Amidst a distinct lack of hype, UFC launched the 16th season of The Ultimate Fighter last Friday. This season brings you 16 Welterweight fighters under the guidance of Heavyweights Shane Carwin and Roy Nelson, plus a return to the pre-taped format. It also doesn't seem to bring with it any actual viewers, as the premiere did a record low rating.
It's pretty clear this show is barely limping along at this point, yet the UFC keeps on plugging away, and so will I. All season I'll be bringing you TUF recaps, plus a look at the fighters (well, by "all season", I mean "either all season or until I just can't take it anymore"). I actually enjoy the tournament aspect of TUF, so we'll keep it positive, starting with season 16's pretty entertaining premiere.
The 2 hour launch showcased a number of things about this season. First - the Roy Nelson vs. Dana White relationship looks like it will be front and center, which is no shock since that's what the pre-show media has been focused on. What's a bit weird (or maybe not) was how much this episode was The Dana Show. Neither Nelson nor Carwin had much to say during the fights, leaving Dana to provide almost all of the commentary. Let's hope they decided to, you know, speak at some point.
As for the fighters themselves, it's tough to get much of a gauge on them so far. Either they were in short fights that are tough to evaluate, or they were in longer fights where only highlights were shown. That said, a few did stand-out:
- Smilin' Sam Alvey clearly walks away the star of episode 1. His combination of silly, near serial killer, grin plus nasty power makes him one to watch. A good choice for Carwin's #1 overall pick.
- Bristol Marunde was Carwin's #2 and again, well deserved. One of the things I look for in these premieres is just who carries himself like a professional fighter, and that's definitely Marunde.
- Mike Ricci also falls into that category, and with his "accountant" image he seems like a guy who might get some good exposure this season.
- James Chaney also impressed me. As Michael Chiesa showed last year, sometimes being a specialist is enough to get you through TUF, and Cheney showed a nice determination in getting the sub. He's a dark horse to watch for.
- Colton Smith pulled the jerk move of faking the glove tap, then shooting for a takedown. Not a great start for him. Check out the video below for more, and why Smith thinks he's a great role model.
- Finally, Julian Lane stuck out, but for all the wrong reasons. I quickly identified him as the potential Leben of the season, and, surprise surprise, he was ALL OVER the season highlights, doing an awful lot of screaming, fight starting, etc. Last season was blissfully low on that, but I fear it will make a strong comeback this time, and Lane looks to be the center piece. Watch out for Dom Waters in this area as well.
One thing I'll miss about the live format was knowing next week's fight - let's hope they bring that back. But at least we know the teams. Here they are, in the order selected (Carwin had first pick):
Retyping that I have to say - Nelson's team kind of sucks. He went for a lot of the quick finish guys, but they don't always pan out. Carwin seems to have the professionals, and I could see them dominating.
Overall, a perfectly good start to the season for the few of us who tuned in. Stay tuned next week - Who will fight? Will Shane Carwin show a personality? Will Dana White and Roy Nelson continue their spat? And just how drunk will these guys get in the first week? All that and more. I... can't wait. I guess.