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The Politics of Quitting: Why Giving Up on ‘TUF’ is One of MMA’s Most Unforgivable Sins

(“Look mom, no future!” Pic: Las Vegas Sun)

If 13 seasons of “The Ultimate Fighter” have taught us anything, it’s that we will never see Keon Caldwell again. Truth is, you can get away with a lot of things on “TUF” and very little of it really has anything to do with being a professional fighter. You can piss in somebody’s fruit tray. You can piss in somebody’s bed. You can piss in somebody’s workout gear. Hell, you can even get drunk and piss in your own pants and as long as you don’t cause an embarrassing public scene at a casino later, you’ll probably be fine. After approximately 160 episodes however, one thing we know you absolutely can not do is quit the UFC’s popular reality show.

In choosing to leave “TUF” of his own free will this week, Caldwell essentially committed career suicide. Of all the bullshit UFC fighters can do and be forgiven — Steroids? Fine. Federal crimes? Whatever. High speed chases with the cops? No problem – it’s strange to think that quitting a TV program is a sin that simply can’t be absolved. It’s true though, leave “TUF” and you might as well be a child molester. You’re done. Finito. Dead to them. Time to start thinking about community college.

More than any of the ridiculous “made for TV” aspects of the show – more than the editing designed to bury him or his coach’s cartoonish disappointment or Dana White’s self-righteous fuming — that’s what made Caldwell’s exit from the show so hard to watch this week. As fake as the rest of “TUF” may be, one fact is very real: We just saw a 22-year-old kid euthanize his own dream on national television, seemingly without fully grasping the consequences.

From a viewer’s standpoint, the psychological reasons are obvious: Rightly or wrongly, being a quitter isn’t a personality trait we want to associate with MMA fighters. Granted, there is a certain irony in that, since quitting is one of the main ways that an actual MMA fight can end, but the “TUF” audience apparently doesn’t like to see that weakness displayed outside the cage. Especially when it’s emotional. No, we want tough-as-nails warriors. We want our “TUF” contestants to persevere stoically though all this soundstage adversity, even though very little of it (besides maybe the strange, two-round fights themselves) can possibly be an accurate barometer of their abilities.

“This guy can’t handle six weeks in a mansion?” We crow on our internet message boards, knowing almost nothing of Caldwell’s situation, his family, his background and what little we have seen of him presented to us by a company that now has a vested interest in making him look like a pussy. “What a pussy!” we say. See how good we are at this?

From the UFC’s point of view, it gets a bit stickier. Obviously, the company loves to frame “TUF” as a totally benevolent endeavor. What a great opportunity, they insist! It’s the chance of a lifetime, they repeat ad nauseum! Never mind the fact that neither the UFC nor SpikeTV would be here if the margins weren’t right, if there wasn’t a ton of money to be made off these guys’ fragile aspirations.

Essentially, the guys who run “TUF” legitimately view an unknown fighter who quits the show as thumbing his nose at the UFC’s overflowing generosity and that fucking pisses them off. Quitting “TUF” is like refusing to kiss the pope’s ring. It’s like depriving a rich person of a tax write off by turning down his donation. How dare you, they think, and to a certain extent, they’re right. Being on “TUF” is a great opportunity. It can be fast track to the UFC and it’s a chance not available to young fighters prior to 2005. Jumping through all the administrative hoops it takes to get on the show, only to then quit is just dumb, especially at this point in the game.

On the other hand, the problem with framing “TUF” as some kind of amazing, life-altering experience for your MMA career is that unfortunately that’s just not true for most guys. Comparatively few competitors from recent seasons have actually gone on to successful careers in the Octagon. For example, if you consider the 60 or so guys who competed in “TUF” seasons 8-11, just 16 of them still have UFC contracts (not counting the season winners). That’s a little under 27 percent. So really, if you don’t win the whole show, the chances that your “TUF” experience honestly “changes your life” seem pretty slim.

The fact is, Keon Caldwell probably wasn’t going to win the show. That 8-1 record they mentioned on this week’s episode includes just two opponents with winning records and one of those guys (Dhiego Lima) dispatched him via first-round submission last July. Unfortunately, we’ll never know for sure. The only thing we know is that now, because of what essentially amounts to a lot of reality TV nonsense, Caldwell will never fight in the UFC. Weird, right?

“The only thing good about it is that it happened early enough that we can get his ass out of here and get somebody real in here,” White said to neatly sum up the death of Keon Caldwell’s dream.

Somebody real, huh? What an interesting way to describe it …

Cagepotato Comments

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Waxedpants- April 9, 2011 at 1:44 pm
too many bong hits

where's that 3 titted bitch at ?
Squirrel- April 9, 2011 at 5:50 am
If there was legitimately wrong with his child, he would have said so and used the sympathy card to try to get back in at a later date.

Wow, this site is reaching hard for negative shit to say about the UFC.

Nothing negative about the UFC said here that I gathered, just that when you fuck up in life expect to pay the consequences. At least that was my take. Flat out, this kid wanted to make it to a top level promotion and he couldn't survive a workout? Please. If you've made it 9-0, 8-1, whatever he was, by this time you should know how to work out without getting sick. Bitch was scared, thas all.
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SnallTrippin- April 9, 2011 at 12:16 am
Eh, as it was edited it looked like he just didn't want to do the workouts and used the kid as an excuse...
Kuato- April 8, 2011 at 11:59 pm
"justify it with more word"? Sounds like your oxygen already ran out:)
Waxedpants- April 8, 2011 at 11:34 pm
words -- I want more words from kuato
my oxygen is running out
Waxedpants- April 8, 2011 at 11:32 pm
There are plenty of other articles that maybe deserved that comment but this one?

justify it with more word please otherwise I will assume you thought you were in another forum or article.
Kuato- April 8, 2011 at 11:13 pm
Wow, this site is reaching hard for negative shit to say about the UFC. If every other article is going to be a little hissy fit about something they did that offended you, just rename yourselves
Papa Damage- April 8, 2011 at 8:06 pm
Man, if i was Keons wife... What a lame looser father of her child. Or maybe he just missed pussy?
I dont know...
NomadRip- April 8, 2011 at 8:03 pm
This is why I think they should have to fight to get in the house. He wouldn't have made it in if his record was padded or he was just not into it.

The family excuse was horrible. He did the one thing that guaranteed he'll not be able to take care of his daughter through the path of MMA. Every other option at least had a chance of taking him to another level.

Now he won't even be able to get an exhibition fight with KarmaAteMyCat (who should have been put on the show in his place).
Monstrosity- April 8, 2011 at 4:34 pm
27% of fighters from seasons 8-11, excluding winners, still have contracts.

Lots of people from the show who didn't even come close to winning it got chances at fights either on the undercard of a UFC PPV or a Fight Night. If they win they keep fighting if they lose they get fired.

Am i the only one who thinks that is far?
stopdrinkingpee- April 8, 2011 at 4:33 pm
I find it hard to sympathize with Keon. This is what, the 14th season of TUF? He knew what he was signing up for. And he either got homesick, or got nerves and used homesickness as an excuse. He made a commitment he didn't keep, and working toward becoming a serious professional fighter is obviously not his highest priority. He should probably look for a different line of work.
Bootylam- April 8, 2011 at 3:17 pm
Typical young pussy. All emotion and poor me instead of being a REAL man and handling his business. He's doing far more damage to his family by letting them see what a quitter-ass bitch he is than by AT LEAST sticking it out. For real men there is no excuse. What's he going to do now? Go stay with his mama? Or his baby mama? Chump.
whiterice- April 8, 2011 at 3:14 pm
27% of fighters from seasons 8-11, excluding winners, still have contracts.

That's not actually that bad, I don't think. These guys get to fight for the UFC. Even if they're cut, they are still on the UFC's radar, and could put together some wins and get back in. Lots of fighters would kill for that opportunity.
RwilsonR- April 8, 2011 at 2:58 pm
@ mtcage - I didn't miss the point. I read the both-sides-of-the-coin arguments. I'm just saying that in trying to prove this side of the argument, the article made a stupid argument. The UFC should be disgusted that you wasted their time, and took the spot of someone else. Unless it was some major and understandable tragedy, bailing on your job and a big opportunity you have been given that has no ability for the company to replace you would not fly in any business. If that person worked for me, I would fire that person, not work with them again, and give them a horrible reference for any future employer. If his son has cancer, or some other understandable thing, well then say so. If not, he failed to live up to his obligations, he hurt the company giving him the opportunity, and he wasted his chance. I don't hate the guy for making the decision, but I don't have a lot of sympathy.
mtcage- April 8, 2011 at 1:53 pm
@RWilsonR - I think you missed his point. He even concedes in the next paragraph that it's a great opportunity, which is why he noted that when it comes to the UFC it's a bit stickier. It's not so much that it's a great opportunity as it is the UFC is so insulted and disgusted that you had the gall to quit or decide to pass up their great opportunity they've so graciously blessed you with. The UFC is making money off these fighters, and because of that, when they have such a complete disregard for their personal choices and reasons to quit (even if it is simply because they decide fighting is not for them), it comes across very pompous. I'm sure you'd feel the same way if you quit your job and your boss went on a rant in this way.
Waxedpants- April 8, 2011 at 1:52 pm

totally agree --- watching him " yes sir , no sir" bullshite his way through the talk with dana could be used as a demo in a psych lecture. There was no way he changed his mind for a second , he was done.
Waxedpants- April 8, 2011 at 1:46 pm
@dim mak You better believe that if it was any type of emergency involving a family member it would have been exploited to raise the drama value of the show. Not saying they would do it in a bad way but if the guy's kid is about to have a kidney transplant or something that makes great TV. Dana would have gotten to make a magnanimous speech in front of everyone and told the guy he could come back and look like the Fairy Baldfather ect ect. He loves that shit.
SacrificeTheMinions- April 8, 2011 at 1:46 pm
As soon as Caldwell was picked last his mind was fucked from then on, re-watch the two episodes and you could slowly see it eat away at him.

He used the family thing as a scapegoat. I bet he was banking on "Big Dana" coming in and getting rid of him right of the bat. Dana gave him a second chance and he couldn't quit in front of Dana and his team, so he did it in private.

all speculation though.. studying psychology and philosophy will do that to people.
Waxedpants- April 8, 2011 at 1:41 pm
You could see it in this guy's eyes, regardless of editing for maximum drama, he was scared shitless.
Waxedpants- April 8, 2011 at 1:39 pm
Obviously it's hard for us to fully understand the stress of being in that mad house for 6 weeks but, like some others have said, unless it is a family emergency quitting is totally unacceptable. I was trying to think of some UFC fighters that have had amazing careers but did not come through TUF that I suspect would have trouble making it through all 6 weeks. I couldn't think of any. Can you imagine a Lyoto or a Velazquez giving up? Wandy? Fedor? Those type of guys would rather die than face that kind of shame. Just a couple examples of many. Basically I'm saying you are either a strong willed warrior spirit type of mofo or you aren't.
dranokills- April 8, 2011 at 1:32 pm
to whomever wrote this, I agree with Dana White on this, and NOT with you. period.
You must live in the same world that Keon lives in...fantasyland.
winners never quit and quitters never win.
indiana- April 8, 2011 at 1:14 pm
'since quitting is one of the main ways that an actual MMA fight can end'
Admitting defeat in order to prevent serious injury and leaving a TV-show is not the same.
edhedicus- April 8, 2011 at 1:05 pm
From the very first UFC, it has been about making a profit. The Gracie's wanted to showcase their BJJ to get students into their schools. It has never only been about who is the better fighter or athlete or 'warrior', it is about the bottom line. More students, more money.
So TUF is about making money, and your article seems to demonize this. It is a mutually beneficial agreement between the UFC and the contestants. While it is not a 50/50 agreement, and will never and should never be, it is still a chance for these young fighters to jump the line, and get to the big show that much faster.
So before you get all crazy and demonize the 'bald father', let's remember that this is capitalism, and everyone gets something out of this.
So the long and short of it, this kid agreed to be on the show, and backed out of the agreement. In my business dealings, if someone doesn't follow through I no longer do business with them.
dim mak- April 8, 2011 at 12:44 pm
uh, you guys don't know what's going on with Keon. what if his daughter has cancer? or if there's some traumatic family history she's been trying to cope with? shouldn't we want people, especially african american men, to take an interest in their families? i think we should all be a little more careful before jumping to conclusions, and assuming we know all the relevant facts here.