Huge news in the world of The Ultimate Fighter! The biggest! Last week’s season premiere drew a series-record audience of 4.1 million viewers! That’s 1.3 million more than they’ve ever done before! Kimbo equals ratings! Ratings equal bread! Everything is awesome! Except for how Quinton Jackson announced his retirement this week after Dana White hurt his feelings by making fun of the A*Team movie. And while that distresses us all, take heart: you are among friends. Friends who want to know what happened on The Ultimate Fighter this week.
We begin with the return of the venerable but really, really bad Ultimate Fighter theme song. It didn’t play in last week’s episode, which gave me false hope that it had been retired. But I have once again been asked to bear witness to the fitness of the modern warrior, and, grudgingly, I will. Is it to much to ask, though, that if they’re going to stick with the same goofy tune they at least switch up the performer every now and then? Like The Wire? Maybe some Baltimore schoolchildren this time around, a little Steve Earle after that?
A better question: what was the first thing Kimbo Slice thought about last week, walking in and seeing all these big guys? “Well the first thing I thought about walking in and seeing all these big guys, it was a lot of meat in there, like damn, some big motherf***ers.” That’s really very close to what I thought, too, which makes me identify with Kimbo Slice even more strongly than I had before. Kimbo knows he’s a target, and thinks he’s going to be the next member of Team Rampage called to fight. “That’s what I’m coming with, America. I’m coming with the knowledge knowing that I’m coming here to fight.” You know what else he is coming with? A disarming sweetness.
While Kimbo delivers this soliloquy – to us, to America – Roy Nelson and another fat man talk about how they think they’d match up against Kimbo. All the while, Nelson appears to be checking in on a stew. Not quite done yet!
We get a look at a Team Rampage training session, and a private Kimbo session with just Rampage and Tiki, drilling escapes from the bottom position. We all know that if Kimbo can keep things standing, he’s got a shot, and if he’s taken down, not so much. But what if he defies all expectations and gets back up? This is Team Rampage’s cunning plan, and to this end they drill some simple but effective escapes that Kimbo takes to pretty quickly. When MMA legend Bas Rutten ended his relationship with Kimbo Slice, he publicly stated that Slice was uncoachable, but there’s no evidence of that here. Slice seems like a quick study, and as Rampage says, hungry to learn. “I like the way you work hard, Kimbo Slice,” Rampage tells him as they end their day. “Thank you very much, Rampage Jackson,” Slice answers in kind.
While Kimbo is hungry for knowledge, Team Rashad’s Roy Nelson is not, probably because he already ate it. He doesn’t want to drill the positions his coaches are asking him to drill, because he doesn’t have any techniques he’s comfortable with from those positions. Which, you’d think, is all the more reason to drill them, but come on, coach, his hamstrings are tight, he isn’t really warm yet, he should probably check and see if that stew is finally ready . . . nothing but excuses from this guy. Team Rashad assistant coach Trevor Wittman has had enough, and lights him up behind closed doors. “That’s you, that’s who you are, but the thing is it’s holding the other guys back. To me, you’re uncoachable. I look at you and I tell you things and everything’s a big joke to you. When we’re walking around and we’re skipping, you’re the only one that’s not skipping.” Not cool, Big Country. Not cool. Rashad suggests that Nelson needs to get better at simply listening, rather than constantly offering rebuttals, to which Roy replies, “No, but . . . .”
In the end, Nelson takes the point, kind of, and sums up the situation this way: “Uh, it’s like when two masters come together. You bring two masters together and they throw their bag of, you know, their stuff out, and they throw, the other master throws his other, his bag of stuff out, and you just pick what works really good together, not just, oh, it’s my way only. You know? If it’s that way then you’re gonna have, it’s gonna be a long road.” Which is actually in the Hakagure.
Between all the Kimbo/Nelson training time we’ve been shown so far, and Rampage Jackson’s fakey at the fight announcement (“What’s your, name? This is Roy? He looks smaller on his pictures”), I thought we might be treated to an epic damn battle on this very episode of The Ultimate Fighter. But instead we get James McSweeney taking on Wes Shivers in perhaps the worst bout in the history of the series. And consider, if you will, the magnitude of that statement.
McSweeney is a Greg Jackson fighter, and Rashad’s first pick last week. Shivers is a 6’7″ former NFL draft pick who didn’t pan out. Shivers, with his Eudora Welty-style Mississippi drawl, takes the pre-fight battle of the accents 10-9 over the Englishman on my scorecard, but this is one of the most subjective aspects of the fight game and we’re all bound to score this a little differently. The towering Shivers is uneasy as he enters the octagon. McSweeney scowls and paces. Arriany Celeste looks cute as a button. And we’re ready to go.
Almost immediately, this is awful. Shivers best chance is to take the striker McSweeney to the ground and keep him there, and he manages to take him down less than a minute in. But he’s completely content to just hang out in half guard, and makes no real effort at passing or striking. Somewhere in Long Island (or possibly at Renzo Gracie’s house?), Matt Serra is screaming at his television that small hammer fists are fine, but Shivers won’t listen.
After a minute of this, Shivers attempts an Americana arm lock, McSweeeny escapes to his feet, and Shivers kicks him squarely in the balls. No replay on that, which is a disappointment. In kind of a jerk move, Shivers declines to touch gloves after the fight is restarted. In his defense, he’s pretty much completely gassed at this point, so maybe he was trying to conserve energy. That’s right, half a round into the fight, Shivers is doing the Mortal Kombat “Finish Him” wobble. And yet McSweeney isn’t able to do much of anything. He smacks-in a couple of leg kicks that take their toll, but he just flails aimlessly with his hands. A Double Dragon-style jump kick is attempted, but has to be considered a noble failure at best.
Round one was awful, but round two was full-on god awful, a hands-on-hips debacle of the worst kind. Neither fighter had anything to give at any point in this round. The highlights, such as they were, consisted of Shivers mounting McSweeney briefly but doing no real damage; McSweeney landing a decent right as Shivers teetered on the brink of complete exhaustion; and a guillotine attempt by Sweeney to end the round. If you’re able to find entertainment in a gym full of fighters yelling for action from two men barely able to stand, this one was a sizzler, but by any other standard: yikes. The decision goes to McSweeney. Now let us never speak of this again.
But what’s this! Another fight announcement! Team Rashad, by virtue of winning the first two fights, has taken control! And they’re sending out Roy Nelson! Against “the big black buck with the greasy beard,” Kimbo Slice! Wait, that was kind of weird to say, Rashad Evans. Maybe he’s been reading Joseph Conrad and forgot himself, or something, but that was uncomfortable.
But do not let that weird moment of racial caricature diminish your enthusiasm in the slightest, because next week’s episode of the The Ultimate Fighter stands a very real chance of being the best thing ever. Kimbo’s plan? “I’m gonna fight his big ass. That’s what I’m gonna do. I’m not a mixed martial artist. I’m not that. I’m a fighter. I’m gonna fight him, win or lose. I’m gonna fight him.” Because I believe this to be true, I will be watching.