Things got personal on the latest episode of “The Ultimate Fighter." | Photo: Sherdog.com
It’s been almost a storybook season thus far on “The Ultimate Fighter.” The coaches don’t hate each other, the fighters aren’t peeing in one another’s food, and the biggest grievance to date stems from one man’s morning rooster calls.
The love fest continues this week after Chuck O’Neil announces that he plans on splitting his bonus money from his submission of Javier Torres with teammate Charlie Rader. These two are good friends from outside the “TUF” house and O’Neil explains that Rader has been on the wrong side of a child custody battle that has proven costly in many ways. Rader says he hasn’t seen his oldest son in over a year and owes beaucoup dollars in child support payments.
Knowing that the money could help Rader inch closer to perhaps seeing his son, O’Neil generously offers it. But Rader’s pride won’t allow him to accept the cash.
“He’s just a nice guy wanting to help out a friend, but I can’t take it,” says Rader.
“He deserves to have his kid, plain and simple,” says O’Neil, who later lays the offer out simply for his friend. “Call it a present, call it a loan, call it whatever the hell you want to call it, but you’re taking it, OK?”
Last week, Chris Cope and Ramsey Nijem secured their spots in this season’s semifinals. Up this week is a rematch between wildcard winner O’Neil and Zach Davis, who submitted “Cold Steel” with a triangle choke early in their first encounter. Davis is eager to stand and bang the second time out, telling us that he wants to “show the diversity” of his skills. His coach, Junior dos Santos, is confident in his charge, but would like to see Davis stick to what he does well -- namely, jiu-jitsu.
Coach Brock Lesnar’s opening remarks to his team focus on the improvement O’Neil has shown since his loss. Lesnar says O’Neil has performed a 180-degree turnaround both in attitude and aptitude.
“We want to see ‘Cold Steel’ Charles,” says Lesnar, hoping for Chuck to shelve all silliness and stay focused.
Two fights are on the agenda tonight, so after a quick catch-up on the teams’ training, it’s go time.
Not long after their fight begins, Davis bails on his idea to stand toe-to-toe with O’Neil. Davis shoots in low after Chuck shows he’s got bad intentions in their opening exchanges. Zach runs Chuck into the fence, attempting to slow things down and gain control. Pressuring O’Neil with knees in the clinch, Davis fights to keep him there. The two separate and Zach’s face is a little swollen and reddened from a scrape just below his left eye.
O’Neil begins working on Davis’ lead leg with kicks, looking alert and on-the-hunt while shrugging off Davis’ return fire. Zach is still game, but Chuck’s striking is taking its toll and leaving Davis a bit sluggish. Chuck makes his man pay after Zach avoids a left hand by staring at it as it passes by, leaving him wide open for a straight right that lands flush.
Panicked, Zach rushes in for a shot. Chuck stuffs it, only to find himself once again pressed against the fence. With about 30 seconds left in the round, Chuck unloads a furious set of punches that has Zach wobbling and staggering until he’s saved by the bell.
The second round begins dangerously for Chuck after he kicks the legs out from under Zach and falls right on top of him. Remembering how he fared in this position during their last fight, O’Neil postures up and smartly returns to his feet.
From there, it’s just a beating, as Chuck’s tees off at will while Zach constantly tries to recover his senses. Davis never folds but does get quite bent up; Chuck finishes the second round setting up his combos with leg kicks that have Zach flailing about. Despite being so one-sided, the fight is a great one.
“Chuck came out and just put it to him,” says UFC President Dana White after O’Neil’s obvious decision win, adding that fighters who compete multiple times during taping always fare better. “Your timing’s better, your wind is there, you’re far from nervous ‘cause you’ve already fought so many times. ... Chuck’s definitely the toughest guy here.”
Zach punches a hole through a door as he walks out, fighting through tears. Later, he composes himself enough to say that “even on a bad day like today, I enjoyed it.” Unfortunately, the news is about to get worse for Zach.
Once back at the house, O’Neil and Njiem marvel over Zach’s ability to continue coming forward, despite having been rocked multiple times. Then, Davis returns to the house with a bad prognosis for both of his black and red eyes: both of his retinas were torn during the fight, requiring immediate laser surgery.
“The doctor says I’m not going to be fighting anymore,” says an emotional Davis, earning him a big hug from the crushed O’Neil. Davis is crestfallen, having gone this far in his career only to have another huge hurdle placed between him and the Octagon.
“I kind of felt I’d already pushed through all the crappy times,” Davis says.
The show must go on, however, and the lone remaining quarterfinal is another “first versus worst” scenario, with Tony Ferguson facing Ryan McGillivray.
“I’m hoping Tony looks as good in the Octagon as he’s looked in the practice room” says Lesnar of his top dog. “I hope he goes in and fights a little more controlled.”
Over on Dos Santos’ side, “Cigano” informs McGillivray that just about every remaining fighter told White that they wanted to face him if given the choice.
“I kind of like hearing that a little bit,” says McGillivray, letting the slight fuel his fire. “I guarantee Tony won’t think I’m the weak link when this fight’s over.”
McGillivray spends the night before the fight writing a letter to his daughter back home.
“I don’t know how to make a great living to give her the type of life she deserves,” admits a teary eyed McGillivray, who sees MMA as an opportunity to make life better for his family, but stresses about the sacrifices he and his daughter will still have to make.
Ferguson’s trials are somewhat less serious, as he speaks about being picked on as a youth and being known as the “Mexican with big ears.”
The pre-fight hype lasts longer than the bout. McGillivray walks right into a low left uppercut and is staggered in the opening moments. After a delayed stumble, he hits the deck and Ferguson leaps atop his fallen foe, battering McGillivray until the fight is stopped.
“Tony’s nasty,” says White. “He’s had two quick finishes in this competition and Brock Lesnar feels like he’s the best guy here.”
Back in the locker room, Brock enjoys his place in the world and lies down on the floor with a grin, proclaiming it “time to chill.” Next door, Junior tends to McGillivray’s grieving while telling Nijem that he’s still planning on the “TUF” winner coming from their squad.
It’s soon time to find out the pairings for the next round, which White calls “the weirdest semifinal pick I’ve ever done.” He’s got the top dog from each team to choose from in Nijem and Ferguson, along with “can’t be counted out” Cope and dark horse candidate O’Neil.
White informs the men that Cope will face Nijem, while O’Neil and Ferguson will square off. O’Neil was clearly not looking forward to having to fight a teammate, but that will all change soon.
Back at the house, spirits are high and spirits are flowing. Naturally, as the night gets boozier, “Stripper” Ramsey begins dancing amidst a shower of alcohol.
“Sorry, mom, but you raised me, so it’s your fault,” Nijem confesses to the camera later, his face buried in his palms.
“Boy, did it get out of control,” Len Bentley comments of the evening’s proceedings.
The party continues and the fighters spray each other with drinks until Rader commits a sin and pours out a little bit of beer on Ferguson’s head. Ferguson snaps and Rader dashes, causing Ferguson to dive over the couch and both men to nearly go through a glass coffee table.
Ferguson gives Rader a forearm shiver that straightens them both up. Charlie repeatedly asks Tony if he’s serious, until Rader gathers that, indeed, Ferguson is. Things get truly ugly then. The men bicker, snap and shove until the situation escalates when Ferguson chides Rader about his aforementioned eldest son.
“Hit me instead of your kid!” yells Ferguson, sending Rader into a furious rage. The comment clearly hits a raw nerve and touches on whatever allegations may be preventing Rader from seeing his son. The two are held at bay by fighters from both teams, but everyone agrees that Tony crossed a big line.
Ferguson dives into the pool outside and drunkenly pounds on the water while several people try to calm down Rader and lend their support. Things never get better, even after Tony cools off and comes back into the house. He’s still drunk as a skunk, and he’s given a tongue lashing from just about everyone before he doubles down and launches into the same tirade about Rader’s kid.
When the parties are once again separated, O’Neil gives his final thoughts to Rader and company.
“Punching him in the face is not going to be a hard task. I’m taking his dreams away,” says Chuck, “or I’m going to f--king die trying.”