This week's episode of "The Ultimate Fighter" was the first episode without Chris Leben. Apparently the producers found it as dull as I did because it looks like they are planning to bring Leben back next week in a violation of their own "elimination" format.
I didn't miss Leben's juvenile insults and combative nature at all, but since he had featured heavily in the previous two episodes there was a large void to fill and unfortunately the producers chose to fill it with less entertaining bickering and complaining.
But first, Team Couture had sucked so hard that Team Liddell needed to send them a less regarded fighter the way RAW sent their castoffs to SmackDown!
Liddell, chose to send Josh Rafferty to Team Couture. Liddell's frustration over having to essentially sell out a member of his team was understandable, but sadly he wasn't able to articulate it beyond a few bleeped out expletives.
The stipulation kills off the concept of teamwork because the better a team does, the faster they will be torn apart. Dana White, not the sharpest knife in the drawer, seemed to sense the inherent weakness in this plan and rhetorically asked "is that okay?" in a reflection of his own embarrassment.
The team challenge followed. It was a convoluted tug of war, sort of like an eight-man tag team strap match where the straps were tangled up. Fighters struggled and lurched and tried to grab flags placed in a circle around them. The challenge screamed out for a high angle shot from a boom camera, but all they showed were confusing low angles.
Team Couture won the challenge so they got to book the light heavyweight fight for the week. Stephan Bonner, who is naturally unlikable, chose to represent Team Couture. While tempted to pick a weak opponent to improve his chances of collecting a knockout/tapout bonus, Bonner eventually chose to target the fighter he saw as the strongest light heavy on Team Couture, Bobby Southworth.
Throughout the show they aired B-roll of the other fighters complaining about each other, laying around, or messing around at the gym. The basketball clips were an improvement over endless shots of fighters laying on couches, but they still appeared listless.
The focus of the complaining was Team Lidell's mistrust of Sam Hoger, who they felt spent too much time buddying up with fighters from Team Couture, but since they had twice sent members over to Team Couture, it was hard to sympathize with their position.
What difference does team alliance make when fighters can be regularly reshuffled to maintain balance? The producers need to answer questions like that on the show, though ideally they should have asked the question while developing the show and should have realized they needed a different plan to protect the team concept.
The fight between Bonner and Southworth was better than the "highly anticipated" fight between Josh Koscheck and Chris Leben. Bonner and Southworth landed more strikes while standing and also displayed better overall ground skills. Bonner almost caught Southworth in a guillotine choke but Bobby escaped. Southworth hit Bonner in the face with some hard jabs and got some takedowns, though Bonner also made some escapes.
In the end it was a pretty even fight with Bonner perhaps taking the first round by dominating the final minute after Southworth appeared to blow up. Both fighters were clearly tiring in the second round, but kept working in a round that was tough to call.
After two rounds, the judges awarded the fight to Bonner on a split decision. The decision was not obviously flawed, but it was disappointing, especially given the promise of another good round from these two fighters and the chance for a more decisive ending.
Southworth, who had earlier chastised Leben's complaints about the decision in the Koscheck fight, found himself on the short end of the decision and complained vigorously that he had never been hurt in the fight. While that may have been true, MMA bouts are judged on more than just damage.
Dana White was again stuck offering up mealy mouthed admonitions against "leaving the fight in the hands of the judges." White was right, but the cumulative effect of two straight decisions where the audience probably wanted a third round instead will not help sell MMA and UFC in particular.
The fights on this show aren't a true reflection of the UFC product, but the "Ultimate Fighter" is a free sample for new and returning fans and the last two samples aren't going to win over many converts, despite the quality of the action in this week's bout.
Vince McMahon proved years ago that his viewers were more concerned with hype and results than with the quality of the action in between. This week's fight offered quality action, but it probably appealed mainly to existing fans and whether it encouraged anyone to pay for more remains to be seen.
The previews for next week's episode had White telling Southworth "You will not disrespect me!" and also teased the return of an eliminated fighter.
Shuffling fighters from one team to another weakened the team concept that is central to "The Ultimate Fighter." Bringing back an eliminated fighter will kill off the elimination concept that is key to "The Ultimate Fighter."
Whatever Leben offers in terms of his trash talking charisma, he lost and he was eliminated. If "The Ultimate Fighter" reneges on that stipulation, this show will be on its last legs.
I assume you are totally speculating that it is indeed Leben who returns, I personally don't think it will be him. My guess is Nathan's MRI comes back showing damage and he is done and a previously dismissed fighter takes his place, but not Leben.
Also, even if it was Leben I would hardly consider that putting the show on it's last leg, I highly doubt many viewers would tune out because the felt betrayed that the rules of the show weren't followed.
The show so far is a runaway success, the Leben / Koscheck fight pulled down a 2.0 rating making it the most watched UFC fight ever with over 2 million viewers. Mondays rating was down to a 1.7 but still higher than they anticipated and except Raw (and maybe CSI reruns) it is the highest rated show on Spike TV I believe.
Well, good call on it being Leben, once they said it was up to Nate to choose I knew he would be bringing back Chris. I'm not sure how I feel about it, I think it just shows a lack of planning on behalf of the creators and producers of the show. This is atleast the second time that it seems they have just made up rules on the fly, the first major one being where one team has to give up a fighter to even out things. These situations should have been thought of before and these rules put in place.