(Where’s your glass trophy now, playboy? Props: thesun.co.uk)
By CagePotato contributor Jim Genia
In a perfect world, The Ultimate Fighter would give us an up close and personal look at some of the most promising mixed martial artists out there, vying for greatness in the crucible of combat. But in reality, it’s become a perversion of manufactured drama and prefabricated stars — stars made bright not by the depth of the competition they must face but by the trouncing of whatever hapless wannabes a SpikeTV producer chose at the tryouts. You see, it stopped being about “who’s the best” a long time ago, and was twisted into “who makes for the best TV,” so what we get now is more Jersey Shore than Ultimate Fighting Championship, only instead of Snooki and JWoww’s cleavage we get an IFL champ or Sengoku veteran beating the ever-loving crap out of people with maybe a handful (if that) of fights.
That’s why, when a TUF winner loses in Octagon — sometimes after facing real UFC-level competition for the first time — it’s totally awesome! Because, sure, Michael Bisping, Joe Stevenson and Mac Danzig are tough, likeable guys, but don’t try to fool us into thinking they’re the definition of “badass” just because they defeated a personal trainer from New Orleans, a boxer from Maine and some kid who should be working on a farm. We’re not the ignorant general public flicking through the channels, we’re knowledgeable MMA fans. We know better!
Therefore, here, in no particular order, is a list of the ten greatest TUF winner fails of all time. It’s a list based not on animosity towards any particular fighter, but on animosity towards the Spike TV executive who skipped over the few hundred fighter hopefuls with real talent and real skill, and instead chose the clown with the funky hair, the drinking problem and the propensity for trashing houses…
Michael Bisping vs. Dan Henderson, UFC 100
British fighter Michael Bisping was a stud in the UK MMA scene (which is a lot like saying you’re a gold medalist in the Special Olympics) when he got the call to compete on TUF, and he took Season 3 top honors after beating, well, pretty much no one of note. But he continued to rack up wins on the pay-per-views, defeating such marginables as Elvis Sinosic, Charles McCarthy and Jason Day. However, TUF 9 saw him pitted against Dan Henderson as an opposing coach, and we were supposed to believe the inevitable Octagon conflict between them would be competitive. It wasn’t, and fans everywhere rejoiced over a knockout so devastating Bisping has no recollection of anything to do with the weekend of July 11, 2009 and about nine days before and after.
Joe Stevenson vs. Josh Neer, UFC Fight Night 4
Season 2 of The Ultimate Fighter was supposed to be like a gift-wrapped Christmas present with Joe Stevenson’s name on it. He was, after all, a highly-touted King of the Cage champ. But at the TUF 2 Finale he very nearly got his ass kicked by Luke “Mmmm, This Urine Tastes Delicious” Cummo. Thankfully, Midwest drunk driver Josh Neer was brought in – most likely to lose for Stevenson’s first post-TUF outing — and he got the job done. Remember kids: when a matchmaker hands you an “easy” fight, you’re supposed to win it.
Mac Danzig vs. Josh Neer, UFC Fight Night 17
Mac Danzig blew through Season 6 of TUF like a man who’d fought 19 times in promotions like King of the Cage, the WEC and Pride and wasn’t in the same league as the clowns put before him. Which was pretty much the case. But his post-TUF experience saw Clay Guida completely work him over on the ground. Then came the piece de resistance: a tap out via triangle choke to “TUF Winner Killer” Neer. Rumor has it Danzig asked if he could go back to living in the TUF House, as “life was so much easier back then.”
Kendall Grove vs. Jorge Rivera, UFC 80
Tall and lanky, Kendall Grove was your stereotypical “Hawaiian who used his long limbs to out-grapple opponents and win TUF 3” kind of fighter. Unfortunately, his awkwardness didn’t do his striking ability any favors, so when faced with someone capable of getting in close and landing something solid on his jaw, Grove had problems. Such was the case when he faced Patrick Cote, and after that four-minute and forty-five second knockout, the UFC brass handpicked him Jorge Rivera, a striker supposedly on a career decline. Rivera needed less than a minute and a half to feed him a dose of the sleepy-knuckles. So much for giving Grove someone he could handle.
Travis Lutter vs. Anderson Silva, UFC 67
TUF 4: The Comeback was all about providing a bunch of UFC vets a second chance, and Travis Lutter made the most of his shot, defeating legitimate competition to win it and earn a crack at middleweight champ Anderson Silva. What happened next really wasn’t the fault of any Spike TV producer, but it’s worthy of a chuckle nonetheless: Lutter, in his moment of potential championship glory, did not make weight, making his UFC 67 bout a non-title affair and rendering all his efforts in Season 4 null and void. Weight cutting FAIL.
Ross Pearson vs. Cole Miller, UFC Fight Night 22
England needs MMA stars, and TUF 9’s US vs. UK motif was meant to give it to them. And it did, in the form of lightweight face-puncher Ross Pearson. Pearson took out two members of the UFC’s “B-team” in Aaron Riley and Dennis Siver, yet hit a stumbling block when confronted by Cole Miller. You see, TUF 8 winner Efrain Escudero may have had luck putting Miller away with punches, but with Miller there’s a learning curve involved. And he done learnt that boxing! Pearson tapped to a rear naked choke at UFC Fight Night 22, but it was all the leather stuffed down his throat that made the difference.
Amir Sadollah vs. Johny Hendricks, UFC 101
Traditionally, a TUF winner’s first opponent right of the gate is supposed to be just one step above a cadaver in terms of threat. But WEC veteran Johny Hendricks never got that memo. Instead, he greeted seventh-season winner Sadollah in the Octagon with a flurry of fists and bad intentions. Maybe — maybe — referee Dan Miragliotta stepped in too soon to halt the bout, but the fact of the matter was that when Sadollah hit the canvas face first, it looked as if the TUF winner was looking for a lost contact lens and had forgotten there was a fight going on.
Diego Sanchez vs. Josh Koscheck, UFC 69
Diego Sanchez was the prototype of every crazy and off-kilter fighter you’ve seen emerge from the TUF depths, but his 17-fight win streak meant that, unlike other attention-hungry degenerates, he could actually fight. He could not, however, wrestle as good as fellow TUF 1 alum Josh Koscheck, so fans who tuned in to UFC 69 were treated to a man who could harness lightning failing to takedown a man with no power over the elements at all in a bout about as exciting as watching the clouds roll by on a warm summer day. Kosheck took the decision, then folded up Sanchez’s perfect record and used it as a Kleenex.
Forrest Griffin vs. Keith Jardine, UFC 66
The UFC and the sport in general will always owe Forrest Griffin a debt of gratitude for his gutsy TUF 1 Finale performance against Stephan Bonnar, a performance that opened the doors to mainstream acceptance. But as the first TUF star, Griffin’s treatment was… deferential (Dana White: “We need someone who won’t out-strike Forrest or submit him.” Joe Silva: “Hey, I have Elvis Sinosic on speed dial!”) to say the least. That’s why, when Griffin went toe-to-toe with Keith Jardine and wound up literally crying in the corner afterwards, it was somewhat satisfying. Hey, we love Forrest Griffin to death. But the UFC is supposed to be about the best fighting the best, not the best fighting Australians.
Efrain Escudero vs. Charles Oliveira, UFC Fight Night 22
Escudero came away from TUF 8 with solid wrestling, okay hands, and a fancy Lucite declaring him a stud. And things were panning out for him when he blasted Cole Miller in the chops in his first real UFC fight. But the wheels came off the bus in his next outing, and at the center of this traffic accident was Evan Dunham, grappling the hell out of him and submitting him like it was Escudero’s first day on the mat. Then came UFC Fight Night 22 and last-minute replacement Charles Oliveira, who in only his second trip into the Octagon out-struck the TUF winner and submitted him with the kind of standing rear naked choke usually reserved for drunken frat boys practicing “that UFC stuff” at 2:00am on the quad. That little gem of a sequence, plus the fact that he failed to make weight for the bout, had Joe Silva giving Escudero a pink slip. I guess now would be a good time to learn about that whole jiu-jitsu thing, no?