It’s season freaking 12 of “The Ultimate Fighter” people, a.k.a. Team St. Pierre vs. Team Koscheck, otherwise known as “How long will it take Koscheck to burn GSP’s poutine?”
Having lost to the French Canadian-born UFC welterweight champion before, odds are that Koscheck will spend the entire season just gnawing and digging into GSP’s psyche and elevate the blood pressure of one of the more flat-lined fighters west of Fedor Emelianenko.
Only four minutes into the season and Koscheck’s already on the mind of the first fighter to enter the cage. Marc Stevens claims to have wrestled for Koscheck at the University of Buffalo, but Koscheck seems dodgy when UFC President Dana White asks him if Stevens is “his boy.”
I’m not sure if Stevens was slighted but it sure seems so after he begins yelling “Remember me now?” at his former coach literally 13 seconds after the bell sounds and about six seconds after his right hand connects with T.J. O’Brien.
“Yes, we do,” answers Koscheck, pleased with the effort as he jots down some notes.
Not a bad start to this season of contestants coached by two welterweights with major ill-will towards one another. With 28 fighters vying to get into the house, not a second of the show is spared and the action begins almost immediately.
However, there still are some questions to answer first:
What weight classes are featured this season? Lightweights.
Will there be seven preliminary fights and one wildcard matchup based on the effort and likeability of two fighters who lost but remain in the good graces of one Dana White? Yes.
How many f-bombs will White use in his opening remarks to the contestants? Five.
Will there be finally be another hot-blooded Armenian this season? You betcha.
Does referee Steve Mazzagatti’s mustache make a surprise appearance at the reunion show? We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.
After that first matchup reacquaints a former coach and student, White, GSP and Koscheck all settle in at the card table and watch the rest of the field battle it out for spots in the house. Due to time constraints, a lot of editing, and careful consideration, most of the long or boring fights are surmised in soundbytes from the coaches or White.
For example, a quick highlight shows that Andy Main won his fight by triangle and the best quote from that result was from Main himself: “Watch out for Andy Main, I’m coming for ‘ya.”
Go ahead and sit down; it’s going to be a while.
Michael Johnson’s fight gets passed over as well, but White seems genuinely impressed by this unanimous decision winner. White says Johnson “seems like a kid who goes in to finish,” which looking back now seems at odds with the whole unanimous decision thing. Regardless, the coaches seem genuinely impressed with Johnson and the real unanimous decision is that he’s considered to be a major contender.
Aaron Wilkinson brings some UK representation to the house after winning his fight and winning over Koscheck, who’s marveled that a Brit can wrestle.
Kyle Watson finishes unbeaten Joseph Duffy with a rear-naked choke and offers that he’s eager to get into the TUF house and “ready to start some shenanigans.” That’s probably not good.
Another fighter named Sevak wins without impressing, while a fighter named Sako impressively pukes half a dozen times following his win and says “Man, this is the greatest day of my life.”
In the “fights that are actually shown” dept., we have Spencer Paige, who roughs up Steve Magdaleno for most of a round until he’s smothered for nearly the rest of the fight. Magdaleno’s superior ground game has him the fight in the bag until a poor toss attempt ends up giving Paige mount, costing Magdaleno the fight in the judges’ eyes.
Former X-Gamer Mike Budnik meets up with Nam Phan and finds that he left all his speed on the track. Budnik gets some judo going but telegraphs almost everything he throws, while Phan darts in and out, finally slugging Budnik right in the breadbasket. Budnik crumples and Phan throws follow-up leather until asked to stop.
GSP draws an X covering Jeff Lentz’s face on the piece of paper in front of him. Lentz hasn’t even touched gloves yet, so Koscheck and White go nuts with joy watching Lentz beat his opponent like a rented mule. Nothing delights the Yanks quite like French comeuppance, be it in any form.
Next up, Paul “The Wheel” Barrow takes time to explain his nickname just before getting completely forgotten after the entrance of Alex “Bruce LeRoy” Caceres. Alex Caceres borrows his nickname and yellow Bruce/Kill Bill (for you young ones) one-piece karate track suit, from the master.
White goes gaga for Caceres, as the fighter’s smile stays plastered across his face weathering a storm of punches from The Wheel Barrow. After some solid takedown defense, Caceres latches onto the back of Barrow and secures a rear-naked for the win. White thinks he’s the real deal and chuckles with glee while Bruce LeRoy does some Bruce Lee moves following his win.
Did I mention Bruce LeRoy is going to be a handful? If not, I will. He will be.
“I’m sure there’s a lot of people that want to punch me right now,” says Caceres, “especially because I have a smile on my face the whole time. I can’t help it.”
Cody McKenzie turns out to be another bright spot, claiming to be a commercial fisherman from Alaska who also seems to be crazier than a soup sandwich. Just before his fight, GSP whispers “guillotine” to White, predicting the end result based on McKenzie’s reputation for winning with that hold. Sure enough, McKenzie slaps one on early and mercifully hands Amir Khillah back to referee Mazzagatti after reading him a bedtime story with his forearm.
McKenzie breaks down the guillotine variation after his fight and little brothers across the country are now probably gurgling and yelling for mommy.
Another great fight is had between the long-limbed Ariel Sexton and his smaller, mohawked opponent Dane Sayers. Sayers had been giving out Native American shoutouts beforehand but proves himself to be a true warrior on a Vision Quest after getting outclassed most of his fight. In an improbable comeback, Sayer ends up hanging off the back of the taller Sexton and chokes him for dear life until he taps out.
White and Koscheck erupt with admiration and disbelief, clapping and hollering at the spent fighter heaving breaths next to the fence.
A ring official asks, “How do you feel?” and Sayers stares at the ceiling, answering flatly, “I feel like I just won the most important fight in my life.”
“He’s got some balls,” says White. “Wow! All balls.”
While White and his rival coach continue to gush, GSP sits quiet and almost remote. Like a cow barely acknowledging the rancher’s presence, nothing seems to make him stir. It’s going to get ugly.
The final word comes from McKenzie:
“Looking forward to the house -- wish we had some girls in it,” he says.
In all the twelve seasons, I’m not sure anyone’s ever mentioned that first. Maybe he’s not that crazy after all.