So you want to be an effin' fighter?
Thirty-two up-and-coming mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters got the chance to prove that their answer to that question was a resounding, "Yes!," as The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) kicked off season 15 on FX with a 2.5-hour "Live" premiere episode that allowed fans to see the action, right as it was happening in real time.
The teams are coached by Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) bantamweights Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber, and it's already clear that the bad blood between these two will certainly result in quite a bit of drama as the competition unfolds.
The first episode raised the bar on past seasons when it was announced that, in addition to the action being LIVE, all the initiation fights would only be for the duration of one, five-minute round, causing each fighter to step up the intensity in a big way. It was also announced that each fighter who was able to finish his fight and keep things out of the hands of the judges would receive a $5,000 bonus check.
Not too shabby.
After the jump, we'll take a look at the 16 fighters who emerged victorious and do our best to rank them according to what we saw on the opening night of TUF 15:
(1) Cristiano Marcello -- Prior to the Marcello's fight versus Jared Carlsten, footage was shown of each fighter bragging about their respective jiu-jitsu pedigree. Carlsten spoke of his Eddie Bravo-[resented black belt and his experience with the rubber guard. Marcello talked about his background that included being a Brazilian jiu-jitsu trainer for the likes of Mauricio Rua and Wanderlei Silva. It became apparent rather quickly whose grappling game was superior as Marcello was able to take full mount in very little time. It only took about a minute more for Marcello to soften Carlsten up, take his back and then get the submission via the rear-naked choke. Very impressive win. The majority of the guys in the house are probably going to want to steer clear of his ground game.
(2) Michael Chiesa -- Chiesa, who trains with former TUF competitor Cody McKenzie and bears a striking resemblance to the Alaskan fighter, won a dominant victory over Johnavan Vistante with -- go figure -- a choke submission. Chiesa looks really dangerous. We didn't get a chance to see much of his striking game, but his takedown and grappling game both look very good.
(3) Sam Sicilia -- Just six seconds into his bout against Erin Beach (Yes. It was a guy who spells his name like a girl.), Sicilia lobbed a furious overhand right that landed squarely on the button and sent Beach crumbling to the ground. The referee stepped in instantly and saved him from taking any further damage after what (was the most violent KO of the night). Hard to get a feel for Beach's overall game because the fight was so quick. Not his fault, per se, but it's hard to rank him higher without seeing more of his skill set.
(4) Daron Cruickshank -- This guy is going to be a force to be reckoned with. His striking may very well be the best out of the whole cast. He has great takedown defense, as well as pretty good takedowns of his own. He's very well rounded, which was exhibited in his decision win over Drew Dober. Cruickshank would have likely ended up with a finish over most other fighters, but credit to Dober who survived and hung in there.
(5) Vinc Pichel -- From the beginning of his fight with Cody Pfister, I just had the feeling that it was only a matter of time before Pichel took the fight over and ended things. Pfister looked nervous and was continual slipping and falling at the onset. Though Pichel did find himself on the bottom for the first couple of minutes, he was patient and eventually reversed things. When he was able to acquire a dominant position, he wasted no time in slicing Pfister's forehead open with a nasty elbow and repeatedly raining down more ground and pound. After it was clear that Pfister's will had been broken, Pichel jumped to take his back and choked him out, securing what was one of the nicer and more violent submissions of the night.
(6) Chris Tickle -- In another one of the quicker fights of the night, Tickle landed a big right hand to the jawline, followed up by several more punches before Steve Mazzagatti jumped in an called a stop to the action. At first glance, it appear to be an unnecessarily quick stoppage. After watching the replay, it was clear that Tickle's opponent, Austin Lyons, went limp, momentarily, and could have taken serious damage if he was allowed to continue. Great KO victory for Tickle who is certain to be the subject of many terrible puns due to his last name.
(7) Justin Lawrence -- James Krause was the guy most fans had heard of, based on his time fighting for Titan Fighting Championships, Shark Fights an World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC). However, it was Lawrence who stole the show, putting on a karate exhibition of kicks and an combinations that had Krause back-peddling the entire time. Lawrence finally was able to sen Krause to the canvas with one of the finer knockout blows of the evening.
(8) Mike Rio -- For the first two minutes of his fight against Ali MacLean, Rio chose to stand and trade in what looked like it was going to be a stand up war. Rio id get a few good punches in, but he was losing the exchnages, for sure. Finally, he went for a double leg takedown and was able to secure top position. It was basically over at that point. Rio used his grappling to get a nice submission win over an opponent who clearly wasn't prepared for things to hit the mat. Rio has some nice potential.
(9) Joe Proctor -- Proctor faced Jordan Rinaldi in the very first fight of the night, which saw Rinaldi coming forward as the initial aggressor. Rinaldi landed a few good combos and a left hook that clipped Proctor to cause a small cut over his eyebrow. Proctor remained calm and never really looked hurt. With a little more than a minute gone, Proctor finally found the range. He landed several punches, and it was instantly clear that Rinaldi was no longer interested in trading. As Rinaldi shot for a takedown, Proctor grabbed hold of his neck and never let go, leading to a guillotine submission. Proctor got the finish and looks like he'll have as good a chance as anyone. But I can't help feeling that his win came over a fighter with less experience and very little submission defense knowledge.
(10) Jeremy Larsen -- Larsen is a bit of an enigma because he doesn't seem particularly well versed in any one area. He's just a fighter an a scrapper. He also exhibited a fair amount of toughness as, at one point, he found himself in a deep kneebar attempt by his opponent, Jeff Smith. Larsen's toughness and better than average striking make him a contestant to watch for.
(11) Al Iaquinta -- Iaquinta is another fighter who looks to be tough and well rounded. Though he's primarily a jiu-jitsu guy, he's also a very good boxer. He trains with Matt Serra and Ray Longo, which explains the key attributes he brings to the Octagon. In "gruesome highlight" news, Iaquinta's opponent, Jon Tuck, ended up with a toe that was either broken or dislocated. Either way, it was pointing straight up by the end of the fight. Yeah. Toes aren't supposed to do that.
(12) Chris Saunders -- Though he wasn't able to finish with either of his guillotine attempts, Saunders his opposed his will against Chase Hackett for most the round. He used his wrestling, submission attempts and a few unorthodox strikes (including a jumping knee off one leg) to garner the decision win. He didn't look amazing, but he did what he had to do to control an opponent with a significant reach advantage.
(13) Myles Jury -- Jury is a good wrestler, and his takedowns were absolutely the difference in his fight against Akbarh Arreola. But let's face it, Arreola has zero takedown defense. At no point did Jury threaten to finish. His striking didn't look terrible but I don't see a lot of the fighters in the house being intimidated about standing with him. He looked good, but not great. We'll see what the future holds for the fighter who was supposed to compete pn TUF last season, before an injury forced him to withdraw. Good to see him getting a second chance.
(14) James Vick -- It may just be because Vick was so evenly matched with Dakota Cochrane that the fight resulted in the wrestling equivalent of a five-minute staring contest. Either way, neither fighter really did a whole lot of anything to potentially finish the other. Vick apparently did slightly more, as the juges awared him the razor-thin split decision. Sad for Cochrane, whose story now ends up being more about his gay porn past than his skills as a fighter. Hopefully, he'll get another chance to redeem himself. Vick will really need to step his game up if he expects to make any kind of run in the competition.
(15) John Cofer -- Right out of the gate, it was obvious that there was a variance in strategies between Cofer and Mark Glover. Glover wanted to stand and trade and was hoping for a brawl. Cofer did everything he could to hold onto Glover, dirty things up and looked like he was hoping to eek out a decision. Cofer did little to impress the fans, but apparently he impressed the judges enough to win the decision. He's got decent wrestling, and it will be interesting to see what he can do in a longer fight. Hopefully his future contests are a little more exciting.
(16) Andy Ogle -- Ogle won the first fight of the night that had to go to a decision. It was a strange and uneventful affair as Ogle rushed in, early in the fight, to get the takedown against his opponent, Brandon Weafer. Unfortunately, he found himself inside a triangle attempt that lasted almost the entire round. It was the first time I'd ever found myself asking if the referee should stand up a fighter who was in the middle of a submission attempt. The problem was that Weafer was not using the attempt to finish Ogle, just to keep him there. Apparently, the judges thought Ogle landed enough punches during the boring foray to deserve the win.
That's our power rankings from the first week. Stay tuned each week to see how things shift around as the fighters match skills and work their way to the top of the pile at TUF 15 on FX.
Got any predictions for a winner? If you had to pick one fighter to go all the way, who would it be?
In the comment section, let us know who you think may end up winning the competition and the six-figure UFC contract.
Go for it.