This week's episode of "The Ultimate Fighter" featured the semi-final matches of the light heavyweight division. Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar advanced to the finals, but their bouts were tougher than many expected.
Last week Diego Sanchez defeated Josh Koscheck by split decision. Two judges scored the fight 29-28 for Sanchez, likely based on Diego having Koscheck almost out at the end of both the first and third rounds. The third judge scored the fight 30-27, apparently rewarding Koscheck for pushing the action with takedowns even though Sanchez dominated the action on the ground.
Kenny Florian said that he felt Josh had won the first two rounds, but pointed out that he looked defeated after the fight was over and that may have influenced the judges. Forrest Griffin thought Josh ending two rounds in bad position was the difference between winning and losing. These breakdowns by the fighters are one of the strengths of TUF.
Josh Koscheck was in bad shape after the match with bruising all over his face and a cut under his eye. The doctor sent him to the hospital to check for a concussion. Later Koscheck said that he laid it on the line and came up short as he choked back a lump in his throat. This was a rare display of emotion from Koscheck.
Clips with Diego and Kenny discussing their upcoming fight segued into Dana White talking about what a thrill it would be for them to appear at a UFC show along with Ken Shamrock. This segment was short and obviously scripted, but it was a big improvement over the often aimless, dragging segments in earlier episodes. It seems like the finale has given Dana and the producers a much needed point of focus.
Several weeks earlier, Forrest Griffin beat Alex Schoenauer but suffered a deep cut over his left eye that threatened to force him out of the competition. This week Forrest finally got the verdict. Margaret Goodman, a doctor for the Nevada Athletic Commission, talked to Forrest. She put her hand on his wrist and said "I am your advocate" which suggested that she was trying to break the bad news to Forrest gently, but instead she told him that the cut had healed well and he was cleared to fight. Forrest appeared happy, but he remained very calm and sober.
Dana White broke the news to Bobby Southworth. Dana asked "What do you want to do about the fight?" I half expected Bobby to ask if he could go into the octagon and beat up whatever was left of Sam after Forrest beat him, but instead Bobby agreed to work Forrest's corner. In an interview, Dana noted that Forrest's attitude had changed since the cut. He also credited Sam Hoger for playing the game well enough to make it to the semi-finals, though Sam getting there without fighting suggests that White and the producers didn't do a good job designing the challenge structure of TUF.
Sam bragged "every single one of the cards that I decided to play has been played right" in a prematch interview. Forrest compared the fight to doing a job and said that he couldn't promise victory. The situation with the cut over his eye has dramatically muted his confidence and carefree attitude.
Sam staked out the center of the octagon as Forrest circled, looking for an opening. Sam's mouthpiece and fighting scowl made him look like Warren Beatty. The entire round was fought standing with punches and kicks. With about 35 seconds left in the first round, Forrest turned his ankle. Hoger appeared to win the round based on his surprisingly effective kicks.
During the round, Southworth had yelled "nothing wrong with putting him on his back." Southworth repeated that advice to Forrest in the corner between rounds, though it wasn't clear whether Forrest could muster the confidence needed to launch an aggressive comeback.
The second round started like the first with Sam staking out the center of the octagon, but Forrest challenged him more aggressively than he had in round one. Both fighters landed heavy punches and Sam got in some good kicks. Forrest showed no sign of favoring his ankle, which had been iced between rounds.
About a minute into the round, Forrest clinched with Sam and started throwing high knee lifts. Forrest caught Sam with a knee to the jaw and Sam crumpled into the cage. Forrest dove on top of him and pounded away as Sam tried to shield his head with his hands. UFC's top referee, Big John McCarthy, stepped in to end the fight.
After reactions from both fighters, Dana White rolled into virtually the same promo he had done earlier for Sanchez and Florian, saying that the final would be the biggest fight of Forrest's career. Again the segment was almost too scripted, but still much better than the days of fighters laying around on couches complaining about household chores and t-shirts.
Another tight, scripted intro set up Stephan Bonnar versus Mike Swick in the other light heavyweight semi-final. Swick came to the weigh-in with a ten pound weight in the back of his trunks. Dana observed that the size difference was "phenomenal" which begged the question of why Swick, who weighed 192 without cutting, was cast as a light heavyweight.
Swick didn't complain, outlining his strategy for beating Stephan on the mat. Both fighters explained that friendship would be set aside once they stepped inside the octagon. The alternating interviews, voice overs, and training segments did a great job of laying out strategy and building up to the fight.
Bonnar came out very aggressively and cut off the center of the octagon, using his reach advantage to force Swick to fight with his back almost against the cage. Swick rushed in and tried for a takedown, but he couldn't budge his larger opponent. Stephan hung on and pushed Swick against the cage, but Stephan bent down to grab Swick's leg and left his head and neck wide open.
Swick seized the opening and caught Bonnar in a facelock guillotine. As they tumbled to the mat, Swick grapevined one of Bonnar's legs and cinched in the chokehold. Bonnar's face began to turn purple and he let out a nasty gurgling sound, but Bonnar kept fighting and was able to push Swick off and turn away to free himself from the choke. Swick tried to follow up, but Bonnar caught him in the guard and tied him up, giving himself much needed time to recover.
Stephan used the cage to struggle to his feet and then took Swick down into a keylock. Stephan ended up in a mounted position. He dropped some short forearms into Swick's face, but Swick impressed again with a quick turn that forced Stephan back into a guard with 1:30 left in the round.
At that point Swick had the round won handily and perhaps he allowed his guard to drop a bit. Bonnar began to work his legs back toward Swick's arms. "Watch that triangle" yelled one of the coaches just as Stephan got his foot up to Swick's armpit. Swick didn't react in time and Stephan wrapped his legs around Swick's head and right arm.
Swick tried to lift Stephan, but Stephan grabbed his arm and hung on. Swick tried to throw some punches, but Stephan grabbed his other arm in an arm bar and forced him to tap out with two seconds left in round one.
After the match Swick got deserved praise from everyone. Dana said he thought Swick had the fight won with the choke, but said "the problem is that Stephan is just too big." Later he added "he'll be a monster at 185."
Swick was upbeat, saying TUF was the best thing to happen to his career. It's a shame that the only chance viewers got to see him fight on TUF was against someone 20 pounds heavier.
In an interview with Jason Milloff on WO.page, White predicted that the second season of TUF would be more successful because it would include the heavyweight division. One can only hope that White doesn't force light heavyweights to fight against larger fighters to fill out the field.
White also rejected the notion that pro wrestling fans were a significant crossover audience for UFC. Meltzer and his writers have claimed that there was some correlation between RAW and TUF ratings. This week RAW drew a 4.3 rating, well above its recent range of 3.7 to 4.1, but TUF drew only a 1.7 rating, down from a its high of 2.0 the previous week.
Perhaps TUF lost viewers to the NCAA Finals and perhaps those viewers will catch repeat airings of TUF later in the week, but for now theories about RAW and TUF feeding off each other's ratings look pretty questionable.
The end of the show was a long promo for the Finals which will be shown live on Spike TV on Friday night. A few weeks ago, Dana White said in a magazine interview that he hoped the Finals would draw a 6.0 rating. Based on TUF's inability to grow beyond 2.0, that seems unlikely.
Over the last few weeks, TUF has become tighter and more focused. At times this week's episode even felt a little rushed, but that beats the meandering, inconsistent pace earlier in the season. If TUF returns, I'd like to see more footage of trainers explaining techniques and fighters outlining their strategy before their fights. The strength of these last few episodes has demonstrated the potential of a UFC "reality" show.
(Thanks to Dave Scherer, the hardest working fan on the internet, for this week's TUF rating at pwinsider.com.)