Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Half-Guarded Truth: A Look at the First Episode of The Ultimate Fighter 5

“The Half-Guarded Truth”
By: Mike Coughlin
For the week of: 03/18/07

“A Look at the First Episode of The Ultimate Fighter 5”

With many thanks due to Spike TV, I was fortunate enough to get my hands on an advanced copy of The Ultimate Fighter Season 5’s premier episode. The show returns to Spike TV on Thursday, April 5th at 10 PM / 9 CST immediately after UFC Fight Night, headlined by Joe Stevenson taking on Melvin Guillard.

The fourth installment of the series was a disappointment to many UFC fans. It was the first time the program had brought veterans of the Octagon into the Vegas home and many watching anticipated non-stop fireworks. Instead, the quality of fighters was too even, and the fighters themselves were too professional. The biggest issue was that the cast were seasoned vets, and thus unlikely to do something outrageous. The show petered out, and in the end the ratings fell from the record highs TUF 3 had set. If season previews and the first episode are any indication, TUF 5 will offer

TUF 5 features a good mixture of guys who have fought for the promotion and guys who haven’t. Matt Wiman, Joe Lauzon, and Gabe Ruediger have all had good showings in the cage. Last May, Wiman gave TUF 5 coach Jens Pulver’s teammate, Spencer Fisher a run for his money in one of 2006’s most exciting fights, and Lauzon shocked everyone when he knocked out Pulver later that year. On the same night that “J-Lau” upset Pulver, Ruediger was knocked out in the 2nd with a body shot by TUF 2 alumni Melvin Guillard.

Joe Lauzon isn’t the only fighter whose path has crossed that of Jens Pulver. Ruas Vale Tudo student, Robert Emerson, who comes to the show riding a four fight winning streak, lost to Pulver back in June of 2002. It was Emerson’s first MMA fight. Emerson, like Nate Diaz, brother of Nick, and a whole host of others are getting an opportunity to finally showcase their skills on the big stage. All of them are looking to win what may be the deepest season yet. They’re also all enjoying a brand new TUF house!

On the coaching front, Jens Pulver and BJ Penn renew their rivalry as they each lead a team of lightweights throughout the season. At UFC 35, the two became the first lightweights to headline a UFC PPV. Penn was expected to do Pulver what he’d done to every other lightweight he’d faced: roll right through him. Early on, that’s exactly what happened, culminating with Penn locking in an armbar at the end of round 2. Lucky for Pulver, the bell rang and he was saved. Showing the spirit that made him a champion in the first place, Pulver reached down deep and decisively won the last three rounds en route to a majority decision. It’s that grit and determination of which Pulver spoke frequently during the debut episode. Pulver stressed that he was looking for guys who believed in themselves more than anything. Penn and Pulver are scheduled to meet for a second time as the main event of the TUF 5 finals.

The first episode was fantastic. It’s apparent that Corey Hill will be one of the more talked about fighters, at least initially. He’s a 6’4 giant of a lightweight, a two-time all state wrestler, and he likes to talk. A lot. He is a nonstop sound bite if there ever was one, and it seems clear that from the get-go he’s doing a fine job of getting under people’s skin.

Hill wasn’t the only person aggravating others. BJ Penn seemed to go out of his way to make Dana White’s life difficult as he and Pulver chose teams. After a coin-flip, Pulver had the option of choosing a fighter first, or choosing to play matchmaker first. “Lil' Evil” opted for the latter. Penn then asked all the fighters to raise their hand if they not only wanted to be on his team, but definitely didn’t want to be with Pulver. 10 of the 16 fighters indicated they preferred the Hawaiian jiu-jitsu black belt. It not only put Jens on the defensive, it also forced him into a corner where he would have to swallow his pride because some of the better fighters wanted
Penn. If Pulver wanted a competitive team, he would have to pick guys that didn’t pick him. BJ literally laughs as he tells the camera that he enjoyed putting the fighters in a position where they rejected Pulver. It’s clear Penn wanted to rile up Pulver and he did just that.

“I think he was trying to get everybody to raise their hand to make me look like a dumbass,” said Pulver. “He was trying to make them slap me in the face. I was upset because this ain’t about BJ Penn. This ain’t the f**king BJ Penn show.”

Pulver wasn’t the only person fed up with Penn at the fighter selection ceremony. Dana White informed BJ that he was only allowed one pick, but Penn, and even Pulver agreed, was saying that they should just have all the guys who raised their hand stand on one side and do teams that way.

“Whoa, what the f**k is going on here,” White said.

A back and forth verbal battle ensued with White continually telling Penn that he only had one pick. Penn would say, “Leave it up to the fighters,” to which White would reply, “One guy. You get one pick.”

“This is like f**king anarchy here,” said White. “One pick, you get one pick!”

White’s mood seemed to change from amused bemusement to annoyance as Penn pressed the issue. The, “You get one pick” line was uttered repeatedly. Eventually, though, Penn picked one fighter, Jens picked another, the pattern repeated, the teams were sorted out and the show moved forward. And that was just the first half hour!

Overall I felt that the first episode was perfect. A natural tension between coaches, along the same lines as Ortiz-Shamrock, has already surfaced and a few fighter personalities are shining. What’s most exciting about TUF 5 wasn’t even what was shown on the first episode, but the clips of what’s to come later. As one might expect, Nate Diaz shares much of the same personality as his brother Nick and that’s an entertainment goldmine. Add in a head getting shaved, at least two fights breaking out at the house (including one where there’s an attempted soccer kick), and The Ultimate Fighter looks like it is back and better than ever.

About the rest of the cast:

Allen Berube owns two “Monstah Lobstah” restaurants in the Tampa/St. Petersburg, FLA area. He’s relatively new to MMA and has never fought in the UFC before.

Nate Diaz is the younger brother of Nick Diaz. They share a similar fighting style and “me against the world” attitude. At just 21 years old, he’s also the younger member of the house. Everyone is praying that he didn’t bring any marijuana with him.

Robert Emerson has competed in martial arts since he was 10. He’s previously fought and lost to Jens Pulver.

Manuel Gamburyan is a native of Armenia and the cousin of UFC welterweight, Karo Parisyan. He’s an outstanding Judoka.

Brian Geraghty is a ground specialist who has fought the likes of Steve Berger, Thiago Tavares, and Jorge Masvidal.

Corey Hill is a bit of a dark horse. He’s a great wrestler with a tremendous reach.

Gray Maynard is another dark horse. He might be the best wrestler in the house, and was the college teammate of Rashad Evans. He currently trains with Team Quest in Las Vegas.

Joe Lauzon is an established vet who knocked out Jens Pulver at UFC 63. He’s been considered a favorite in some circles.

Brandon Melendez is a grappler who trains out of Salt Lake City with Jeremy Horn. He’s previously fought Charles Condit and UFC veteran Drew Fickett.

Cole Miller was an outstanding high school and college baseball player who gave up the sport to concentrate exclusively on MMA. He trains in Florida with the American Top Team.

Gabe “Godzilla” Ruediger. He got his nickname in Japan due to a tattoo of his. He lost to Melvin Guillard at UFC 63, when he was dropped with a body punch.

Marlon Sims, at 33, is the oldest cast member. He’s a former two-time state champion in Greco Roman wrestling. He’s previously trained with Frank Shamrock.

Noah Thomas is a former Marine Sergeant who is still new to MMA. He’s only been fighting since 2005, and already has 14 fights.

Andy Wang was born in Taipei. He played football at the University of Hawaii and holds a black belt in jiu-jitsu. In 2003, he opened an MMA school in Taiwan. He’s also working on a master’s degree at Cal State Dominguez.

Wayne Weems was a good high school wrestler in the state of Illinois. That led to the natural transition of hooking up with the Miletich camp where he still trains.

Matt Wiman made his UFC debut against Spencer Fisher at UFC 60. He took the fight on short notice and more than held his own for the first 5 minutes. Unfortunately for Wiman, he fell victim to a highlight-reel flying knee in the 2nd round. Only 23 years old, he’s still learning the world of MMA – a trait that will come in handy for a man who has the audacity to carry the nickname, “Handsome.”

Make sure to listen to Mike Coughlin as he hosts Five Star Radio, exclusively at Mike will have a more on TUF 5 as well as all the MMA goodness a fight fan could want!

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