MMA on TV: The Ultimate Fighter 7 – Episode 1

“We’ve matched you up already, and now we’re going to see who the real f—ing fighters are and who the poseurs are.”

We start with the usual montage of the guys whose careers have been made (Forrest, Bonnar, Rashad, Bisping, Serra, Mac Danzig, and others) and broken (Joey Scarola, Noah Inhofer, Marlon Sims, Noah Thomas, Allen Berube) by TUF. The lesson? If your name is Noah, find another way into the UFC.

We meet the wide-eyed new contestants, who get even more wide-eyed as more contestants keep streaming in and they realize that they’re not one of 16 guys on the show–instead, they’re one of 32. Of course, they include Richmond’s finest, Amir Sadollah, as well as Brandon Sene (“I made all of these preparations back home: I mean, I quit my job, I sold my car–and the thought of going home in 48 hours just doesn’t sit well with me”), CB Dollaway, and Gerald Harris, among others.

Dana makes his usual beginning-of-season entrance to the appropriate level of awe. He’ll drop a bomb on these poor unsuspecting kids, but first, let’s meet our coaches: the light-heavyweight champion of the original TUF, Forrest Griffin, who used the show to springboard his way to superstardom, and the UFC light-heavyweight champion, the one and only Rampage Jackson.

In any case, Dana greets the fighters, warns them against trying to be candy-ass reality stars instead of real fighters, and oh, by the way, if they’re going to be on the show this season, they’re going to have to fight their way on. That’s right: this season, everyone has to win a fight just to make it into the house.

The fighters weigh in, and surprisingly, everyone makes weight, which means that we’re spared the obligatory televised weight-cutting drama. Rampage is thrilled at the prospect of watching 16 fights right away, while Forrest’s sole purpose is finding fighters uglier than himself.

In our first matchup, we meet Prince McLean, who’s lost his last four fights and is at a career crossroads; if he doesn’t win here, he doesn’t know what he’s going to do. Then we meet his opponent, Mike Dolce, who’s 4-4 and not in a much better spot. Mike thinks that fighting so early has shaken a lot of the other fighters—who might not have been mentally ready to fight so quickly—but he expects to walk right through Prince and right into the house.

Round 1:Herb starts both guys off: Dolce drops Prince with a big right, but Prince smacks him with a big upkick and pulls him into guard. Prince sweeps him onto his back, but Dolce stands up and slams Prince to the mat. Prince gets back to his feet, but Dolce forces him back against the cage and follows a short right with a nasty overhand right that knocks Prince out and ends the fight.

Rampage is suitably impressed with Dolce’s power, and Prince takes the loss hard, breaking into tears but vowing to be back.

We come to the second fight: Cale Yarborough, a friend of Forrest’s from Athens, against John Clarke, a big wrestler from New Haven who’s tired of fighting for $500 a night in Boston bars and drinking up his winnings. Cale optimistically notes that Clarke should be tired after having to cut 17 pounds to make weight, but Forrest thinks that Clarke, a powerful wrestler, is the worst possible matchup for his buddy.

Round 1: Cale lands a few punches and a nice inside leg kick, but Clarke shoots in; Cale stuffs the takedown at first, but Clarke drags him into guard. Clarke lands a few shots, but Cale’s active and tries to scramble, so Clarke takes the opportunity to pass guard and get into side control. Clarke reaches in and snatches a kimura, but Cale stays slippery, defends well, and eventually gets loose. Clarke tries to take Cale’s back and hits him with about seven or eight illegal shots to the back of the head–all of which get a warning from the referee, but none of which draw a point penalty.

I mean, seriously: if you’re going to warn a guy more than twice in under a minute about the same infraction, take a point away. Sure, it’s the first episode, and sure, all the fighters are fighting just to get on the show, but the freaking rules are there for a reason, after all.

Clarke whacks Cale with hammer fists, and then tries to get his hooks in when Cale tries to roll away. Cale manages to get to his feet, but Clarke holds onto a rear waistlock and suplexes him back to the mat! Even so, Cale pops up and spins around into the top position for the first time in the fight; from there, he tries to mash Clarke with some short elbows but ends up leaning a little too far over Clarke’s body and gets swept right into an armbar!

Rampage seems to think it’s all over but the shouting as Clarke extends the armbar, but Cale rolls over and out at the last possible second. Clarke tries like mad to hold Cale down, even going so far as to grab a half-assed guillotine against the cage, but it’s pretty clear that he’s running on fumes at this point as Cale pops right up to his feet and starts teeing off on the kneeling Clarke. He cracks Clarke with a couple of right hooks, which causes Clarke to turtle, and then drops hammer fists on him until the ref stops the fight.

Yeah, some of the grappling in that fight was a little loose, but I’m willing to chalk it up as entertaining rather than sloppy.

Now we get Amir Sadollah (!) vs. Steve Byrnes: Amir’s a Richmond guy and someone I’ve had the opportunity to train with on a couple of occasions, so I’m not even going to pretend to be impartial here. Byrnes, on the other hand, is a UFC vet–Dana’s not exactly doing Amir any favors here, you know–who got ‘octagon shock’ for his one and only UFC fight and is dying to get back for another chance.

Round 1: Amir comes out with a couple of Thai push kicks, but Byrnes shoots in for the double-leg takedown; Amir stuffs it to start, but Byrnes keeps dragging him around the ring trying it, and eventually trips him down into side control. Amir pushes him back into his full guard and smacks him with an elbow from the bottom, but Byrnes keeps trying to pass and eventually gets into Amir’s half-guard.

From there, Byrnes tries to posture up and drop elbows, but Amir defends well, sweeps him to the mat from that position, and climbs into Byrnes’s guard. He postures up and pops Byrnes with an elbow, but Byrnes takes an arm, turns his hips, and tries to straighten out an armbar, so Amir picks him up, walks him over to the fence, and drops him on his head.

Amir stacks Byrnes up and starts kneeing his body as Rampage gives Byrnes some expert advice (“Don’t let him knee you in the ass!”); just as it looks like Byrnes might have the arm extended, Amir slips loose and climbs back into Byrnes’s guard. He passes Byrnes’s guard and gets a pretty loose mount, but Byrnes gives up his back for just a second, only to spin around and double-leg Amir from his knees.

Byrnes crawls into Amir’s guard, but Amir quickly locks up a triangle and starts stabbing Byrnes’s face with elbows, but only 25 seconds remain, and with the help of another amazing pointer from Rampage (“Get your face outta his nuts!”), Byrnes is able to get out of the round. Rampage, Dana, and Forrest discuss just who won the last five minutes as the fighters get treatment.

Round 2: Amir leads with a head kick that Byrnes parries and tries to follow up with a Superman punch, but walks right into s double-leg takedown, which annoys the hell out of both Forrest and Rampage. Byrnes tries to pass, so Amir goes for a hip heist sweep, which enables Byrnes to try and take Amir’s back and go for yet another armbar, but Amir slips loose, stands, and takes Byrnes’s back.

Byrnes powers up to his feet, but Amir grabs a 50/50 clinch and knees him right in the jaw, then gets a Greco-Roman clinch and looks for a takedown. Byrnes gets his back off the cage and gets Amir to the mat, but Amir rolls through into an oma plata, which Byrnes handstands his way out of only to end up on his back and mounted. Amir drops a couple of harsh right elbows only to have Byrnes break his posture a little and shuffle him into half-guard.

From there, Byrnes sweeps Amir onto his back yet again, but Amir snatches a deep armbar and rolls over, and Byrnes can’t do anything but tap. Of course, the real highlight-reel moment comes when Amir tries to launch himself to the top of the cage to celebrate but runs out of gas right at the top, which causes him to fall flat on his ass back onto the mat. Everyone gets a good laugh out of that one, but Amir advances.

Again, I can see why some people might see the constant reversals as evidence of sloppy grappling, but again, I enjoyed the fight. Rampage and Forrest both sing Amir’s praises, and Amir talks about the rush of fighting in front of Dana and the two coaches.

From there, we run through the next set of fights in highlight mode:
CB Dolloway vs. David Baggett: Dolloway absolutely murders Baggett, prompting Forrest to remark about how difficult evaluating a guy who wins that quickly can be. Dolloway shows off his whole arsenal: nasty leg kicks, solid knees from the plum clinch, a hiptoss to get Baggett to the mat, and ground-and-pound that eventually forces the stoppage.

Dante Rivera vs. John Wood: Rivera comes out and just pushes his opponent around; so much so, in fact, that Rampage is particularly impressed when Rivera picks up his opponent and slams him into his corner. Dante pounds on his poor opponent for a while, then reaches down and wrenches his arm into a kimura for the finish.

Nick Klein vs. David Mewborn: Mewborn is another one of Forrest’s boys from Athens, but he gets slammed, mounted, and choked out with an arm triangle fairly quickly. Klein’s super-excited to be in the house, gain recognition for his gym, and show everyone that he belongs at that level.

Paul Bradley vs. Reggie Orr: Forrest bills this as the classic example of a wrestler vs. kickboxer match, and that’s how it shakes out. Bradley, an All-American wrestler at Iowa, keeps putting Orr on his back and just laying on top of him on the way to a decision. Dana laments Bradley “laying on top of him and punching him in the kidneys for 10 minutes” and compares the fight to “watching turtles f–k,” but that doesn’t sound too sincere coming from the man who brought us both Jake O’Brien AND Carmelo Marrero in the last calendar year, does it?

Since reality TV producers are the devil, and considering that Bradley just signed with EliteXC, what are the odds that Dana’s going to give him the one-finger salute by editing him in as negative a light as possible?

Dave Roberts vs. Jeremy May: Rampage makes a point to let everyone know that Roberts is essentially family to him, and spends a long time warming Roberts up for his elimination fight. May, for his part, is trying to figure out what his victory speech is going to be after winning the contract. Despite all the help from one of the season’s coaches, May lights up Roberts with punches and knocks him down against the cage; Roberts turtles up at first, but finally listens to Rampage and gets a single-leg takedown; of course, all that brings him is more embarrassment, as May locks up a sweet armbar/triangle combination in short order and forces Roberts to tap.

May is pumped about getting into the house and earning his chance for the contract, but Rampage takes a moment to stick his head in the dressing room door and remind May that Roberts is an old friend of his. Roberts talks about how crushed he is that his UFC dream has been derailed, while Rampage is sad about his friend’s lost opportunity.

Next Week: We get the remaining eight elimination fights, including one of the most brutal knockouts in the competition’s history.

The Verdict: Not exactly the big changes that some of us were expecting, but who can argue with an hour straight of unmitigated violence? Even though it forced me to write a long review, I enjoyed the chance to see the fresh faces without the usual manufactured drama and douchebaggery, and the fight editing itself was perfect, allowing us all to get a decent feel for what the winners can do. Again, they didn’t reinvent the wheel here, but the show was certainly interesting enough to lock me in for next week.

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