Pep Talk: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly TUF Coaches
by FIGHT! contributor Larry Pepe
The list of successful Ultimate Fighter alumni is too long to go through here, but suffice it to say that many have used the experience to literally change their lives. And there are a number of fighters who probably wished they’d never made it onto the show.
While we expected the range of successes and failures of the contestants, less foreseeable was the effect that doing the show would have on a different group of participants…the coaches. Some have significantly raised their stock thanks to TUF, while others have left the show with fewer fans than they had when they walked on the mat at the UFC Training Center for the first time.
No one benefited more from their time on TUF than the Huntington Beach Bad Boy. Tito’s stint as Season 3 coach against bitter rival Ken Shamrock marked his return to the promotion after leaving the UFC following his split decision win over Vitor Belfort at UFC 51. The brash talking Ortiz was always a polarizing figure, loved my some but perceived by many as arrogant and caring about no one but himself. Tito the coach blew that perception out of the water. He was great in the training room, drilling technique and making sure to teach his team everything he possibly could, genuinely cared about his fighters and may have been the best in-fight corner coach in the ten seasons of the show. Team Ortiz went 6-2 in the prelim fights, had three of the four fighters in the finals and both the Middleweight and Light Heavyweight Champions.
Although he won the second season of TUF as a heavyweight and then dropped down to 205 and became a UFC champion, Rashad was never able to shed the “showboater” label Matt Hughes pinned on him while a contestant on the show. You would think the fans would embrace a guy who entered the house a one-dimensional wrestler and transformed himself into a well-rounded mixed martial artist and world champ, but it took returning to the show as a coach on Season 10 to do the trick. Like Tito, Rashad shows an intense devotion to the success of his team and even a sincere concern for the opposing team’s fighters who he felt had been disrespected by the opposing coaches. Team Evans went 7-1 in the prelims and the Rashad’s respect quotient from the fans should be on the rise going forward.
Hughes entered Season 2 of TUF as the most dominant welterweight in mixed martial arts history, the UFC champion and fresh off his amazing win in his second fight against Frank Trigg after catching a mean kick in the balls. Can Hughes coach mixed martial arts? Without a doubt. But the show revealed a side of his personality that caused Matt Serra to label him a “dick” and many to come to the conclusion that he was no longer a guy they’d want to root for.
When Ken coached opposite Tito on Season 3 it became apparent early on that his stint on the show was not going to go well. The first clue might have been his failure to bring a grappling coach with him, choosing instead to bring a bodybuilder friend to tell the fighters how to eat. Good BJJ beats good nutrition 99.9% of the time in the cage, a fact lost on Ken. Unlike Matt, who got a bad reaction personally from fans of the show, Ken, one of the true legends from the early days of MMA, was simply exposed as a fighter who had not evolved. It didn’t help when his own team started to revolt against him and his training methods early in the season.
He is, without a doubt, the worst coach in the history of The Ultimate Fighter and the fighter whose stock plummeted the more we saw of him. Quinton Jackson first coached opposite Forrest Griffin on Season 7. He went 2-6 in the prelims, which actually was better than the 1-7 record his team posted when he returned for Season 10. Worse than his glowing example of utter coaching futility, Jackson transitioned from somewhat likeable funnyman to a guy who couldn’t care less about anyone on his team not named Kimbo (or Quinton). Watching him leave two of his fighters in the cage alone after successive heartbreaking losses only to walk away and ask “why does this keep happening to ME?” showed a level of selfish behavior that was embarassing. Add incredibly poor in-fight coaching complete with gems like “get up” as well as choosing fighters that would yield more face time than wins and it becomes obvious that he was there for money and exposure and nothing else. Let’s not even talk about his refusal to fight Rashad at UFC 107 and blowing up one of the two major storylines of the season and the PPV card that was booked in his hometown. And while frequently repeating “I’m not a coach” might make him the quintessential master of the obvious it doesn’t excuse that he deprived every member of his team of the opportunity to learn and improve as fighters and have the best shot of achieving their goal of making it into the UFC. Jackson recently said in an interview with Playboy that “they better not ask me to (coach) again.” Let’s hope not.
Larry Pepe is the host of Pro MMA Radio.