Johnny Bedford did everything but ask 'Are you not entertained?' in his TUF debut. | Photo: Sherdog.com
Here we are again with “Sherdog’s Guide to the Ultimate Fighter.”
Plenty could be said about this 14th season. Fans of the mighty lights will certainly be intrigued by the welcoming of bantamweights and featherweights into the fold. Coaches, the ever-so-serious Michael Bisping and the never-that-serious Jason “Mayhem” Miller -- offer a personality clash that’s an instant storyline on its own.
Plus, it’s the final season of “The Ultimate Fighter” on Spike, the cable OB/GYN that essentially gave birth to today’s current MMA explosion after Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonner honored the sport with a finale for the ages just six short years ago.
Luckily, any newbie could have just picked up their remote and enjoyed this premiere without any prior knowledge of the facts listed above. For anyone that likes to watch TUF, you know, for the fights, there may never be a better episode. This current crop didn’t come in pretending or just to preen for the cameras. This is an outright murderer’s row of bad asses heretofore unseen. Just about all of the 32 fighters showed up ready to blast their way into the house.
Sure, you’re thinking to yourself, “Hey, I’ve been screaming at the UFC to include WEC-sized guys for years. I could have predicted this.” Fair enough, but it wasn’t just the breakneck speed and non-stop motors of these smaller fighters. This group is gritty, skilled and hungry. Some might say those type of guys have always been around, TUF just never casted them. To those, I say: why are you still reading this? Go steal a TV and watch this premiere already!
This time, the new batch walks into the Mandalay Bay Events Center instead of the usual UFC Training Center. Dana is there in his standard suit and welcomes everyone with the perfunctory swears before introducing this season’s coaches.
Jason Miller and Michael Bisping appear looking like their usual selves. Mayhem, ever subdued, always looks like a puppy that’s happy to see you opening the screen door. Bisping arrives with a scowl on his face as though he’s been helping Scotland Yard solve a grisly crime all summer long.
White tells the fellas that he wants them to look around the arena and soak it all in. He then offered a new wrinkle for this season: this time around fans will be voting on the “Best KO,” “Best Submission” and “Best Fight,” which will pay $25,000 each.
It’s also important to note that these fights were so good that the powers that be opted to show almost all of them, making this a two-hour episode. That’s the first time that’s occurred and bodes well for the remainder of this season. With two hours of fights to show, they get right to it, with the guys duking it out right there in the Mandalay Bay.
The first fight is between Casey Dwyer and Josh Ferguson. Ferguson has a twin brother, Bruce, also in the bantamweight division, setting up a potential situation of brother versus brother a la the recent film “Warrior.”
Ferguson does his brotherly part, absolutely destroying the curly-haired Dwyer in about 14 seconds with a destructive overhand right. ”It seems like Josh Ferguson was mad he didn’t have a dip in his mouth and his cowboy hat on and ran right across the ring and just knocked Shaun White right out of his snowboard boots,” comments Jason Miller.
Up next is a featherweight bout between Brazilian Diego Brandao and Jesse Newell. Bisping points out that Brandao has had 11 knockouts in 13 fights, all in the first round. Newell, who doesn’t seem to care, comes right at Brandao with some hard kicks to the body. Brandao easily adjusts to the flurry and decides to just end it with a looping left that drops Newell to the canvas. The Brazilian then sails through the air to deliver a flying elbow to finish him off.
Dana and the coaches react wildly to the viciousness of the finish and Mayhem pointed out that the finish mirrored the ugly finishing shot Bisping received from Dan Henderson.
Greg Jackson-trained bantamweight John Dodson comes in fighting in fifth gear, throwing kicks at a speed that set the stage for trouble. Dodson slaps away at Brandon Merkt’s legs at will but it is a body shot that folds his foe early on. Dodson lands several more crushing lefts to the body and the head but Herb Dean steps in and stops the walloping still early in the first round.
Jimmie Rivera is all over Dennis Bermudez in the first round of their featherweight bout, hammering him with punches, and knocking him down. However, in the second, with Rivera winded, Bermudez comes back hard. Bermudez is able to take Rivera’s back and capitalize on his sapped strength by flattening him out on his stomach and pounding his ears until the stoppage.
Any chance Josh Ferguson has of fighting his brother Bruce are dashed when his sibling gets into the cage with Roland Delorme. Delorme wrenches an armbar in a few terribly wrong directions before adjusting and settling in with a triangle choke that causes Ferguson to tap in the first frame.
The featherweight title between Marcus Brimage and Bryson Wailehua-Hansen is violent from stem to stern. What began as an even-handed, technical affair turns ugly once Brimage starts to unload bombs.
Not a few bombs, full on sortie missions. He tags Hansen so many times and so heavily that it turned into a source of concern for all parties. Hansen never goes down despite absorbing Brimage’s best shots for what seems like an eternity, but the level of intensity of the shots and the lack of any return blows leads to a second-round stoppage.
Next up at 135 is Carson Beebe, little brother to former WEC 135-pound champ Chase Beebe. However, Johnny Bedford takes it to him immediately. Bedford throws a million looks at Beebe, outboxing him, outwrestling him and then finishing him by submission with a guillotine that just about pops his head off like a bottle cap.
Bedford warned before the bout that his experience was going to be trouble for everyone and he delivered. Bedford comes out looking like one of the most complete fighters of the day.
“This is going to be a nasty season,” says Dana afterwards to a table of nodding coaches, stirred by Bedford’s performance.
Tateki Matsuda is the first Japanese fighter to make a TUF debut, taking on Dustin Pague at 135. Matsuda promises kicks in the pre-fight hype talk and proves he wasn’t kidding after throwing a handful of powerful high kicks in the opening minute. However, Pague takes over the fight with spinning back fists and effective offense, earning a two-round majority decision in a fight that could have gone another round.
“All of these guys are good, there’s not one that doesn’t look like he belongs in there,” says Bisping between bouts, rousing agreement from Dana White.
Not all the fights get the full treatment, however, as we get a bevy of highlights.
At 135, Scotland’s Paul McVeigh faced green-haired Louis Gaudinot. Louis’s green mop makes him look like The Joker and Diego Sanchez had a baby, or as Bisping says, “a cross between Josh Koscheck and a toilet brush.” However, after McVeigh showed his nasty Muay Thai in round one, Gaudinot lands an incredible back elbow on McVeigh’s unsuspecting face. It rocks McVeigh, allowing “Goodnight” to pound McVeigh into the ground for the final minute of the fight to take the upset win.
In probably the least exciting bout we get to see, Strikeforce champ Miesha Tate’s boyfriend and WEC veteran Bryan Caraway uses top position and cruises to a victory over Eric Marriott using superior wrestling, though according to Dana White he “played it safe.”
In the featherweight division, Dustin Neace surprises Josh Clopton. Clopton can get positions, but Neace shows he can sweep and end up on top, effectively stealing both rounds from Clopton. Neace wins the decision in a shocker to both the coaches and Dana, who thought he got dominated.
T.J. Dillashaw connects early with a left hand on Matt Jaggers, earning a “Nice!” from all the coaches. Dillashaw and Jaggers go back and forth with Dillashaw leaving his hands very low, making both coaches nervous. However, with the final seconds ticking away in the fight, he drops some brutal elbows that force Herb Dean to call it off just as the bell sounds.
“Even though I don’t know who my opponent is, he knows who I am, and he knows he’s screwed,” says Micah Miller, punctuating his pre-fight statement with long, dramatic pauses.
Micah is the younger brother of Cole Miller and believes his pedigree and experience make him a favorite to win the show. Dana White agrees; he goes ahead and crosses Steven Siler off his sheet of fighters before they even start, just based on Siler’s body language when he finds out he was fighting Miller.
Siler may look forlorn in the cage, but when the fight starts, he comes like a bat out of hell.
Hard shots and numerous take downs show that Siler can do more than just hang. After two close rounds, Siler almost gets submitted thanks to an ill-advised takedown that put him right in Miller’s danger zone. Hoever, Siler survives and surprises the room -- and possibly the entire casting department -- by guillotining the touted Miller for the finish.
“Oops,” says Dana White, sheepishly uncrossing Siler’s name on his list.
Dana White opines that bantamweight John Albert “didn’t deserve to win” his fight with Orville Smith over the highlights, saying that Albert inexplicably decided to stay on the ground with Smith after dominating the stand up game. According to Dana, Albert’s corner had told him to stand back up at least 20 times. Nonetheless, Albert grinds it out and earns the W with a rear-naked choke.
Karsten Lenjoint loses his wind after round one against fellow featherweight Steven Bass, and his foe takes over. Lenjoint defends a takedown from Bass, but ends up stuck in his triangle and can’t get out, letting Bass into the house.
Before the final battle, the coaches and Dana gush about what they have seen so far.
“These fights are awesome, I don’t want them to end,” says the UFC president, setting a high standard for featherweights Hamid “Akira” Corassani and Brian Pearman to live up to.
“People use their brush or their instrument to create art,” says Corassani just before fight time. Akira considers himself a fight artist, and decides to use Pearman’s chin as his canvas.
After a wild and wooly first few minutes. Pearman almost catches Corassani in a brabo choke, but when the two stand back up, Corassani unloads with ridiculous, devastating, looping punches that land flush again and again, until Pearman hits the mat.
Afterward, Corassani whoops and hollers, spraying water at Coach Miller, earning him high praise from Bisping.
After all the dust settles, Dana brings the remaining fighters back around to tell them just how impressed he was. “Overly impressed” are his exact words. He asks them not to get any big heads, but for once, you could tell he was relieved to be giving a congratulatory speech instead of his usual “Do you really want to be here”” expletive-laden gripe session
. Next comes the perfunctory this-is-going-to-be-the-best-season-ever talk from the coaches. It’s different this season, though. This time, you get the feeling they might be telling the truth.