You’re heavyweight Shane Carwin. You just had your third back surgery, and you haven’t fought in 13 months. Two months after you tell the UFC that you’re ready to get back to work, you get a call—out of the blue—asking if you’d like be on a reality show to coach opposite of a bearded guy who chafes you to no end.
“Roy Nelson tries to come across as this average Joe, but I’m willing to bet that he’s never had an average job,” says Carwin. “Don’t come across like that if that’s not who you are. That’s how I paved my way in life. I started doing remodeling and demolition when I was 15 years old.”
Now, you pave your way as a mechanical engineer for the North Weld County Water District in Lucerne, CO. You’re bringing your laptop to Las Vegas to update the district’s hydraulic model on your downtime because you’ve burned through your vacation days this year. At heart, you’re still a blue-collar worker, and it will be worth it to teach some respect to Nelson.
You’re heavyweight Roy Nelson. You’re already battling with the UFC, and you haven’t even been on The Ultimate Fighter 16 set for one week. You’ve leaked a list of approved and non-approved assistant coaches after a few of your choices—former WWE wrestler and Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle, former Strikeforce Champion Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal, and BALCO perp turned anti-steroid crusader Victor Conte—are shot down. Dana White calls you “a pain in the ass.”
“Carwin says I joke around too much—apparently, he has no sense of humor if that’s the case,” Nelson says. “Funny is funny. He says I’m average, which I think is phenomenal. If I’m average, look where I’m at. I’m in the same place he is.”
And they’re about to get even closer together.
Lights, Camera, Action
Before The Ultimate Fighter 16 found them, they hardly seemed like rivals. The only history Carwin and Nelson shared was on paper, when they were booked to fight at UFC 125, but Carwin had to bow out with a neck injury. They’d barely even spoken to each other in two years under the same promotional roof. Reality TV, however, has put them at a crossroads. After talking with them a few minutes, you see the impending drama—Carwin’s seriousness juxtaposed against Nelson’s snarkiness—with 32 up-and-coming welterweights in the middle.
This, of course, should make for great TV. It can’t come at a better time for the TUF franchise, which took a hit when it switched from Spike TV to FX, with a bold live format that languished on Friday nights. Season 16 will keep the same time, but the show will go back to its pre-taped format, where there will be more time to catch all that drama.
Both men say they’re there for the fighters, who will compete in a single-elimination tournament with the finalists meeting in December at a live finale. The usually soft-spoken Carwin is still pretty sure he’ll get into it with his opposing coach sooner than later.
“There will be words exchanged, and I guess we’ll see,” he says.
Nelson, who won The Ultimate Fighter 10, says he’s thrilled to get back to coaching, which he did long before he was a fighter or the shaggy-haired, round-bellied thorn in the UFC’s side. But he’s also doing the show to make great TV. Angle? Lawal? Conte? In his mind, the UFC is sports entertainment, and he’s perturbed the promotion doesn’t see it that way.
“I was trying to bring the best coaches to Vegas to help my team out,” Nelson says. “And I’m trying to make great TV. I wanted Kurt Angle, who is an Olympic gold medalist. I don’t know how many gold medalists have been on TUF, but I’m going to probably say zero. And wrestling is a very key part of MMA, so I don’t know why they wouldn’t let him come on. Plus, he’s also a personality. Dana [White] says that you’ve got to be memorable and be a guy who people know—people know Angle.”
It appears Nelson is limited, as he wrote on his website, to a 17-person list of “approved” coaches that includes UFC Welterweight Champ Georges St-Pierre, Chael Sonnen, and Nick Diaz. Carwin, meanwhile, is joined by his longtime brethren at Denver’s Grudge Training Center—Trevor Wittman, Nate Marquardt, Leister Bowling, Loren Landlow, and new addition Pat Barry.
It will be a reunion of sorts for Wittman and Nelson, and not necessarily a happy one. Wittman, a coach on Rashad Evans’ team on TUF 10, once berated Nelson for being “uncoachable.”
None of that history will matter when the coaches meet at the end of the show. Nelson says Carwin is his one-stop ticket back to the title, although it looks more like the two are stuck in that soupy contender mix. Both have lopsided losses to current UFC Heavyweight Champ Junior dos Santos, and with Cain Velasquez and Alistair Overeem waiting in the wings, it could be a while before either is fighting for a belt. Thankfully for both, the wait is far shorter in the heavyweight division than any other.
Until then, and for the next 12 weeks, they’ll share the camera as fighters with two different ways of setting an example in the fight game.
“I don’t like him, and I know he doesn’t care for me,” Carwin says. “So it makes for an easy fight.”
Show: The Ultimate Fighter 16
Debuts: Sept. 14
Coaches: Roy Nelson and Shane Carwin
Format: 32-man tournament. Elimination round determines 16 official cast members (drafted into two teams of eight). No wild-card/second-chance fights