It’s time once again, the TUF fans have been waiting for what seemed like an eternity after hearing who the new coaches were going to be, and now it’s finally time. Ken Shamrock and Tito Ortiz are the coaches for the third installment of The Ultimate Fighter. I have a feeling Ortiz will be the best coach yet on the show and Shamrock the worst, only time will prove me right (or wrong).
First off the bat, I notice this time the show’s production looks a lot better and this time the first episode was in a 90-minute format. The bad camera work, sound problems, and incoherent editing have now been replaced with an A&E documentarian look and feel. This season I think will be most effected by the editing monster that has made heroes and villains out of fighters in past shows.
The show starts with Dana White as always giving us a run down about this season and what makes it special. Leading up to the first episode, Dana promised this season would be the best season of all, this time I believe him. There are no more challenges, no more fighters getting to go without fighting until the semifinals, no more joint evaluations, and no more UFC picked assistant coaches. This all means that this season is all about the fights and the best fighters winning. This seasons crop of fighters are more international, and seem to be overall a lot better than past seasons, case in point, no one has puked yet.
Dana had a “time out” with both Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock before they met the fighters to let them know it’s about the fighters, not about their beef. Leave the beef for the PPV. This strikes me as funny because the whole reason they were picked was because of their beef. For the sake of the show though, both parties agreed to play nice for the time being. There hasn’t been a feud like this between Ken Shamrock and someone else since The Rock took Ken’s Intercontinental Championship, now that was tension. In the end, both these controversial stars just wanted some respect.
The first episode led you to believe Ken and Tito spent a whole hour in the training room alone without saying a word. I don’t believe they were in there more than fifteen minutes before the fighters arrived, I think its just the editing monster again trying to build the drama and the tension, this time its working well, thanks in part to having two larger than life characters in Tito and Ken.
After meeting the fighters, they had separate evaluations for obvious reasons; Ken had the light heavyweights first while Tito got the middleweights. Ken’s training seemed unorganized with a lot of sparring; it finally ended with a sandbag test to basically test the strength and the heart of the fighters. They had to lift progressively heavier sandbags onto progressively higher platforms; I don’t think anyone succeeded in this task. It was obvious what Ken wanted; he wants someone like him, strong with heart. We get it Ken, we get it.
First time on TUF, the coaches picked their assistant coaches as well. Ken brought in his bodybuilder friend Dan Freeman and his boxing coach Roman. Freeman gave a little talk to the fighters about healthy eating and recommended they eat chicken and steak. Everyone questioned what a bodybuilder knew about fighters, especially fighters who needed to cut weight. Herman question Dan’s suggestions about the steak eating, and the editing monster kind of made Dan look like an idiot to the fighters. Ken also looked like he has never coached anyone in his life, maybe he’s coached little league at best.
Next up, Tito and his coaches Saul Soliz and Dean Lister. Anyone who knows MMA knows these three guys are the MMA dream team as far as coaching goes. Tito’s training was a lot more organized and stressed a lot more on cardiovascular conditioning. In the evaluations of the middleweights and the light heavyweights, Tito seemed most impressed with Matt Hamill who is the first deaf Ultimate Fighter. He had a ton of heart and wanted to learn more and more, especially being the least experienced fighter (though he may be the best wrestler on TUF next to Josh Koscheck).
When the fighters get to the house, we see more of the characters. A lot of attention was spent on the British contingency of TUF. I believe mainly because they have funny accents and have a willingness to get drunk, if you know what I mean. This season’s party animal is Kendall Grove, who reminds me of every guy I’ve ever gone to college with. He egged everyone on to drink and of course was the first one to pass out. The joke was on him because Mike Nickels (the tattoo guy) decide it would be funny to shave one of his eyebrows off. In the end he only succeeded in cutting Kendall’s eyelid open. Luckily Kendall didn’t Leben out and went back to sleep.
Then it was time to pick teams:
Fletcher vowed to be the dark horse much like Luke Cummo did. Off topic, Fletcher to me looks like a deranged bobble head character.
Some surprises. Ortiz picked the deaf wrestler Matt Hamill first and Rory Singer second and did not pick Ed Herman at all who is a Team Quest standout that was favored to win the whole show and instead picked Mike Stine. This infuriated Herman. If Ken’s weakness were basing fighters on heart and toughness, Tito’s weakness would be picking fighters with the best conditioning and cardio.
Ken’s way of picking was based on who he thought could beat Tito’s choices, not the wisest of methods but maybe Ken has a method to his madness. Another surprise was Ken picked Kristian Rothaermel third when he was by far the least conditioned athlete on the show. Kristian is the fighter from New Orleans who lost everything in hurricane Katrina. Maybe Ken saw a fire in him.
Dana then revealed the Ortiz/Shamrock coin, which I think will become synonymous with this show in the future. The coin determines who gets to pick the first fight, after which, the winning team of the fight keeps controls.
Team Shamrock picked Mike Stines (trains out of Tiger Schulman Karate in Long Island and is a Golden Gloves boxer) to fight Kalib Starnes (a middleweight from Canada who has been fighting since 1996). Obvious mismatch and Stines knew it and was overcome with fear as soon as the announcement was made. Ortiz did his job as a coach and let him know that feeling was natural and they will go away. Team Punishment’s plan was simple, keep it standing, do not drop to guard, and knock his head off. Starnes plan was simple, take him down and unleash hell.
When the fight started, Starnes looked confident whereas Stine looked nervous. Stine got some good shots off but once in the clinch, Stine did everything opposite of what Tito had instructed. Starnes takedown attempt was far from perfect yet instead of fighting to stay standing, Stine immediately pulled guard. It eventually led to a scramble and Starnes got the takedown again, this time he passed to mount and we all know what happens then. Tito gave some great directions during the fight, never sounding panicked, letting his fighter know everything was all right and to listen to his instructions. Stine did not listen, turned and gave up his back. Tito told him to turn back into mount but Stine seemed worried about getting hit more in the process or taking direct shots to his face. The referee had seen enough and called an end to the bout inside the first round and Starnes takes home $5,000 and a place in the semifinals, where as an emotional Stine goes home to lick his wounds. Even in defeat though Team Punishment stayed together and let Stine know he was still part of the team even in defeat (maybe Hughes needs sensitivity lessons from Tito, go figure). Tito then vowed next time they will win. Ken to his team gave some wise yoda like words, “the more we win, the more they are going to wonder what is it.” Then he said, “we kept the hammer.” Shamrock has a way with words; it’s almost like listening to a mystical Greek poet.
What did we learn from this season? That unlike in the past, it is no longer wise to fight last, but fight first to secure your spot in the semifinals and heal up any injuries. As far as respect of the two coaches go, it reminds me of a famous quote, “Respect commands itself and it can neither be given nor withheld when it is due.”
Sam “The Professor” Yang