The Ultimate Fighter is a strong reality television franchise but ratings have slipped over the last several seasons. The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s heavyweight division has a new telegenic champ and a dearth of quality contenders. Zuffa’s two-birds-with-one-stone solution? The Ultimate Fighter Heavyweights.
The tenth season of TUF opens with a montage of heavyweight fighters in action and UFC prez Dana White commenting, “In UFC history, I don’t think our heavyweight division has ever been as exciting as it is right now.”
We see Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Rashad Evans jawing at each other on a bench inside the UFC training center when the first group of TUF contestants walks in: Marcus Jones, John Madsen, Scott Junk, Matt Mitrione, and Brendan Schaub. Both Jackson and Evans trip over how big some of the guys are, particularly the 6’8” Jones. “Man, these guys big as hell.” Rampage says.
The next group filters in and we see Mike Wessel, Justin Wren, Wes Shivers, and Abe Wagner. Zak Jensen, Roy Nelson, Demico Rogers, Wes Sims, Darrill Schoonover, and James McSweeney appear later. The group waits for the season-opening lineup while Rampage and Rashad continue to jaw at each other until White tells them to knock it off.
“Who is it, Tank Abbott,” asks Jackson.
Kimbo Slice walks through the door – some guys smile, some guys stare straight ahead, and Brendan Schaub says, “F*** him. F*** that guy.”
“I thought I was the big announcement, apparently I wasn’t,” says former International Fight League heavyweight champion Roy Nelson.
Rampage calls dibs on Kimbo for some reason, even going as far as to say that he doesn’t need to work out the first day. Evans introduces the lead coach of his team, Greg Jackson and they, along with coaches Mike VanArsdale and Trevor Whitman evaluate the fighter’s fundamentals.
Rampage and his coaches, UFC veteran Tiki Ghosn and British fighter Tom Blackledge, have the fighters roll and spar, and Jackson is preoccupied by Darrill Schoonovers “titties.” The fighter keeps his composure, understanding that it’s all part of the show.
Each team hunkers down to prioritize their picks, with Team Evans focusing on McSweeney and Schaub, both Team Jackson members, and Team Jackson’s strategy seems to be Kimbo followed by the best available. White flips a coin and Evans wins, giving him the option of choosing the first team member or picking the first two fights. He chooses first fighter pick and selects, in order, McSweeney, Schaub, Wren, Madsen, Nelson, Schoonover, Mitrione, and Wessel. Rampage takes Kimbo, Wagner, Demico, Sims, Junk, Shivers, Jones, and Jensen.
Sims’ pro wrestler personality shines through when he’s selected, demanding to know why it took so long. Later he’d say, “I was the only man to defeat Frank Mir on two separate occasions.” Sims actually lost both of those fights, but as he says, he never lets the truth get in the way of a good story.
We go straight into the obligatory training montage and a couple fighters talk about who and when they want to fight. “Personally, I’d like to fight right away. Just to get one under my belt,” says Madsen.
Rampage runs his team through cardio drills, which he fears might kill Jones. “I’m willin’ to do anything, even if it kills me,” Jones says. Abe Wagner is in fight shape, which plays a role in Jackson selecting him to grant Madsen’s wish.
Whitman, a master of positive reinforcement, works pads with Madsen, telling him to take the fight to the ground after landing punches. “Dump him, dump him, dump him,” Whitman says. Wagner talks about the scouting report on Madsen, saying that he’s heard that Madsen has a great shot but not a lot else.
As the fight begins, it appears that Wagner’s analysis was spot-on but that doesn’t help him any. The Team Rampage fighter has a significant height advantage but that just allows Madsen to get under him and score the double leg before any strikes are exchanged. Wagner works for a triangle but nothin’s doin’. Madsen works the body and throws one to the head. Madsen lands two more. Wagner’s corner calls for him to sweep or get up but he stays flat backed in guard. Madsen lands an elbow and blood starts streaming out of Wagner’s forehead onto the mat. Madsen postures up and lands several more shots to the same area of Wagner’s forehead. Madsen stands and Wagner pushes with his legs but makes no attempt to stand up. Wagner sweeps Madsen right before the horn. The Team Rampage fighter is covered in blood as the round winds down, likely 10-8 for Madsen.
Stitch Duran fixes Wagner enough for him to meet the second round bell but round two is more of what we saw in the first: Takedowns, top control and strikes by Madsen, while Wagner, holds guard. Steve Mazzagatti stands them up twice and each time Madsen scores a takedown. Another standup with 25 seconds to go, another takedown. Madsen wins a unanimous decision by scores of 20-16, 20-17, 20-17.
Medics look at Wagner’s gash, a gaping wound exposing the skull, but after getting fixed up he’s got a positive attitude about training and possibly serving as a replacement if someone gets injured. With a cut like that, I’m skeptical he could come back if he wanted to.
Read the recap of the first episode of “The Ultimate Fighter Heavyweights.”
Read Abe Wagner’s blog entry about the first episode of “The Ultimate Fighter Heavyweights.”
Read Matt Mitrione’s blog entry about the first episode of “The Ultimate Fighter Heavyweights.”