Back in early 2013 I set out on a quest, if you will. Well, maybe that's the wrong word. The idea was that I'd watch all of the seasons of TUF, in order, and recap them. I ended up getting as far as TUF 16 and then stopped basically because TUF 17 was going on at the time. With the advent of Fight Pass and being able to watch the old TUF seasons at my leisure now I figured I'd start the recaps again. A word of warning - don't expect the amazing detail of the recaps that Alexander K. Lee puts together, as I tend to use TUF (and MMA in general) as background watching when I'm home and may miss little things if I'm not paying attention and/or fall asleep. And any musings are based purely on the feeling I get from the EDIT MONSTER so if I call Josh Samman a politician or Bubba McDaniel a dick, it's based on how they come off on the show rather than how they actually are. I don't like to judge people I haven't actually met! On the plus side though I do have an INSANE PHOTOGRAPHIC MEMORY of all things TUF, UFC and MMA in general so don't be surprised to see some really bizarre anecdotes in here. Without further ado then....
TUF 17. This was the last season to be broadcast on FX, prior to the big switch in 2013 to Fox Sports 1. Coaches were Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen, building to their match following the UFC 151 debacle.
Episode 1: Right away you can see they've done a production overhaul following the poor reaction to the previous season, it's quite subtle really and obviously it's something we're used to at this point, but here it was pretty cool I guess. Format is 28 fighters going down to 14 for a Middleweight tournament, meaning the Wild Card format is back for the first time since Season 13. The new twist is that family and friends of the fighters are now here to cheer them on during the elimination round. It just means that we get to know a little more about the fighters which is pretty cool and humanises them beyond the usual stereotypes. As per usual though the fights are all rushed through which is slightly frustrating. Pretty much everyone who wins looks impressive, with Uriah Hall putting a beating on Andy Enz, who went on to the UFC anyway, and a super-quick finish from Zak Cummings. Weirdest is Josh Samman's fight as he pisses Dana and Jones off by doing the Sakuraba double punch from back mount. Token Swede Tor Troeng looks good but going into this season there was hype around a mystery guy Dana was calling the "TUF beast" and a lot of folks online figured it was Troeng, but really he doesn't look like a killer or anything. It also needs to be noted that Chael comes off as a cool guy and in no way antagonistic. Teams are picked and Chael gets token Brit Luke Barnatt first. Teams to me look relatively even. Jones then makes a weird fight pick, choosing Mike Tyson lookalike Gilbert Smith to take on Barnatt, who he seems to be giving up like a foot of reach to.
Episode 2: Apparently Jones's team don't like the fight pick due to the reach issue. Well, I should say Bubba McDaniel doesn't like the pick and he comes off as a real fucking prick here, just whining and whining to anyone who will listen and even calling Gilbert out on pretty much everything outside of him being black. Which would've been over the line but wouldn't surprise me with this guy. I mean sure, both Dana and Barnatt also say it's a bad fight for Gilbert but they're allowed because Barnatt is the opponent and Dana is doing it on a talking head segment and not to Gilbert's face. Jones doesn't really offer much support either while assistant coach Frank Mir just shrugs the whole thing off. The big issue is Bubba desperately wants to pick his own fight rather than be at the mercy of Chael. The guy is a selfish idiot. To be fair though he's right about the fight as Barnatt shrugs off Gilbert's takedowns and then ends things with a flying knee in the second round, which is nice. Bubba tries desperately to call out Chael's Kevin Casey post-fight and comes off like a moron again.
Episode 3: Next up is Chael's Uriah Hall against Jones's Adam Cella. Underlying feeling is that Adam is fucked. Chael seems to know he has something special with Uriah, who is super-intense apparently because he was bullied quite badly as a kid. They also hint at him potentially being a headcase, as Sonnen gives him this incredible speech about how failure is always a readily available option, but it's a choice as to whether you take that option. It's a quote I had on my phone for some time actually as it's fascinating. Chael is coming off as one of the best ever TUF coaches already, actually. More whining from Bubba of course follows but fuck that guy. And then in the fight, it happens. As everyone well knows as pretty much anyone with an interest in MMA - and tons without any interest - has seen it, Uriah kills poor Adam dead with a fucking turning hook kick to the head. It's the best ever KO in TUF and probably a top ten KO of all time in MMA period. Fucking Dana White pretty much awards Uriah the 25k for best KO there and then and nobody looks willing to argue. Jones's team look fucking terrified as Adam looks DEAD. Thankfully the dude comes round quite quickly. And suddenly it's obvious who the "TUF beast" is. Damn.
Episode 4: On tap is Chael's Kevin Casey - a Gracie student of some fame - against Collin Hart who is trained by DAVID TERRELL!~! Anyway prior to this the power goes down in the house and Team Sonnen - lead mainly by Kelvin Gastelum - decide to wake Jones's team up, pissing them all off. This leads to Hart flipping Casey off at the weigh ins as apparently he's not a very nice guy. Hart that is, as he just comes off as a guy who literally doesn't give a shit about anyone. Probably unfair but this is TUF, dude. Casey seems to be the favourite here but he ends up being taken down early by Hart and can't really recover, as he's clearly carrying too much muscle and gasses out badly. It's no surprise the guy popped for the juice last year actually. So Team Jones is off the mark finally and so they pick big badass Bubba to face Kelvin Gastelum, because Kelvin's only 20 and has the least experience in the house. Last person to come off this badly this early on a season of TUF was probably Junie Browning, off the top of my head, but at least he was somewhat funny because of his idiocy. Bubba is just thoroughly unlikeable. Good season so far.
Episode 5: Few interesting things going on here. We get another priceless speech from Chael about how emotions won't help you during a fight; I've not fought before myself but I know it's true for the sports I have done, so yeah. Dude is just a brilliant coach point blank. He also brings in MICKEY ROURKE (!) of all people to do a bit of a pep talk too. Dude looks like his face is made of melted wax at this point though which isn't nice. And he uses his other connections to make a phonecall to Ronda Rousey, who tells massive fan Kelvin she'll come in and do a guest coach slot if he wins. Well shit there's motivation. EVERYONE LOVES CHAEL. On the Jones side, we get the first bit of proper politicking from Josh Samman, who tries to weasel his way into fighting later on as he feels banged up. It comes off like a sub-Bubba way of manipulating himself into an easier fight I think. Not much on Bubba this week as he's quietly confident of beating Kelvin with ease due to the experience I guess. Knowing what we know now though it's a bit different. When I rewatched, the moment it hit me that Bubba was fucked from the beginning came when Samman (in a talking head segment) slams Kelvin's diet as being appalling but then Kelvin comes in his own segment, intense and angry as hell and just says there is no fucking way Bubba is beating me. It's quite scary actually to see this 20-year old kid talk like this. Fight comes and Bubba starts strong, but it's a massive example of the mental game taking over - as Kelvin begins to take control you can see the confidence sap from Bubba as he's clearly thinking shit, this kid is actually quite good, and then fuck, this kid is destroying me in all areas. Second-round RNC finishes things off. Credit to Bubba, he admits he was beaten by the better man post-fight. So Chael now has control again and he picks Tor Troeng against Samman, saying nobody in the house wants to face either - except Uriah Hall that is as he hates Josh and wants to murder the guy. Fun episode.
Episode 6: As it's a Josh Samman episode it's no surprise he's featured a lot. Mainly he's put over as a bit of an annoying character in that he's decided he's Team Jones's captain and so he keeps offering somewhat unneeded advice to his teammates and leading random training sessions in the garden. Not really needed unless you're part of Team Shamrock on TUF 3. Dude also almost lost his leg after a quad injury though and in all honesty he doesn't come off as badly as I think the edit monster wants him to. Opponent Tor hardly gets any focus which is understandable as he's a quiet dude. Team Chael has its own problems, namely with Uriah Hall and Luke Barnatt, who feels Uriah is sparring too hard - a common TUF complaint from previous seasons which I think comes down to the fighters knowing they're going to have to possibly fight one another at some point and also just because they usually train with different characters. Case in point here - Hall outright says in the house he wouldn't mind fighting Luke which pisses EVERYONE off, but it is an individual competition I guess, just odd for a guy to outright admit it in front of his team. Elsewhere the fighters go BOWLING which is epic as always, and Chael beats Jones in a match which means he's got to wear a BLACK JERSEY (because Sonnen's team are the BAD GUYS!~!) and train with Chael for a session. Chael's bowling skills are hilariously good actually. Then the fight. It's quite even for the most part of the round until Tor fucks up by backing straight up with his hands down. It's all Josh needs to unload a BRUTAL COMBO that knocks the Swede stiff. Vicious stuff and on any other season it's a contender for the KO bonus, but you know, turning hook kick and all. So the hammer switches back to Jones and he takes his top pick Clint Hester, a striker, to go against Sonnen's grappler Jimmy Quinlan. Jones feels Hester's got a big advantage here. Definitely feels like a better pick than Smith/Barnatt at any rate!
Episode 7: This one begins with Team Jones being super-cocky over Josh's knockout. Worst culprits are Josh (though he has a right to be cocky after that KO), Bubba (who thinks he has the Wild Card in the bag), and somehow Adam Cella who can only see two Jones fighters in the Finale. I'm sure I spotted him talking shit on Uriah Hall here too which is INSANE after the dude almost killed him. To be fair Gilbert Smith is the only guy on the team who's come off as likeable so far. Clint Hester is a quieter sort but still cocky while token Aussie Dylan Andrews hasn't really said a thing. Collin Hart isn't cocky but may well be a bit unhinged. Next, the fighters take a trip to Hooters, where Gilbert Smith basically does his best impression of Michael Clarke Duncan as Bear in Armageddon. The scene where he's ripping off his hospital gown I mean. To be fair the dude is fucking hench so you can't blame him for stripping. Elsewhere Uriah Hall further alienates himself by sitting alone sipping on a soft drink. I mean, he's a badass, but he doesn't exactly seem like any fun to be around at all. Fight is Quinlan vs. Hester and basically all of Team Sonnen are saying Jimmy can win if he can get Clint down, but Clint hits like a truck. To which we get YET ANOTHER INSPIRATIONAL SPEECH from Chael who confirms that yeah, Clint is probably going to hit Jimmy in the face as hard as he can, but that doesn't mean he can win, damnit. Seriously, watch this season and tell me Chael isn't the best TUF coach yet. Well, he's up there with Serra and Pulver anyway. Nobody else comes close to those three I don't think. Maybe Tito based on Season 3 but his showing in Season 11 let him down a lot. Mad tangent, sorry. Weigh-ins are interesting as everyone seems to think Hester is a much bigger guy but shit, Quinlan is a huge 185lber too looking at this. Fight sees Hester light him up early, but as Chael predicted, Jimmy weathers the storm and starts working his takedowns. Hester looks a bit lost off his back with a slick grappler like Jimmy and Team Jones are silenced by a second round RNC ala Kelvin on Bubba. VIVA CHAEL. And to top it off, he calls in the bowling bet from the previous episode and presents Jones with a BLACK TEAM DARK SIDE JERSEY. Chael is the MAN and this was another good episode.
Episode 8: We get the coaches challenge, which feels early in the season I guess because the first round isn't over yet, but to be fair it *is* Episode 8. In this season it's this odd thing which involves Jones and Sonnen driving excavators, having to scoop up dirt and fill a dumpster, then stack some tires, and finally drop a basketball into the tire. It's definitely not the most conventional challenge but it's fun mainly because it doesn't involve athleticism (you get the feeling Jones would've beaten Chael easily at practically any sport....) and moreso because the guys are mic'd up and so we can hear Chael talking smack to Jones throughout. Chael ends up winning in a close one, and all is right with the world. Fight this week is the final one of the first round, Team Jones's Dylan Andrews against Team Sonnen's Zak Cummings. Both are quieter guys but Dylan at least has some sort of backstory as his family are in Australia still. Story of the fight is basically that Zak, like a lot of larger bullying grappler types doesn't have much off his back, and once Dylan puts him there he just eats a steady diet of elbows and punches for the most part of two rounds. It's a clear decision for Dylan although one judge somehow scores it a draw. With Dylan through, it's one of the more even seasons of TUF, with Chael having four wins (Barnatt, Uriah, Kelvin and Jimmy) to Jones's three (Hart, Josh and Dylan). Dana explains that both guys have two fighters eligible for the Wild Card, with Chael having Kevin Casey and Zak Cummings and Jones having Bubba McDaniel and Clint Hester. I'm guessing - though it's not outright said - that Gilbert Smith, Adam Cella and Tor Troeng would all have been medically suspended for some time after their KO losses. For Chael it's an easy pick of Kevin Casey as he feels Kevin had a lot more to show, while Jones has a much harder time. basically because Hester showed more in his fight but Bubba is his long time buddy. And it's BROS BEFORE erm, better fighters I guess as Bones chooses Bubba, meaning Bubba vs. Casey which was suggested in like the second week is our Wild Card fight.
Episode 9: Bubba is finally a bit humanised here rather than coming off as a prick, as he explains that his family are in Texas while he's in Albuquerque and he can't afford to see them very often. It's not said but it's implied that his kids are probably with an ex or something. I could be wrong in which case I'm a dick, but yeah. And after weeks of Chael coming off as the better coach, Jones finally comes off well too as he helps to inspire Bubba by telling him he *is* a great fighter and he's one of his favourite training partners as he pushes him to the limit. Doesn't matter if it's true as long as it helps Bubba, so kudos to Jones. The two coaches then head to the house for Thanksgiving and it's CHAEL SPEECH TIME as he says how much he realises now that Jones is a cool guy, so the animosity between the two is now purely professional and he's honoured to be coaching such a great bunch of fighters alongside Jones. Cool stuff. Bubba is pissed off though unsurprisingly as he can't eat the food due to cutting weight. Side story in this episode is Josh Samman: Politician, as he decides to call out Jimmy Quinlan prior to the Quarter-Final picks, and it's implied that he knows Uriah Hall wants to fight him and so he's trying to avoid that, going as far as outright asking Collin Hart if he'll call Uriah out instead. I think the idea is to push Josh as a bit of a weasel type but I think it's more him trying to be smart and find the easiest path to the finals, which you can't blame really. So it's time for Bubba vs. Casey and in a telling moment Casey has to use a towel to weigh in. First round is absolutely dominant for Casey though as he runs a grappling clinic on Bubba who looks outclassed. Second is a bit different. Bubba pushes a harder pace and it looks like Kevin's slowing down (again) and he ends up taking some hard elbows on the ground from Bubba while stuck on the bottom. It's clearly one round apiece so we're going to a third, but Kevin can't get off his stool (!). Jones is stunned and says he can never remember anything like this before, but evidently he doesn't watch as much TUF as me as I know that Dave Faulkner did it in TUF 9 and then Jamie Yager did the same in TUF 11. But yeah, this time Kevin explains that the same thing happened to him in 2009 and it was his kidneys shutting down. Hey, I'd rather have working kidneys than progress on TUF I guess. So Kevin's off to the hospital and Bubba is through, and he also asks Dana if he wins the finish bonus to which Dana is like fuck it why not. And now it's time for the fighters to make their calls for the Quarters, which is always fun. Bubba wants Jimmy or Luke. Jimmy wants Bubba. Dylan wants Luke, Luke wants Bubba or Dylan. Kelvin wants Collin. Collin makes good on his promise to Josh and calls out Uriah, and Uncle Dana smells a rat and says he didn't think ANYONE would call Uriah out. Uriah wants Josh, saying he's hated him since Day Four (!) which is insane and frightening. Josh is told Uriah wants him, and Josh plays INCREDIBLE politics by trying to say that's because Uriah wants to avoid Collin (!). That's ballsy. He still wants Jimmy. So the coaches decide since Luke and Dylan want each other, that one's on. Dana wants Josh vs. Uriah but Jones wants Jimmy vs. Josh and Kelvin vs. Bubba, which doesn't make sense as they already fought, but I guess Jones thinks Bubba could win a rematch. Dana seems settled which means Uriah vs. Collin, too. But of course DANA GETS THE FINAL PICK. The fighters line up and Uriah is eyeballing Josh right away. First fight is....Collin vs. Kelvin, an instant curveball. Dylan and Luke get their wish and square off. Like the second half of the Smashes with Australia vs. UK again. Next is Josh and Dana purposely announces the opponent SLOWLY. Uriah looks PISSED when Dana calls Jimmy forward. Which leaves Uriah to face Bubba, and fuck, Bubba looks TERRIFIED of this man, seriously. Bubba doesn't even look at him in the staredown and Bubba says in a cut away he didn't want Uriah but hey, he's here to beat everyone. Doesn't look like it from his body language if I'm honest but what do I know? And that's that. Fight wasn't much but as a political episode this was TREMENDOUS.
Episode 10: We begin with Bubba because of course we do. Again he says that Uriah wasn't even on his radar but hey, he'll do it. This is not convincing, dude. But more on that later. The first two semis are up in this episode, but before that Chael brings in Ronda Rousey for her promised guest coaching slot after Kelvin beat Bubba earlier in the season. This is a lot of fun as we see Ronda throwing Kelvin all over the place, but the best bit isn't shown (I think it's a DVD extra but I forget, was definitely on Youtube) as Ronda grapples with Uriah Hall and taps him with an armbar. Twice. I guess they didn't show that because the season was a lot about pushing Hall as a big star, but yeah, it's crazy impressive even if Hall isn't like an ADCC wizard or anything. Dude is still huge and powerful. The other big thing Ronda brings is a motivational speech that Chael himself would be proud of. She tells the team that before her fights she absolutely convinces herself that no matter how good her opponent is, they do not deserve to beat her. Kelvin takes this to heart and quotes it like three times leading into his fight with Collin Hart, who in terms of demeanour is probably Team Jones's most intimidating guy. Does Kelvin care? Of course not. Collin comes out looking to trade and gets FUCKING WAYLAID by Kelvin who just brings an INSANE amount of aggression into this fight. Collin faceplants after about thirty seconds and it's game over. Kelvin looked like a man possessed here, wow. Somehow though he's still being largely overlooked by the rest of the cast, I guess because even after murdering Collin and overcoming Bubba he's still the smaller, chubby, inexperienced young guy. What little did they know. Anyway next up is Luke Barnatt vs. Dylan Andrews - a rare example of a first pick facing a last pick. And MIKE TYSON shows up to watch the fight with Chael exclaiming how lean he looks. Was this around that period where he went fat, perhaps? I forget with Tyson. But yeah, this is a GREAT FIGHT. First round probably goes to Dylan, second to Luke. Both are close as the standing exchanges are largely even, and on the ground while Dylan gets takedowns, Luke does some excellent work from the bottom to both defend and attack. Dana is impressed the judges send it to a third round because I guess he didn't trust them to reward Luke's bottom game work. Can you blame him? But yeah we go to a third and Jones decides to show Dylan a photo of his family between rounds to inspire him. Evidently it works as he comes out with RUTHLESS AGGRESSION and while Luke returns fire, Dylan just overwhelms him and ends up hitting him with some BOMBS to put him away. I'm pretty sure - though I could be wrong after like 17 seasons at this point - this was the first time a last pick beat a first pick on TUF. So that's your first two semi-finalists, two semi-upsets as well.
Episode 11: Bubba's nerves haven't steadied and now he's worrying about a possible back injury, forcing Jones to get Clint Hester back into serious training just in case. Bubba's main worry seems to be that this will be his fourth fight in a relatively small time period and so he's concerned that his kidneys are giving him pain due to the weight cutting. Whether he really was afraid of Uriah I don't know but you definitely get that impression. Josh vs. Jimmy is up first at any rate. Josh comes out swinging but gets SLAMMED by Jimmy Matt Hughes style. Jimmy proceeds to run a grappling train on Josh, but unfortunately he makes the same error we've seen great grapplers in MMA do before, and that's forget that it's a fight and not a BJJ match. So he's all about position and advancing position rather than doing damage and it allows Josh to survive and eventually escape to his feet. Once he does he smashes Jimmy with knees and when Jimmy drops, takes the back with both hooks. And in a wild moment after three Sakuraba-style double punches, Jimmy TAPS OUT. Chuck Liddell would not be pleased. Maybe Josh hits stupidly hard, but Fucking Dana White suspects Jimmy quit, and I'd tend to side with that view. Jimmy himself pretty much confirms it a bit later when he says he was exhausted by that point and yeah, he pretty much quit. Josh impressed me here by escaping a very good grappler and then putting him away when he had the chance.
Bubba meanwhile has had BLOOD TESTS that come out clean. Apparently he might have a slightly strained muscle. His reaction to the doctor telling him he's good to go is similar to the sort of reaction Al Iaquinta had to the Reebok deal, say no more. Even the staredown is comical as Bubba covers up as if he's begging Uriah not to hurt him. This can really only go one way, surely. Although to be fair the last time a guy looked so scared it was Cameron Dollar in TUF 9, and he went on to throttle Martin Stapleton. Doesn't quite work for Bubba though but you can't really fault him in the fight - Uriah hits him with one brutal right hand and it's all she wrote. Bubba comes to face down and begins to groan, can't work out what's happened and is panicking because he can't see out of his left eye. Holy shit. Fucking Dana White is just in awe of Uriah and the rest of the cast look TERRIFIED. Hey, at least guys like Adam and Collin won't have to fight the guy! Bubba got massacred here in one shot. Seriously, the dude's eye is sliced up to hell. Final four are then called in to see Dana and the coaches, and of course Josh thinks the finals have to be him and Uriah as they're the top seeds so he wants well, anyone but Uriah. Of course. Uriah STILL wants Josh. Coaches seem to be leaning Josh/Uriah and Kelvin/Dylan, but Dana goes the JOSH WAY and books Josh against Kelvin and Uriah against Dylan. I guess they wanted to build Uriah/Josh but after his last showing I'm surprised, in hindsight, that Kelvin was so overlooked.
Episode 12: We begin with the obligatory segment that sees the coaches and semi-finalists head to Harley Davidson to check out custom bikes. Nothing could make me care about this stuff. Even Dana buying Uriah this pimp-style hat because it looks cool, then I guess feeling bad and buying Josh and Kelvin some leather jackets. No idea if poor Dylan got anything, ha. Not much build here and we go right into Josh vs. Kelvin. And like Jimmy, Kelvin gets Josh down. Unlike Jimmy Kelvin gets into position to drop some elbows, and subsequently despite all of his best efforts, Josh can't get out from under the youngster. Kelvin takes his back and locks up a TIGHT CHOKE and it's a massive upset win to put Kelvin into the finals. Seriously, with hindsight this was a massive upset - Josh was huge compared to Kelvin, and although Jimmy dominated him on the ground for a portion of that fight he was never in real trouble and had smashed his two previous opponents to pieces. And yet Kelvin came in and HANDLED him here. Next is Uriah vs. Dylan and we get a lot of hints of what we'd see from Uriah in his "proper" UFC fights. First round sees him largely pick Dylan off from distance without getting overly aggressive, busting Dylan up pretty bad. Second round Dylan comes forward a bit more and Uriah just gets totally passive and allows Dylan to walk him down, eventually getting a takedown. From there Uriah locks up a kimura but never really commits to it and it looks like Dylan might just make it to a third round. That is until Uriah somehow hurts him with STRIKES FROM THE BOTTOM and then sweeps to mount and finishes him from there. Dana is again in awe, putting Uriah over as the baddest guy in TUF history but really outside of the wild finish I didn't think he looked that good here. I was swept up in the hype at the time and thought he'd crush Kelvin but watching back you can see how Kelvin pulled that upset out. So that's the finals set. Season ends with Chael cutting a bit of a promo on Jones - not face-to-face however - but due to their amicable nature on the show a lot of the hype for that fight was gone by the time it rolled around.
I liked this season a lot. While the coaches never really ignited a nasty rivalry as we expected going in, we did see a big change in Chael as he went from uber-heel smack talking clown to a guy who came off as one of the best coaches TUF had ever seen as well as a nice guy. Obviously he got two finalists out of it too which is always impressive and to this point had only been done by Jens Pulver, Rashad Evans, GSP and Urijah Faber. Talent pool was also impressive - all the hype coming out was obviously on Uriah Hall even when he lost to Kelvin, but Kelvin's actually developed into a top ten guy at 170lbs while Uriah, Josh, Clint Hester, Zak Cummings and Kevin Casey are still on the UFC roster and Luke Barnatt and Dylan Andrews were only cut recently. House bullshit was kept to a minimal but honestly that was a breath of fresh air after the mess that was TUF 16. To me this was one of the best seasons of TUF thus far.
Usually I'd do the whole thing with an e-mail link here and ask for feedback, yada yada, but anyone who wants to respond will comment anyway so that's that. Anyone else got any interesting memories of this season? Shit, Josh himself posts here and I'd love to see how he felt about how he was portrayed like the ultimate politician. What say you?