Episode 3 of The Ultimate Fighter 8 is underway and with a title like "Demons" I can only hope they're referring to a fighter's haunted past and not a Beelzebub inspired rendition of an old Rigor Mortis classic.
With the preliminary fights out of the way, the 16 contestants get delivered to the TUF barracks for a little rest and relaxation.
In an obvious case of meticulously edited foreshadowing, one of our first images is of Junie Browning going down on a bottle of Corona while reliving the glory days of growing up in a trailer park in Kentucky.
Brian McLaughlin is concerned that he might join Karn Grigoryan on the "Thanks for coming" list due to a nose fracture suffered during the elimination fights.
The first order of business is team selections and the gang wanders into the gym with a sort of nervous anticipation. Standing by are coaches Frank Mir (Team Blue) and Antonio Nogueira (Team Red) with UFC President Dana White acting as master of ceremonies.
As feared, the Nevada State Athletic Commission has issued 180-day suspensions for McLaughlin and Grigoryan, effectively ending their UFC careers before they even begin.
Resurrected are eliminated contestants Kyle Kingsbury (light heavyweight) and a yet-to-be-named lightweight. Apparently the mystery fighter has already boarded a plane and must now be flown back to Vegas to resume his 155lb duties.
Frequent Flyer miles notwithstanding, I can only hope for his sake he's not eliminated in the first fight.
Dana proceeds with the coin toss and the winner gets to choose between first fighter or first fight. Mir wins the toss and selects light heavyweight Krzysztof Soszynski. Nogueira counters with Ryan "Darth" Bader.
The rest of the picks are as follows:
Vinicius Magalhaes (LHW)
Eliot Marshall (LHW)
Tom Lawler (LHW)
Junie Browning (LW)
Shane Nelson (LW)
David Kaplan (LW)
George Roop (LW)
Shane Primm (LHW)
Kyle Kingsbury (LHW)
Jules Bruchez (LHW)
Phillipe Nover (LW)
Efrain Escudero (LW)
John Polakowski (LW)
The segment ends with Mir in bewilderment over how he could end up with so many good picks while John Polakowski goes on another hugging spree. I get the feeling people are afraid not to hug him in case he finally goes off the deep end while everyone's asleep.
It's day one at the gym and Coach Mir looks to be enjoying his role as instructor. We get a look at assistant coach Ken Hahn who will be handling the striking techniques. Ground work will be taught by none other than Abu Dhabi champion Robert Drysdale.
Later that night the cast has assembled for dinner and what started as camaraderie quickly dissolves into a grudge match between the Star-Belly and Plain-Belly Sneetches. It's amazing what a simple change in uniform will do for the male ego.
Leading the charge is Junie Browning, who aside from mastering every four-letter word this side of the Navy, has declared his hatred for anything and everything red. Perhaps all that booze made him forget he's been clomping around all day in red shorts.
He quickly gets bombed and starts trashing the house. Browning admits in the confessional that it's all part of a master plan to get people to think he's a clown so that they underestimate him come fight time. Krzysztof Soszynski dismisses the behavior as a cry for attention.
Out of nowhere Junie collapses and starts bawling. Soszynski tries to do the right thing and coax him back into the house but Browning is inconsolable. So they just pick him up and carry him in. What are friends for?
I almost had to remind myself it was only episode three.
The next day over breakfast the topic becomes who will fill the remaining spot on Nogueira's team. And what a coincidence (not), in walks Roli Delgado who was eliminated in episode two after a barnburner with George Roop.
It's training day for Team Nogueira and Big Nog demonstrates his philosophy of being a hands-on instructor without actually hurting anyone ala Matt Hughes. Joining him are jiu-jitsu champion Daniel Valverde and sixty-seven year old striking coach Al "Stankie" Stankiewicz.
Nog's reasoning behind his choice is that Stankie "Likes to work hard".
Aside from bopping around the ring like Popeye, Stankie is a fountain of martial arts wisdom.
Yesterday is a cancelled check, let it go. Tomorrow is a promissory note, it may or may not happen. Today is cash in hand.
I'm not calling him senile but it sounds like he's training them to be accountants rather than ultimate fighters.
Everyone reconvenes for fight selection and since Nogueira gets first pick he comes out swinging by pitting top pick Ryan Bader against Tom Lawler. Mir and Lawler both think it was a poor decision and that Nog may have underestimated Lawler.
Soszynski decides to celebrate the first fight of the season by shrink-wrapping Bader's undergarments to his bed. Joining him in the festivities are Lawler, Roop and Marshall.
Meanwhile Bader gets busy in the gym with his training and Coach Nogueira brands him as the team's Golden Boy. If that doesn't sound like the kiss of death than I don't know what does.
Team Red returns home and lo and behold there is evidence of tomfoolery at every turn.
When they finally discover that most of their stuff has been kidnapped, instead of being angry they just stand around looking confused. I kind of see their point, prank or no prank it's a strange thing to lay your hands on another man's briefs.
Team Blue gets back to the house and Bader chooses to laugh it off rather than retaliate for fear of escalation. With guys like Junie Browning loose in the house I have a feeling that escalation may be inevitable.
At the weigh-ins both guys hit their mark. Nogueira is picking Bader by knockout or submission. Mir looks forward to sending Bader home early.
Coach Nogueira and company drop by to have dinner with their fighters and Nog has an affection for the grill skill of his team. He thinks they may have a future in food service (or Hestaraunt) if the whole fighting-thing doesn't work out.
I'll say one thing, that Nog has a silver lining for every cloud.
A bitter Browning gets angered by the sight of the closeness between the other men and phobically calls them "Gay as hell".
But enough about Junie and his broken home, it's time to fight.
Team Red's Ryan Bader (7-0) vs. Team Blue's Tom Lawler (4-1-1)
Round 1: They open with a brief exchange and Bader gets rejected on a takedown. Bader rushes again and they clinch and exchange punches which Lawler seems to get the better of. Bader scores with a lunging right and finally nails the takedown. Lawler keeps him tied up from the bottom and Bader throws the occasional hammer fist and rib shot. Lawler makes a break for it and gets to his feet. They tie-up and exchange knees and punches. Lawler takes a lazy swing and Bader makes him pay with a hard takedown. Aside from smothering, Bader can't seem to get much offense going until Lawler kicks him off, allowing Bader to posture up and land a HUGE right that knocks Lawler cold. Fortunately he was already flat on his back.
Ryan Bader defeats Tom Lawler via KO.
After the fight Nogueira celebrates with Bader in the dressing room and Stankie comes bumbling in, ranting and raving like Abe Simpson. Team Red is obviously elated to open with a win while a solemn Team Blue reflects on what could have been.
Lawler handles the loss with complete class and credits Bader for being the better man.
I have a feeling that tonight’s episode was a precursor of some pretty crazy stuff happening later in the season. Like most fans, I can overlook most of the shenanigans as long as the fights are entertaining.
Only time will tell.
Stay tuned next week as a night of binge drinking prompts a visit from a very hoarse Dana White, tensions rise between the Blues and the Reds and the first lightweight elimination fight gets underway.
See you then!