This week's episode of "The Ultimate Fighter" was built around the match to settle a grudge between Josh Koscheck and Chris Leben from last week's show. Some were hailing this bout as a historic match that would help UFC expand their audience, but instead this match was a historic throwback to the early days of UFC when limited fighters sometimes engaged in dull, anticlimactic battles.
This episode opened with Dana White calling all the fighters together to inform them of the fallout from the dispute on the previous episode that led to Chris punching out two defenseless doors. There would be no more alcohol in the house, if anyone got into a fight in the house, they would both be kicked off the show, and the guys would have to pay for the damage they did to the house.
These "new rules" seemed so obvious that one wondered why Dana White or the producer or the two captains hadn't thought of them when the show was in the planning stages, unless they were hoping to create a situation like this. Why provide alcohol to fighters who are supposedly in rigorous training? Why ban television and newspapers other than to create artificial stress? Why ban all contact with women, unless one believes that "women weaken legs?"
Randy Couture then gave his surmon. "You guys were all brought here to be ambassadors for this sport, to send a message to this entire country about who we are, what we stand for, the kind of people that come into this sport and fight in that cage."
Setting aside that Couture gave Leben a free pass on urinating on the bed of another fighter in an earlier episode, shouldn't Grandpa Grappler remember Tank Abbott? Wasn't Tank the kind of people that came into this sport and fought inside that cage. When did the sport of MMA or UFC start caring about the class of their athletes?
Bobby Southworth complained about he and Josh having to help pay for the damage that Chris did. Maybe they had to pay for the stuff they dumped in the pool. Apparently Southworth forgot all about that incident.
Josh and one of many uncharismatic fighters lounged around complaining about Couture's speech. In an insert from an interview, Josh mockingly called Couture "Captain America" while outlining Couture's hypocrisy.
Chris Leben unwrapped his scraped knuckle and uttered a long stream of obscenities that were bleeped out. Koscheck, still lounging around in the other room, called Chris "white trash" under his breath and said that he would be ashamed to be seen with Chris in public. In an insert from an interview, Chris fantasized about injuring Josh by breaking his jaw and knocking out all of his teeth. So much for Couture's big surmon.
Dana White aired clips from famous UFC matches and said "some of the best fights in UFC have been between guys who don't like each other." He added "Chris Leben – Josh Koscheck has all the makings of one of those fights." Apparently White, like many analysts touting this fight, forgot the importance of booking skilled fighters.
Chris Leben continued to cut the sort of arrogant promos that have fooled analysts into making him the favorite, but his endless bragging started to sound like whistling in the dark, or a fanboy trying to cut a pro wrestling promo by swaggering and swearing and talking about the gruesome things he would do to his opponent.
Training clips aired of both fighters. Unlike last week when training was superficial background for a music segment, this week they discussed tactics and aired some telling footage.
Leben worked on punching and trying to avoid takedowns against Couture and another sparring partner. Leben avoided some takedowns, but when he was taken down, he appeared to have no reply, even in a sparring bout. Chris said that the only way Koscheck could win would be by laying on him.
Koscheck worked on shooting in and getting takedowns on a pair of sparring partners who focused on punching. The sparring partners rotated and it wasn't clear how much sparring took place, but Koscheck blew up and did not look good, creating some doubt prior to the big fight.
More footage aired of fighters laying around the house bored out of their skulls. Again one wonders why TV, music, and other entertainment were banned while alcohol was allowed. One also wonders why the producer chose to feature so many unflattering shots of fighters laying around rather than selecting more athletic clips.
Koscheck was shown cutting weight by riding a stationary bike inside a sauna. Koscheck mocked Southworth cutting weight in an earlier episode as Lidell laughed and Southworth watched. Leben cut more weight and cut more promos. Leben sounded like someone trying to convince himself of something, saying "It's my calling to win", but Dana White was apparently convinced as he picked Leben to win the fight.
The producers suddenly decided to give an update on Nathan Quarry's ankle injury, which wasn't discussed much the previous week when it was overshadowed by juvenile hijinks. The prognosis was not encouraging and for the first time the possibility was raised that Nathan would be cut.
More footage aired of various fighters lounging around the house analyzing the fight. Their analysis was deeper than White's analysis. They sounded like fighters, though all of them laying around was still an unflattering visual.
The producer definitely needs to give the fighters more to do if they decide to shoot another UFC series. The near constant laying around doesn't just make the fighters look bad, it kills any attempt at pacing and makes the show look dull.
Leben got taped up for the fight. The tape man asked how Leben scraped off his knuckle. Leben said he punched a window. The tape man asked Leben if the window had pissed him off, an obvious question that White, Couture, and UFC's answer to Kip Allen Frey failed to ask the previous week. What was Leben's excuse for punching out the defenseless window anyway?
Finally the fighters met in the Octagon. Chris Leben jumped around and yelled like a baboon. Koscheck confirmed himself as the Muraco of MMA by coolly blowing Leben a kiss before the match started.
Both fighters were tentative at the outset and it took almost forty five seconds for them to have any meaningful contact. Koscheck went for a dive and barely avoided getting hammered by a knee. Koscheck was more hesitant after that, but he finally caught Leben lunging toward him when Leben thought he had him trapped against the cage and he quickly took Leben down.
Leben had some rudimentary defensive skills on the mat, but seemed no threat to counter with a submission or escape. Koscheck wasn't adept at pounding and he couldn't get through Leben's guard to try any submission holds. This was a painful reminder that both of these fighters were still very green and that however entertaining a feud between them might have seemed, they lacked the broader variety of skills needed to produce a classic MMA match.
Eventually the referee called for a break and made them restart. Koscheck again took Leben down with ease and then neither was able to do very much. Both coaches told their fighter that he had won the first round. Perhaps Couture was trying to instill confidence, but he lied to his fighter when he probably should have pushed for more urgency.
The second round started much faster with Koscheck looking more confident. Leben looked totally lost, rarely even throwing a punch and trying a few kicks. Koscheck eventually charged in, ducked two halfhearted punches, and took Leben down easily. While obviously a strong wrestler, Koscheck was unable to set up any submission attempts and actually left himself open several times, once allowing Leben to grab an arm bar which he was unable to lock solidly.
The referee called for another break, but Koscheck quickly took Leben down again. Leben grabbed his own foot and appeared to be trying to build a counter hold, but he didn't appear to have much offensive ability with his back on the mat. Finally the round ended and it was up to the judges to determine the outcome or to send the bout into an overtime round.
No overtime was needed however as the judges gave a unanimous decision to Josh Koscheck. Chris Leben bitched about the decision. So much for his babyface turn. Koscheck responded "take your bus ticket and go home", once again showing up the "mouth that roared" with his quicker wit.
The decision wasn't surprising. Leben was a puncher who landed no punches of note. Koscheck was a wrestler who scored four takedowns and dominated the action on top. Leben got a little credit for a couple of attempted counter strikes and the one arm bar attempt, but he didn't do enough to win the fight.
Leben was inconsolible after the fight, even blowing off the camp counselor. "I guess that's the kind of fighter you want in the UFC, one who lays on top of you", whined Leben to Dana White. White summed up Leben as "a tough, ballsy kid... who is mentally very weak."
It will be interesting to see if this show garnered a much larger audience as predicted by several optomistic pundits, but it will be even more interesting to see if it can hold an audience after a fight that could only be described as disappointing given the long buildup and the pre-fight comparisons to some of the greatest bouts in UFC history.
In the end this was a throwback to superfights like Severn vs Shamrock where the limitations of each fighter were exposed by the matchup and by their ability to nullify each other's main strengths. This was a return to the "age old question" of the wrestler versus the boxer with neither man able to give a good account of his discipline.
It's possible that Josh Koscheck and Chris Leben will go on to become legendary UFC fighters, but this dull bout showed the pitfalls of pushing inexperienced performers too hard too soon. Those who criticized the WWE for failing to capitalize on a fluke between Kurt Angle and Daniel Puder should take note of this match and the fallout from it and reconsider whether pushing raw talent in a high profile match is a smart business move.
Whatever extra interest in UFC was created by the hype from last week was probably offset by disappointment over the bout this week. Chris Leben versus Josh Koscheck was not a good showcase for UFC or MMA after all.
"I think you might be letting your preferences on who was in the right color your perceptions of what will happen in that fight. Leben has a much more extensive fighting resume, although Josh is an accomplished wrestler. Also, I got the distinct impression Leben was a lot more eager for that fight than Koshcheck was. Josh looked and sounded like a guy trying to convince an audience and himself that he wasn't scared, and to me, that means he's half-beaten before the thing starts. Feel free to rub this in my face next week if I'm wrong, but I think Leben is going to clean his clock." - Scott E. Williams, WCMB
The problem with all of this is that even skilled fighters have clunkers. Also, Leben's had some very exciting fights in his young career against some skilled fighters.
"When did they pass a law that says the people who make my sandwich have to be wearing gloves? I'm not comfortable with this. I don't want glove residue all over my food; it's not sanitary. Who knows where these gloves have been?" - George Carlin
:: The problem with all of this is that even skilled fighters have clunkers.
Absolutely. The problem here was that the clunkiness exposed the lack of skill. Leben had openings and was unable to capitalize. His punches looked desperately wild because he couldn't close the gap without being taken down. Leben needed to win this on the mat by counter wrestling. He had a huge advantage in experience, but couldn't make it count for anything. In fact, Koscheck's knee to the ribs before the first takedown of the second round might have been the best strike of the whole match.
:: Also, Leben's had some very exciting fights in his young career against some skilled fighters.
"Exciting" as in "he hit them real hard?" No doubt Leben could do some damage if he connected. Clearly he was afraid of Koscheck's takedown skills and therefore could not rely on bullying and brawling. Really sad, considering how little MMA experience Koscheck had. Any midcarder would have made Koscheck tap with all the openings he left. Where did Leben get his gaudy won-loss record? Is there a backyard version of UFC somewhere?
There are many other fight organizations then UFC in North America. These guys just don't walk out of a gym and into the UFC. Here's his record off his site: http://www.chrisleben.com/bio.html
It's not unreasonable to think that he was just off his game, especially considering all his emotion going in.
(edited by fuelinjected on 22.2.05 1240) "When did they pass a law that says the people who make my sandwich have to be wearing gloves? I'm not comfortable with this. I don't want glove residue all over my food; it's not sanitary. Who knows where these gloves have been?" - George Carlin