The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) "Nations" debuted tonight (Weds., Jan. 15, 2014) on FOX Sports 1 with a promo from Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) President Dana White that heavily pushed the idea of national pride being on the line in addition to a six figure contract (and, presumably, a custom Harley Davidson motorcycle).
A bunch of Australian and Canadian mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters soon back up his statements.
First thing a fighter says upon entering the TUF training facility: "Wow, that's sick bro." Nice to hear fighters sound the same no matter what country they are from.
According to the Canadian-born Sheldon Westcott, Patrick Cote has been "a huge role model for everyone in our sport." Good to know.
Aussie Brendan O'Reilly looks like WWE wrestler Bray Wyatt's long lost brother. He attempts to put over the idea of Noke as a legendary name in the sport.
With a minimum of ceremony, we go right to the traditional coin flip that decides which team will pick the first fight. Coach Cote is so confident he lets his counterpart, Noke, flip the coin, and it turns out his confidence was well founded. Team Cote gets the first pick. The French Canadian Cote tells the fighters, "this is a one life time opportunity."
White then runs down the bonus situation. Basically it's the same as TUF 18, where the participants in the best fight of the season, the person who notches the best submission, and the fighter who gets the best knockout will leave the show $25,000 richer. Also, to ensure a maximum amount of finishes, $5,000 will be awarded to each fighter who finishes his fight.
Team Canada walks into their locker room and gets a pep talk from Cote.
Noke gives his team an Aussie version of the same pep talk. It's nothing you haven't heard before from a TUF coach, "We're here to help you," etc.
We get our first hard luck story of the season from Australian fighter Vic Grujic, who informs us he "was working eight-hour days" before coming to TUF house (which I'm sure will earn him much sympathy from the gainfully employed segment of TUF viewers). Vic put "everything on hold to follow his dreams."
It's like they're recycling scripts from past seasons here.
Noke doesn't want any of his team crying. "I don't want to hear about anyone crying. We're from Australia. We're not soft, we don't cry." He better not try insinuating crying is a sign of weakness around Ronda Rousey.
TUF house is the coolest looking one they've had in awhile. It's a mansion decked out to look like a logger's cabin. A stuffed moose head rounds out the decor. Classy.
A parka-clad Team Australia is shown outside after moving into the house. This ain't Vegas anymore.
Kajan Johnson says "K-Town in the house" upon walking into TUF logging compound and uses the word "bitch" a lot. He's going to be one of the "characters" on this season it appears. He enthusiastically puts over his entire team before putting the pelt of a small woodland creature on his head and busting a freestyle rhyme.
Team Canada fighters go jogging through the woods after the first commercial break. The change of scenery makes this show a little easier to watch than all the recent Vegas seasons so far.
Aussie fighters are all jet legged -- feel sorry for whoever has to fight first from that team.
White speaks to both teams in a video screen. Welcome to the Ultimate Fighter (and the future). Can't wait for him to kick a fighter off the show via Face Time.
For the first fight, Cote picks 155-pounder Kajan Johnson vs. Brendan O'Reilly. Long-time viewers of TUF won't be surprised to read that Noke likes the matchup.
O'Reilly doesn't mind being picked first. Johnson is itching to fight. He says he is "used to breaking people like [O'Reilly.]" Noke isn't impressed with K-Town's record though, and feels his fighter is in for a relatively easy "W"
Kajan recounts the tale of a bad eye injury that kept him on the shelf for awhile. "If I said I wasn't afraid for my face, I'd be lying." Sounds like a hell of an injury.
Team Cote practices while their eponymous coach talks about the importance of working together and representing Canada. Cote's English has improved greatly from his stint on TUF 4 years ago.
Meanwhile, Noke sees a lot of talent on his team. Assistant coach Israel Martinez gives the Aussie's a bit of tough love: "I am not going to feel sorry for you if you lose something. If you don't have your cup on sparring day, your balls are going to be fucked up for awhile." Ouch.
Martinez has a fighter up on his shoulder in the Octagon and tells team Noke how everyone in the crowed wants to see a slam. Wait, is this a UFC or a WWE show?
Speaking of WWE,
Bray Wyatt O'Reilly mentions the first time he got punched was by his sister and tells us he has a high threshold for pain. That must have been one tough sister.
Back at the cabin, Team Australia is miffed when they overhear Team Canada running down their records. The Aussie's come down to call them on it, but the Canadians deny they were saying anything out of line.
It turns out Johnson is banged up, fighting with an MCL injury.
Why did Johnson decided to become a fighter? Well, you see when he was a little kid he wanted to be a ninja and fighting is the closest thing you can do to becoming a ninja as an adult. Man, I don't want to see either of these guys lose this fight. They're probably the two most entertaining guys in the house from a personality perspective. Well, O'Reilly mainly stands out for his majestic chops more than anything else thus far, but hey, this is TUF in 2014. Beggars can't be choosers after six million seasons of this stuff.
Here's something you don't see every day: after they weigh in, Johnson and O'Reilly square off, with the Canadian wearing the aforementioned woodland animal pelt on his head (any outdoorsy type wanna clue me in as to what animal's hide that is?) and the Aussie wearing what can only be described as a Crocodile Dundee outback adventure hat.
Johnson uses a post fight ritual called "smudging" where he rubs smoke on his face before fights. The footage of him meditating on a yoga mat and shadow boxing after smudging is great. Dude is like a super positive Diego Sanchez or something. Too bad he's probably not going to win this one considering he's in his late thirties and this is his first fight in two years.
Before the fight, K-Town raps as he warms up. An incredulous O'Reilly asks, "Is he fucking rapping?" Noke answers him: "What did you expect." Team Australia are pretty excellent heels so far.
It's fight time folks. O'Reilly lands a takedown early. K-Town rolls for an inside heel hook. He's cranking on it hard, but O'Reilly gets up. Now K-Town is going for the TD. He gets it. O'Reilly is already wearing the crimson mask and he's sucking wind at 2:30 of the first round. Johnson on his back squeezing for a rear naked choke, and he gets it. Excellent pro wrestling psychology of the babyface coming behind for the eventual win there.
Backstage after the fight Team Canada is pumped. Team Aussie is obviously downcast, but it's stiff upper lips all around per Coach Noke's admonition against crying.
Johnson says his career would have been over if he hadn't won this fight. He says this is his one chance to make it in UFC.
O'Reilly comes in Team Canada's locker room after the fight, shakes Johnson's hand and lets the Canucks know the Aussies aren't scared.
Next weeks' fight, per Cote's pick, is
I expected this to be fairly dull, throwaway season due to, shall we say, not exactly A-level stars being chosen as coaches, but it turned out to be a pretty entertaining episode. I recommend checking out a replay or DVR'ing it. Johnson is a great character and the change of scenery from the familiar, well-worn Vegas background makes a huge difference in freshening the feel of the show up.