Before we proceed, can I pour one out for my man Chris Leben? I’m a late bloomer fan that didn’t get into MMA until around 2007. I didn’t know what full guard was, I didn’t know what a superman punch was and I certainly didn’t know what The Ultimate Fighter was. All I knew is that when I saw Leben knock out Alessio Sakara, I thought he was the greatest fighter in the world. I had a lot of misconceptions about MMA at the time.
Even after scouring YouTube for old fights and doing everything I could to educate myself, I still considered "The Crippler" to be appointment viewing. He was clearly outpointed in his next fight against Michael Bisping, but still insisted that he won even as his face was swelling post-match. Then he got choked out cold by Jake Rosholt, a moment that left me cold. Seeing him flopping around like a fish as he was resuscitated was a reality check for me.
Still, when he won, he won big. He punched Aaron Simpson until the NCAA All-American was stumbling around like a drunkard. He submitted Yoshihiro Akiyama with one of the sloppiest triangle chokes I’ve ever seen. He knocked out Wanderlei Silva in less than 30 seconds.
Even through two drug related suspensions, I stood by him. There was something about the inner torment that was so clearly expressed in his fighting style that made me sympathize rather than condemn, even when the latter was the more sensible course of action. I rooted for him so hard inside the cage that I couldn’t turn it off when he was outside of it. That’s loyalty to a fault and I accept that.
As it stands, there are now only three cast members of the original Ultimate Fighter still active in competition: Josh Koscheck, Diego Sanchez, and Mike Swick (who is currently in limbo). They’re the last of a dying breed, fighters whose reputations were enhanced by the show, not dependent on it. Love them or hate them, they’ve been a major influence on this generation of fighters. Yes, even Chris Leben. Every time I see two guys throwing caution into the wind and choosing to engage in a mind-numbing brawl over, you know, winning a fight, I shall think of him. See you at tha crossroads, brotha.
Speaking of great TUF contestants, we move on to one of my new favourites: Elias Theodorou. There’s no getting around it. He’s one handsome mother**ker. And he talks. A lot. If the purpose of this show is to create stars, you’d be hard pressed to find someone working harder to promote himself who also has the natural gifts that appeal to casual fans. It’s like that old saying, Women want him and men want to be him...though in this envious age, it’s more probably like Women want him and men want to see him get his ass kicked. Whatever gets people watching.
As I mentioned last week, Theodorou is a fighter and a model. This week we learn that he’s also an actor and a stuntman and an undefeated kickboxer. Not too shabby. He claims to have the "best hair in MMA" and Luke Harris jokes that he might have to cut it off if he has trouble making weight. That’s no laughing matter, Luke! I think we’re all in agreement that we’d rather see Theodorou cut a finger off than a single lock of that immaculate do.
Also, the show is kind enough to provide us with a caption telling us that he once charged $500 for a date. There’s not even a joke to be made here.
His opponent, Zein Saliba, decides to start calling him "Buzz Lightyear". Saliba chooses the Pixar icon over the more obscure (though no less entertaining) "Roger Ramjet". It’s one of those weird, cutesy nicknames that isn’t really insulting. Like when one guy can’t stop calling another guy "pretty boy". Just stop with the foreplay and bang each other already.
I should mention that the Canadians celebrated last week’s win with wine. All class. On TUF 16, the two Canadians (Mike Ricci and Michael Hill) were also known for their wine drinking. Is this a Canadian stereotype that I’m unaware of? Is this what the rest of the world thinks of us? The two teams also take some time to get to know each other in the manliest way possible.
No ladies, no Chris Holdsworth, no deal.
Nordine Taleb has the look of a guy who takes things too seriously. He doesn’t enjoy the fraternizing and calls a team meeting to make sure that they don’t share any sensitive information. Lame.
Nordine is that teacher you had in elementary school who would say "I’m strict, but I want to have fun!" They never wanted to have any fun.
He’s got a smile that could be described as both "friendly" and "crooked". When one of the Aussies asks him if "he’s good", he acts like they just said something about his mother. It’s another non-confrontation in a season that I expect to be chockfull of them.
It’s difficult to look like a hard ass when you’re lounging around on a La-Z Boy.
Patrick Côté reminds me of how Georges St-Pierre was when he coached the show, choosing guest coaches based on effectiveness rather than celebrity. To help with their ground game, he employs Vitor "Shaolin" Ribeiro, one of the top lightweights to never compete in the UFC and the proud owner of one of the sport’s best nicknames. He’s not a household name in North America, but the Canadian team is more than familiar with him and recognize that this is a huge get.
They also get a visit at the house from Jean-François Gaudreau, a nutritionist who helps Côté to stress the importance of a healthy diet. At this level, what you put in your body can make all the difference in the world. Somewhere, Anthony Gutierrez is sobbing.
You might notice I haven’t had much to say about Team Australia and that’s because neither has the show itself. For the second week in a row, I feel like they haven’t been properly showcased. It’s possible that there’s just more substance to the Canadian fighters; I, for one, am aware of the buzz surrounding several Team Canada members but, you know...I live in Canada.
Dan Kelly, a judoka who represented Australia at the past three Olympic games, gets a birthday cake and a piñata. To nobody’s surprise, that cake ends up getting stuffed in his face and that sets off a food fight! It’s a nice break for the Australian team and a chance for all of us playing at home to daub the "food fight" square on our TUF bingo cards.
The coaching situation shows some signs of life as Kyle Noke welcomes Adrian Pang, an Australian fighter with almost three times a much experience as any of Noke’s charges. The other bright spot is Israel "Izzy" Martinez, who is emerging as a distinct voice on his staff. He calls Tyler Manawaroa a "lazy ass" and says it’s his mission to "active the crazy" in him. Sounds like my last girlfriend. Heyo!
Before this show, I’d never heard of Martinez. A quick Google search reveals that he’s the head wrestling coach of some rinky-dink fight camp called, uh, Jackson’s MMA or something? Doesn’t ring a bell.
Look, I’m just going to ask what everyone else who saw this scene was thinking: What kind of underwear is Saliba wearing?
It looks like his junk is being censored by the "Ultimate Fighter" logo.
Not to be outdone, Theodorou casts aside all face-off etiquette in a juvenile attempt to psyche out Saliba. He paws at him and makes like a sexy cat. It is amazing.
I’ve got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire...
I’m disappointed that we don’t learn more about Saliba’s personal life, especially since the Theodorou segments were like an extended dating profile. We do find out that he likes to relax before a fight rather than over-train. He describes himself as an opportunist. Coach Noke could be pushing him harder.
Noke: It’s not really our job to make these guys fight like us. It’s just trying to make these guys better at what they do.
You’re 4-2 in the UFC, coach. It IS your job to make these guys fight like you! Saliba comes off as too one-dimensional. Jake Matthews is convinced that Saliba will have the advantage over Theodorou, who has sold himself a kickboxing specialist. The Australian camp not doing their homework and Saliba’s complacency in scouting his opponent do not bode well for what’s to come.
I’ll admit it. Elias has a punchable face.
There’s lots of clinching and short strikes, which is probably the opposite of what Saliba was expecting. He doesn’t do too badly early on and though he’s wild, he looks to have some power. Theodorou’s persistence pays off and he eventually scores a takedown. He has a noticeable advantage in both the size and cardio departments. Saliba can’t get off the cage and Theodorou slams him again. That’s a pretty man with an ugly (and winning) strategy. There’s not much in the way of substantial offence, but the takedowns should be enough to give the Canadian the round 10-9.
Early in round 2, Theodorou takes Saliba down again with a spinebuster-like maneuver. Theodorou is heavy on top and Saliba can’t get up. The minutes tick by and he’s just being dragged around. At one point, he tries to counter a takedown by...turning his back to Theodorou? It doesn’t work. A last second scramble to Theodorou’s back creates some suspense, but the Canadian calmly reverses position. The buzzer sounds and Saliba pounds the mat in frustration. The Aussies are pissed. Noke resists burying his fighter even though you know he’s frustrated by Saliba’s performance.
Elias, ready for his close-up.
If I’m Theodorou, I’m riding this "Dashing" image until people get sick of it. Just when I think he can’t pose or preen anymore, he gives his own picture the gun finger as he puts it up on the tournament board to signify his advancing. Damn it, Elias.
Two weeks in and I still can’t tell if there’s a Canadian ring girl or not, which is unfortunate because I thought I’d be able to show the winning country’s ring girl. Alas, we’re going to have to deal with Kahili for another week. UGH.