Dana White wants you to believe that he is the anti-Vince McMahon. The UFC president and his "as real as it gets" mantra have gone to great lengths to separate themselves from the world of sports-entertainment, eschewing its athletes - and, by extension, its fans - in favor of "real" fighters. However, the past week has shown that Dana is to P.T. Barnum as...well, Vince is to P.T. Barnum. Four days ago, Dana was telling TMZ that UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar was all but dying, and would possibly never fight again. Of course, we have since learned that the "major surgery" Brock supposedly faced was actually a minor, outpatient procedure, and he is already on the mend.
Ever the salesman, Dana can try to persuade you that Brock's eventual comeback will be some sort of medical miracle, worthy of paying upwards of $44.95 to witness. He can also try to persuade you that breaking major MMA news to an entertainment web site is more beneficial to the sport than using any other means, such as, I don't know, maybe the UFC's own web site. But one thing that even Dana has been unable to persuade UFC fans is that this season of The Ultimate Fighter will produce anyone who might someday challenge Brock for his crown. The idea that James McSweeney will main-event a pay-per-view card is only slightly more believable than the claim that The Ultimate Fighter coach Quinton "Rampage" Jackson could correctly pronounce the name of Brock's medical condition on the first try ("diverticulitis," for those keeping score at home).
Speaking of keeping score, coach Rashad Evans is already up 1-0 in the TUF quarterfinal round, and tonight his team will automatically pick up its second win by virtue of having two of its fighters going head-to-head. We waste little time getting started with the preparations, as Team Rashad arrives at the UFC Training Center as a landscaper does some edging outside. Either that, or he’s leaf-blowing away the chicken feathers that are probably still blowing around the parking lot. Rashad greets his fighters, then lets us know that he has grown close to them. He has enjoyed watching their development, and says that they “feed off each other, they feed off the coaching.” From the looks of things, Roy Nelson has really been feeding off his teammates and coaches.
Matt Mitrione is still slated to fight next week, but is still teasing that having his brain rattled in his first fight could keep him out of action. He tells Rashad that, despite having initially believed he had suffered a concussion, it was likely just a migraine instead. Then, moments later, he changes his story, claiming that his diagnosis was swelling of the brain. Team Rashad assistant coach Trevor Wittman calls shenanigans, claiming that brain swelling is a potentially life-threatening condition that is obviously not affecting Matt. The team’s coaches suspect Matt is looking for an excuse to not fight again, and begin questioning his heart.
As it turns out, they’re not the only ones; teammate James McSweeney, who is set to face Matt next week, also suspects Matt may have ulterior motives in keeping his decision a secret. Team Rampage’s Scott Junk agrees, saying it isn’t fair because James doesn’t know whether he should prepare for Matt, Kimbo Slice or even “Mississippi.” Man, that would be pretty cold to make a guy fight an entire state.
Team Rampage later arrives at the gym, and its coach joins the ranks of those trying to figure out whether Matt will fight. As has been teased for weeks, Kimbo is the front-runner to replace him if necessary, but tonight we see that Kimbo has a tender knee, thanks to an injury sustained while rolling with long-forgotten teammate Demico Rogers. Rampage wonders whether Kimbo would be the right guy to call in, even if Matt is unable to go, since James could do further damage to Kimbo’s knee with leg kicks. Rampage says that’s what he would do if he was fighting Kimbo. Sure, because Rampage always throws leg kicks in his fights.
Apparently content with the Matt drama for the week, the show’s producers finally decide to take this week’s fight off the back burner. Jon Madsen, the guy who has spoken two words all season and is best known for replicating the Grand Canyon on Abe Wagner’s forehead earlier this season, will be taking on NFL washout Brendan Schaub. Brendan says that Jon is one-dimensional as a wrestler and is not worried about his hands “in the least bit.” At the gym, Brendan asks his head coach for some help, but Rashad refuses, citing his commitment to staying neutral in teammate-versus-teammate fights. Instead, James and Roy step in to coach him instead. Yeah, that’s just as good.
Elsewhere at the gym, Kimbo is checked out by doctor, who says the streetfighter is missing cartilage around his knee. This has caused fluid backup, which the doctor says he can either drain or treat with a cortisone shot. Kimbo, who at the start of this season was being painted as a fearless badass, now confesses he won’t be stuck with a “damn needle” and vows to fight again.
Speaking of “again,” it’s time to rehash the once-a-season segment that seems to exist solely for Dana’s amusement: the coaches’ challenge. This season, the coaches will meet at the Palms Hotel and Casino. How do we know that? Simple – the show spends about five minutes focusing in on various shots of Palms signage. How subtle. In the tradition of keeping with sports that involve nets (table-tennis, basketball and soccer have been previous choices), this season’s competition will be beach volleyball. Unlike previous seasons, however, this will not be a one-on-one affair – Rashad and assistant coach Mike Van Arsdale will take on Rampage and assistant coach Tiki Ghosn. Not exactly Maverick and Goose. As usual, the coaches are playing for $10,000 cash, with each fighter on the winning team getting $1,500.
Following a commercial break that includes a vignette on Kimbo’s torn biceps muscle that was apparently never repaired, it’s time for more shots of the Palms sign. I mean, it’s time for the volleyball game to start. Apparently we’re playing shirts vs. skins, since Rashad and Mike are shirtless, with the winner needing to win two games to 15. Team Rampage wins the first game, which we relive through the typical slo-mo replays and Dana’s commentary, but Team Rashad comes back to win the second. The third and final game is decided as a weird blues soundtrack plays in the background, and as usual, Team Rampage falls short. Afterward, Rashad taunts Rampage with his stack of cash, then reminds his team that their coach didn’t care enough about them to win them $1,500 each. Rampage asks his team whether they’d rather have $1,500 or watch him knock Rashad out. Gee, tough call.
Back at the house, Kimbo’s knee is still bothering him, so he sits in the Jacuzzi. James convinces him that an ice bath would help, so Kimbo steps into a tub filled with ice and water. The extreme cold is almost intolerable because Kimbo, as teammate Marcus Jones tells us, is “a tropical brother.” Scott Junk is among those laughing at Kimbo, who finally retreats back into the warmth of the hot tub.
Team Rashad returns to the gym to train, and it’s time to get reacquainted with Jon. Rashad spends some time working standup with Jon, which annoys an onlooking Brendan because he didn’t get the same treatment. Brendan surmises that Jon is getting special treatment because he and Rashad are both wrestlers, and “wrestlers stick together.” Rashad tells us that Jon is focused, and has “that quiet look on his face.” So, what does a “quiet look” look like…I mean, sound like…I mean…eh, forget it.
Though he has two fighters to train for this week’s bout, Rashad still makes time to pull Matt aside and ask him if he wants to fight. Matt says he will, but says it’s only because he has no choice. He adds that his coaches have left him feeling “hogtied,” then concludes by saying, “I’m confused.” That may be the understatement of the season. Rashad has finally gotten tired of Matt’s indecisiveness, and vows to call Dana to let him know Matt isn’t ready to fight.
Sure enough, Dana later arrives at the gym and re-creates his “do you want to be a f*in’ fighter” speech from Season 1. However, the Dana in Season 10 is a kinder, gentler boss who now says that no one will be forced to compete, or be made to feel like they have to fight because that’s not what he and the UFC are about. Seriously, this is two weeks in a row now – Dana has to be doing this in response to Season 4 contestant Mikey Burnett’s current lawsuit against the company. Matt thinks the speech is probably directed at him, and before long Dana is removing all doubt, calling him out in front of everyone and saying it will be up to Matt to look within himself and decide if he wants the opportunity.
It’s time to weigh in for this week’s bout, and both guys come in well under the 265-pound limit. Dana says the fight will be close, but guesses that “whoever imposes their will in this fight will probably win.” Wow, what a bold prediction!
Fight Day is upon us, and in Brendan’s locker room, James tries for the second straight week to psych up a fighter by slapping him repeatedly in the face. Jon says the fight will be a “classic matchup” between a wrestler and a striker, and the wrestler will win. Why is a striker-grappler bout always referred to as a “classic matchup”? Anyway, Brendan thinks it will be a war, and won’t be quick. My clock indicates that this episode is only two-thirds over, so I’ll pull a Dana and agree with this obvious prediction.
We go inside the cage, where we see that Brendan will enjoy a huge reach advantage. The fight starts, and though Jon wants to touch gloves, Brendan pays tribute to Team Rampage and refuses. Kind of ironic, considering it was Jon who started the no-touch tradition back in week 1. Jon shoots right away, but gets denied. After about a minute of complete inaction, Jon shoots in again, this time scooping up Brendan with a single leg and dumping him on his back. Jon goes right into lay-and-pray mode, where he stays until the fighters are stood up. Strangely, Brendan is not throwing jabs or doing anything to take advantage of his reach. Jon goes for another takedown, which Brendan fights off while grabbing and holding Jon’s shorts. Eventually Jon picks him up and drops him for another takedown, this time landing in side control. Again, however, Jon does nothing – other than step into half-guard, for some reason – and the round ends.
After being slapped around in the corner yet again by James, Brendan comes out for Round 2. After a quick exchange, Jon goes for a takedown but is eventually denied. One minute into the round, Jon looks tired. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the previously hesitant Brendan cracks Jon with a straight right, which sends Jon to the canvas. Brendan lands one more punch before the fight is stopped. Brendan channels a mid-’90s HHH and offers a formal bow, which he follows up with a throat-slash gesture. James says Brendan followed their game plan by letting Jon fatigue himself. Given the cardio these guys have shown this season, why would you need to gameplan that?
Afterward, Brendan says that he hopes his next opponent realizes he has powerful hands and is comfortable on the ground. In other words, he will lie there and do nothing to escape other than grab the fence. Jon, meanwhile, admits he lost focus during the bout and has only himself to blame.
When Matt said his brain said yes to fighting, but then added that it was responding slowly, did that really mean that his brain was saying no?
Sure, it was kind of manipulative, but wasn’t Matt’s ongoing lack of commitment on his quarterfinal fight actually a pretty good way to keep James from properly training?
Who is “Mississippi”?
How petrified did Kimbo look when Rampage was telling him that James would aim for his injured knee if they fought?
Considering that the UFC isn’t likely to build a fighter no one cares about, wasn’t this season’s complete lack of camera time for Jon a pretty clear sign that he probably wasn’t going to win tonight?
Why did Brendan say he was confident he would beat the “one-dimensional” Jon on the feet, then later say he wished he could have fought a standup fighter?
Did Kimbo really think he’d be shot up by a 2-foot needle, since that’s about how far apart he held his fingertips when describing it?
Why would someone be tough enough to fight with a bad knee, but not tough enough to withstand a simple injection?
Prior to seeing the UFC 106 promos that showed Anthony Johnson making former TUF finalist Tommy Speer look silly, did you even remember him?
Still, has his post-TUF career really been that much worse than the guy who beat him in the finals, Mac Danzig?
Hey, did you know that this week’s coaches’ challenge took place at the Palms?
Didn’t it look like the beach-volleyball area was set up in the Palms’ loading-dock area?
Does Dana seriously think his sloppily stacked collection of $1 bills looks cool?
Did the winning coaches each get $10,000, or did they have to split it?
If Rashad hated the feel of sand on his sweaty skin, as he said later, why did he take off his shirt for the game?
Wasn’t it easy to believe Rashad’s story about being an awful junior-high volleyball player, given how uncoordinated he looked during the team challenges during Season 2?
How come Dana felt the need to tell us twice how evenly matched the volleyball contest was, as if we cared?
Did Rampage seriously think anyone on his team would rather see him punch Rashad than pocket $1,500?
And even if anyone was dumb enough to consider this, why wouldn’t they take the $1,500, then just pay a mere $44.95 to see the fight on PPV?
Did you notice that, when Kimbo was sitting in the ice bath, Scott’s eye was not swollen?
First it was Marcus and spiders, now it’s Kimbo and needles/cold water. What is it with these uber-badasses having nonsensical fears?
Why did Matt say he was tired of all the drama surrounding his condition, when he has been the one perpetuating it?
Why did Dana claim that he doesn’t make guys fight on this show, even though that’s pretty much what he did to Junie Browning by not letting him quit during Season 8?
What is it with James trying to motivate his fighters by slapping them silly?
And while he was doing it, did you see Keith Jardine in the background, appearing to hold back laughter?
Jeez, how clueless did Jon look on the ground?
How did the referee not even warn Brendan about grabbing Jon’s shorts or the fence?
Who landed more effective strikes on Brendan: his opponent, or his own cornerman?
Why did Brendan say Jon was one-dimensional, when he himself showed very little acumen for anything other than striking?
Did he really need two post-fight celebratory gestures?
And isn’t it ironic that a former NFL player would use the throat-slash, considering it was banned from the league several years ago?
Why was giving up takedowns part of Brendan’s game plan, when he’d said earlier that the thought of losing the takedown battle worried him?
After the at-times agonizingly slow build to Matt’s decision, won’t it be cool to have four fights for next week’s two-hour finale?
Mark Carpowich can be contacted at email@example.com.