Five things we learned from TUF 10
The Ultimate Fighter 10 featured heavyweights, but very few top-notch fighters
Top prospect Jon Jones was disqualified in his fight with Matt Hamill
Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz will meet for a third time, at T.U.F. 11
Another The Ultimate Fighter season is in the books, and for some it proved entertaining. If you were a fan of quality mixed martial arts, however, maybe not so much. But as we've learned over the years, the central appeal of TUF isn't always about good fights. There was plenty to glean as fighters stepped in the cage Saturday night in Las Vegas.
1. TUF 10 was long on waistband, short on talent
Competing among a company of hopeful fighters, some of whom could lay claim to more seasons in the NFL than rounds in pro fights, Roy "Big Country" Nelson provided little suspense during his run to the title of "Ultimate Fighter," which culminated Saturday with a knockout of former Buffalo Bills practice teamer Brendan Schuab.
Carrying the physique of an upright Buddha, the 33-year-old Nelson (14-4) stepped into SpikeTV's The Ultimate Fighter 10 -- far and away the least impressive in terms of depth of talent (understood somewhat considering the division it featured) -- with a shot at making a name for himself.
He entered the reality show reeling from consecutive losses in 2008 (a KO against Andrei Arlovski followed by a three-round decision to Jeff Monson) with the chance to resurrect his career. And, as many projected, he made the most of it. Yet judging from the assembled talent of an improving UFC heavyweight class, it seems unlikely Nelson, a former International Fight League champion, will have much of an impact.
With his biggest rival, Ben Rothwell, getting run over in the UFC by Cain Velasquez in October, Nelson's potential against similar opposition seems stunted at best. Don't expect him to be coddled. He may get lucky if the UFC chooses to rematch him against Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson, whom Nelson defeated early in the Season 10 tournament, but sooner than later the newest TUF winner will fight out of his league.
Nelson's victory over Schaub, a good athlete with fast hands who had not lost in four official fights prior to meeting Nelson, said plenty about the quality of fighters featured this season. A project like Schaub, 26, may improve with time. Same with Matt Mitrione or James McSweeney. But it's hard to picture any of them doing much in the next two years.
2. Not knowing rules costs Jones
Jon Jones had Matt Hamill whooped. And then he decided to use so-called 12-6 elbows (named for the vertical positioning of the strike) from the mount. Three prohibited shots forced referee Steve Mazzagatti to intervene and deduct a point. When Hamill, the 33-year-old deaf wrestler whose life was just made into a movie, didn't respond to the referee, the fight was waved off. Moments later, the official result was announced as a disqualification loss for Jones.
The bout marked the first time Nevada State Athletic Commission officials used replay to render a decision. They should have rewound to Jones' electric takedown of Hamill (9-2) earlier in the opening round because it was then that fight really ended. Duff Holmes, Hamil's trainer, told SI.com the powerful trip resulted in his fighter suffering a dislocated left shoulder, which doctors set on fight night. (The light heavyweight is expected to undergo an MRI early this week to determine if surgery will be required.)
It was also at this point that Jones (9-1) took over by mounting and unloading punches and elbows. To Hamill's credit, he defended well and most of the attacks were deflected. But he wasn't going to come back.
The lanky Jones displayed why so many consider him to be one of MMA's best prospects. If Jones meets Hamill again, he'll win. Though that could be true of almost anyone he would meet him right now.
Oh, and if the elbows weren't the reason Hamill couldn't continue, why did Nevada call the final result a disqualification instead of a no-contest?
3. Kimbo gets his turn in the UFC
Leave it to Houston Alexander (9-5, 1 NC) to make Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson (4-1) look like he had a clue on the ground. In his official UFC debut, the infamous Ferguson, fighting for the first time since being stopped by Seth Petruzelli on CBS, took a unanimous decision (29-28 twice and 30-27).
It was slow. Sloppy. Even amateurish. It was the kind of bout that UFC president Dana White would have likely called "embarrassing" had it taken place outside the Octagon. But it did the trick for the former Miami street-fighter, who rose to fame on the Internet and network television, and now has a chance to be regularly promoted by the UFC.
I scored it 29-28 Alexander, giving him slight leads in the first and third rounds. The second clearly belonged to Kimbo, who unkindly tossed Alexander to the floor and gained advantageous positions. The decision doesn't bother me so much as the fact that immediately after the fight both men rested their hands on their knees -- and their pace was anything but frenetic.
Slice has a long, long way to go. I suspect the next time the UFC promotes him, you may be asked to pay for the privilege.
4. TUF 11 leads to Liddell-Ortiz III. Why?
We now know that Chuck Liddell will return in 2010. He apparently does so with the full blessing of the UFC, which has opted to stick Liddell (21-7) in with Tito Ortiz (15-7-1) as coaches for Season 11 of The Ultimate Fighter. I'm unaware of anyone asking to see Liddell and Ortiz fight for a third time. "The Iceman" put his stamp on the previous two bouts. Nothing much has changed since their last meeting in 2006 save that Liddell is older (he turns 40 on Dec. 17) and slower; and Ortiz can't stay healthy. Still, the UFC will attempt to sell this fight, and one of the best rivalries in MMA may result in big business for Zuffa. As a compelling bout though, it doesn't do much for me.
5. Who is the best featherweight in the UFC?
"The Answer" is the answer.
Frankie Edgar moved to 11-1 Saturday with a classy submission victory over previously undefeated lightweight Matt Veach. Dealing with a bigger, stronger wrestler capable of tossing him around the Octagon, Edgar endured Veach's slams before taking advantage of his speed, striking and grappling in a "Fight Of The Night" performance. Edgar is good, but, as he was against Gray Maynard, he appeared to be half the size of Veach (11-1).
Despite his top-10 ranking at 155 pounds, Edgar's best days may reside in the featherweight class. Yet as it stands now, Zuffa doesn't promote the division inside the UFC, relying instead on its sister organization WEC to handle bouts at 145 pounds and under.
There are more cons than pros for Edgar to make the move right now -- smaller paydays, less exposure and prestige -- but if he can't get to the top at 155, there wouldn't be any shame in taking a shot at 145.
Pitting Edgar versus WEC champion Jose Aldo, or previous titleholders Mike Thomas Brown and Urijah Faber, would result in great fights.