Diego Brandao had his win forecast by a higher power. | Photo: Daniel S. Archuleta
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 14 seasons since Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar beat each other silly and raised awareness for MMA, but here we are, ready to end the era of “The Ultimate Fighter” on Spike TV.
The show has been great for all parties involved; the UFC, Spike and fans are all winners here. Fittingly, they saved the best season for last, and now it’s time to find out who will meet T.J. Dillashaw and Dennis Bermudez at Saturday’s live finale in Las Vegas.
One of Team Mayhem’s two bantamweight semifinalists, John Dodson, starts the last episode complaining about the unfamiliar and awkward task of fighting a teammate. For the first time in his career, Dodson says, his opponent is sitting right next to him, “not doing anything, just watching me work out.”
The watcher, Johnny Bedford, is seeing things that make him like the stylistic matchup, and it doesn’t hurt that he considers Dodson a “snitch” who has been “being shady all season.” Dodson believes his teammate’s confidence is misplaced, adding that he’ll be able to deal with Bedford’s “long-ass arms” and operate at any distance.
Bedford -- or “The Sheriff,” as coach Jason “Mayhem” Miller refers to him -- has seen Dodson’s speed, but he’s not impressed with the world-ranked flyweight’s size or power. It’s another small versus tall matchup, with 5-foot-10 Bedford holding a 6-inch reach advantage over 5-foot-3 Dodson. UFC President Dana White agrees with Bedford and says Dodson should be cautious against the larger man.
“It makes a big, big difference in the fight,” White says.
Coach Miller says the “John versus John” matchup tugs at his heartstrings when he tries to decide who to corner for the fight, so he tells Ryan Parsons to let the boys work with their favorite assistant coaches.
It’s soon fight time and Bedford learns early on that Dodson’s speed isn’t an illusion. He needs a moment to adjust to the quickness of “The Magician,” but Bedford comes forward continuously in the first round and pushes the pace. He scores a takedown and Dodson pops back up to nail his man with a flying knee. Bedford gets in a few great body shots; despite his aggression, Dodson is still winning the exchanges.
In the second frame, Bedford comes out with a little extra oomph, knowing that he lost the first round. Again Bedford pushes the pace, but Dodson catches him flush with a left hand and drops him to the floor. Dodson is on him in a flash, pounding Bedford unconscious with about seven unnecessary hammerfists.
“He looked like a monkey trying to open up a coconut,” says Dodson’s ecstatic buddy from Team Bisping, Louis Gaudinot.
The Sherriff has been put out to pasture, fittingly, by a little cattle prod dynamo. Dodson leaps off the cage and executes a standing backflip while screeching out his signature dolphin-squeal laugh. But while Dodson is jubilant over his win, White looks both wowed and concerned following the fight as Bedford slowly comes back to life.
“Dodson was so fast, the ref couldn’t even get over there fast enough to stop it when it should have been stopped,” says White, clearly aware that Bedford took some bad blows at the end.
The ringside physician asks Bedford if he knows where he is. “I’m in Ohio,” Bedford replies, about 2,000 miles off. Once he comes to his senses, the usually intense Bedford begins to sob, shocked that Dodson had the might to smash him.
Meanwhile, the coach of both 135-pounders is torn but resolute regarding the outcome.
“You feel happy for one guy, you feel bad for the other guy,” says Mayhem, throwing up his hands. “That’s the fight business. It’s all business.”
Even rival coach Michael Bisping is of two minds on the matter.
“It’s so sad to see somebody get knocked out like that,” Bisping says, before adding, “Well done, John Dodson. He looked great.”
With that, one fight remains and poor Bryan Caraway has one teensy hurdle to jump before he gets to the 145-pound finals: Diego Brandao. Caraway is understandably concerned about the strength of Brandao but thinks he might just be able to take the Brazilian past the first round and wear him out.
Cut to shots of Diego lifting a tractor tire like a maniac and dicing up some raw beef to eat, and suddenly things don’t seem too promising for Bryan. Coach Bisping calls his first pick “the full package” and ticks off a list of Brandao’s positive traits.
“Aggression, standup, power, his groundwork is f---ing amazing,” Bisping enthuses. “Listen, I’d be scared of the guy, but he’s only the size of my leg.”
Caraway has battled nerves all season and tells his coaches on Team Mayhem that he’s puked before every fight. Miller feels like he needs to embolden Caraway and the veteran middleweight tells his charge of the fight fears Miller himself has battled in the past. The coach asks Caraway to stand tall, since he’s fought his way to this point, earned a shot at the big show and should strive to shine.
At the last weigh-in, Bisping offers a fight wager to Mayhem. “I mean, I’ve got a grand to spend,” Bisping teases, referring to his recent earnings from the coaches’ challenge. They agree to bet $100 on their respective fighters.
Later that evening, Mayhem and his coaches show up at the house to help put a bow on the fighters’ final night there. Mirth is being made, Miller Lights are being slurped, and while everyone is having a ball, Brandao is upstairs focusing on his opportunity. He puts a hand on Steven Siler’s shoulder and says he was visited by an angel that day who told him he would win, then head back to Brazil and help families at Christmastime. It should have been an uplifting moment, but instead it was somehow terrifying. Axe murderers shouldn’t need divine inspiration.
The fight begins and Caraway whiffs on his first takedown attempt, then eats a few hard leg kicks. They go through a few minutes of scuffling before Diego rocks the American with a looping left. Caraway wobbles but shows tremendous heart as Diego begins to connect with every punch thrown. Over and over, Caraway takes punches which would wipe most men out. He stumbles around, trying his best to keep his bearings, but Diego lands one last power shot as Caraway lies on the canvas and the ref calls off the beating.
“I’m going to change my life and a lot of families in Brazil,” says an emotional Brandao, who plans to use his winnings to help buy his mom a home and get his brothers away from drug dealers.
“If he can continue to finish guys like this, he’s going to move right into the UFC and be a force,” says an impressed White. The UFC head emphatically states that this will be the most talented and skilled group of finalists in what was the best season of fights ever on “TUF.” He’s also excited to have a finale where the two coaches will actually fight at the end. On cue, Bisping and Mayhem meet in the middle of the Octagon and Bisping juts his forehead out, moving Mayhem’s head around in an act of dominance. Miller pushes right back until Dana steps in and the assault goes verbal.
“Didn’t you host this show and talk a bunch of s---? How’d that work out for you?” asks Miller.
“One time,” Bisping says, admitting his knockout loss to Dan Henderson. “One time.”
“Well, I love a sequel,” retorts Miller, smiling. Bisping launches off on another tirade and Miller looks at the camera, advising the production crew to “subtitle that” once the Englishman is finished.
After a season of practical jokes, these two coaches will finally get the chance to prank each other’s faces on Dec. 3. We’ll also see Brandao against Bermudez in a battle of bruisers, plus flashy athletes Dillashaw and Dodson will square off.
So, there it is, 14 seasons of “TUF” on Spike in the books. It will be interesting to see how the show morphs once it moves over to its new cable home on FX. How much will the format change? Instead of months in advance, each week’s fight will be live, with the “reality” parts shot and edited within that same week. For the first time, fans will get to choose the matchups. Four Loko will replace Miller Light as the house drink and the UFC training center doors will finally be safe from destruction.
OK, that last part is just a wish, but we’ll find out all the answers sometime next spring.