Length: 13 hrs 39 mins
"Do you wanna be a f***ing fighter?"
Alas, you Fast Show lamenting, catchphrase hungry disciples out there, Uncle Dana will leave you hanging on across the course of these five discs. No speech, third time out.
The UFC can attribute a sizeable chunk of it's current popularity and momentum to the unabashed greatness that was Season One of The Ultimate Fighter. With a comparative lack of colourful characters plus a measly one fight (Jorge Gurgel vs Jason Von Flue) that touched the best in-ring stuff from the first run, Season Two fell some way short of matching it's predecessor in the artistic success department, although I'd imagine the sponsorship windfall was gargantuan... dig it out and re-watch: product-placement fest, or what?
Anyhow, Senors Ferititta and White recognised that the setup needed shaking up a touch in order to be kept fresh, but regrettably, the episode highlights that were the team challenges were consigned to the knackers yard for this series (as well as the subsequent three). Boo, and indeed hiss. The show, for all intents and purposes, took on an elimination tournament format from here on in. One thing that made me chuckle was that after three years, the line up of Octagon Demi-Gods on the facility wall still included Cabbage Corriera.
Furthermore, in the very best tradition of original series alumni Chris Leben and Josh Koscheck, the early focus centres around the history and bad blood between team coaches Ken Shamrock and Tito Ortiz; amusingly, as much as the selected stock-footage and voiceovers feel like they were intended to paint Ortiz as antagonist, Shammy's interspersing comments and the first in-facility meeting between the pair would, I'd imagine, see Tito come off as the more level-headed to the novice viewer.
- Mike Stine
- Kendall Grove
- Rory Singer
- Danny Abbadi
- Michael Bisping
- Noah Inhofer
- Josh Haynes
- Matt Hamill
- Kalib Starnes
- Solomon Hutcherson
- Ed Herman
- Ross Pointon
- Jesse Forbes
- Kristian Rothaermel
- Tait Fletcher
- Mike Nickel
Precious few minutes are devoted to the initial fighter evaluations in comparison to previous series', and when the team selections are covered in the first half of the first episode, it all begins to feel a little bit rushed. Matt Hamill impresses Tito in the initial sessions with his tenacious persistence and desire to hang on the mat with assistant coach Dean Lister, despite getting routinely creamed, and indeed the audibly impaired fighter is Ortiz's first pick. Ortiz and Ed Herman both express a desire to work with each other yet strangely, and despite numerous opportunities to do so, Tito doesn't draft the redhead. Subsequently, in true prima donna fashion, Herman petulantly declares that he "hates" Tito, and can't wait to stick it to him. Professional athletes, eh?
I'd imagine the majority of our transatlantic cousins were stumped by Michael Bisping and Ross Pointon calling each other "dickhead" over a toilet-flushing dispute. Perhaps a featurette on the storied history between Lancashire and Merseyside would've added a welcome dose of subtext. Far be it from we Brits to extol the virtues of education, however: Pointon proves a shoddy ambassador, as when Hamill (obviously oblivious to accents) mistakes the Englanders as being from "New England", Pointon claims to have "never even heard of" the region; and we think the Yanks are ignorant.
One central theme throughout the series arrives two episodes in with the propagation of tension between Bisping and Hamill, that which festered all the way to a controversial decision at UFC 75. Ortiz spends extra time with the disadvantaged American, and although "The Count" initially has glowing praise for Hamill's ability- going so far as to predict that the two will meet in the final- it isn't long before an undercurrent of "teacher's pet" allegations emerge. Ortiz brings in a translator for Hamill, but this doesn't stop Bisping from taking a strop when the Team Punishment coaches sojourn to the house to cook dinner for the guys.
A basketball oddly becomes a focal character- originally used as a unique training tool which Ortiz utilises to encourage Noah Inhofer to keep his hands up (one of the consistent quirks of the show/concept is seeing the nonpareil traits such as this that the fighters use to improve). The satiated pair of Bisping and Kendall Grove engage in a kickabout- the first in a series of shenanigans surrounding the ball. Last pick Tait comes over a bit churlish during one exchange, which coupled with Jesse Forbes' destructive behaviour, in the guise of the aforementioned "Cat Smasher" Leben but minus the loveable lout streak, gets you right behind the canny Noah when Shamrock picks he to fight Forbes.
Cross-team coalitions predictably form after the early formalities: Quest-buddies Ed Herman and Josh Haynes stooge opposition secrets to each other, but more crucially, Kendall & Solomon strike up a rapport, and when the former is chosen to fight Ross Pointon in the eliminator, the lanky Hawaiian has a mole in the Shamrock camp. The Wirral dweller is bestowed subtitles.... well, if someone who lives 100 miles down the road has trouble... Coach Shamrock pulls no punches, telling "The Gladiator" outright that his ground game "sucks." The green team find the Brit obtuse, as their advice and observations are routinely met with a retort about "smashing Kendall's face in" in amongst the tiresome "know what I mean?" regurgitated ad nauseum. Predictably, all notions of potential jingoism are emphatically dispelled by "Da Spyder", who outclasses Pointon (graphic gives his birthplace as "North Hampton" [sic]) upright and on the canvas. The chrome dome gets away with unnecessarily giving up his back once, but falls victim to a Rear Naked Choke the second time. Pointon would go on to thoroughly redeem himself in our mind's eye later on.... but I won't spoil that little plot twist for you, dear reader.
How come I've never noticed that Rory Singer looks like Jim from American Pie before? Rory has, it emerges, Monica Gellar-tendencies to boot, as his compulsive behaviour irritates the more free spirited in the house. A mutual distaste is teased up between Rory Singer and Solomon Hutcherson, and this builds to a crescendo in Episode Five, as Solomon and Kendall seek to goad Rory into recoil. Concurrently, Ortiz, kicking himself over his decision not to pick Ed, continues to play mind games with the Team Quest man, refusing to put him in the eliminator, yet kidding on his man Singer that he'll be facing the (hypothetical) tougher opponent in Herman, prior to calling Hutcherson out when it comes to the fight announcement. It's a real shame that Solomon wasn't able to establish himself after the show ended, as he has a Samuel L Jackson like magnetism that makes it easy to get behind him (which was probably amplified by the fact that Rory was beginning to grate by this point).
From one Anglo-Saxon crashing and burning to another broiling left, right and centre: Mike Nickels makes it his mission to wind Bisping up, and "The Count" immediately bites. Meanwhile, the unease builds between he & Hamill: the Lancashire man accuses Hamill of over-aggression in training; the other Ortiz soldiers concur, and have little sympathy with the Olympian the first time he gets tagged. It's from here that a dose of spotlight is afforded to the blossoming friendship between Hamill and Danny Abaddi. Whilst both do serve as the occasional source of irritation throughout (the young Jordanian through his immature behaviour), the two somewhat-outcasts bonding and spurring each other on does become quite the stirring subplot.
Team Punishment are subject to green eyes from the green squadron, as Shamrock's picks grow disgruntled at Ken's relaxed training methods, while all the time Tito's crew are going all out and noticeably improving. Bisping comes across well against Kristian Rothermael, an astounding 40-3 according to the graphic. With Kristian intent on taking him down, Bisping displays an excellent sprawl to stay upright, and goes on to open a nasty gash with a knee-strike to the forehead, before scoring the KO with a short-range straight right.
The "Reality TV" highlight portion arrives with the episode where semi-finalist Noah elects to pack up and leave when he anticipates problems with his other half. This hairbrained turn of events is ramped up to full throttle by the always-reliable Dana White, and his nonplussed reaction when he finds out that Noah has been dating said girl for an entire six months. Meanwhile, anyone who subjected themselves to the most recent series of The X Factor (hey- blame my girlfriend!) will establish an immediate correlation between the yarn of Tamworth wench Nicki "doing it for (her) departed dad" in amongst bouts of tears, and Josh Haynes carting around pictures of his once-terminally ill son, giving it the whole "I've been through this, you think anyone here scares me" and "No-one here is going to take away what winning this competition will do for my family" routines. First time around (third time, even), you're rooting for the guy, but he proceeds to beat the tug-on-the-heartstrings gambit to death, to the point where I couldn't wait to see him get knocked the f*** out.
The heart and soul of the series lies with the team coaches, and moreover with the anticipation that the white flags could be lowered at any moment. Quelle Surprise: Shamrock is the first to break, seemingly unprovoked, and instigates a tense pull-apart at the training facility. Seemingly a ploy to light a fire under his flailing unit, Shammy once again comes across as the more petty of the two.
The series finale is furnished in it's entirety, unaired prelims and all, on Disc Four. Boasting accomplished individual performances from Mike Nickels, Matt Hamill and Kenny Florian, in addition to the engrossing war of attrition that is the Middleweight final, and a hectic four minute scrap between Hutcherson and Luigi Fioravanti, it's actually a superior card to approximately half the pay-per-view offerings we've had this year. It's not often that I mention the bonus features, yet the fifth and final disc does come resplendent with a smattering of gems, the most provocative being footage from the initial casting interviews, in addition to the more...um... eccentric demo tapes from failed applicants, one of which I was a tad perturbed by, given that it's subject was much-touted Team Quest prospect Matt Horwich.
The series in it's entirety plus a pretty damn good standalone UFC event in it's own right? Change from thirty sheets? Indeed, children. I've been racking my brains for a reason- any reason- why you shouldn't splash the cash for this baby, and the only scenario I can come up with is one where this sits on the shelf next to TUF Season One, and you don't have enough moolah for both. Hence.... almost perfect.
Points: 9.5 / 10