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The Ultimate Follow-Up: Episode 3

By on March 27, 2012

The 15th season of The Ultimate Fighter (or “The Ultimate Fighter Live”, if you prefer) has hit its stride, with three episodes now in the books. We’ve seen the requisite lame pranks, some nice knockouts, and the staged-looking live pre-fight pep talks even seem a little less awkward now. In the third episode, Team Cruz’s number one pick made his much-anticipated return to the Octagon after a long two-week break since his last bout. Damn, the live format really reminds you how often these guys are fighting during the show, doesn’t it?

TUF’s Refined Production is a Hit…

What a pleasant change it is to hear the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Higher Ground” as The Ultimate Fighter begins on Friday nights. The Ultimate Fighter and the UFC’s pay-per-views alike have struggled to get themselves out of the noxious cloud of nu-metal that tarnished the organization’s previous productions, and though the UFC events still suffer from the awful mess that is Stemm’s “Face the Pain”, TUF has thankfully gone in a different direction.

That’s not all, either. Though I wasn’t sure how to process the abrupt change from Mike Rowe (of Dirty Jobs and Deadliest Catch fame) and his trusty dubbed-over narration to the decidedly muted approach of Jon Anik, Anik’s live set-ups throughout the show serve to drive home the point that we are watching a live event of sorts. Anik is a polar opposite of Joe Rogan, which works well in this format, and the post-fight interviews are a nice touch, too. Overall, I have to say that the changes have really revitalized what was a fairly tired show.

…Despite Several Tired Themes Refusing to Die

You know what wasn’t an interesting storyline any of the dozen times we’ve seen it? One of the coaches approaching a fighter who is supposedly dogging it in practice. This time, it was even worse, as it seemed sketchy to me for Dominick Cruz to approach Chris Tickle when all we saw was him not being ready for the start of practice and committing the cardinal sin of having to poop during the workout. The lack of real footage showing him slacking off makes the whole angle feel manufactured, especially when he was featured earlier in the episode for getting under his housemates’ skin. Tickle’s reaction to Cruz talking to him after practice really makes me think the whole thing was blown out of proportion.

Let’s not forget the pranks. Oh, the pranks! And there have been some genuine knee-slappers this year! First, Chris Tickle takes the sign for Urijah Faber’s parking spot and moves it! Get this: he moves it into the gym near some tires! HILARIOUS! EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!

Okay, it wasn’t really funny. Or clever. Or amusing. The pranks that followed (making Cruz’s close-up wall picture into Eddie Munster, putting a thong on Faber’s picture’s “butt-chin”) were only marginally more interesting. At this point, we know pranks are a given on this show. But unless they’re a) genuinely funny, b) just plain wrong, or c) used to provoke someone who is obviously mentally unstable as it is into a dangerous frenzy, I just can’t be interested in them anymore.

And Then…There’s the Fight

This episode’s fight featured Team Cruz’s Justin Lawrence against Team Faber’s Cristiano Marcello. Before the fight, Cruz realized he was cornering a karate-based fighter with the last name “Lawrence” and this exchange took place:

Cruz: Sweep the leg.

Lawrence: *Looks at Cruz in disbelief*

Cruz: You have a problem with that?

Lawrence: No, sensei.

Cruz: No mercy.

Okay, it didn’t happen exactly that way, but Cruz did say, “We need to kill.”

The fight itself was all about Marcello’s stand-up technique. Specifically, it was about an irritating habit of his, which is that of sticking his chin up in the air during exchanges. This irritating habit led to an irritating habit of Faber’s, which was to yell “Chin down!” In fact, while I won’t go back and count the number of times it was yelled by Faber, other coaches or team members, I know it was well over 50 times in a less than seven-minute fight (it might have been nice if even one of those times was in Portuguese, but I doubt it would have mattered).

Go figure- Marcello didn’t keep his chin down, started getting tagged with increasing frequency, and finally got hit with a left hook that dropped him for good early in second round. The problem is, you simply can’t tell a guy in his mid-30’s who has been fighting for well over ten years to simply stop sticking his chin in the air. You’re not going to fix a fundamental error like that in a few days. It’d be hard to fix it at all, honestly. Things like that have to be tackled very early into the process, when fighters are learning the basics and developing their habits.

Best Moment of the Night

Watching Team Faber’s guys try to explain why nobody stepped up to take on Lawrence was almost as good as the original event itself. John Cofer offered up this insufficient explanation- “If it was to happen again, I think you’d see a lot more guys stand up.” More than zero, you mean? I prefer the honest response of “nobody wants to fight the other team’s top pick this early in the season,” personally.

The fact remains that if Team Cruz’s Myles Jury defeats Team Faber’s Al Iaquinta this week, Urijah Faber’s top three picks will have been eliminated. Cruz’s strategy has been brilliant thus far, from mind-fucking Faber’s team to having his best guys take out Faber’s best in advantageous style matchups. Sure, it all started with that improbable win by James Vick over Daron Kruickshank, but since Cruz got control, he’s been making great decisions.

Faber is obviously growing frustrated, pointing out that he is holding himself back from punching Cruz in the face even though Cruz has done nothing to really antagonize him. However, when it comes to coaching his team, his frustration won’t help him stop Cruz’s momentum any more than it did in the cage when they fought at UFC 132.

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