Kajan Johnson file photo. | Charles Penner/CombatCaptured/Sherdog
“The Ultimate Fighter Nations: Canada vs. Australia” begins with UFC President Dana White laying out the basic terms of engagement in a video interview.
As one might expect from the show’s title, teams from Canada and Australia will square off this season, coached by Patrick Cote and Kyle Noke, respectively. The tournament fields are composed of eight welterweights and eight middleweights, meaning two “TUF” winners will be crowned.
The competitors pile out of two large, white vans and enter the UFC training center in Quebec. The coaches make their entrance simultaneously and welcome the fighters. As the teams have already been selected based on nation of origin, the coaches flip a coin to decide who will win control of the first fight pick. The coin comes up red, meaning Team Canada will choose the show’s inaugural matchup. The choice will be announced in a few days, after both teams receive some initial training.
White explains that each bout will be evaluated this season, with $25,000 being awarded to the fighters responsible for the best fight, knockout and submission. Additionally, fighters will receive a $5,000 bonus for each finish they score during the competition.
The coaches give their squads locker room pep talks, and the cast is then transported to the sickest log cabin ever constructed by man. The Aussies approach the barbecue “straight away” and feast on some animal protein together, presumably as a bonding exercise. The next several days will be physically demanding for Team Australia, as the fighters do their best to adjust to some wicked travel fatigue.
Back at the gym, Cote fires up the Xbox One and uses the power of the Internet to video chat with White, who welcomes the cast with a typical “TUF” introduction. “The Predator” then announces his first fight pick, selecting Team Canada’s Kajan Johnson to face Team Australia’s Brendan O’Reilly.
“The main reason we chose O’Reilly is that he is a natural [lightweight],” Cote explains in a confessional. “Kajan is one of the smallest 170-pounders we have. Size-wise, that was the logical choice.”
During Team Canada’s training session, Cote is pleased that there are no egos on his squad and that everyone is helping each other. Luke Harris believes the team could even pull off a sweep of the Australians, citing Team Canada’s depth of talent. On the other side, Team Australia trains hard from the get-go, save for O’Reilly, who focuses more on technical instruction since he will fight in short order.
Johnson will step into the cage injured, stating that he has entered the show with a damaged rotator cuff and a minor LCL tear in his right knee.
“Even if I’m injured, I’m more dangerous than anyone else here,” says the 30-fight pro, though he also admits to feeling some nerves ahead of this important opening matchup.
Cote has focused on Johnson keeping his emotions in check, as the 11-year vet has not competed in more than two years. Meanwhile, O’Reilly wants to bring the fight to the Canadian and overwhelm him with intensity.
Both fighters easily make weight, and it is now time to fight. Sure enough, O’Reilly bulls forward to start the contest, eating a knee to the mug in order to score a powerful takedown. Johnson deftly rolls for an inside heel hook but cannot secure the finish, as a bloody O’Reilly wriggles free. Johnson regains his vertical base and grabs a standing waist cinch before hopping on the Aussie’s back. O’Reilly shucks him off, but takes a hard elbow behind the ear for his trouble. The Australian drives for another takedown, but Johnson stuffs him and once again takes his back, this time cinching a tight rear-naked choke and forcing the tap.
Following the fight, a representative from the Quebec athletic commission tells a disappointed O’Reilly that he will require stitches for the cut over his right eye. However, the commission will not medically suspend him, meaning he could be eligible for re-entry into the tournament if another fighter is forced to withdraw.
Though O’Reilly has suffered the first setback of his young career, he nevertheless remains optimistic about the lessons learned from his defeat to the experienced Canadian. With Johnson’s victory, Team Canada retains control of the fight pick, and Cote chooses middleweight Elias Theodorou to meet Team Australia’s Zein Saliba in next week’s matchup.
"The Ultimate Fighter Nations: Canada vs. Australia" airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.