The best thing about a season of The Ultimate Fighter that focuses exclusively on heavyweights has got to be the complete lack of little man syndrome. There aren’t any pint-sized bros puffing their chests out, mean mugging cats around the jacuzzi trying to prove themselves the most alpha of all men who weigh about as much as a girl. Do not mistake me: there are some seriously bad dudes walking this earth who weigh about as much as a girl and who cannot be hated on. But in past seasons there has often been an edginess among the lighter-weight competitors that is completely absent from this particularly chill cast of The Ultimate Fighter, who are almost universally enormous. And genial! That’s the upside. The downside is that man some of these fights have been slow. Take last week, when Schoonover took seemingly forever to set up and finish a triangle choke that Zak pretty much fell right into. Men were born, lived fruitful lives, and died in contented old age in the time it took Schoonover to finish that thing. Saplings grew to mighty oaks. It was unreal. This week, let’s look for pace.
We begin with clips of both Rampage and Rashad broadly pantomiming the way the other looks getting knocked out, and it’s pretty delightful, actually. At the fight announcement, Rampage brings his A-game, which is to say he says “Gay-shad” in a funny voice a couple of times until Tiki chuckles. Unsurprisingly, the topic of knockouts comes up, and when Rashad rightly points out that Rampage has been knocked out more times than Rashad, all Rampage can manage is a sheepish, ” . . . ’bout the same, homie. Nope.” Back on topic, Rashad announces the next fight: ex-NFLer Matt “Meathead” Mitrione will take on Scott Junk, supposedly Rampage’s most well-rounded fighter, which means next week’s fight is going to be Mike Wessel against Marcus “Big Baby” Jones.
Although they managed a few moments of civility, things degenerate quickly between Rampage and Rashad when it turns out they disagree over who, exactly, is going to treat whom like a girl in their upcoming/not-actually-happening pay-per-view main event. Rashad says he’s going to make Rampage quit, just like he quit in this competition. Rampage says that he didn’t quit, his fighters are the ones quitting in the cage. Come on now, Rampage, that’s not cool, not with the troops right there. The super-sad Kimbo reaction shot drives home how inappropriate that comment was. “He quit on y’all from day one, remember that,” Evans yells to the room as a parting shot.
In a pretty ridiculous junior high move, Mitrione – he of the snitching and the putatively injured shoulder that keeps him out of the hard drills – passes Scott Junk a note saying that Mike Wessel was afraid to fight him, and that’s why Mitrione and Junk had to fight instead. Predictably, word gets back to Wessel, who’s understandably unhappy, and drama ensues. Rashad’s advice to Mitrione: “Don’t get so caught up with the bulls—t drama in the house, man.” Mitrione says it’s cool, he knows what he’s doing . . . in his brain. Which he claims is a crowded place, what with all the voices. “I have so many demons and voices in my head, and I don’t have a way to silence them.” Whatever, man. Scott Junk seems to have Mitrione down pretty well: “When I first met him he seemed like a cool guy. After I got to know him I realized he was more of a scumbag, playing games, talking s—t. So he’s a rat.”
He also drank Jon’s orange juice – the good kind! – without asking. Jon made an offhand comment about wanting to slap him in the face, so, naturally, when Matt and John are supposed to be sparring lightly, Matt looses his (meat)head completely and just starts wailing in full on “come on motherf—cker” mode and just embarrasses himself. Rashad has finally had enough of this clown. He pulls Mitrione into his office and takes him to task for ducking out of training with a supposedly injured shoulder and then all of a sudden deciding to “cowboy up, saddle up” the first time he has a problem with a teammate. As cool and cocky as Rashad has been in a lazy cat kind of way throughout the season thus far, it was pretty awesome to see him get fired up and tear into a guy like that. This Rashad Evans is an impressive character.
Also, and just as notably, Wes Sims dons a black gi and stalks Mitrione around a moonlit basketball court like a stealthy, stealthy ninja in his finest comic performance to date.
To the fight itself! Junk doesn’t start well, slipping/slumping to the mat a couple of times in the opening minute, and touches his eye as though he’s cut or been poked. Then things unravel pretty remarkably for him. “A lot of guys like to train technique,” Junk said a little earlier. “Technique is out the window for me when I scrap.” He proves himself a man of his word. Junk doesn’t attempt a takedown so much as he attempts a takedown attempt, leaning forward and falling to the mat while reaching for an ankle, like Kazushi Sakuraba beaten down by a full division of Ricardo Aronas. A second attempt is no more effective than the first, and Mitrione just walks away, dragging Junk across the cage. This is awful. Three minutes in, both men are completely gassed. They both land clean shots to the head, but neither fighter has anything on those punches. This is horrendous. Oddly transfixing, but horrendous.
“That’s a f—cking fight, right there!” is Dana White’s read between rounds, which is, well the whole problem. Ever since Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar put on a legitimately great, wide-open, back-and-forth classic in the finale of the very first season of The Ultimate Fighter, the stand-and-bang brawl has become the model, the ideal, The Great Fight. Of all the pale imitations of Bonnar/Griffin that have followed, this is without question among of the palest, two gassed guys showing virtually no technique, pawing each other in the face with punches that would embarrass the merest amateur boxer. But there’s the president of the company, sitting ringside and absolutely eating it up. You’d be a fool not to give the boss what he wants, right? “Those two stood in front of each and threw bombs,” White said after a second round as tepid as the first. “I mean, big punches right on the chin, and both stood and took some big shots.” We saw very different things just now, Dana White and I.
Looked to me like Mitrione won the first and Junk the second, an opinion shared by one judge, but the other two had Mitrione up 20-18, and that’s that. An incredibly disappointing showing for Scott Junk, who was supposed to be his team’s top fighter. Rapmage won’t stand for it, and takes it out on a door! The knee, the low kick and the head butt he landed en route to just wrecking that thing were all pretty cool, but he lands an elbow in there that is just the sweetest thing. Also, the inside of a door turns out to be constructed differently than you might expect. It’s kind of waffley.
Next week: more on Rampage v. the door; the last fight of the first round as Big Baby finally gets his chance; and the quarterfinal match-ups are announced!
AND POSSIBLY THE RETURN OF KIMBO SLICE WHO KNOWS STAY TUNED
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