Yet another season of the Spike TV hit The Ultimate Fighter winds down tonight with a two-fight episode that will determine who fights for all the marbles in the finale.
Over the years the TUF talent mill is responsible for churning out some of the most entertaining and skilled fighters in the UFC. Back when it started with season one it was just one fighter who was supposed to get a contract at the end of the show, but not anymore.
Now, a good five or six contestants and sometimes even more, wind up fighting in the UFC after the show's over. The TUF concept has evolved into a militaristic basic training regimen for a lot of newcomers to the top league in the sport. Even if you don't stand out as superior than the other recruits, you can still be a soldier if you show you can take the punishment and endure through all the drama and hype.
Since the first season, so much has changed for the better on the show. Though an occasional fight in the house still breaks out and the pranks still can get out of hand, no longer do we see guys tearing the fighter house apart, getting off the wall drunk and out of control, or making the cut solely on their wild personality rather than their legit fighting skills.
There's a little more discipline now at UFC boot camp and the aspect of fighting your way into the house as a recruit changed everything. The emphasis on creating "The Real World" styled programming is all but gone now. Still, every now and then a real wild and crazy character, who can fight, squeezes through.
This year Alex "Bruce Leroy" Caceres is the standout, in-your-face clown on the show, always smiling and often annoying his fellow trainees with his mouth and his attitude. Like the infamous "Puck" from the Real World, San Francisco, Bruce Leroy is a professional button pusher.
He will likely end up with a contract due to his ability to back up some of his words with his game, but that game will need to improve leaps and bounds before he can compete with the best of the best on the UFC stage. Michael Johnson hopefully knocked some sense into his arch-enemy and teammate in the last episode when he sent Bruce Leroy's mouthpiece flying across the ring with a well-placed punch.
That dominant performance exposed all the holes in Alex's game, and if those holes get filled with more intensive training, he has a chance of making more than a couple good appearances in the big show.
Michael Johnson faces Nam Phan in tonight's episode and will probably handle the challenge just fine. Koscheck's last hope will go down in flames, but Phan is also likely to be one of those fighters who ends up with a few octagon appearances after the show. His striking and endurance are impressive, but Johnson just has more natural talent and a more well-rounded game. Still, this fight will be the most impressive battle in this episode by far as the favorite to win it all is Jonathan Brookins, who could pass for Clay Guida's blonde-haired brother, is not only the most technical and tactical fighter on the show, he's also the most humble and appreciative.
He believes in his talent and cherishes the opportunity to even be on the show in the first place. Putting him up against Kyle Watson is not going to challenge him much, as he's already beaten some better guys in the ramp up to this final battle of the season. He is one of those rare contestants who is the total package: the right attitude, the right skills, the right dedication, and the right background. His most impressive performance in any sport before MMA was wrestling, but that doesn't come across as his main strength. He can hold his own in BJJ and Muay Thai maneuvers, too. He has the potential to be a world champion and may well be one of the best contestants ever to appear on the show in the long run.
Watson may wind up with a fight or two beyond the show, but he's 30 and not getting any younger. He'll need to really prove himself if he gets an opportunity to fight in the octagon. With Dana White chucking out every guy that doesn't go all out every time they show up to fight these days and the WEC merger coming up, the chopping block will only be getting bloodier in the weeks and months to come.
Still, even Pablo Garza, who lost his preliminary battle to get into the house, is going to be on the finale show on Saturday. His loss to Michael Johnson was obviously not the best opportunity to showcase his skills, and he's gone down in weight. He'll be one of the first featherweights to do battle in the Octagon and introduce that weight class to the UFC fan base. So, his story proves that even if you don't do all that well on TUF, you can still be tough enough to work your way into the octagon and get another shot at glory. Any number of fighters who don't go all the way this season could someday wind up getting a second chance, but once they get that chance they better fight like it's a battle to the death, because if they don't it could be one and done in the ever evolving UFC where putting on a show and never gassing out is pretty much a requirement.