By Elias Cepeda
Jon Anik’s silky voice talks us in to episode two of The Ultimate Fighter 15, telling us we’re less than an hour away from tonight’s live fight. We’re about to see what happened this past week in TUFlandia but right now there are two hooded fighters warming up with their backs to the camera in their respective lock rooms.
Could it be? Yes…those two (at present) nameless and faceless fighters will fight each other tonight but we will have to wait and see who they are. Cheesy, but kinda cool. Another new element of this debuting hybrid taped/live TUF format. Also, there’s a fight clock on the bottom right hand of the screen, ticking down.
The 16 winning fighters from last week’s elimination round pull up to the TUF mansion and once again we see a new crop of young fighters enthusiastically explore their new digs with the type of giddiness that can only lead us to believe that they’ve never watched past seasons and thus don’t realize how completely miserable it can be to be locked in that house. Happens every season.
Michael Chiesa has a more legit reason to be excited as he reveals that he’s “kinda homeless right now,” and so is just happy to have a place to stay. Whoah, some perspective there. Chiesa better go piss in someone’s fruit basket or something real soon or he won’t fit into the TUF lifestyle.
Team selection time now for coaches Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber. UFC Prez Dana White gets to the coin toss. Faber wins it and chooses to select the first matchup as opposed to choosing the first fighter.
Cruz chooses Whitethletic Justin Lawrence, the Blackhouse gym member that tore up James Krause last week with a TKO. Faber chooses Serra/Longo Al Iaqunita with the second pick. Cruz chooses 8 second sensation Sam Sicilia next.
Faber grabs Pride veteran/ringer Cristiana Marcello next. Cruz goes with Myles Jury. Faber goes for fellow Abercrombie & Fitch model look-alike Daron Cruickshank. Cruz chooses Mike Rio next.
Faber, on the recommendation of Joe Lauzon, chooses Joe Proctor. Cruz selects James Vick next. Faber tries out his “long hair don’t care” catchphrase for the second week in a row and chooses Michael Chiesa. Cruz take Vincent Pichel next. Faber grabs John Cofer.
Cruz then chooses Chris Tickle, who I’m sure has never used childhood teasing of his name as fighting fuel. Cruz starts the mind fucking early in taking Tickle. Remember, in episode 1, Tickle said that he wanted to be on Faber’s team. Cruz says he thinks he “threw a wrench in Faber’s plan.” Tickle me Chris has an attitude. He is pissed to be picked 13th and tells Faber that its “his loss, brother.” You tell ‘em.
Faber chooses Andy Ogle next. Cruz chooses the anti-Tickle, Jeremy Larsen, who says, “I’m just happy to be here. Doesn’t bother me at all.” Faber chooses Chris Saunders as his final pick.
Team Faber’s first training session takes place Saturday, 9am. Faber asks how many of his fighters have a wrestling base, as he does, and encourages them to have a purpose in mind with each practice. Cofer, Saunders and Ogle all have early praise for their team’s unity and for Faber.
Two hours later, Team Cruz fills the gym as their coach uses the time to observe them since, he says, he only had one round to view them before. Cruz sets up style stations with his assistant coaches leading to see how good the fighters are in each area.
At first Cruz was all like, “Tickle dissed me by saying he wanted Faber but I’m cool with it,” but soon his real feelings become clear as he pairs Tickle me Chris with his number one pick, Lawrence, to “see what he is about.” Lawrence manhandles Tickle.
Cruz is high on his team saying that they are going to “suck things up like a sponge.” Let’s all just pretend he said, “soak.”
Fight selection/Faber confrontation time. Things move fast, here. It’s 2pm on Saturday and both teams sit down on mini-bleachers in the training center. Faber and Cruz sit about a foot and a half apart.
Faber, like a boss, turns and tells Cruz, “My dad called and says you’re a bold-faced liar now.” Yeah, that statement doesn’t make a whole lot of sense on its own, but stay with Faber, he’s got a point.
Apparently, Faber’s dad has called Faber to tell him that in a recent UFC Magazine* interview, Cruz said that his parents gave Faber a gym. The proud Team Alpha Male leader does not like the invoking of his family into the rivalry by Cruz. “Gave you [a gym]? I never said they gave you a gym,” Cruz protests. “I mentioned that you may have had help with a gym from your parents.”
Faber closes with, “Stay away from the family issue, dude.”
Faber announces that he’s selected his team member Daron Cruickshank to take on James Vick. Faber calls it a “guaranteed win,” for his team. Cruz compares Vick’s body type to his own.
On Sunday afternoon Team Faber’s Michael Chiesa is pulled out of practice for a phone call. It’s his mom. She tells him that his father died the night before. Chiesa explains that his father had been battling a type of cancer called acute myeloid leukemia. Chiesa says he owes everything to his dad and that his dad made him promise that if he were to die while on TUF, that he wouldn’t leave. Back at the house, Chiesa shares the horrible news with his friend and training partner back home, Sam Sicilia.
Sicilia points out that Chiesa’s dad got to see his son get on national television and win a fight. Chiesa meets with Dana White the next day, who tells him that he will be allowed to fly home for a day to visit and be with his family. That’s good to hear.
Tuesday, back in the training center, James Vick prepares for his fight. And don’t get it twisted, just because he may look a tad lanky and goofy, the kid says he grew up poor, fast, hard and serious. Cruz is training Vick to keep a fast pace and says the strategy is to keep the fight on the feet against Cruickshank.
BJJ master Lloyd Irvin gets his hands on Vick, encourages him to “embrace the war,” and also shows him a pretty dope looking far side, arm-in choke on a turtle up opponent.
Cruickshank is in the gym with Team Faber next. “Some people are born a fighter and some people are raised a fighter. I would say, I’m both,” Cruickshank says, ending the nature vs. nurture debate forever.
Faber has Cruickshank work on defending specific submissions that they think Vick will go for with his long frame – and looky here, they work on a bunch of arm-in submissions. Cruickshank is confident, to say the least, calling Vick “one dimensional…he thinks he’s a boxer,” he says. “I’m 10-2. I’m a blackbelt in Tae Kwon Do. What’s he done?”
And if there’s anything we’ve learned from MMA is that if you have a Tae Kwon Do blackbelt, you are unbeatable. Well, at least words never come back to bite anyone in the be-hind…
Chiesa comes back to the house, saying he got the closure he needed back home. His dad toughed it out to stay alive long enough to watch his son fight on episode 1, then went downhill. No joke, thank God that this season is live.
Weigh in time. Cruickshank weighs in at 155.5 and Vick at 154. The cocky Cruickshank smiles at Vick but Vick ain’t having that shit and he keeps his hands up and game face on.
Fight time! A fight fan can get used to this – because the fights are live, we get to watch the coaches give their last-minute pep talk to their fighters, live. Cruz tells Vick, “You know you belong here,” because it doesn’t seem like anyone else does. Faber tells Cruickshank to keep things moving in there.
Anik tells us that the winners of this season get a contract with the UFC and a year long sponsorship deal with TapOut. Why didn’t anyone think of that before? Great idea.
Big height difference between Cruickshank and his 6’3 opponent, Vick. Lot of feeling out between the two. Thirty seconds in, the only two strikes that have been thrown are from Cruickshank; a lead left kick to the body and a lead left leg kick. Cruickshank puts together a punch combo, the ending uppercut lands. Spinning back kick from Cruickshank.
Vick’s corner is calling out combos, which, to this point, he isn’t throwing. Vick is stalking Cruickshank, but not throwing much, until he tries a whiffing super man punch. Another spinning back kick from Cruickshank but then he decides to go away from what was working for him and shoots in for a takedown.
Vick throws the right knee counter and it lands flush, knocking out Cruishank cold. Team Cruz goes nuts for the underdog, made good.
A country boy can survive. James Vick gets the surprised KO win over Daron Cruishank. Photo courtesy of UFC.com
Anik in the Octagon to interview Vick who starts off his comments with a “yes sir,” and ends it with a “I’m happy and everything’s going good.” Nothing like a Southern twang to make the underdog persona complete.
Anik asks Cruickshank “what happened there at the end of the fight.” Jon, I love ya, and I suppose you have to ask, but I guess you didn’t see Daron out on his back about, um…10 seconds ago with referee Herb Dean speaking soothing words into his ear. Unsurprisingly, Cruickshank responds, “I don’t remember too much so, I’m going to have to watch it.”
Cruickshank has a chance to get back in to competition if another fighter gets injured, but humbly says he’s just looking to get his teammates ready for their fights during the rest of his time on TUF.
Next week’s matchup time!
Team Cruz has the hammer and chooses Justin Lawrence but wait…he doesn’t choose who his fighter is going to fight! Nuts. Does anyone remember a coach giving up matchup control, even half, before like this?
Cruz has something up his sleeve and is looking to sabotage the “Alpha Male,” somehow…but how? Faber is shocked and has trouble coming up with a selection.
So, he turns it over to his team. “Who’s ready to scrap now, guys?”
Big. Fucking. Mistake. No one on Faber’s team raises their hand. Wow. Big balloon deflating moment. Biggest hand raising, or lack there of, shocker since season 5 when BJ Penn asked fighters to raise their hands if they wanted nothing to do with opposing coach Pulver.
Faber turns it back over to Cruz, who knows exactly who he wants Lawrence to face, and chooses Cristiano Marcello. This is going to be a hell of a fight.