Friday, June 1, 2012

Looking for a Fight: TUF Live Finale

Jake Ellenberger (L) and Martin Kampmann add one of a couple meaningful bouts to TUF Finale.
The past couple of weeks have had it's share of ups and downs for the UFC. Let's start with their long-time ring girl/Playboy, Maxim, et al. model Arianny Celeste being arrested for domestic abuse. If you weren't intrigued already, then read about what actually happened. Now, I say this in jest as I'm assuming there was no ill will done to her by her very fortunate boyfriend (let's face it, every man and some women out there would happily take more than just a Christian Louboutin pump to the head for Arianny). But the image of her Rashad Evans-ing to his Scott Salmon-ing is just too full and rich to not conjure up in one's imagination. The details are still under wraps, but she is a very recognizable part of the UFC family. While Dana White has publicly stated his support for Arianny, this incident is certainly not something anyone expected.

That happened the night before an excellent UFC 146 card with plenty of finishes and exciting fights from the prelims all the way to the main event. It certainly lived up to the billing. The UFC got their next big heavyweight title fight, a rematch between Cain Velasquez, who bloodied, bloodied Antonio Silva in the battle of block heads. Then Junior dos Santos did his duties dispatching of Frank Mir who was replacing the banned Alistair Overeem. Plus, whenever you can mix in some Brock Lesnar news, that's a big win.

A day or two after, the current UFC light heavyweight champ and best chance to be the UFC's transcendent athlete Jon Jones plead guilty to DWI and crashing his Bentley into a telephone poll a couple of weeks back. For the fast rising Jones this was certainly the most formidable foe he has faced since partnering with UFC. Those Bud Light ads and Nike contracts might be harder to come by for the champ, but he is 24, and while that's not an excuse for driving while intoxicated for anyone, but when you're a millionaire, how about you designate a guy in your posse (whose life you're probably going to support so long as the funds don't dry up) to be the designated driver for the night. You get to drink and not mess things up for yourself and he gets to live high off your hog and drive a Bentley. Win-win.

Those ups and downs resonate with the first year of The Ultimate Fighter in their live format on their new channel FX. While the shows predecessor on Spike was puttering along, the thought was a move to Friday night and a live format would rejuvenate the show. While I thought there were a lot of positives from the move, the most glaring was probably having the show on a Friday night. I would catch up on DVR but the odds of me being home on a Friday to watch a couple of guys fight that I'd probably never see again is highly unlikely. Chuck Mindenahall probably doesn't even do this.

Overall the ratings were a tinge below what Fox and the UFC wanted, but it was steady, on a Friday, and hit the key demo of dudes. A couple tweaks moving forward and this could be a step in the right direction. Oh, and back to the ups and downs, TUF coach and bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz tore his ACL training for his fight against Urijah Faber in July. He's out for a year and an interim belt will be in play. So is life for the UFC.

What emerged from all of this outside turmoil is a finale between two Faber guys: Al Iaquinta (5-1-1) and Michael Chiesa (7-0).

TUF fights, from what I recall, typically have fast finishes. Not many barn burners, certainly not on the level of Griffin-Bonnar I. Iaquinta was the top pick and brings a strong striking and power game to the fold, while Chiesa uses his lanky frame for subs. The interesting thing will be to see how these fighters come out on Friday night. With the season being live, the conditioning and preparation of the fighters is different than years past where the show would wrap and they'd have months to work on their game and essentially get a full training camp in.

For whatever reason the #1 weakness of virtually every TUF contestant is cardio in the ring, and that is something they typically could work through during their camp. Without that, and without having to fight 3 rounds in TUF, this will be the red flag hanging over the match.

Where the series is perhaps going down it's weakest stretch is that the show hasn't produced an elite talent like it did in the early years. It's hard to pinpoint why this is. Is it a result of more organizations picking up these guys, is the current UFC competition too tough so these fighters get swallowed up, or are these guys just not as good? TUF is not the main way UFC recruits talent. They have scouts out there and buy up contracts of other guys that are already established. So with MMA growing as a sport, it's hard to imagine a lack of talent being available, but maybe this is just a lull before another wave of talented fighters re-fill a depleted pool of fighters that aren't good enough to get a job fighting as a pro right now.

I would expect another decisive finish within the first two rounds: Going with Iaquinta.

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