After last week's episode of UFC's The Ultimate Fighter Live, I said that I really enjoyed the new sports-centric approach that the live format gave the show, but that I was curious to see if the old TUF format would return. This week, for about 40 minutes, we were treated to a mostly typical episode of The Ultimate Fighter. The fight was made, the fighters trained, the coaches bickered (just a little) and all seemed normal.
Then the show went live, and the results were tremendous.
To put it simply, that live segment was everything great about The Ultimate Fighter, and further proof that the UFC made the right choice in changing formats this year. Let's start with the fight.
After his impressive showing in the premiere, I named Daron Cruickshank as one of my four fighters to watch this season, while James Vick left virtually no impression on me. So when this week's fight was announced, I was one of the many people who thought it was a done deal. Unfortunately, so did Daron Cruickshank. He overestimated his advantage, got sloppy (and at one point was cautioned by Urijah Faber for getting too loose), shot in with a careless takedown attempt, and was knocked cold. Just a beautiful display of the "anything can happen in MMA" idea.
What made it even better was the live component. Reality TV producers, no matter how hard they try, almost always telegraph the endings. They can't help it. Watch any reality show and you'll see an inordinate amount of focus on that week's eliminated contestant. Since they did not know who would be going home, they didn't edit accordingly, and that made a huge difference.
But the fun didn't end there. Post-fight, Dominick Cruz pulled the bizarre move of letting Faber choose who would fight Justin Lawrence next. And no one stepped up. Seeing Lawrence standing tall while Team Faber sat with their heads down was amazing. With Faber and his team struck mute, Cruz went right for the money fight - Lawrence vs. Cristiano Marcello. That's a HUGE fight, and one I thought could be the finals. The only question is - are Cruz and Lawrence repeating the same mistake Cruickshank made? Are they being too confident? Once again, I can't wait to find out.
Thoughts on James Vick vs. Daron Cruickshank:
- I'm still not entirely sold on Vick, who wasn't using his reach well before the KO. Tall fighters who barely use kicks baffle me, and I think the general assessment that he's too reliant on his boxing is accurate. Still, that was an impressive win, and we'll see where he goes from here.
- I'm not writing Cruickshank off by any means. He got caught due to his own error, but hopefully he'll learn from that. He's a fighter I could still see sticking around the UFC if his traditional TUF Finale fight goes well.
Thoughts on Justin Lawrence vs. Cristiano Marcello:
- Like I said, this was one of my early picks for the final fight, and it's crazy to see it already. It also means that after next week, 2 of my 4 favorites will be gone. I'm torn on this one. Lawrence is more well-rounded and more aggressive, but Marcello's calm, focused attack may win him the day. If Lawrence fights smart, he takes it, but if he gets pulled into a grappling match, he's done.