At last what seemed like a long wait is over! The new season of The Ultimate Fighter premiered this past Sunday on Virgin 1 here in the UK (Wednesday on Spike TV over in the States, hot on the heels of Ultimate Fight Night 18). 16 British fighters entered but only 8 would make it through joining Michael Bisping’s Team UK in Las Vegas. First of all to decide who would be staying on British soil and who would earn the opportunity of a lifetime, following in the footsteps of TUF winner Bisping there would be 8 fights fought over standard UFC rules with duration of 3 x 5 minute rounds.
This first episode took place just before the fight pitting Rich Franklin and Dan ‘Hendo’ Henderson, the decider of Team USA coach from UFC 93 in Dublin, Ireland back in January. Hence both Franklin and Hendo being present since at that stage Dana White and co didn’t know which combatant would coach the Americans. Fast-forward in time we now know Hendo edged out the win over Franklin taking the decision following 3 gruelling rounds of octagon action. The great usefulness about the TUF series is not just fantastic television each week but the dual purpose of creating new UFC stars while booking 2 established UFC fighters for a big money fight afterwards, when the coaches clash one on one.
The elimination bouts soon got underway on Bisping’s home turf, the Wolfslair training facility, located in Widnes near Liverpool.
First up was Bisping’s first protégé of the night – Gary Kelly, a fellow member of Wolfslair gym, taking on Andre Winner. Despite all the encouragement from Bisping Kelly wasn’t triumphant in the octagon. Andre lived up to his name winning in fine style knocking out Gary Kelly, who was on dream street! This first fight showed what a tough group of competitors had been amassed from the British ranks of mixed martial arts. First lightweight decided for Team UK, 3 more to go.
Another pair of lightweight mixed martial artists entered the cage. Jeff Lawson fights out of The Bulldog gym in my hometown – Bournemouth. Lawson a submission specialist and one of the most experienced Brits selected. His opponent striker James Bryan hailing from Bath did not fare well against the vastly more experienced Lawson. Lawson submitted Bryan to join Andre Winner on Team UK.
First of the welterweights saw James Wilks tapout Che Mills to go through. Mills’ loss was an upset considering his calibre, but that’s the way it goes in the world of mixed martial arts.
The fourth cage conflict saw Martin Stapleton of Rochdale brutalise Dan James of Swansea, giving the military man a win via tapout.
Next to go was AJ Wenn eliminated by Ross Pearson from Sunderland, another impressive mixed martial artist winning by TKO in the second round.
The second welterweight fighter to make it through would be Nick Osipczak a resident of London, who bested Tommy McGuire of Peterborough with a TKO win.
Third fight from the welterweights featured the biggest name so far – Alex Reid, a recognised face on the UK cage fighting circuit. I first saw him on ITV’s Cage Combat programme way back in 2002. Reid faced off against Dean Amarasinghe of Nottingham a younger lesser-known fighter with a lot going for him. Reid a master of showmanship lasted the full 3 rounds thanks to his experience but it was Dean who surprised besting the veteran receiving the decision. The better man won on the day but it would have been interesting to see Reid’s antics on the show, as he is a real character.
One final decider to go, giving one more opportunity for a member of the Wolfslair to make the squad. David Faulkner would be the fighter and he got the job done, defeating James Bateman grabbing a tap-out victory via Heel Hook.
So here we have it, listed below are the Brits who flew out to Las Vegas.
Team UK – The Lightweights:
Andre Winner – London
Jeff Lawson – Bournemouth
Ross Pearson – Sunderland
Martin Stapleton – Rochdale
Team UK – The Welterweights:
David Faulkner - Liverpool
Nicholas Osipczak – London
Dean Amarasinghe – Nottingham
For a complete low-down on all the shows entrants see my previous blog: http://bluraymma.com/blog/the-ultimate-fighter-us-v-uk-on-virgin-1/
From the brief glimpse of next weeks show it appears the Yanks are not fully prepared. We witness entrants struggling to make weight and collapsing in a heap under the strain.
Make sure you set a reminder on your Sky planner and series link it for Virgin 1 Sundays at 11pm – you don’t want to miss a single episode!