It was one of the best one-two punches in the history of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
The company had one of its most action-packed events of the year Wednesday, prior to the much-hyped, record-smashing season premiere of “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 10 on Spike TV. There was as much drama in the cage from of up-and-down battles as there was on the hour of reality television, as Nate Diaz, Gray Maynard, Carlos Condit and Nate Quarry kept high energy in their respective victories.
Perhaps the most dramatic development was the improvement in television ratings for the presentations. The numbers drawn by the events matched the excitement, as the Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson-propelled “The Ultimate Fighter” obliterated the series’ highest ratings marks.
The premiere of TUF’s 10th season scored a 2.9 share rating for 4.1 million viewers. The number smashes figures set by any prior season and put the edition on track to handily top Season 3 (Team Tito Ortiz vs. Team Ken Shamrock) as the highest-rated in TUF history. The previous record for a TUF episode was the 2.8 million drawn by Season 3’s final episode. Last season’s premiere episode drew 1.8 million viewers, meaning Wednesday’s rating represented a full 43 percent increase.
UFC Fight 19 drew a 1.9 rating on Spike TV, according to WrestlingObserver.com. That also represents a significant improvement over last season’s live TUF lead-in, which drew a 1.36 rating for a show headlined by Condit vs. Martin Kampmann. UFC Fight 19 went down before 7,500 at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City, which translated into a $650,000 gate.
In the main event, Diaz overcame a difficult weight cut that required two trips to the scales and submitted Melvin Guillard in the second round. Guillard appeared to have a sound game plan, as he used heavy punches that dropped Diaz once and stepped away from the Cesar Gracie brown belt’s ground game. But the inconsistent Louisianan pulled an ill-advised, rope-a-dope possum play after Diaz landed a right-left-straight combination in the second and shot right into the fight-ending guillotine. Despite coming off losses to Clay Guida and Joe Stevenson, Diaz declared himself ready for top 155-pound competition after the fight. According to MMAWeekly.com, Gracie indicated before the fight that Diaz ought to move up to welterweight because of the increasing difficulty with the cut to 155 pounds. Life as a lightweight has proven lucrative for the Stockton, Calif. fighter; the Guillard bout was the fifth straight for which he earned a UFC performance bonus, as he took home a $30,000 prize for “Submission of the Night.”
The event also featured a knock-down-drag-out scrap between Quarry and Tim Credeur, as the TUF alumni put an obscene amount of punches on each other in a dramatic, if unrefined, three-round war. The victorious Quarry was left with massive bruising under his right eye, as Credeur showed improved punching combinations. Credeur looked to have Quarry in peril at several points, only for Quarry to, on two occasions, slug through the adversity and drop Credeur. Quarry got the decision, but the post-fight ovation and the fact both fighters got microphone time indicates there was no real loser in the bout. Quarry and Credeur collected $30,000 “Fight of the Night” bonuses. Also proving guile in his efforts was Condit, who absorbed concussive right hands from Jake Ellenberger, which forced the Arizona Combat Sports fighter to turtle up in the first round. Condit pulled ahead, though, with takedowns and floor control, earning the split decision.
The show also looked to be the last stand in the Octagon for Sports Illustrated cover boy Roger Huerta, who dropped the final fight on his current contract to Maynard via split decision. Huerta made a good accounting, as he matched Maynard in many striking exchanges and mounted good defense to Maynard’s early takedowns. He was put down more consistently as the fight unfolded, however, surviving a shoulder-wrenching kimura in the third to make it to the final bell. UFC broadcasters sent mixed messages about Huerta’s future; a pre-fight video said he was looking to make a run at the lightweight title. UFC commentator Mike Goldberg asked post-fight: “Is Huerta waving goodbye?” Huerta told the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Beatdown” show the Maynard bout was “his last fight, for now,” as he pursues a three-film acting contract with the Lion’s Gate production company.
The lure of Hollywood was a subtext in the Huerta fight and “The Ultimate Fighter,” as well. Coach Quinton Jackson, at his camera-friendly best on the series, will not fight rival coach Rashad Evans at the conclusion of the season due to filming a big-screen remake of “A-Team,” through year’s end. He will play the B.A. Baracus character that made Mr. T a household name in the 1980s. The bout’s cancellation was not acknowledged on the TUF 10 premiere. In fact, Evans was still shown making reference to a fight with Jackson in December. The fight was originally set for Dec. 12 in Jackson’s hometown of Memphis, Tenn., and now appears likely for early 2010.
While a large portion of the show will be devoted to Jackson and Evans, it was clear the true dramatic arc of the series, which wraps in December, is the journey of Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson, who has drawn more viewers for televised fights than any other MMA fighter. The street-fighting icon was low-key and fascinating, slowly working his way out of the “persona non grata” aura that surrounded him when he first entered the gym.
The first fight of the season saw Team Evans’ Jon Madsen, who once defeated current UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar in a high school wrestling match, draw copious blood against Team Rampage’s Abe Wagner. Madsen landed an elbow from the top that opened a cavern of a cut at Wagner’s hairline after an early takedown. Madsen used the same takedown over and over on Wagner and cruised to the decision.
Evans picked Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts teammates James McSweeney and Brendan Schaub first, while Jackson opted for Slice. Evans filled out his roster with former International Fight League heavyweight champion Roy Nelson, Darrill Schoonover, Matt Mitrione and Mike Wessel. Jackson finished up with Demico Rogers, Wes Sims, Scott Junk, Wes Shivers, Marcus Jones and Zak Jensen.