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TUF’s First Live Episode a Mixed Bag

By on March 13, 2012

Well, that was something. I suppose when you throw sixteen live fights into a two and a half hour time slot, you’re going to sit back and wonder what in the world you just saw no matter what happens. While I suspect that most of the changes that we’ll see in The Ultimate Fighter now that the show is live will come later on once we’ve settled into the usual format, there was still a lot to chew on after Friday night’s debut.

Pressed for Time

There was a little debate after the season opener aired about whether the five minutes allotted per fight was enough. It seemed so in many cases- many of the fights were ended decisively within the five minutes- but maybe the answer is not so simple. After all, did fighters press harder knowing that they only had five minutes to work? That may sound like a good thing, but if a guy does something stupid because he knows he only has a few minutes to work with and loses, did we really get a good idea of his talent level?

TUF is supposed to be about finding the best, er, the “Ultimate” fighter, but will we get that when there’s a fight like the one between Dakota Cochrane and James Vick? In that fight, there wasn’t five minutes of balls-to-the-wall action, but rather slow-paced grappling and jockeying for position. It was a close round that you could even argue warranted a 10-10, but with each fight set to be one round only for time purposes, I think the judges knew that they were not being encouraged to use the already rare evenly-scored round.

A fast-paced night with 16 fights, brief introductions to the fighters and even a last-minute Dana White pep talk all crammed into 150 minutes (minus commercials, of course) is fun in its own way, of course. However, ever since the show started including 16 fights just to get into the house, the question of whether we were getting the best 16 fighters out of the bunch has loomed large. Are these fighters seeded based on experience or perceived skill? How are the matchups even chosen?

At least once the show starts, coaches are likely to pick the best guys against the worst the other team has to offer, ensuring that a fight between two top cast members isn’t wasted on the quarterfinals. In the opening round of fights to get into the house itself, how do we know the two best fighters out of the 32 aren’t facing off, with one of them destined to not even move on to the real show? Then again, it is reality TV, and we all know how “real” that is.

Hits and Misses

We’ve already discussed the brief rounds, but what about the rest of the show? With the proceedings being live, some of the slick production usually found on season openers of The Ultimate Fighter were gone, while others (pre-fight interview packages) remained since they could be done ahead of time. Here’s what I liked and didn’t like about the premiere:

– I did like the pacing, even though I think the pace still could have been brisk with two round fights. In terms of pacing, it wasn’t just the fight length but also the more bare bones feel of the interviews that helped. Look, most of these guys have very little interesting to say about what they’re going to try to do in the cage, so let’s keep it to a minimum, alright?

– A great aspect of having live fights to get into the house is that we weren’t subjected to any of the highlights-only treatment from seasons past. Even if the UFC or the network or whoever has deemed a fight less interesting, I’d still like to see it in its entirety. Call me crazy.

– Most of the insight, as well as the comments in general, provided by coaches Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber, as well as Dana White, were forgettable at best. Neither of the coaches had a whole lot to say. Whether you were hoping for strategic insight from two of the better fighters on the planet, bickering back and forth between the two or controversial comments from Dana, you were likely disappointed. Unlike many others, though, I don’t blame this on the live format. I think that once teams are picked and we get to hear the instructions from coaches and supportive cheers from teammates that we’re used to, the atmosphere will be 100% better.

– Why should a live night of TUF fights be treated any differently than any other live UFC event? And by that, of course, I mean “Why shouldn’t we have a bunch of head-scratching performances by fight officials?” The referees took center-stage this time, as a pair of really hasty stoppages in the Sam Sicilia-Erin Beach and Austin Lyons-Chris Tickle fights really made me wonder what the hell was going on. Was this a conscious thing on behalf of referees Josh Rosenthal and Steve Mazzagatti? Was it a subconscious thing because the pace of the fights had to be so snappy or some other reason? Well, it turned out to be none of the above, because Steve “Schteve, not Steve” Mazzagatti was perfectly content to be woefully out of position as an overwhelmed James Krause was dropped and ate unnecessary punches afterward at the hands of Justin Lawrence later on in the night. Afterward, Dana joked that “we call him ’45-minute Mazzagatti'” in reference to Mazzagatti’s frequent late stoppages. Let’s also not forget that with 3:58 left in the round, Lawrence lands a clear illegal knee on Krause right in front of Schteve’s face that goes completely unpunished.

Continuing the theme of inconsistency, we had Rosenthal for the afore-mentioned Cochrane-Vick fight and he picked an inopportune time to find an attention span all of a sudden. Usually ridiculously quick to separate clinched fighters or stand them up off of the mat, Rosenthal watched as Cochrane and Vick largely grappled to stalemates with neither fighter getting the edge for minutes at a time, even with the knowledge that it was just a one-round fight. Go figure- the one time we could use a hastier separation or standup from Rosenthal, he doesn’t comply.

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