Yeah, um, wow, that was a very interesting episode. Did I mean that in a good way? Yes, absolutely, but others may not agree.
The episode almost immediately goes to the first match, which is between Kyle Noke (16-4-1) and Kris McCray (5-0), which is something I have always wanted the series to do. What with Noke’s record and the fact that his first fight against Clayton McKinney really impressed me, had me rooting for him all the way.
At least 90% of the match takes place on the ground. Tito’s gameplan for this fight is clear: take advantage of what he surmises is Noke’s weak wrestling game, and have McCray, a very experienced wrestler himself, take full advantage of it. And guess what? It works; totally. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make for the most exciting match in the history of the sport.
McCray easily takes Noke down every time he wants to, and keeps him there for as long as he wanted to. Now, many MMA fans, have been known to widely criticize fighters for “lay and pray” strategies. Lay and pray basically means that the more experienced wrestler among the two fighters lays on top of the other until the referee stands them up or, preferably, until the bell rings. If the former occurs, then the wrestler takes the other guy down again and repeats the strategy ad nauseum. This is actually a valid complaint, and some fighters have been known to use this exact strategy, to rest, to re-evaluate their game plans, or to just plain be lazy. This was actually pretty commonly seen in the UFC’s early days in the 90’s and is the reason why the referees can stand people up if they sense total inactivity.
Unfortunately, some of the fans I mention criticize even extremely skilled and popular fighters for using this strategy. Recent targets of such criticisms include UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre and welterweight top contender Josh Koscheck. St-Pierre was criticized for utilizing the strategy recently against Dan Hardy, and Koscheck, against Paul Daley. These two absolutely did not lay and pray during these fights. They remained active and tried to finish their matches on several occasions. This is especially true of St-Pierre who, if not for Hardy’s extraordinarily admirable heart, would have finished his fight early with his submission attempts. If this is true, then why all the hate? Why all the unnecessary criticisms? Because a good majority of UFC fans out there still don’t appreciate the intricacies of the ground game if it goes on for two long without clear switching of positions, submissions, ground and pound, and whatnot. These things are easily achieved if one fighter is more skilled than the other, but if their levels of ability are much closer to each, they tend to neutralize each other for much of the time, resulting in people getting bored there isn’t any clear action occurring, and that one of them is conducting “lay and pray”. Such criticisms that result from lack of technical appreciation rather than objective evidence is what makes people such as UFC color commentator Joe Rogan and UFC president Dana White openly call these people “uneducated fans”.
With all that said, did McCray utilize the “lay and pray” strategy? Absolutely not; the primary proof being that referee Herb Dean, who has been called, and literally is, one of the best referees in the business, never stood the fight up. However, a good majority of the entire fight was composed of a primarily unexciting ground game. Both fighters pretty much tried to stay active enough just to not stand up. Sure, transitions and submission attempts were made, but literally nothing occurred that could make this fight genuinely exciting, especially if you consider that the fight went to the third round and the exact same thing kept occurring. So, yes, it was 15 minutes of nearly “lay and pray”. And this is exactly what the “uneducated” fans like to hate. And you thought the GSP vs. Hardy fight was boring? Boy, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.
But, wait! If McCray did indeed control Noke the entire time, then why did the fight go to a third round? Why didn’t Tito’s strategy propel him to a decision win after the second? The answer is simple: he got tired. McCray lost his first fight after getting into the house because he lacked cardio. This guy gasses out after every first round, and Tito has been shown to shake his head because of this. Why is he still gassing out? He trains the same way the other fighters do and they don’t gas out as easily. Whatever the case, he at least showed some clear improvement here, because he seemed to have gotten a second wind during the third round.
Since McCray was tired in the second round, Noke was able to become more active, earning him the decision for that round, but because of McCray’s second wind in the third, a repeat of the first round domination occurred, and he earned the victory.
Okay, fight’s over, now back to the melodrama. What’s on the plate this week? Why another injury that needs to be addressed! I swear, this season has by far the most on-air injuries than literally any other. But, wait! This time it’s a bit different! This time Tito’s injured! Tito goes back to his doctor for some sort of checkup and returns with the news that his neck needs to be operated upon. He takes the doctor’s advice and, yes, pulls out of his post – season brawl with Chuck.
Alright, this is really, really bad for Tito’s image. A lot of the time when Tito loses, he complains that it’s because of some sort of injury he had, the most recent of which was after his loss against former light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin at UFC 106. Now, I respect MMA fighters tremendously, and understand what they go through during training, so I almost never complain when fighters speak out about their injuries (though I do get very disappointed when fights I want get cancelled because of injuries, such as the Forrest Griffin vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC 114). But, even I was really annoyed when Tito complained about his back directly after losing the fight. The crowd boo-ed him aplenty for it, and Forrest stepped up to defend him, but, in my eyes, the boos were necessary. Why? Well, in the UFC 106 Countdown special, Tito addressed his past injuries and stated that all were okay and that he firing on all cylinders, better than ever, and not an ounce under 100%. So, after all that hype, one can understand when the fans don’t like it if he complains that he lost the fight because of an injury. He should have just gave Forrest his props and admitted that he was simply the better warrior that night like so many other fighters do. But, no, his favorite excuse has to rear its ugly head again, and once again on this episode of the show.
So, am I complaining or even annoyed because of this? Frankly, no. I honestly rolled my eyes a bit when Tito conveyed the news about his neck, but I wasn’t shocked because I knew some sort of news was coming because the preview for the last episode stated so, and we already knew for some time now that Tito would be replaced as a coach and as Chuck’s opponent for quite some time now. So, the shock of him pulling out was really blunted there. But of his favorite excuse? Well, Tito has had a bad history of spine surgery, so it’s really not surprising that such a thing could occur. Then again, I’m more understanding than a lot of other MMA fans about this sort of thing, so my reaction isn’t nearly as entertaining as it probably should be.
In any case, the show must go on, and the second quarter final matchup is underway. Yes, as the last episode preview also promised us, we have a double dose of fights on our hands! The second quarter final matchup is between Brad Tavares (4-0) and Seth Baczynski (11-5). This is a very good matchup, as both are very good standup fighters and were pretty impressive in their last bouts. Still, if I had to pick one, I’d have to agree with Dana and go with Tavares. He seems more aggressive and devastating on his feet, despite his lack of experience compared to his opponent.
The fight starts and is pretty exciting. Tavares, again, is a good standup fighter, so the obvious strategy is to get him to the ground, which is what Baczynski does very early on in the first round. I can honestly hear the groans now. “Oh, God! Not another boring ground game?” Fear not, good reader, as the ground game this time is actually very exciting this time around. Baczynski looks to be the more skilled fighter on the ground, as he manages to get dominant positions early and even almost finishes Tavares with his submission attempts.
Tavares, though, shows that his ground game is nothing to be taken for granted, as he not only manages to escape all of Baczynski’s submission attempts, but also manages to reverse positions and deliver some devastating ground and pound. Nice.
Both fighters stand up during the last five seconds of the fight, and Tavares slips on a knee strike attempt. Baczynski capitalizes by planting a solid soccer kick to his downed opponent’s face. Not nice.
Yes, that’s how the second fight ended: by disqualification. Kicking a downed opponent to the head is illegal in the UFC. Baczynski shows immediate compassion by saying “sorry” to his opponent several times and does not, for one second, seem to regret the loss. He clearly looked more worried about his opponent’s well-being than his own fight career. Tavares was clearly knocked out the moment the kick hit him, and his whole body went limp and his face fell completely flat on the floor. The first time Baczynski says “sorry” to him, Tavares oddly says “for what?” The doctor examines him, notices the memory loss, and declares that he was indeed knocked out. Herb Dean stops the fight based on the doctor’s analysis, and Seth Baczynski goes on to check up on Tavares’ health.
All well and good, since everyone acknowledges that it was an accident, Tavares was immediately brought to the doctor’s attention, and the rules were followed to the letter. The End.
Wait, what? Not everyone showed sportsmanlike conduct during the event? Yup, as clear as TV can show it, the Team Ortiz coaches become extraordinarily furious at the decision, spouting such nonsense that “the kick hit him in the chest”, “the kick hit him in the armpit”, “he’s faking it”. Man, that’s just really inhuman. Sure, it sucks really bad that your team lost the match, but you can clearly see Tavares’ head react violent to the force of the soccer kick. Even if it didn’t hit squarely on his face, his brain was still jarred plenty good. And if his brain was a soccer ball? It would have wound up in the parking lot.
But, wait, there’s more! The Team Ortiz coaches then add “they already had one gift!” They were clearly mentioning the match between Rich Attonito and Kyacey Uscola, where their fighter, Uscola, was disqualified for kneeing the then-downed Attonito in the head. Attonito hears this, and becomes enraged at the coaches themselves? A gift? Damn crappy gift these pair of events turned out to be. The shouting matches become increasingly absurd, and Tito even walks up to the Liddel’s fighters. Chuck sees this and runs up to Tito to defend his guys, and both teams have to struggle to keep both their head coaches apart.
Dana White looks on at the whole thing and is completely dumbstruck. Man, the Team Ortiz people are really being set up as the “bad guys” this season, huh?
Anyway, Dana pulls Chuck aside, and spills the beans that Tito pulled out of their fight. Chuck stands up in rage and Dana utters the best line of the episode: “don’t break your phone”. Roll next episode preview.
Next episode continues the fun! Wheee! Chuck and Dana continue their conversation about Tito not fighting, and Dana talks to Tito about the odd situation. No coach has ever been “kicked off” the show before for whatever reason, and Tito probably should be because of him backing out of the promised post-season match. What’s to be done? All this plus the last quarter-final matchup between Jamie Yager and Josh Bryant, and the announcement of the semi-final matchups.
So, why do I mention in my first paragraph that others may not like this episode? Well, I’ve been an MMA fan for almost a decade now, and I can appreciate a lot about this sport, but the casual newcomer, of course, does not have the same viewpoint. If a viewer who has never seen MMA before tunes in to this particular episode to finally check out what all the fuss is about, he’s in for a lot of negativity. A boring first matchup, fighters pulling out of their fights, disqualifications, and unsportsmanlike behavior are what await him. Definitely not a good way to sell a sport.
Check out my reviews of the other episodes of The Ultimate Fighter season 11 here!