It’s possible that I’ve been too harsh in my appraisal of the 19th edition of The Ultimate Fighter. This is not the most boring season, nor does it have the least talented cast or the worst coaches. But you can’t escape the feeling that this is a lame duck, wedged in between the historical TUF 18 (first season with female fighters and coaches) and the intriguing TUF 20 (introduction of the women strawweights with the tournament winner becoming an instant UFC champion, coaches who will battle for a title at the end of the season). You’d have to go back to TUF 14 (Team Bisping v. Team Miller) to find a coaches’ fight where there was so little on the line (even Roy Nelson and Shane Carwin were not far removed from the title picture) and that season had the distinction of showcasing the bantamweight and featherweight divisions.
The UFC has to regularly provide TUF related programming so this is what we get. It’s a shame too because I love Frankie Edgar and BJ Penn and the light heavyweight division could certainly use an influx of fresh faces. If only they were willing to make changes to the format or come up with a new kind of vehicle entirely, we might not feel so worn out by what was once an illustrious television show. The machine rolls on.
I thought last week’s "bedroom time lapse" clip was as symptomatic of this show’s ennui as you could get, but Team Penn’s training takes the cake. The last thing anyone expected was for Tim Williams to have to deal with his body shutting down on him so Penn stresses finding the balance between work and rest. His men need to have the right "recipe" as he puts it. I don’t want to hear anyone making jokes about how Penn knows all about taking it easy in training. I don’t want to hear it!
You know how every episode shows quick cuts of gym action? It turns out the only thing more exciting than stock footage of fighters training is stock footage of fighters training at half speed.
THIS IS THE ULTIMATE
On the bright side, I just realized that André Pederneiras was on both TUF 19 and TUF: Brazil 3 this week. It’s Dedé-mania! If you’re a fan of Dedé, you’re in heaven right now.
With this week’s competitors (Corey Anderson and Josh Clark) playing the "I have no problem with my opponent" card this week, it’s up to the production team to drum up something for the viewers to sink their teeth into. How about some Halloween for ya? They bring them costumes! Thank you production team!
Berzin: "How am I gonna…when the other team makes fun of us, how am I gonna…"
King: "There is no defence for this."
An exciting finish last week, playful shenanigans this week…am I…am I actually enjoying myself?
Backing Berzin on team buzz kill is Matt Van Buren. He’s not impressed by Team Penn skipping night practice to carve pumpkins and eat candy. Van Buren’s attitude makes for good television, though I doubt it will be able to carry over into his career after the show. Dry cynicism does not make for a thrilling pre-fight promo.
To cap it off, we have Edgar bringing his kids by the house for trick-or-treat. D’awww…I cannot hate on this episode now. It’s too charming.
The next day, Edgar takes the team to Mount Charleston to enjoy a beautiful view at the top. Not everyone is having it. Todd Monaghan is lagging badly. Along with Van Buren, Monaghan has emerged as an early favourite for the show’s editors. He just keeps giving them material to make him look bad. Edgar says everyone had fun but all I heard was a lot of bitching.
Clark plays up the "aw shucks, Hillbilly Heartthrob" image in his interviews. He grew up in a small town in Kentucky, he loves his wife, and he only got into MMA after winning a free membership at a nearby gym. He’s a big soft-spoken guy with confidence issues. We see him struggling against Berzin (Team Penn’s best grappler), getting caught with a flying arm bar at one point. A Team Penn assistant wonders if he is just "happy to be there". Penn describes him as a "game-time player". That’s like when I’m throwing up bricks before a pick-up run and I tell everyone I make them when it matters.
He’s in tough against Anderson, Team Edgar’s top light heavyweight pick. Anderson is an NCAA finalist who trained with Ben Askren in college. He had no interest in fighting until Askren coerced him into working with Duke Roufus. Anderson is 24 years old with just 7 months of professional MMA experience. Most aspiring fighters would kill to be able to learn from Roufus and then get six weeks of dedicated training from Edgar and his team.
There’s nothing like a good ol’ fashioned knee to the scrotes to open up a dude’s guard.
Zapata: "All my boys that wrestled D-I that I train with, they all hit the air just like you about to hit the air."
I look at it as Zapata trying to get under Anderson’s skin to help out his teammate. Everyone knows what Anderson wants to do and if they can throw off his timing by even a fraction of a second, it could do wonders for Clark’s chances.
There isn’t much action in the early going. Anderson reminds me of early Phil Davis, hands up strictly for protection and not much else. He takes some punches that don’t do much to change his strategy. Clark manages to avoid a single leg takedown by doing some sort of crazy flip that somehow doesn’t result in him breaking his own neck.
Anderson is able to stay close to work for a trip. Eventually, he eases Clark down onto his back…score that a takedown? Clark is able to recover leading to a couple more minutes of tentative stand-up. Anderson gets low and just powers Clark up for a slam. He stays on top with good activity. More than Daniel Spohn did anyway. Anderson nearly gets caught by a heel hook. He has no idea how to free his leg; luckily, Clark doesn’t quite know how to attack it either. It should be a 10-9 first for Anderson, though Clark was definitely ahead in the striking.
Less than a minute into the second, Clark gives up another takedown. Dana White can be heard saying that he "has got no takedown defence at all". Anderson is content to work from half guard. The referee does Clark a favour ordering a stand-up…though maybe he shouldn’t have because a checked leg kick causes Clark to trip and fall.
Anderson is all too happy to get on top and not do much, though he does throw the occasional punch. He really is unable to advance from half guard without endangering his leg. A scramble ends with Clark giving up his back. Anderson is able to roll him over and end up in full mount to close out the round.
White speculates that Penn’s fighter ran out of steam again. He announces Anderson as the winner with an obvious lack of gusto. A flat ending to what was an otherwise not-terrible episode.