re next to lose?” Oooooh … snappy comeback.

We go straight to TUF Talk, where Karyn Bryant asks Usman what he thinks of Dana’s dissing. Usman says he’s a big fight fan, so he’s used to hearing that. Well, I’m inspired.

TUF Talk has more topics lined up on the right — “Hayder challenges Usman,” “Breaking down Usman” and “G. Robinson calls out Lambert’s ex.” Yeah, I think I’ll go to bed.