Cockiness explodes in opening to UFC

Neil Davidson

, Last Updated: 8:31 PM ET

After seven seasons of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality TV show, it’s hard to believe the tried-and-true formula can actually produce something new.

But the opening episode of Season 8 on Wednesday night (Spike TV and Rogers Sportsnet, check local listings) raises the cockiness bar in a battle between two lightweights looking to crack the final roster of 16 would-be UFC mixed martial arts fighters.

“What sets me apart from all the other guys is I can actually fight,” one lightweight says dryly. “The rest of those guys just came over here to get a free Tapout shirt.”

Asked if the man about to fight him can beat him, he replies that his rival 155-pounder “has a better chance of getting me pregnant.”

The 25-year-old opponent in question unwisely delves into the history books in an attempt to place himself on the “conquering“ and “pillaging” scale.

“To be honest dude, I belong with Napoleon, dog, Alexander, dude, Hitler,” he says in a line hopefully he will regret when he grows up. “That’s where I belong with, dog ... Criminal dog, straight up criminal.”

You want to reach into the TV set and slap him, which is probably precisely what the show producers want. They love drama.

The format of “The Ultimate Fighter” has been tweaked only slightly since it debuted in January 2005. Back then the UFC saw it as a way of getting on TV, even if it had to pay the US$10 million in production costs itself for Season 1. Spike TV paid nothing, providing only the airtime while the UFC had to find the advertising.

Seven seasons later the UFC is filled with fighters who have used the show to audition, like football players use the NCAA as an entree into the NFL. Forrest Griffin has gone from popular Season 1 winner to more popular Season 7 coach to even more popular UFC light-heavyweight champion.

This season’s mentors are former heavyweight champion Frank Mir and former Pride title-holder Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, who will meet themselves in the cage in Las Vegas on Dec. 27. Brazil’s Nogueira won what the UFC called the interim heavyweight title while champion Randy Couture was on the outs, battling in court over his contract. Now that Couture has returned to the fold, the winner of Mir-Nogueira will take on the winner of the Nov. 15 Couture-Brock Lesnar bout to decide who is the champ for real.

In the past, sparks between coaches have helped fuel the show. Tito Ortiz pushed Ken Shamrock’s buttons daily on Season 3, which remains the highest-rated edition of the program. B.J. Penn also had fun with Jens Pulver on Season 5 while Matt Serra poked and prodded Matt Hughes week after week on Season 6.

The coaches seem to get along this season.

“Pretty much exactly I expected. Really hard-working, tough guy,” the 29-year-old Mir told The Canadian Press when asked about Nogueira. “No nonsense ... What you see is what you get. He’s serious about martial arts, he’s not too much of a jokester. He’s pretty much a down-to-earth guy.”

The worst he felt was a bit of awkwardness, given the two are going to fight later this year.

“No words were ever exchanged and there was never any disrespect or anything. If anything I respect him even that more. He showed me that you don’t have to be a gimmick to be successful in this sport.”

Nogueira, 32, echoed the sentiment

“I’ve got respect for this guy, he’s a good fighter ... A cool guy. He did a good job too,” Nogueira, speaking in a separate interview, said in English.

This year’s cast features two Canadian light-heavyweights: Winnipeg’s Krzysztof Soszynski and Halifax’s Ryan Jimmo. Soszynski is a former IFL veteran who trains out of the respected Team Quest Camp in Temecula, Calif. Both fight on the show that airs Wednesday.

As with Season 7, the 32 fighters have to win a bout just to make the cast. A win earns them a place in a gilded cage, a Vegas mansion that is their home for six weeks other than training and fighting. Inside the house, they are denied TV, books, computers, phones or any other connection with the outside world.

In a bid to turn up the pressure, alcohol is thoughtfully provided. It’s a world full of testosterone and — at times — stupidity.

One of last season’s finalists, middleweight Jesse Taylor, was booted off the show for a drunken night on the town captured on video. Cast members now have to pay for any damage done to the house, which is rented by the UFC. Show producers photograph the home from top to bottom, just so they can recreate it when the fighters finally move out.

In addition to the two Canadians, this season’s crop of lightweights and light-heavyweights includes fighters from England, Israel, and Russia. There’s a former Division 1 college football player (Kyle Kingsbury), CIA recruiter (David Kaplan) and the brother of Season 2 winner Rashad Evans (Lance Evans).

The first two episodes showcase the opening bouts, with fighters given 24 hours to make weight and 48 hours before fighting. The coaches use those fights to evaluate the talent, picking teams after the final 16 are decided. Week 1 provides drama aplenty.

The field is cut down each week until only two are left in each weight class, with the winners earning a UFC contract.

“The dream is fight for a living, not go to work, come here, beat people’s faces in and get paid well to do it,” explains lightweight Eric Magee.


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