Whispered voices, closed-door conversations, and salacious alliances. The latest episode of Survivor? If only one could be so lucky. Alas, thanks to the infinite scheming of welterweight hopeful Jorge Gurgel and his competitors, Monday’s episode of The Ultimate Fighter 2 resembled a lack of sportsmanship more commonly encountered on CBS. Along with the less than savory tactics of the fighters, Monday’s episode saw the return of yet another reality show staple; booze.
Joe Stevenson, the young and unarguably talented grappler on Matt Hughes’ team, is fine with playing the fool. The show opened with a focus on his after-practice habits, of which drinking seems to be his favorite. Now, whether or not Joe’s a victim of the editing monster we’ve all come to know on this show (and all reality shows for that matter), I don’t know but, from what was shown, Joe is beginning to come across as an immature young man. As others rested and recouped from their respective wears and tears, Joe was drinking it up as he danced around and mucked it up in the pool. How much of this is simply inexperience, I don’t know. Neither do I know if such undisciplined action will come back to bite him in the ass. What I do know is that the basic premise of this show doesn’t make room for mistakes, and to be so careless while engaging in the greatest opportunity a young fighter could ever wish to find can only be seen as flippant. Perhaps Joe is victim of the Randy Moss-syndrome; an athlete with an abundance of talent unable to reach his full potential due to lack of psychological maturity. Whatever the case, Joe won’t be able to coast for too long on talent alone. This show challenges fighters every week, and if a fighter makes a mistake large enough, there are five men left who are ready to exploit it.
After an interesting segment regarding an alliance by Jorge, Anthony Torres and Marcus Davis of Team Franklin, we were transported to the site of the next physical challenge, this time with the welterweights competing for the right to pick their next fight. If no one else has made the American Gladiators allusion for this show yet, this challenge was an open invitation to do so. The welterweights were made to hang from a large steel web as they and their competitors pushed and pulled in an attempt to get their opponents to fall. I was hoping for Thunder or Lazer to hop out of an old van somewhere and join the competition, but the steroids they indulged on have probably long since destroyed the cartilage in their joints. Oh well, I still have my fantasies. After some amusing action, only Jorge and Joe remained hanging near the center of the mangled structure. Jorge, showing no signs of hesitation as he competed against one of the many people he had supposedly made alliance with, violently pushed his feet into Joe’s face causing him to fall and lose the competition for Team Hughes.
Later, as Team Franklin gathered in the training complex to discuss possible opponents, an interesting strategy arose. As seen in the last welterweight fight, fighters are choosing to attack the opposing teams’ strongest links instead of focusing on the weaker fighters as was done in season one. Dana White, sensing this strategy and the possibly negative indications of doing so, stepped in with a talk revolving around the “game” aspect of the show. In his mind, he didn’t want tough fighters going after each other until the end of the show out of a fear for injuries. Though he had his points, he ended on a confusing and contradictory note, telling the fighters to “do what you want to do.” And indeed, despite his best attempts, that is exactly what Team Franklin did.
And just like that, two of the more talented fighters among the welterweight division were chosen to compete. Joe Stevenson and Marcus Davis presented the viewers with an atypical match-up of world class boxer versus an ADCC caliber grappler. Though the latter is usually victorious, the show did a good job of presenting Marcus’ stand-up as the wild card of the fight. A former professional boxer with a record of 10-1, Marcus showed great speed and technique during the training montage before the contest. The only weakness “The Irish Hand Grenade” seemed to have was a lack of ground tenacity, a weakness Joe would be quick to exploit. Joe, on the other hand, was to rely on his expert ground work for the fight, a skill much more reliable than striking when fighting mixed martial arts. Despite the fact that one of the more talented fighters on the show would be leaving, we the viewers were being treated to an intriguing fight, despite Dana’s objections.
The requisite pre-fight interviews where each fighter discusses the others weaknesses were shown, with Marcus predictably discussing Joe’s questionable out of the ring activity while Joe spoke on the fact that the best stand-up fighter was to face off against the best ground fighter. Marcus unveiled even more strategy before the fight took place, revealing that he was going to fight southpaw while standing with Joe instead of right handed stance as he’d been showing his training partners. Marcus sounded confident in his experience and Joe in his grappling. Suspense was well built for the fight, and what followed was definitely more entertaining than last weeks predictably stagnant heavyweight encounter.
The fighters entered the ring and paced as Steve Mazagatti yelled for the fight to begin. Both men were hesitant on the feet to start, choosing to feel each other out while refusing to close the distance for strikes or a takedown. Marcus seemed very hesitant to punch at Joe, perhaps letting the fear of the takedown affect him too greatly. After a minute of pacing, I began to panic. Was this fight going to be an elongated waltz? Was Shamrock/Severn only a warm-up to a now nationally televised disaster? I watched and waited as Joe became more comfortable by changing levels while Marcus moved in closer and peppered Joe with jabs. As quickly as my fear had arrived, it left as Joe shot in and got a single-leg on Marcus. Joe, with surprising ease, lifted Marcus to his shoulder and walked him to the side of the cage. In a quick and violent motion, Joe slammed Marcus against the cage, causing Marcus to land almost entirely on his right shoulder. Marcus defended the best he could, but could only delay as Joe quickly got side-mount. Marcus bucked and tried to tie Joe up, but Joe’s power on the ground was more than enough to keep his dominant position. Before long, Joe was able to trap Marcus’ arms with his thighs and chest, leaving Marcus’ face wide open for forearm and elbow strikes. In a position almost identical to the one Matt Hughes had used on Carlos Newton, Joe swiped away at Marcus’ unguarded face with forearms before crashing into the side of his neck and head with elbow strikes. Though some of these connected to the back of the head, Mazagatti allowed it. Joe continued to strike until the blows became too much and Marcus submitted.
Marcus reacted emotionally to the loss, seeking his teammates out for comfort. Marcus declared that he was retiring after an impressive career, leaving the ring after seventeen years of combat for a more tame, and in some ways, more difficult occupation of raising his children. It was a touching thing to see a seasoned fighter breakdown after a fight. It was a reminder of the emotional foundation that betrays everyman at one time or another. One of the great misconceptions of this great sport is that hate is a driving force. I, and anyone else who’s ever trained or fought, knows that hatred is the last emotion that drives us. Love remains the greatest factor in this sport, and unabashed glimpses of the incredible passion that men and women share for this world of fighting, this lifestyle, can only reveal the true nature of mixed martial arts to more and more people. No matter how cheesy, showy, or predictable the presentation of this show may be, nothing can prevent the core emotions that bleed through that television screen. To see the courage, dedication, and brazen love that these men feel for the sport is an inspiration to us all, no matter how they piss on each others beds.
Photos used with permission by the UFC®.
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