Season 16 of “The Ultimate Fighter” begins with 32 welterweights walking toward UFC President Dana White, who stands inside the Octagon at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.
After a rousing speech in which the UFC boss hits all the normal talking points, coaches Shane Carwin and Roy Nelson are introduced. “Big Country” decides to put both hands on White’s shoulders while giving the fighters some advice that directly contradicts what The Boss just told them about producing exciting fights. This goes over exactly as well as one would expect.
Kevin Nowaczyk and Dom Waters are the first fighters in the cage. Both are 23 years old, but Waters immediately asserts his superiority by blasting his man with a vicious left uppercut. Referee Josh Rosenthal mercifully saves Nowaczyk from the onslaught of ground-and-pound, and Waters is the first contestant to punch his ticket to the infamous “Ultimate Fighter” house.
Lev Magen and Michael Hill are up next. Hill’s nipple star tattoo should give him a clear psychological edge on paper, but his Israeli-born opponent appears unfazed and decides to play in Hill’s punching range. It was a bad choice. Hill finds a home for his left hook and drops Magen like a bag of bricks to advance one step closer to the tournament title.
Next, fighter/marine/MMA nutritionist George Lockhart is paired with Strikeforce and International Fight League veteran Bristol Marunde. Both men eat some hard punches and knees in the early going before Lockhart muscles his man into the clinch. Midway through the round, Marunde snatches a sneaky guillotine off a sprawl and submits his rapidly tiring opponent.
Undefeated Jason South now meets former Bellator Fighting Championships talent Mike Ricci. After a brief feeling out process, Ricci cracks South with a straight left and methodically pounds him out. The impressive performance is then interrupted by Julian Lane, who apparently plans to assume the mandatory role of “that mohawked dude” for Season 16, provided he can get past Diego Bautista. It is not pretty, but Lane advances via judges’ decision.
Cortez Coleman starts strong against Igor Araujo but ultimately gasses, exposing his neck to a triangle choke during the sudden victory round. Shortly thereafter, James Chaney jumps guard on Jerel Clark just seconds into their bout and begins to work for an omoplata before transitioning to a triangle, then an armbar, then back to the triangle, slowly squeezing the life out of Clark and earning the tapout.
Hawaiian-born Zane Kamaka is up next against “The Ultimate Fighter 7” jiu-jitsu coach Cameron Diffley, who hits a takedown early in the first frame. Kamaka manages to roll him, but Diffley pays the reversal no mind, snatching an arm from his back to end the fight by submission.
Frank Camacho instantly neutralizes Neil Magny’s massive reach advantage by taking him to the floor and capturing his back, nearly finishing the fight with ground-and-pound. Somehow, Magny escapes and returns the favor before taking control in round two by popping the Lloyd Irvin rep with jabs and straights from range. He starts round three the same way before taking Camacho’s back multiple times to end the fight. The resilient fighter from Illinois is unable to find the finish but nevertheless grabs a well-deserved nod from the judges.
Lane’s aforementioned status as the lone mohawked dude on Season 16 is suddenly put into grave danger as Ricky Legere Jr. struts toward the comparatively normal looking Jon Manley. Luckily for Lane and his in-no-way-embarrassing gimmick, Manley eliminates “The IE Bad Boy” in a ho-hum judges’ decision.
Colton Smith fakes a gloves-touch and shoots on Jesse Barrett, prompting White to call him a “douche” in front of God and everybody. To be fair, neither coach is crazy about this strategy, either. Smith outwrestles his man over the course of two rounds to earn his spot in the Sweet 16.
Max Griffin displays great hips in sprawling on a pair of Matt Secor takedowns before escaping a tight kneebar attempt to take round one. Unwilling to relent, Secor forces a third round by scoring some takedowns and then finishes the hard-fought bout with a triangle choke.
David Michaud does his best to hang with Eddy Ellis, but the veteran ultimately proves too savvy, catching the South Dakotan in a fight-ending arm-triangle choke in round two. Immediately afterward, Joey Rivera joins Ellis in the house by taking a unanimous verdict over ex-Strikeforce and Bellator talent Saad Awad.
Nic Herron-Webb then adds his name to the list of house qualifiers by hanging tough from his guard and finding an armbar to turn the tables on Tim Ruberg. The final preliminary bout sees “Smilin’” Sam Alvey deliver arguably the nastiest knockout of this season opener, as the Bellator vet absolutely paralyzes Leo Kuntz with a sharp counter right hook.
After White congratulates the first-round winners, it is time for the coaches to choose their squads. Before they do, however, White announces that every finish from here on out will earn the fighter responsible a cool $5,000. At the end of the season, fans will vote for the best knockout, submission and fight, and those awards carry with them a $25,000 prize. Nelson wins the coin flip and elects to choose the first fight, meaning the former UFC interim champion receives the first fighter pick. Carwin selects Alvey, Marunde, Ricci, Magny, Chaney, Ellis, Araujo and Secor; “Big Country” chooses Waters, Hill, Diffley, Smith, Manley, Herron-Webb, Rivera and Lane.
We close the premiere with a typical season debut vignette, assuring us that the star of this season will once again be alcohol ... lots and lots of alcohol.