Kimbo and the Merry Men of TUF 10

Sep 16, 2009
Don’t lie to yourself. You crave another season of “The Ultimate Fighter.” The disgusting alcohol-fueled pranks, never-ending faux machismo and massive inferiority complexes punctuated by the occasional display of actual athletic achievement are the universal guilty pleasures for mixed martial arts fans. Now that you’ve made peace with the truth, it’s time to break down the 10th season of Spike TV’s reality juggernaut, which features an all heavyweight cast.

Of that lot, no one polarizes the masses quite like YouTube sensation Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson, who’s making a stab at legitimacy by trying to earn his place in the sport instead of having it handed to him -- a novel change of pace for a fighter who was headlining CBS shows a year ago on the strength of hype and bread.

In the interest of giving this season’s actual contenders some publicity, let’s take a closer look at Slice’s chances. He’s a 35 year-old brawler who barely managed a win over semi-reformed hooligan James Thompson and got knocked out by UFC castoff Seth Petruzelli. Perhaps even more troubling are the claims of his former trainer, MMA legend Bas Rutten, who said Slice turned into an egomaniac and all-around failure as a student.

This being reality TV, the producers will do everything they can to keep Slice in the limelight since he’s the ratings draw, but he’ll lose and lose badly as soon as he fights someone with a pulse and some skill.

With that bit of ugliness out of the way, we can focus on the guys with a pulse and more than a bit of skill. The most popular among them remains Roy Nelson, the former International Fight League champion who looks like your local cable guy … if he could snap you in half for making a joke about his affinity for Pop Tarts. A surprisingly well-rounded fighter who has the chin and power to brawl effectively, as well as the ground-and-pound to add the all-important second dimension to his game, Nelson stands as one of the more polished fighters to make the TUF house in recent memory.

The UFC may not have envisioned an unapologetic doughboy as its heavyweight ultimate fighter, but Nelson is the odds-on favorite based on ability and experience. What’s unusual about this season is that experience is not in short supply, as Wes Sims, Mike Wessel and Scott Junk have all competed in the UFC.

Don’t take that to mean a great deal. Junk and Wessel do not have much in terms of a skill set, and Sims was basically brought in as the yin to Slice’s equally annoying yang. I expect their interactions to lead to nothing less than a CBS sitcom co-starring Jason Alexander. Beyond that, none of them will find much success past the second round of cuts.

The talent level this season is difficult to handicap, but there are a lot of fighters with a ton of upside in the house. As for those potential blue-chip prospects in the house, some of them come from an unexpected place -- the NFL. This season features four former NFL players who must have spent their careers wondering how much more fun it would be to hit people without the pads.

Predicting how Wes Shivers and Matt Mitrione will fare remains a dicey proposition since neither has ever fought professionally. Consider them this season’s official wild cards.

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Former Buccaneer Marcus Jones
is an interesting heavyweight.
As for the other two NFL converts, Marcus Jones made headlines with his transition to MMA, but the results have been mixed. Poor striking fundamentals and a suspect chin have gotten him in trouble on more than one occasion against bottom-of-the-barrel competition. More importantly, it looks like his pure athleticism has not translated well to MMA. At age 36, one has to wonder how much Jones has left in the tank.

The opposite holds true for Brendan Schaub, who has looked spectacular thus far, showing incredible athleticism for a 6-foot-4, 250-pound slab of humanity and a natural knack for the sport despite little more than a year’s worth of training. Of all the unknown prospects this season, Schaub has the best chance to turn heads and establish himself as a breakout star. With that said, Schaub remains a raw prospect that relies mostly on a long jab and powerful right hand to cover up his fundamental deficiencies. Regardless of what team Schaub ends up on, he will need a lot of polishing from his coaches in order to have a shot at beating the more experienced fighters in the house.

Demico Rogers may be the only other prospect in the house that can match Schaub’s upside, and it shows with the cult following he has gained based on his dominant performances on the amateur circuit. With a strong wrestling base and a commitment to developing his jiu-jitsu, Rogers seems built for success against the lesser competitors on Season 10. Take into account his pure talent and legitimate heavyweight frame and you get someone who will be in the UFC one way or another.

The same has been said for undefeated prospect Darrill Schoonover, who holds a gaudy 10-0 record, with all of his wins coming via stoppage. Many seem to forget, however, that Schoonover is a natural light heavyweight who has looked out of shape and less effective north of the 205-pound division. As one of the few undersized heavyweights in the house, he will have an uphill battle against the ginormous fighters the UFC has brought in this season.

For all of Schoonover’s hype, one fighter getting nowhere near enough attention is Justin Wren -- a dominant high school wrestler that put promising collegiate and Greco-Roman wrestling careers on hold in favor of MMA. While Wren’s overall game needs some major work, we have seen skilled one-dimensional wrestlers find success on “The Ultimate Fighter” before, and amidst a sea of green prospects, Wren’s wrestling may be enough to get him further than most expect.

As for the rest of the house, Zak Jensen was a victim of Brad Imes’ gogoplata spree. That’s like getting knocked out by Shannon Ritch; you just can’t come back from that sort of thing. James McSweeney becomes the stock English brawler, so expect plenty of Ross Pointon-level macho gibberish but not much in the way of results from the lone limey in the house. Abe Wagner moves too slowly. The same goes for Jon Madsen, who looked like he trained all of a week for his lone professional bout.

Now that you have your analysis, hit the forums and pretend you’re not going to watch this season. I used to make the same promise to myself until I learned only one in 10 addicts stays clean and still relapses an average of three times.

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