Five years ago, “The Ultimate Fighter” catapulted UFC back into the mainstream sporting landscape with a brutal slugfest between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar. The apparent lack of fear but sheer drive to survive evoked strong reactions in combat sports fans and many who had given up on the sport came flocking back.
Eleven seasons later, the show concluded the middleweight edition of the season Saturday at the Palms casino in Las Vegas with a tender moment, one that might not go down as quick as memorable a moment in UFC history, but it should. It was the night that the human condition itself took center stage with a big money fight deal on the line.
In the main event, Court McGee and Kris McCray competed for the chance to not only secure what might be the most lucrative contract of their young fight careers, but the match itself provided an opportunity for the fighters to take care of those people they hold dearest while providing a podium to speak out for so many. For recovering drug addict McGee, he can now continue to pursue the sport he loves while raising his soon-to-be-expanding family as his significant other is expecting another child.
Coming into Saturday’s bout, Team Ortiz competitor McCray, set a show record with over five fights in six weeks, a number that many men would have a hard time completing within a calendar year, let alone just under two months. “Savage,” as he was known for the brutality he unleashed upon previous opponents, showed great heart in his time on the show and came into this event in phenomenal shape. It’s unfortunate that a fight might have to fight that many times to make the final, but it is this is the level of sacrifice that the fighters continue to exhibit to rise to the top of the sport. If grapplers want to make their way in the world and make a name for themselves against other top flight competitors, they first have to show the company’s brain trust (Dana White, Joe Silva and the Fertittas) that they’re in this for the long haul. We really don’t need to hear White asking if anyone “really wants to be a fighter?” again, do we? We want to know that these guys mean business and won’t fold like a cheap card table when they’re challenged.
The fight itself wasn’t even as McGee outmatched McCray in nearly all categories, including easily scoring three takedowns in the first frame. The second round wasn’t much better, so by the time McGee saw his hand raised after a rear naked choke …
McGee was moved to tears post fight after White presented him with the six-figure contract and trophy, dedicated the fight to anyone who was struggling with their own problems. At a time when New York is voting in the state assembly on the final fate of mixed martial arts events, it doesn’t hurt to have such a strong role model, an advocate not only for martial arts, but that can show how the necessary discipline and pride of being a professional fighter saved his life.
Anyone who wasn’t pulling for Court McGee was devoid of a soul. He was the feel good story and a silver lining to this “Ultimate Fighter” season that was marred with several injuries that occurred throughout its taping. The struggle that McGee has gone through just to make it back from his near fatal drug overdose is storybook. That he’s now in possession of a contract for big money fights against the top middleweight fighters in the world only stands to prove that miracles really can happen.
The tournament itself was marred by injuries, freak or otherwise. Fighters who could have made the finals and fighters that earned their way into the second round weren’t able to compete due to injuries incurred during the show. Sure, we got to see them compete in some capacity this evening (and some will also be on the DVD) but what of competitors like Nick Ring who was an early favorite and probably needed his third reconstructive ACL surgery due to an injury sustained on the show. It’s high time that instead of rushing through three seasons in one calendar year, we protect the sanctity of the program and do one a year in multiple weight classes. This way, the top eight fighters in each class will make it through and we won’t be subjected to characters and fighters whose skills are grossly underdeveloped compared to others. With fewer seasons, there would be more time to heal and let the fighters take care of themselves as well — there has to be a reason that so many of the best fighters from TUF fraternity came from seasons 1-3.
It’s not just the talent pool; the empty seats at the Palms up until halfway through the event were indicative of the general malaise people had for this season. If it was a ratings success, wonderful. I cannot, however, see many people from this show going on to compete, let alone win, against fighters like Anderson Silva, Nate Marquardt, Chael Sonnen, Demian Maia, Yushin Okami, Wanderlei Silva, even Jake Shields. Maybe if we take time to build the characters of these fighters up again, we’ll be able to think they have a shot in those types of fights, but as long as TUF is merely a vehicle for the company to attach a PPV to (you can’t say that by having the coaches square off on PPV, then the finalists do it on SPIKE TV a week later isn’t exactly that), we’ll never get another moment like that first TUF event.
The Ultimate Fighter Finale Results
Court McGee def. Kris McCray via submission (rear naked choke) – Round 2, 3:41
(Wins Season 11 Middleweight TUF Title, $25,000 for “Submission of the Night”)
Matt Hamill def. Keith Jardine via majority decision (29-27, 29-27, 28-28)
(Hamill and Jardine win $25,000 each for “Fight of the Night”)
Chris Leben def. Aaron Simpson via TKO (punches) – Round 2, 4:17
(Wins $25,000 for “Knockout of the Night”)
Dennis Siver def. Spencer Fisher via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
Rich Attonito def. Jamie Yager via TKO (strikes) – Round 2, 4:25
John Gunderson def. Mark Holst via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Brad Tavares def. Seth Baczynski via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Kyle Noke def. Josh Bryant via TKO (strikes) – Round 2, 3:12
Chris Camozzi def. James Hammortree via unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)
Travis Browne def. James McSweeney via TKO (punches) – Round 1, 4:32
(This column originally featured in its entirety at FoxSports.com)
An Inside Pulse "original", SMS is one of the founding members of Inside Pulse and serves as the Chief Marketing Officer on the Executive Board. Smith is a fan of mixed martial arts and runs two sections of IP as Editor in Chief, RadioExile.com and InsideFights.com. Having covered music festivals around the world as well as conducting interviews with top-class professional wrestlers and musicians, he switched gears from music coverage at Radio Exile to MMA after the first The Ultimate Fighter Finale. He resides with his wife in New York City.
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