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Sixteen men from across the Americas travel to Las Vegas with one dream, one goal – to become The Ultimate Fighter.

Determination. Discipline. Excellence.

Recaps by Joe Van Ginkel, GSNN


FACT FILE:

Host:
Willa Ford
Coaches: Randy "The Natural" Couture and Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell
Packager: Zuffa, LLC; Spike TV
Airs: Mondays at 11:05pm ET on Spike TV


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Episode 1 - January 17

Light Heavyweights
Alex Schoenauer
Sam Hogar
Forest Griffin
Loedune Sincaid
Bobby Southworth
Stefan Bonner
Mike Swick
Jason Thacker

Middleweights
John Koscheck
Diego Sanchez
Nathan Quarry
Chris Leben
Kenny Floran
Josh Rafferty
Alex Karalexis
Christopher Sanford

Greetings from Anaheim, California, and the one and only "Game Show Man" Joe Van Ginkel, here with the Episode One recap of SpikeTV's new documentary-style competition show, The Ultimate Fighter. TUF is one of many new competition shows debuting this week (including Iron Chef America and the fourth American Idol contest), and TUF has a lot of competition. On TUF, sixteen competitors are given the chance to train with Randy "The Natural" Couture, the Light Heavyweight Champion of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the premier Mixed Marital Arts fighting organization in the world, and his #1 contender, knockout artist Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell. Let's get into it.

UFC Training Center
As the show opens, the fighters enter the spiffy UFC Training Center, which consists of several boxing rings, punching bags of all sizes, and a replica of UFC's signature fighting arena, the Octagon, an eight-sided cage-like fighting ring. Many of the fighters express their excitement to be working in such a first-rate facility. Host Willa Ford then gathers the fighters and introduces UFC president Dana White who introduces Couture and Liddell.

Ultimate Fighter House
Upon their arrival at the house, many of the fighters start consuming alcohol, but the others, including Diego Sanchez eschew it. Chris Leben (who apparently plans to get the other fighters drunk to impair their abilities) keeps mixing drinks for the others but doesn't have any for himself until later, and starts picking nicknames for other, especially Jason Thacker, who he names "Strange Brew." In the process, Leben sets him up as a target for the others. Around 11:15 pm, many of the others go to bed. Bobby Southworth (who takes a pacifistic approach to life, doing his fighting in the ring instead) is seen writing in his journal. Leben, drunk, doesn't go to bed until around 2:23 am but first he starts a mock wrestling match over a green pillow with roommate Kenny Floran, and even defecates on roommate Thacker's pillow, smack talking the whole way. At 5am, Couture and Liddell show up, kick in the doors and order all the fighters to mount up for training.

UFC Training Center
First, the light heavyweights train. Couture introduces the other trainers, and puts the fighters into interval training, to evaluate their skills. Four stations are set up, grappling with Marc Laimon coaching, Muay Thai (Thai kickboxing for those who've not heard of it) with trainer Ganyao Fairtex, boxing with Peter Welch, and a 30 minute treadmill station. Dana White is also present to observe the training. After the initial session, Couture commends the assembled trainees for their work, reminds them that the trainers will push them hard, and sends them home. Afterward, Thacker seems to have the most trouble with the workout, and in the confessional, seems to be mulling over whether he's really cut out for the program.

After a commercial break, the middleweights train. Josh Koscheck and Nathan Quarry are shown training in the grappling station with Laimon. Soon after, Josh Rafferty works on the treadmill, but he ends up throwing up several times. Chris Leben is the next focus, and he impresses the trainers with his work on the treadmill, but at the grappling station he cramps up, partly due to all the alcohol he consumed the night before. Afterwards, in confessional, Leben insists that he has more heart and determination than any other fighter.

Ultimate Fighter House
When the middleweights finish, they return home, have something to eat, and then, one at a time, deposit themselves into a bathtub full of ice water. (Gah! Only some seriously sore people need an entire bathtub full of the stuff!) Then a goodly number of them plop themselves in whatever comfortable space they can find for a nap.

UFC Training Center
At the beginning of Day 3, Ford gathers the fighters and advises them that tomorrow, Couture and Liddell will choose two teams of eight fighters, four Lt. Heavyweights and four Middleweights. During training, Nathan Quarry gets accidentally injured, and expresses anger that he may missed training. In the next segment, Swick and Thacker train together, but Thacker finds himself in trouble. Couture cuts the session short, as there is sparring tomorrow. Thacker pulls Couture aside and says that he's not sure whether he should continue, but Couture advises him not to give up, saying that while Thacker's been struggling, he still sees Thacker's potential and convinces the young man to stay.

Ultimate Fighter House
When the fighters return to the house, they fix themselves dinner, joke about Quarry's injury and talk amongst themselves about Thacker's shortcomings. In confessional, Leben says that while Thacker is a nice kid, he can't fight for squat, and that he doesn't think Thacker belongs amongst them.

After the last break, the fighters prepare for the sparring session. As the fighters prepare to leave the house for the gym, Thacker is not ready to go to the gym; he is barefoot and without his gear. But Southworth and Sincaid manage to convince him to come. The sparring bouts begin in earnest. Many of the fighters come packing new techniques they learned in training, but Liddell and Couture have to remind the fighters not use full power. Light Heavyweight Forest Griffin accidentally headbutts his partner Sam Hogar, causing him to get stitches, much as Quarry needed earlier. Many of the fighters, especially Southworth, already having his mentioned his dislike of violence, insist that Mixed Martial Arts is not about violence but competition.

At the end of the show, Liddell and Couture choose up teams. Thacker, apparently judged the weakest of the fighters, is chosen last. Thacker mentions that it reminds him of childhood and being the last person picked at recess.

The Teams:

Team Couture
Bonnar
Karalexis
Leben
Quarry
Swick
Sincaid
Sanford
Thacker

Team Liddell
Florian
Griffin
Hogar
Rafferty
Koscheck
Sanchez
Schoenauer
Southworth

Initial impressions: The format of the show reminds me a little of MTV Tough Enough, only with the closest thing the sports world has to "genuine" pro wrestling (that is, grappling as sport instead of live action comic book) although certainly Mixed Martial Arts ("MMA") is certainly more than that. I like the idea of the team competition, having two separate weight divisions competing, and having half of each of the fighters in each division put on each team. Good choice of coaches; both Couture (who's still fighting at 41! Wow!) and Liddell (one of UFC's most feared competitors) are highly recognizable and certainly seem like they want these men to succeed. I would have preferred that someone with actual hosting talent serve as the emcee of the show, but then Spike's part of the same company whose flagship network MTV was dumb enough to let a dull, monotone snowboarder (namely Johnny Moseley) host one of their most popular competition shows, so stupid hosting choices are to be expected. That said, pop singer Willa Ford is tolerable, and certainly easy on the eye.

According to the website (www.theultimatefighter.tv), the team who wins each week's contest (or "Challenge") picks the fighters to compete in the elimination match at the end of the show. The losers go bye-bye.

As for the fighters, Jason Thacker is clearly about to go bye-bye. The other fighters obviously sense weakness in the young man, and I suspect that if Team Couture loses next week's contest, Team Liddell will surely take advantage of what they perceive to be weakness and pick him to fight in the elimination bout. Presently, my favorite of the competitors are Bobby Southworth and Forest Griffin (who I like for his laid-back and earnest attitude) in the Light Heavyweight division and Diego Sanchez (who was seen early in the episode getting his yoga on while many of the other were drinking) and Nathan Quarry in the Middleweight division. I have a special place in my heart for Mike Swick who, besides already being an established fighter, is also, according to the website…surprise…a poker player (that doesn't mean I'll give him a pass if he screws up, you understand).

Right now, the only guy who really rubs me the wrong way is Chris Leben. Most of the guys certainly have a competitive attitude, but only Leben, who while certainly a tough and determined competitor, is also a jackass (the man relieved himself on his roommate's pillow; 'Nuff said). However, since this isn't a vote-em-off show (something I really like about this show: no politics and sleaze here), his skills may still get him to the end (that is, if he doesn't get himself rolled by doing something stupid).

It's very early in the competition, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the contest develops (and to writing these recaps for you; this was my first, and as to paraphrase Tony Kornheiser, I'll try and do better the next time).

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