Nate Marquardt file photo: Sherdog.com
The Weekly Wrap walks readers through the last seven days in MMA, recapping and putting into context the week's top story, important news and notable quotes.
Just before the latest season of “The Ultimate Fighter” premiered on Spike TV, two of the show’s most promising recent winners were toppled in upsets on a fight night card that saw Nate Marquardt dodged a foot lock and controversy in his main event victory.
Despite the turns of events, it was the new crop of reality show hopefuls, however, who attracted the bulk of attention from the viewing public. The Sept. 15 “Fight Night” card drew the lowest rating in the history of the series on Spike, while the premiere of “The Ultimate Fighter 12” that followed drew a healthy number.
On the Fight Night card from Austin, Texas, TUF 8 winner Efrain Escudero and TUF 9 winner Ross Pearson fell to the submissions of Charles Oliveira and Cole Miller. Escudero missed weight by three pounds and was thrown off by the surging 20-year-old Brazilian’s energetic stand-up and aggressive takedown attempts. Escudero’s wrestling narrowly secured him the first round, but became less effective down the stretch. The undefeated Oliveira recovered from a third-round groin shot to jump onto Escudero’s back and latch on a rear-naked choke for the tapout. Pearson followed a similar script, using his most noted skill, strikes, to take the first frame from Miller, but was caught with winging hands at the end of Miller’s reach. A flush left dropped Pearson in the second and opened a rear-naked choke win for the American Top Team devotee. Both winners were paid $40,000 bonuses for their finishes. Oliveira also took home 20 percent of Escudero’s purse for the weight miss.
Marquardt was swifter in dispatching Rousimar Palhares in a fight that re-affirmed his position in the middleweight title picture. Marquardt slid his leg out of the foot lock specialist’s ankle lock attempt, leading Palhares to gesture as if he detected lubrication on Marquardt’s leg. That gesturing created an opening for Marquardt to drop a bomb and stop Palhares with strikes at 3:28, the first time the broad-shouldered Brazilian has been stopped in a four-year career. Marquardt named Yushin Okami, Wanderlei Silva, Michael Bisping and Vitor Belfort as opponents he’s interested in facing next.
Marquardt said he worked up a particularly big sweat before the fight so he could be slippery. Marquardt told reporters after the fight that referee Herb Dean toweled down Marquardt’s leg after the fight and didn’t observe grease residue after the moisture dried. Marquardt said a commission inspector also checked his leg and found nothing suspicious. Trainer Greg Jackson told Sherdog.com that Marquardt drilled the specific ankle lock escape, and that he called for every available official to inspect Marquardt’s leg in the cage to dispel any speculation. Palhares later apologized for his intimations, which were broadcast to a peak audience on Spike TV before the premiere of “The Ultimate Fighter 12.”
TUF 12 featured 14 fights -- airing in abbreviated fashion on Spike but available for free on the Internet -- to determine the lightweight tournament seeds; like last year, the final two contestants will be determined in “Wild Card” fights where UFC President Dana White and coaches Georges St. Pierre and Josh Koscheck determine which losers deserve a second chance.
The winners were:
• Marc Stevens (12-5, knockout of T.J. O'Brien)
• Spencer Paige (7-2, decision over Steve Magdaleno)
• Nam Phan (16-7, TKO of Mike Budnik)
• Alex Caceres (4-2, rear-naked choke of Paul Barrow)
• Cody McKenzie (10-0, guillotine choke of Amir Khillah)
• Dane Sayers (7-1, rear-naked choke of Ariel Sexton)
• Andy Main (4-1, triangle choke of Jason Brenton)
• Jonathan Brookins (11-2, decision over Ran Weathers)
• Sako Chivitchyan (5-0, decision over Toby Grear)
• Jeff Lentz (6-1, rear-naked choke of Daniel Head)
• Michael Johnson (8-4, decision over Pablo Garza)
• Aaron Wilkinson (6-3, decision over Mike Richman)
• Kyle Watson (13-6-1, rear-naked choke of Joseph Duffy)
• Sevak Magakian (8-3, decision over Joseph Ambrose)
The most impressive performances that aired were turned in by Stevens, Paige, Caceres and McKenzie. The 13-second stoppage from Stevens, whom Koscheck coached in wrestling in college, was the fastest in TUF history. Caceres stood out for his “Bruce LeRoy” persona accentuated by his yellow “The Last Dragon” body suit. Teams will be selected next week, and the first fight will take place.
The TUF 12 finale is scheduled for Dec. 4 in Las Vegas. The season is building the UFC 124 main event on Dec. 11 between St. Pierre and Koscheck, who began a trash-talking campaign during a conference call organized by Spike TV this week.
The “Fight Night” lead-in card drew 7,724 attendees to the Frank Erwin Center in Austin for a solid $595,000 gate. Spike TV followed TUF 12 with the premiere of a new documentary, “Ultimate Gracie,” taking fans through the formative days of the UFC and the seminal fights of Royce Gracie.
Also picking up wins on the “Fight Night” card were Jim Miller (unanimous decision over Gleison Tibau); Yves Edwards (unanimous decision over John Gunderson); Kyle Kingsbury (unanimous decision over Jared Hamman); Dave Branch (unanimous decision over Tomasz Drwal); Rich Attonito (unanimous decision over Rafael Natal); Anthony Waldburger (unanimous decision over David Mitchell); and Brian Foster (first round TKO over Forrest Petz).
Foster earned the $40,000 best knockout bonus, while Hamman and Kingsbury took home “Fight of the Night” honors.
The two-hour televised card did a 0.9 share rating for an average audience of 1.2 million viewers, peaking at 1.6 million for the Marquardt-Palhares match. The Wrestling Observer reported that the rating is the lowest for a live “Fight Night” card on Spike since the network began running them in 2005. The March lead-in to the premiere of “The Ultimate Fighter 11,” headlined by Kenny Florian vs. Takanori Gomi, drew a 1.2 rating and 1.6 million average audience, which itself represented a drop from past season lead-ins.
The premiere episode of TUF 12 drew healthier numbers, scoring a 1.3 rating and 1.6 million average viewers. That’s down from the 1.5 rating and 1.9 million average for the TUF 11 premiere in March, but in line with what the show averaged that season. TUF 11 had the highest average rating -- besides the aberrant, Kimbo Slice-fueled Season 10 -- since TUF 3 in 2006.
The UFC has made a significant move regarding TUF’s television coverage in the United Kingdom, reaching a deal to move the show from a free channel called Five USA, which features imported American shows, to subscription channel Sky Sports, a much more focused sports audience. The reality series begins next week on the network.
UFC U.K. President Marshal Zelaznik told Fighters Only that the move is not a step toward putting live UFC cards on pay-per-view in the country, as fight cards will continue to air on ESPN U.K. on contract that has two years remaining. The UFC had a brief run on Sky Sports in 2002.