The Ultimate Fighter is basically like Big Brother if the weekly evictions were decided by cage fight rather than public consensus. Sixteen contestants under two coaches compete in an elimination tournament for the chance to win a contract with the UFC, and sometimes a Harley Davidson too. It’s a gruelling experience, with all the malicious editing and contrived conflict of any reality show, plus the added pressure of getting in a locked cage and fighting for your job from time to time. While the regular fist fights provide some catharsis, it’s not unusual to see some pretty high-quality physical and emotional breakdowns – the goal of any reality show worth its salt.
Drawing talent from the semi-pro ranks, the tournament sometimes attracts a fairly low standard of competitor – however several UFC champions cut their teeth on the Ultimate Fighter, most notably reigning bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw. This season, the show’s 22nd, pitches eight American’s against eight Europeans in the latest instalment of the UFC’s campaign to break into the refined tastes of the continental mainstream, thus far not overly receptive to the company’s nu-metal, Tapout shirt aesthetic. With Conor McGregor, the pound-for-pound best shit talker in MMA, coaching Team Europe, chaos is all but guaranteed. I intend to chronicle the whole thing, fight by fight.
Episode One – Selections
Traditionally, The Ultimate Fighter opens every season with a stack of fights, as 32 competitors vie for a spot on the show, leaving 16 winners divided into two teams by the end of episode one.
Dana White, president of the UFC, sits cageside like Batiatus the Lanista from Spartacus, opining on the fights and generally making his presence known. McGregor and Faber sit either side of him. McGregor is resplendent in cream pants, a slick tie and designer sunglasses. Faber, lord of the dudebro’s, wears a tank top with his name across the back. They trade barbs with a sort of halfhearted enthusiasm. McGregor scores first blood, suggesting Faber wrap a bikini around his cleft chin and shake it around in place of the missing ring girls.
“We don’t have a huge beef as of right now,” says Faber. “But I could easily see that escalating.”
Here’s an early prediction – I bet it does.
In fight one, renown Brazilian jiu jitsu blackbelt Ryan Hall taps Johnny Nunez with a heel hook in about forty seconds. The real victor, however, is the UFC’s wallet. Everything from the fighter stats to the slow-motion replay is sponsored by a shit beer or possibly carcinogenic energy drink. Yo dawg, we heard you like ads, so we put some ads between the ads…
There’s an old adage that fighting is more about what you can do mentally than physically, and self-belief is obviously essential in a sport where indecision can get you killed. But unbridled confidence can make you look like a right dick if you don’t have the goods to back it up.
“I can’t get anyone to fight me, because I knock everyone out,” says American Andreas Quintana, before getting spinning-kicked in the face and knocked out by a straight right. His opponent Thanh Le moves on to the next round. Djamil Chan has a similar issue. “I feel comfortable hurting people. This fight is gonna be spectacular,” he boasts, before Poland’s Marcin Wrzosek strangles him inside of a couple minutes.
So too does Austin Springer, who takes a lopsided beating and TKO defeat in front of his wife and father after proclaiming he’s never met a man who could stop him.
“Poor guy,” says Faber. “His kids are going to have to watch that.”
Switching up the format a little, the conveniently attractive family of American contestant Jason Gonzales make an appearance. They don’t have much to say, but they’re probably not there to be heard anyway. Mrs Gonzales cries when he’s losing, and cries a little more when he wins. She’s going to have a hard time this season.
After the fights, White addresses the combatants, more than a few sporting black eyes and cut faces.
“Thanks for coming,” he tells the losers as they file out. “We appreciate you.”