by William Hammon
With another season of The Ultimate Fighter underway, it's time to start passing out some awards. You can never have enough awards, right? In addition to $5K for stoppages this season, the best, the worst and the just plain weird will find themselves here, taking home a "TUFfy".
So here we go with the season premiere. Let's pass 'em out.
The "Trust Your Elders" Award
This one goes to all of Team Jones, particularly Josh Samman. He was the face of the team as they created their ideal fight order and opponents, with Josh wanting first dibs on Jimmy Quinlan. However, Jon “Bones” Jones decided that the first matchup would pit Gilbert Smith against Chael Sonnen’s top pick, Luke Barnatt.
Josh was understandably upset, but he’s got to just get over it and roll with the proverbial punches. There’s a reason Jones is a coach, and it’s not just to ensure he fights Sonnen later on. The man’s a champion. He knows how to fight and he knows how to train.
You'll also notice Jones coached fighters during the elimination fights on multiple occasions. Yes, his coaching of Bubba McDaniel was most likely due to their Jackson's MMA associations, but you're a fool if you think Jones would coach a fighter he didn't think had what it took to succeed in this tournament. He recognizes talent, he knows how to mold it, and if he’s a competent coach, you have to assume he has a gameplan. After all, every fighter Jones "pre-coached", including Samman, ended up on his team.
The "Missed Opportunity" Award
That said, Jonny Bones might have let one slip through his fingers this time. In a brief cutaway interview, he said that he picked Gilbert and Luke because beating Sonnen’s top pick could give the whole team a morale boost (similar to when Mac Danzig beat Joe Scarola during the Hughes vs. Serra season). He also thinks Luke is vulnerable due to the black eye suffered in the Elimination Fight against Nicholas Kohring.
It’s a good strategy to try to exploit an injured fighter for an easy win (especially since the winning team picks the next fight). However, if that was the intended move, there was a better option in Kevin Casey, who got a rather nasty cut above his eye in his win over Eldon Sproat. Cuts are much easier to reopen than a bruise, and the more it’s agitated, the longer it takes to heal, so that even if Kevin were to win his next match, he could still be vulnerable in the quarterfinals. However, if Luke beats Gilbert, the black eye gets the maximum time to heal, and one of the strongest fighters in the competition is still at large.
The “Counting Your Chickens" Award
I may be jinxing myself really early here, but if I had to predict the finals right now, it’d be Luke Barnatt and Uriah Hall. Luke has a distinct size advantage and a killer fist, while Uriah looks to be the best all-around fighter of the season, with seemingly unlimited weapons and endurance based on his Elimination Fight (to say nothing of his kicks).
The "I Can't Quit You" Award
This show has come a long way since the Elimination Fights were introduced a few years ago. Back then, Dana White instituted this qualifier round to weed out the people who were here more for the show than for the sport, the guys who were more interested in exposure and TV face time than advancing the sport of MMA.
Look how the concept has grown since then. All of the 14 fights this week felt like they had something at stake, even the ones that were reduced to “fight highlights” for time (mostly fights that went to decision and/or stayed on the ground throughout – don’t assume the winning fighters will be early exits themselves). Every fighter got some face time. Every fighter got to tell their story. And as Dana himself pointed out, as a change of pace, every fighter got to have the moral support of having their loved ones visit them and attend the fight.
The idea now isn’t to prevent the weak from entering the house, but instead to tell the audience – and the fighters themselves – that this is not the end of the road. That sentiment was no better displayed than when Uriah Hall hugged Andy Enz after their fight, making Andy promise not to give up.
This will not be the last shot these warriors get. There will be
other fights, other opportunities, and it’s good for the
audience to know these stories right off the bat, so the big-time
fans can still follow everyone’s progress. A loss here
doesn’t mean that Kito Andrews and Eric Wahlin will be dirt
poor forever. Leo Bercier and Ryan Bigler will get another chance
to positively represent their people in this sport. And if nothing
else, based on his nickname, I’m sure Jake Heun can get his
own spinoff reality show called “Here Comes Honey Bear