by William Hammon
The season is in full swing. We’ve had our first preliminary fight of the tournament. We’ve seen the house at last. And most importantly, one of your faithful author’s finals picks, Luke Barnatt, survived his first test against Gilbert Smith.
Let's hand out some awards and see if Team Jones can puill it together.
The "Brass Balls" Award
I almost gave this to Gilbert after the way he instantly came back from that crotch shot Luke gave him early in their fight. But really, this one goes to my other finals pick, Uriah Hall. During a brief scene with coach Chael Sonnen, Uriah made it known that he wants to go after Team Jones’ strongest fighters, and Chael obliged him, pitting him against Adam Cella, who I’d put just after Josh Samman as the strongest on that team.
Contrast this with the way Josh and Bubba McDaniel basically spent the entire episode whining about Gilbert and the matchup Jon Jones set, as if there was any way to change it. Josh wanted to fight Jimmy Quinlan, who he assessed as the weakest member of Team Sonnen, and Bubba tried to call out the injured Kevin Casey after the fight.
On the one hand, you have a fighter who is trying to challenge himself by beating the best fighters, so that he can be a true champion. On the other, you have guys bitching and moaning about the fact that they don’t get to have the easiest path to the next round. Compounding this, they take their meaningless gripe out on the one guy who has no control over any of it – Gilbert – as if his loss to Luke means the end of their careers. Which leads us to…
The "Lost Perspective" Award
Josh and Bubba do realize that there is only one winner, right? Sure, there are bonus awards for submissions and stellar fights (plus, the honor of a TUFfy – why do I hear crickets?), but in the end, only one guy will walk out of Las Vegas with a guaranteed UFC contract.
Yet here they are, berating Gilbert for something out of his control, acting like the entire season is over unless they sweep the Preliminary Round, a feat equal comparable to Chael Sonnen staying silent for 24 hours. What they fail to understand is that if that “ideal” situation had come to pass, at best they’d have one quarterfinal match against Team Sonnen (if they had won every fight, both wild cards would be from Sonnen’s team, and they would fight each other for the last spot in the quarters), and three against their own teammates.
My point is, given the tournament structure of this competition, the “teams” are for training purposes only. It may sound glib, but everyone else is an enemy standing in your way. Your team taking a loss only means that the other coach gets to set the fights, which only screws you if you’re put into a match where you’re at a disadvantage (basically, if Sonnen is as cheap and dirty at picking matches as Bubba and Josh tried to be).
But even in that worst case scenario, suck it up and fight! Sure, Gilbert was mismatched and that flying knee was just vicious, but at least he was game to fight and take on the challenge. You’re competing for a six-figure contract in the UFC, for God’s sake! You expect this to be easy? You expect to have opponents served up for slaughter? Go out there and seize your freaking destiny! Be the warrior that you’re supposed to be!
The “If You Only Knew the Power of the Dark
Kudos to Team Sonnen for creating a team nickname that will make every nerd in the country root for you (myself included). But more importantly, this episode showed a stark contrast in the coaching styles of Sonnen and Jones, and right now, it looks like Sonnen has the upper hand.
For the most part, Jones left the nuts and bolts of the training up to his assistants, particularly Frank Mir, only getting hands-on when he seemingly overheard Bubba and Josh giving Gilbert grief about his cardio endurance (a tip of the hat to Clint and Adam for showing some empathy for Gilbert, particularly during the flag scene). Even then, Jones really only reworded their slams into more constructive criticisms, and then taught him the overhand punch that seemed more like a morale booster than an actual strategy. In fact, Gilbert was only able to land that punch once late in the fight. After the loss, Jones all but echoed everything Bubba and Josh said.
On the other hand, Sonnen was training with his team the entire way, giving us the brilliant insight that he couldn’t know how his fighters were handling the routines unless he was going through them himself. Then, when it came time for the fight, he basically just let Luke do his thing, knowing he was ready, and knowing he had the tools to take care of business. Sure, he coached from the corner like any good trainer, but after working out with the group, he had the proper level of perspective and empathy to know exactly how the fight should be handled.
The "Feet to the Fire" Award
Finally, I can’t be the only one who saw that coffee table/fire pit in the house and wondered just how much damage it can do. Can’t you just see one rowdy, drunken night at some point where at least one fighter tries to walk across it barefoot like it’s a hot coal ceremony in Hawaii? Or even worse, what if a fight breaks out in the house? It’s happened before, and if it does, we could be looking at some serious burn injuries. Then again, if I was there, I’d just put a skillet over it and use it to cook bacon, so what do I know?