’s Guide to TUF 9

By Scott Holmes Jun 18, 2009
On the final episode of this season’s “The Ultimate Fighter,” coach Dan Henderson sits surrounded by his team. With only one fight remaining, the boys nosh on some ribs and soak up their last moments together –- a last supper, if you will.

After all the pig has been polished off, Henderson and Frank Lester talk about Hendo’s prominent and cauliflowered ears.

“I like ‘em,” says Hendo. “I never have anybody f--- with me because of my ears.”

Lester agrees that such ears would give him pause -- at least when Henderson is around. Before dinner, Lester had no problem aping his coach, walking around with two asparagus bunches to his head in homage.

Henderson gives Lester one last pep talk before his bout with James Wilks, as the U.S. team hopes their boy can exact revenge on the man who removed four of his teeth in their last bout.

“James is such a pompous pr--k,” says Damarques Johnson. “I want Frank to hurt him badly.”

At least Lester has earned the U.K. squad’s respect. While the Yanks eat, Wilks gets a pep talk of his own as his teammates warn him that Lester has changed since their last meeting.

“Now” says Dean Amasinger, “he’s going to be more relaxed when he fights you. You’ve got to bring your A game.”

Wilks figures that he’s the favorite, seeing as how he won the last time, and while he respects Lester’s chin, Wilks’ only true worry is that he’ll make a mistake on his end.

Lester is off to get his final workout in.

“I’m starting to feel like that cage is home,” says Lester.

Coach Henderson implores Lester to adjust his standup style with more straight punches. Lester tends to rely on throwing wide hooks, exposing himself down the middle. Hendo is clear that he wants to see less of Lester trying to load up his shots and Lester vows to do just that.

Lester and Wilks are both classy, respectful combatants. Before they square off, Wilks spends time in Lester’s room, asking about his daughter back home. Lester dotes on her as he hands Wilks a marker to sign his jersey.

Lester admits that his stance on Wilks has softened and that Wilks has “grown on me a little bit.” This is amazing when you remember that Wilks knocked four of Lester’s teeth out less than two weeks ago.

There are visible changes in Lester. Before he was all fury and now he’s become more philosophical. He speaks to Wilks about the change before their weigh-in as the two share a sauna. Lester talks about how he usually found himself “fighting with a little rage” but this isn’t the case this time having lived with his opponent.

While the U.S. team feasts on ribs and BBQ, their U.K. counterparts’ final meal is decidedly English. Well, English by way of India, as Amasinger whips up a good chicken curry for the lads, which they dig into with gusto.

“I couldn’t wish for a better team,” says coach Bisping. “I’ve said it many, many times.”

Bisping is the cock of the walk with the lightweight finale being an all-U.K. affair. He’s also pleased with his teams’ representation of the sport and their country. Maybe Bisping should wait to gush, as Wilks decides to clown him.

Wilks tricks Bisping by pretending to press a penny into his coach’s forehead. Bisping thinks that the penny is stuck there and begins to slap himself in the back of the head about a dozen times before catching on that there’s nothing there. Hilarity ensues.

After dinner is over and the coaches have left, Andre Winner flees into the backyard after slapping Dean Amasinger in the jaw with a healthy portion of chicken.

Winner winds up getting shoved into the pool and as he attempts to exit said pool, he is greeted with a bag of flour in the face. While foreign to some, this is a move known in some circles of the United States as “antiquing.” The U.K. team goes out the way they came in, laughing and having the time of their lives.

While they party, Lester lets a few errant tears go as he sits on the bed and talks with Damarques Johnson. Johnson advises Lester to embrace the challenge of this next fight and allays his worries. Johnson assures Lester that he has nothing to be concerned about, that Lester has represented himself, his family and country very well.

“Win, lose or draw tomorrow Frank, dude, you’re going to be a rock star,” says Johnson, getting a chuckle from Lester.

Lester steps into the Octagon for the third time in as many weeks and, once again, he fights his heart out. As much as coach Henderson would like to see his pupil throw straight punches more, Lester still relies on his looping shots. However, they are just no match for Wilks. The Brit picks the battered American apart, landing punches knees and kicks from every conceivable angle.

Henderson repeatedly begs for Lester to “be first” when it cones to the exchange, but it is Wilks that follows the advice. Wilks darts in and moves back out, causing a worn-out Lester to constantly have to chase him down.

The first two rounds are a slugfest, with Wilks pushing the action. Lester hangs tough until the third round, when the damage and fatigue begin to take a toll. Wilks looks every bit the finalist, staying very sharp from the opening bell until he finishes Lester off. A few knees to the head in the final minutes from Wilks and Lester crumples to the canvas for good.

Several times during the fight Wilks mocks Lester’s style and mimics his movements, which doesn’t sit too well with Lester’s teammates.

“If James tries to taunt me, he will only make it worse for himself because I will take that Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and shove it up his ass,” says Johnson , who faces Wilks in the finals this Saturday.

Henderson is very proud of Lester and his efforts, and attributes his loss to “too many wars over a short period of time.”

“What we found out is there’s no doubt, Wilks is the better fighter,” says UFC President Dane White. “But Lester, without a f---ing doubt, is one of the toughest sons of bitches I’ve ever been around.”

Looking drained and defeated and sitting there bruised and bloody, Lester receives support from his coaches and teammates in the locker room, as the last man standing from Team U.S.A. steps into the Octagon alone.

Damarques Johnson receives some good-natured ribbing from the Brits as he squares off with Wilks for the final matchup announcement.

“That dude, I don’t know what it is,” says Johnson. “His mannerisms, his f---ing face just tugs on my life cord and makes me want to hurt somebody.”

Wilks is a little more reserved with his commentary.

“I was confident when I got here and I’m confident I’ll win in the finale,” he says.

“Tough bastards,” says Henderson, as he walks around shaking the hands of the U.K. team. “This experience has really made me want to beat Bisping that much more. He’s a nice guy but for lack of a better word, he’s just a d---- bag.”

Bisping has observations of his own and marvels at how Hendo “never got riled up once.”

“Maybe I could be a little more cool, calm and collected,” notes Bisping.

Bisping also has thoughts about their upcoming fight at UFC 100 on July 11.

“I think he underestimated the team and with a bit of luck, he’ll underestimate me,” says Bisping.

On Saturday, live on Spike TV, it will certainly be interesting to see Ross Pearson and Andre Winner be forced to put friendship aside for the lightweight TUF title. Friendship won’t be the issue for the bigger boys with Johnson’s unabashed hatred for Wilks boils over in the welterweight final.

In a nutshell, this season’s country versus country experiment went pretty well -- for the Brits, that is. They came in hungry, focused and with a chip on their shoulder. They seemed to bond over the experience and their coach’s competitive attitude galvanized them as a team. In fact, they may have even had an unwitting effect on their counterparts, seeing as how this was probably the most uneventful season when it came to house drama.

Don’t get used to it though. The next season of TUF should be a reality fan’s dream with the combination of Quinton Jackson and Rashad Evans coaching the likes of Kevin Fergsuon and other heavyweight monsters. Get the popcorn ready.
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