We made it! Now, let’s not pretend this was the most exciting or high stakes or talented season of The Ultimate Fighter. The coaches barely interacted, the feuds in the house never escalated beyond "catty" and there was a noticeable disparity in the skill level between the Canadians and the Australians. That said, I feel this show as good enough to justify its own existence. That might be damning it with faint praise, but what I mean to say is that as long as there are people like me who are willing to watch international editions of TUF and the production costs remain in line with most reality television programs then I don’t see the harm in continuing to crank these out. Since the cast changes every year, they don’t even have to worry about paying the performers more. Kind of like how it works when you actually make it to the UFC. Heyo!
Everyone is talking about Olivier Aubin-Mercier’s performance. Sheldon Westcott tries to console Richard Walsh by assuring him that Aubin-Mercier kills everyone in practice. I’m not sure I’d find that particularly comforting. He may as well say "You never really had a chance buddy, don’t worry about it." Walsh says he over-thought the whole situation, which makes sense since he normally comes off as a sharp, down to earth fellow. That might not lend itself to dealing with extreme anxiety. Westcott tells Walsh that he’s welcome to train with him in Edmonton anytime.
Look, it’s Batroc the Leaper!
It’s no surprise that all the welterweights idolize him. Several of the Canadians train with him, and Walsh and Jake Matthews are on record as saying that he is their favourite fighter. He’s dropping truth bombs all over these cats. Nobody moves, nobody even blinks because they’re afraid that they might miss something important. GSP even addresses the Johny Hendricks fight. He and his corner thought that he won and they wouldn’t say that if they didn’t truly believe it. If he felt that Hendricks had beaten him, GSP says he would give away the belt. Oddly enough, isn’t that what he ended up doing?
This close to the finale, both Westcott and Vik Grujic are facing some treacherous mental hurdles. Grujic can’t stop thinking about the guaranteed money that would come from just making the finale. He has felt flat and has a serious look plastered on his face for most of the episode. Then again, he always looks like that.
Westcott says that "the general rule in fighting is if you’re not going in injured or you’re not going in hurt you didn’t have a good training camp." I’m not sure if I agree with that line of thinking, but if that’s the case then Westcott must consider his time with Team Canada to be the best camp ever. He’s been nursing injuries to almost every part of his body since the beginning of the show. That he’s even in the semi-finals is somewhat of a miracle and a testament to how gifted he is.
In what probably seemed like a good idea on paper, Patrick Côté dresses up as a yeti to have some fun with the fighters. The prank fails miserably and he ends up getting tackled by Tyler Manawaroa and spanked by Elias Theodorou.
Later, Grujic meets a horse.
When he beat Dan Kelly, Westcott said it was important that he come out fast so that he wouldn’t worry about the injuries that he was dealing with. Just rush in and whatever happens happens. He adopted the same strategy here. The fighters smash into each other to start like two Japanese movie monsters. Westcott takes Grujic down with a big slam and Grujic makes the mistake of hanging on for a guillotine without proper position. Seconds later, Grujic is tapping out to what looks like a Von Flue choke. Côté says it should be called the "Westcott" since Jason Von Flue popularized the move from side control while Westcott was in half guard. Grujic is kicking himself after for losing to what he considers to be a low level choke.
Waiting for him in the middleweight final will be Elias Theodorou, while the welterweight final will see Chad Laprise versus Oliver Aubin-Mercier. For the first time in TUF history, a two tournament season features four finalists from the same team. Give credit to the Australians. They’re the ones who had to leave the comfort of their home country. While that meant they got to enjoy a lot of winter experiences for the first time, it also meant a massive adjustment period. I respect the effort they put into their fights, regardless of whether they were finished quickly or made it to a decision. Seemed like a loveable bunch too. Cheers, mates.
There’s time to spare in the episode and we get to see the fighters reminisce as they pack up to leave. Can’t say I recall them showing this on previous TUF seasons. Couldn’t they have licensed a song for this moment like it’s an MTV show about 8 teenagers on spring break?
Vik showing off his shorts that were signed by GSP and Bones Jones.
Grujic says that it is strange going back to his normal life after being immersed in nothing but MMA for weeks.
Luke Harris, sounding like the veteran he is, points out that no matter what team they’re on, the fighters will always have more in common with each other than most of the general population. It makes the TUF house sound like some kind of retreat. Maybe that explains why Nordine Taleb has signed on for another tour of duty. If reports are true, he was one of 32 men competing for a spot on TUF 19 (which starts next week!). I’m not even sure if I would root for him to make it since I can’t imagine anyone going through the show twice. Then again, he never really had to leave home, did he?
Kahili was back this week, but an all Canadian final means only one octagon girl can reign supreme.
Next week: The TUF Nations finale on April 16th! Raise your hand if you forgot that there was a coach’s fight this year. Here are is some information on the match-ups and my thoughts:
- Welterweight Division Final: Chad Laprise (7-0) v. Olivier Aubin-Mercier (4-0)
How they got here: Laprise outworked Chris Indich on the feet in the quarterfinals leading to an unfortunate meeting with his teammate and friend Kajan Johnson. After some good back and forth action, Laprise shattered Johnson’s jaw with a thunderous overhand right. The emotional win catapulted Laprise into the finals.
Aubin-Mercier entered this contest with plenty of hype, including some lofty GSP comparisons. Not only does he display the superior grappling of the former welterweight champ, he also shares French Canadian heritage and has a quirky attitude all his own. Like Laprise, he won his first fight against Jake Matthews handily though he wasn’t able to finish. The semi-final fight was a completely different story. He took some shots from Richard Walsh, but once he got his hooks in the rear naked choke was academic.
The hook: The Disciple v. The Québécois Kid! I was unsure how to feel about Laprise after the Johnson fight. Yes, he showed that his stand-up was legit and that he has some power, but the way he stacked his corner and his enthusiasm over the KO afterward made me feel uneasy. It hinted at the sinister past that Laprise himself discussed during the show. Aubin-Mercier, on the other hand, comes off as this happy-go-lucky guy who also just happens to be a high level martial artist. In addition to a tough opponent in Laprise, Aubin-Mercier will also be facing the challenge of great expectations, a weight that many before him (TUF 16 finalist Mike Ricci comes to mind) have been crushed by. He’s still learning how to take a punch too. After seeing what Laprise is capable of, it might be a good idea to put those lessons on hold.
The pick: Aubin-Mercier. Whoever wins, expect a drop down to lightweight after.
- Middleweight Division Final: Sheldon Westcott (8-1-1) v. Elias Theodorou (8-0)
How they got here: Blink and you might have missed Westcott’s appearances in the cage. He blasted Dan Kelly inside of a minute, then did the same to Vik Grujic, choking out both fighters. Not only that, Westcott also emerged as one of the more quotable members of the house. This show did wonders for raising his profile.
Theodorou came off as the most confident guy in the world, just taking care of his hair and having a fun time. Competing against Theodorou was anything but fun for his opponents. Both Zein Saliba and Tyler Manawaroa were dragged into the proverbial deep waters and Theodorou was able to make it through the tournament with nary a blemish. Hater proof.
The hook: Twilight v. The Spartan! Is it not enough to see two of the "dreamiest" (uh, so I’m told) fighters in MMA going at it? A glance at Westcott’s record shows that 5 of his 6 career finishes ended in less than sixty seconds, which tells us that his results on the show might not have been a fluke. He gets in to get out. This is in direct contrast to Theodorou, a proud grinder. I had the chance to see Theodorou fight in Windsor a couple of years ago and even though he won by TKO, it was more the result of him pushing his opponent to the point of exhaustion. This one is really a toss-up as these two are likely each other’s toughest competition yet, so their previous fights don’t give us much to work with as far as analysis goes. A long battle should favour Theodorou, but just because Westcott knows how to sprint doesn’t mean he can’t run a marathon. It’s a toss-up.
The pick: Theodorou. Regardless of the outcome, he’ll always have that legendary coif.