As I sat in my chair and thought about the episode of The Ultimate Fighter 2 I had just finished watching, a strong sense of wellbeing overcame me. Though I’ve had the occasion to experience such an emotion before, seldom have I felt it accompanied with such an overwhelming sense of relief. Was it the post-fight verbal abuse Matt Hughes laid on Rashad Evans that gave me such happiness? Was it the awe I felt as Joe Stevenson and Mike Whitehead performed possibly the most physically impressive feat the show has ever seen in the welterweight challenge? Or was it the energy draining slugfest between two gutsy fighters that concluded the night? Most likely it was a combination of the three, but whichever it was, I am grateful to have watched them. In fact, this week’s episode ended up being a brilliant contrast to last week’s disaster, reassuring the viewer’s of the show that this season isn’t “lost” or “less entertaining” than the first season, but a different show altogether; a show more than capable of reaching, and even surpassing the heights its predecessor came to know.
The show opened with act two of “The Rashad Dance” as viewers were treated to post-fight reactions from coaches and fighters alike. Predictably, Matt Hughes was more than a little angry at Rashad’s in-ring antics, and called him out in the locker room. Hughes stated that he was “glad you (Rashad) aren’t on my team” and that Rashad was acting like an “idiot” who had done “no damage” in the fight. Rashad took the words well as Hughes spoke to him, but reacted strongly later in an interview, beginning to curse loudly at the camera as he reminisced on some of his father’s advice. Where these strong words were when Hughes was speaking to him, I don’t know. Perhaps Rashad was smart enough to avoid confrontation with the UFC champ face-to-face, but he’s going to be hard pressed to find a way of avoiding the repercussions of his heated profanity later on.
Rashad’s antics had an even greater impact on the two teams, causing a split to occur between them where comradery had formerly been. Some members of Team Hughes shared Matt’s disgust with Rashad’s showboating, and subsequently avoided Rashad’s presence. Perhaps taking his anger at Rashad and Tom Murphy’s lack of execution to heart, Matt Hughes put his Team through a strenuous two-hour training session. Hughes is notoriously competitive, and for one of his Team members to perform so poorly must have been more than Hughes could take without punishing the rest of the fighters. Though Hughes’ team seems to be training in tougher conditions (Team Franklin was shown swimming during their parallel two-hour session), doubtless they will reap the benefits of such hard work. Every successful MMA team seems to have that one driving member, pushing its fighters to perform above their comfortable levels and reach new plateaus. Whether it’s Pat Miletich, Mario Sperry, Bas Rutten or Rudimar Fedrigo, all great fighters have a great coach behind them, making them better than they’d be on their own. Though the training’s indeed difficult, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. Fighters have to ask themselves, what are they training for; to remain stagnant, or become champions?
Following the training montages, Randy Couture introduced the next welterweight challenge. Welterweights were paired with a heavyweight from their team and made to rotate around the heavyweights body by hanging onto their torsos without touching their feet to the ground. Each complete revolution around the heavyweight counted as a point, and the duo with the most points was rewarded with naming rights for the next fight. It’s the equivalent of climbing a rubber tree and making revolutions around its trunk without setting your feet on the ground. Needless to say, it takes significant strength on both peoples parts, not to mention the coordination needed to support one another and make the task as simple as it can be. Joe Stevenson and Mike Whitehead from Team Hughes were the first, and surprisingly enough, the last duo to go.
When Joe began, the difficulty of this exercise became very apparent. Not only did Joe have to revolve around Mike’s hefty upper body without missing a beat, but Mike had to support Joe as he did it, and as Dana White has made very clear, Joe isn’t exactly a natural welterweight. But, even with these difficulties, Joe and Mike continued on. After about twenty revolutions, Joe began a dialogue with Hughes, asking him how many he needed to get in order to win the challenge. Hughes was quick to answer that he needed to reach over one hundred revolutions in order to beat Jorge Gurgel, the resident BJJ Black belt on Team Franklin. At the time, it seemed that one hundred was perhaps too much to accomplish, seeing as Joe and Mike were already sweating and breathing heavily. Joe showed no reaction to Hughes’ goal of a hundred points though, and continued to push and pull his way around Mike. As time elapsed, I began to see that not only was I underestimating the athletic capability of Mike and Joe, but that I wasn’t even close to recognizing the drive these two possessed.
As the fifty-minute mark arrived, Joe and Mike had completed 127 revolutions. At an hour and twenty fours minutes, 172. Perhaps relaxed by the capability of his fighters and the assurance of a challenge victory, Matt Hughes began to relax his tongue. He began by laughing and joking with Joe, only to follow by engaging in his favorite activity, belittling and bantering Jorge Gurgel. Jorge was too busy to notice though, seeing as he was already in a verbal duel with an increasingly confident Joe. Despite the trash talk, Joe and Mike continued to push themselves, and before long they reached the 200 revolutions plateau. Joe pushed with his last bit of strength, and collapsed to the ground with Mike at revolution 204. To be quite honest, I was awed by this tenacious display of natural athleticism and mental capacity. Joe and Mike gave everything they had for this challenge, and in doing so, revealed to the viewers a rare glimpse of a champions drive. Immediately following their feat, Rich Franklin forfeited the challenge, choosing instead to rest his fighters than try to top the incredible accomplishments of Joe and Mike. Jorge didn’t react well to this, throwing his bottle at Rich and storming off. Though Jorge was disappointed he wasn’t able to compete, he was later rewarded by being chosen to fight the only person he truly disliked in the house, the eccentric and unorthodox Jason Von Flue.
By watching the training clips and interviews, it’s hard to judge what type of fighter Jason Von Flue really is. He seems awkward in style and personality, choosing his own techniques and adapting them to his personal fight game and demeanor. Even the UFC website has no information on him, only stating that he joined the show in episode 3. Whatever the case, someone fighting out of Chuck Liddell’s camp has to be taken as a serious threat, and I believe that’s indeed what Jorge Gurgel did.
Jorge in turn began his career as pure BJJ practitioner, only to move onto Muay Thai and striking later on. He is quick to admit that he prefers to entertain the fans and strike in his matches, though he’s finished all of his matches by submissions of one sort or another. Jorge was an obvious favorite coming into the match, seeing as he’d been training for such a long period of time, along with the fact that he and Rich have been stable mates for many years. The only advantage Von Flue seemed to have coming into the fight was a reach advantage, and despite the fact that this stat is often overlooked in MMA fights, it would play a pivotal role in the events that followed.
Jason and Jorge began the fight slowly, choosing to feel each other out with low-kicks and jabs instead of aggressively pushing the pace. As Jorge began to feel the range that Jason possessed, he shot in and took Jason down. To Jason’s credit, he quickly reversed position and put Jorge on his back in closed guard. Jason put Jorge against the cage and landed a few good shots before Jorge reversed him in turn and eventually got the north/south position. Jorge switched between n/s and side-mount occasionally, never doing any real damage to Jason. Jason was quick to get off his back whenever Jorge took him down, perhaps fearing the submission more than any combination Jorge could throw on his feet. As they stood again, a small cut appeared over Jason’s right eye, but it remained only a trickle, nothing significant enough to affect the fight. On the feet, Jason immediately asserted himself with the advantage, landing stiff jabs and clean two punch combinations to Jorge’s face. Perhaps with the surprising pressure Jorge felt on his feet, he took the fight back to the ground, working himself behind Jason and sinking in the hooks. It looked as if Jason was helpless as Jorge tried to smother him with his forearm, but the only adverse outcome of this attempted choke was an excess amount of blood being forced through Jason’s minute cut. Jason avoided the choke and tried to reverse, but ended up being mounted as time began to run out on the first round. Jason neutralized Jorge’s attacks as the seconds wound down, and survived without much damage being done.
Though he had lost the first round, Jason had survived a near submission by a BJJ black belt, not to mention the confidence his multiple reversals of Jorge’s position on the ground had created. Both men looked tired after the first ended, expending much of their energy on attacks and defense on the ground. Both fighters came out sluggishly in the 2nd with Jorge throwing lazy punches and Jason reacting with counters of his own. Because of his fatigue, Jorge quickly took Jason down with Jorge ending up on his back and Jason attempting an offensive from the top. At one point, Jorge attempted a good-looking triangle, only to have Jason shrug it off and escape. Jason stood up and began to engage Jorge more effectively on the feet, throwing strong punches that at one point knocked Jorge’s mouth guard clean out. Jason also began to utilize the muay thai clinch, throwing good knees to the body while controlling Jorge’s neck. As they continued to strike, Jorge began to look more and more pressured by Jason’s straight combinations. In perhaps an answer to this aggression, Jorge threw a leg-kick at Jason that buckled his own injured knee and fell to the ground. Jason took advantage of the unfortunate mistake and threw a few good punches at Jorge while he was on his back. Jorge remained versatile and continued to attempt submissions, but it seemed the explosive power he needed to sink them in had left him. The fight again found itself on its feet with Jason again pushing the action and landing the clean shots. The round wound down with Jason taking the momentum, and the points from Jorge.
The third round was more of the same as Jason continued to have his way on the feet. He again utilized the clinch to control and fatigue his opponent, using openings in Jorge’s defense to throw good knees to the abdomen and the head. Jorge answered by getting a successful takedown early in the round, but only received more damage than he dealt in the position. As the two continued to exchange on the feet, Jorge got his second wind and starting throwing his punches with a strength he hadn’t had since the first round. Though he won the exchanges near the end, Jason continued his relaxed dominance of the standup game, neutralizing the blows and landing good elbows on the ground near the end of the fight. As the bell rang, there was no doubt in my mind, and apparently in the judges’ minds either, that Jason Von Flue had won the decision. And with that unanimous upset, one of the favorites of the show was eliminated. Jorge fought with great heart, but was unable to finish Jason when he had the opportunity. His knee mixed with Jason’s obvious advantage on the feet lead to his losing the fight, and what a fight it was.
With the departure of a welterweight front-runner comes the arrival of a dark horse. Who is this Jason Von Flue? Can he recover from this fight and continue with the show? Was this ring savvy a fluke, or is there more to this character than we’ve seen? I, for one, am actually excited for next week’s episode; not because it has to make up for this week’s failures, but because it has the difficult challenge of competing with its mastery.
Photos used with permission by the UFC®.
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