Two fighters looking to restore their status with the UFC were joined by two fighters hoping to gain any status at all Wednesday to promote The Ultimate Fighter 11 Finale. UFC veterans Keith Jardine and Matt Hamill will headline Saturday’s event along with TUF 11 finalists Court McGee and Kris McCray. The finale will air on Spike TV from The Pearl Inside The Palms in Las Vegas.
Predictably, most questions centered around The Ultimate Fighter show. Surprisingly, many were directed to Jardine and Hamill. Jardine was a cast member during the second season (2005) and Hamill was on season three (2006), but both have since produced a body of work far outweighing their time on the show.
The McGee-McCray winner will receive a UFC contract. Both fighters lost once on the show, but took advantage of second chances to reach the finals. McGee fought for Team Liddell. McCray was a member of Team Punishment/Franklin.
Also on Saturday’s card: Jamie Yager continues the UFC’s trend of rewarding house “bad boys” and will face off with Rich Attonito. Coincidentally, former TUF 1 bad boy Chris Leben will face Aaron Simpson.
Here are the condensed thoughts of the fighters from Wednesday:
“The Dean of Mean” is coming off three losses and has lost five of his last seven. Following a controversial split decision loss to Rampage Jackson at UFC 96 – a loss that likely cost Jardine (15-7-1) a title shot – the 34-year-old was knocked out by Thiago Silva at UFC 102 and Ryan Bader at UFC 110 in February. Jardine’s unorthodox style has famously given fighters problems. He owns wins over former UFC light heavyweight champions Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin.
On his recent troubles – “I’ve been going through a bit of a slump lately. I’m looking at it as growing pains. I feel I’ve come full circle. I needed these learning pains to get where I am now. I feel like I am at the bottom now and I’m going to climb my way back to the top. I’m in a better place than I’ve ever been right now. Two years ago I beat Forest. I beat Liddell. I beat those guys but in my heart I knew I wasn’t the fighter I wanted to be. I wasn’t ready to carry the UFC torch yet.”
On his “awkward” style – “Everyone told me how awkward and unpredictable I am so I worked hard to clean up my boxing. (Coaches) Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn looked at all my UFC fights and broke down what I am doing. I could not train any harder for these fights. I needed to fight out what was wrong. I didn’t know what it was that made me unorthodox. I didn’t know what it was that was making it so hard for people to fight me. It was about movement, timing and posture. It’s more doing it on purpose instead of on accident. Some times I got caught trying to be too orthodox, too clean – like I read a how-to boxing book. I was too planned in what I was doing like now I’m going to do this concept, take this angle.. now I’m more relaxed.”
On fighting Hamill – “If he takes me down I’m sure you’ll see my ground game. He’s going to take me down eventually, I’m sure it’s going to happen. I’ve been training with Rashad Evans since 2005 and I’ve been training to fight a wrestler since then so I am pretty excited.”
On the Rampage loss – “Man, things could have been a lot different. I really feel these are just learning pains. Maybe I wasn’t ready for the title shot yet. Maybe I needed to go through that to get where I am now. Being so close was hard to take. Near the end of the fight I didnt know what the score was, I didn’t know I had the fight and I was trying to go for it. That’s why I ran into that punch, I was trying to finish the fight. ”
On staying in the UFC – “The lesson is not to just win, but you have to have good, exciting fights. You have to lay it on the line. I’ve never cowered or tried to win on points. That’s why the UFC always gives me these positions. I am fortunate to be where I am.”
On his recent losses – “I’d like to have a rematch with every single one of them, but I have to earn that. That is what this fight is about. Getting back to the top.”
On his media aversion – “I’m not really searching for the fame. I’m in the fight game just for the love of fighting. I don’t really seek out a lot of the interviews. Maybe that works against me. Maybe I’d be a better known fighter. I try to stay true to myself. At the UFC, they always make fun of me because they have to pull the interviews out of me.”
“The Hammer” is a three-time Division III wrestling champion. Hamill (8-2) has won three straight – with an asterisk. The 33-year-old was being dominated by Jon Jones at The Ultimate Fighter 10 Finale before the latter was disqualified due to illegal elbow strikes. Hamill suffered a dislocated shoulder in the fight. A silver medalist in wrestling at the deaf Olympics, Hamill answered some questions through an interpreter.
On the Jones “win” – “After the fight against Jon Jones I wasn’t very happy. I was shocked because nobody ever took me down before. It was a wake up call. I don’t feel like I won that fight. Jon Jones did a great job doing what he did.”
On his shoulder – “It took my a while to heal. But now my arm is ready and I’m ready to go.”
On his place in the UFC – “I’m not even in the top 20. Since I lost to Jon Jones I had to go back to square one. I’m focused on Keith and want to get back into the top 10 before thinking about a run at the title.”
A member of Team Liddell on TUF, McGee lost to controversial decision to Nick Ring, but was given a second chance when Attonito was injured. McGee (8-1) beat James Hammortree and Brad Tavares to reach the finals. He has spoken openly about his past battles with drug addictions.
On fighting in front of a big crowd – “I’ve fought in a venue with 6,500 or 7,500 people. If anything you feed off of it. As soon as I take of my glasses everything is a little blurry anyway. It’s odd fighting in front of 20 people (on the show). The pressure is the same if not more because three of those people are the most important people you can fight in front of.”
On reaching the finals – “This is where I worked to get to. I put 4,000 hours to get where I am today. I’m loving it. When you show up you don’t know whether you’re always going to win or lose. But I show up to fight to win. You come in here and train hard and you can start doing it as a career full-time.”
On bouncing back from a loss on the show – “(McCray and I) didn’t dwell on it. We came back, fought and won and here we are. It shows we both have heart and skill and we will definitely put on a show for everybody that’s for sure.”
On Liddell’s recent loss at UFC 115 – “I don’t like to look at the bad in everything. Of course he did get caught. It definitely sucks. He came out and took (Rich Franklin) down. He landed four or five hard shots. He threw a kick that busted Franklin’s arm. If he retires that’s that, but he definitely doesn’t have anything more to prove. If he decides to retire, I’d back him 100 percent. If he decides to keep fighting, I’m in. Right after Chuck lost, I had a little animosity like I would avenge his loss. I can’t think about it that way. That’s fighting angry. Nothing I do angry ever turns out good. I’m fighting because I enjoy fighting and I enjoy the competition. “
On omnipresent alcohol on the show – “I questioned myself before I came because I knew I’d be in a situation with alcohol. With my past with drugs and alcohol, I had to question myself to make sure I was coming for the right reasons. Am I putting myself in a dangerous situation. There were times where I thought hey a drink sounds good, but I know where that takes me. The payout was to better my family.”
On his past associates – “The majority of people I was running and gunning with aren’t doing so well. It’s hard to see. Maybe they can look what I have done. My place is a professional MMA fighter, but my job is to be of maximum service to others. It will all have been worth it because one or two people decide to make a change. I have affected some people close to me by cleaning up.”
On TUF 11 “bad boy” Jamie Yager – “They made Jamie look way worse than what he actually was. Way worse.”
McCray fought every Tuesday for five weeks while at the TUF house. His five fights are a record for the show. After qualifying for the house, he lost to Josh Bryant. McCray (5-0) was then selected as the house “wild card” and given a second chance. He beat Kyacey Uscola and Kyle Noke to earn a rematch with Bryant, which he won by decision.
On rebounding from the loss – “(McGee and I) both did a lot to get where we are at. We’re professional athletes. We are not going to come in and half ass it. Nothing hits harder than life. We got up from it and we’re both moving forward and that’s what winners do. For me to redeem myself would be to win the whole thing. I came back from a loss. My team was always arguing. I had to fight my teammates and my friends.”
On the Bryant loss – “I think I underestimated Josh Bryant the first time. He’s a tough dude. That dude is a brick and he came to fight.”
On McGee – “Even though we’re fighting each other, I feel like I can call him up for anything. We’re both grinders. We’re darkhorses. I knew what kind of guy Court was. He’s funny too. He knows when to come in with punch lines.”
On TUF 11 “bad boy” Jamie Yager – “I know I was loud, but for me it was all in good fun. Some guys they just dont mesh together. Yager has a mouth on him and he’s opinionated. People came to me and said what is up with your boy Yager? If you bash him in front of everybody hes going to bite back. But if you pull him aside you’ll listen to him. He was a bit of an asshole on the show and I’ll tell him to his face, but he wasn’t that bad.