Bellator’s Fight Master Forks Paths with TUF Ep. 3 Recap
The last two seasons of The Ultimate Fighter have been on a notable decline. Despite having exciting stars Chael Sonnen and Jon Jones during the most recent season, the ratings were indicative of a loss of interest, or possibly as Dana White says, it was simply a matter of its time slot. UFC’s attempt to revamp it this year with female coaches and a co-ed cast is an interesting approach, but seems to be heading in the opposite direction of the stellar fight cards. Where UFC 162 was as far removed from the spectacle of UFC 1 as can be, TUF seems to be a reminder of UFC’s past, where the primacy of personality fueled interest in fights, skill often lost in the ego’s comet tail.
Bellator premiered their Fight Master reality show last month and offered, for our voyeurism, a new angle on the ‘fight for a contract’ schtick. What makes the show interesting is the focal point, the four coaches: Joe Warren, Frank Shamrock, Greg Jackson and Randy Couture. Gone are the extended pay-per-view “coach fights” that in later seasons seemed like tame tete a tetes between professional wrestlers selling tickets to Summer Slam. Also gone, in the episodes thus far, are any and all attempts to build up the drama and character of the fighters, we get a brief background, often with obligatory hardships emphasized and then they are in the cage. We are witness to something else that we usually do not get to see. The Game.
There is the unavoidable fact that Fight Master is a reality show as much as any other and therefore its architecture is built around some goal, something to win. For Fight Master, it is the chance to enter into a house, train with a well known coaches and compete for 100,000 and their name in the bracket for an upcoming Bellator tournament. It is the inclusion of the coaches, however, that counterbalances the winning endpoint with the understanding of the journey.
The camera and point of view has taken a leap backwards, beyond the “fighter coaches”, and peeks into the realm of the actual coaches. The minds that set winning game plans, have won championship titles and have a firm grasp of both history and experience are there for us to monitor, and how they make their decisions, their finagling and maneuvering between each other. Why a fighter is picked or not, how the coach sees them, and how they attempt to convince the fighter to pick them or not is there in the commentary, the talking heads, and the job interview between victorious fighter and their four possible mentors. This is the most notable difference so far between Fight Master and TUF, the chance to see how fighters were picked, on screen, not behind closed doors for unknown reasons and then tossed into The Real World.
In the first two episodes we watched fighters enter the cage, fight and then choose their coaches. Mercifully the fights were edited, allowing us to focus on the four coaches comments and what they were watching, looking for, and critiquing. This is interesting in that it may provide new ways of viewing fights previously unseen and emphasizes the difference between TUF and Fight Master. It’s multi-layered competition between fighters, coaches and fighter/coach pairs more accurately mimics the inside game politics of the big shows.
Episode 3 serves as the final eliminator round where the 32 fighters will have been whittled down to the sixteen, divided amongst the judges and move on to the next phase. The first match up paired Ismael Gonzalez and Marcus Aurelio. Interestingly, Aurelio is a bit of a Youtube sensation, his spinning Capoeira kicks having made the rounds on MMA forums and were there on full balletic display for all fans until the patient but persistent Gonzalez liver kicked him into a first round TKO victory. Gonzalez selects Joe Warren, looking to improve his wrestling.
The second match up is between Andy Uhrich and Dom O’Grady. O’Grady cuts Uhrichs eye open before the fight goes to the ground. The second round is much the same, with Uhrich controlling the top and winning the decision. The cut however, forces a suspension and removes him from the tournament.
The third match up between Artenas Young and Bryan Travers starts off at a high pace, with Young landing shots but basically slowing and gassing by the end of the round. Travers, rugged and tough, ends up winning the decision and choosing Greg Jackson as his coach.
Gareth Joseph and Mike Bronzoulis face off in the second to last match and reveal no particular skill, made apparent when Couture and Shamrock try to push the winner, Bronzoulis into the others team. Bronzoulis chooses Couture and we enter the final match.
Interestingly, the final match features Joe Riggs, former WEC champion and most remembered for his brawl with Nick Diaz that carried from the cage into the hospital room, faces Frank Carillo. The match is interesting in Riggs experience and over all skill made apparent in both the stand up and the ground. When fight eventually hits the canvas Riggs secures a heel hook, a tap and a long awaited chance to train with Greg Jackson.
It will be fun to see where Fight Master is heading as it has already forked paths with The Ultimate Fighter on one front. The next phase will be in the house – the most skipped part of my TUF viewing history-and I am looking forward to a new, surprising dynamic.
Will the show put forth new, exiting talents that have chances at making runs at the belt? That remains to be seen. I have long ago given up on that from TUF but I do remember a few that used that show to springboard to a belt (Rashad Evans, Forrest Griffin). Lately, however, it seems the fights are fillers and the coach fights, when they do happen, are a usually a letdown. I am hedging my bets on the discovery of an unknown superstar that is not already signed, a true diamond in a rough. I will, however, say the vantage point from the coaches side, makes it an interesting, new show.