‘The Ultimate Fighter’: Season 11, Episode 5: Epic struggle

After a week in which Tito Ortiz traded accusations with longtime girlfriend Jenna Jameson, with whom he has started a family, it’s a relief to see an episode that focuses on the fighting.

We don’t see much in the house besides some idle speculation of which losing fighter should get a wild-card slot to return to action. Clayton McKinney is out of action with a shoulder injury. Rich Attonito won but can’t continue because of a broken hand. But with three first-round fights to go, we’re still a long way from getting an answer on this.

Tito has the right to pick the matchups, and he sends out Kris McCray against Josh Bryant. McCray cracks up Bryant at the staredown, and other fighters says Bryant doesn’t really act like he wants to fight. Not sure why else someone would spend six weeks cooped up in a house with these guys.

Let’s meet Josh Bryant! He’s from Tulsa, his parents divorced, his real dad died, he didn’t get along with his stepmom, and so he moved out. “Fighting and my wife really calmed me down.”

Liddell says Bryant was jolly while he cut weight. That’s scary.

McCray brags a bit about the quick stoppages in his fights. My USA TODAY colleague Sergio Non and I have seen him fight locally, and he is indeed a monster on the regional circuit.

Next we check in with McKinney, post-op. He had surgery on his shoulder, and it apparently took longer than planned. He’s quite groggy, and the tint of green in his hair is missing. (Possible editing error later in the show: The green is back as he’s shown briefly in the kitchen.)

Weigh-ins: More predictions that Josh will be in trouble. Tavares, like Yager, says he’s crossing team lines to root for McCray.

Chuck Liddell is going to miss this fight, the second one he has missed this season. John Hackleman says he’ll be the head coach but that Chuck will be calling the shots like John Gatti in prison. Nice analogy.

Tito apologizes to McKinney for questioning his heart when it’s now obvious that he’s really hurt. McKinney seems confused and gives a little middle finger when Tito steps away.

Midway through the show, things seem curious. We’ve rushed through the prefight. It’s not even 10:30, and we’re already seeing Herb Dean (ref) and Arianny Celeste (Octagon girl) getting in place. They didn’t advertise two fights this week. Are we getting a long fight despite McCray’s rep for 30-second wipeouts? Maybe this is a better matchup than we thought. Maybe Bryant’s 10-0 record should be taken seriously.

The first round has plenty of action. They trade in the standup. Bryant can’t quite get a takedown. McCray gets a takedown, but Bryant slowly scoots out the back. McCray keeps going for big throws, but he can’t get them. It’s a sure 10-9 for McCray, but now he’s going where he has never gone as a pro — the second round.

And McCray indeed falls into danger early in the second, taking a few good shots to the head. Bryant takes him down and starts working various armlocks. McCray looks bewildered to be in this situation, but Bryant also has expended a lot of energy. Bryant finds the power to slam McCray but can’t do much with the position.

They stand, and McCray manages a weary takedown, landing in Bryant’s guard. McCray tries to posture up to pound Bryant but can’t do it. He settles for tenderizing Bryant’s ribs while Bryant answers from the bottom with elbows and hammerfists. Round ends — should be a 10-9 for Bryant, sending us to overtime.

Hackleman tells Bryant to walk around, telling him he’s not tired. Bryant’s eyes tell a different story, and he looks shocked as Dean calls them to start Round 3.

Neither guy has anything left, and they fall into a grappling stalemate that no one other than Dean wants to break right away. McCray finally falls, with Bryant on top, but they don’t stay there long. They rise for good shots in the clinch — two punches from Bryant, a knee from McCray.

McCray works for a single-leg takedown but gets nowhere, pressing Bryant against the cage.

With 80 seconds left, Dean brings them back to the middle of the cage, and they slug away like Rocky and Apollo Creed in round 15. They topple, and Bryant’s on top. He’s close to getting mount at the end. Then with 20 seconds left, he gets McCray’s back and pulls him on top of him for the rear naked choke. He can’t finish it, but that should surely give him the decision.

And it does. All the fighters who went on record with their predictions are wrong. McCray, who looked like one of the favorites, is too busy trying to get air back in his lungs to show too much frustration.

Tito attributes his team’s 1-4 record to luck.

Next episode: Kyacey Uscola seems to be mad at Tito, someone else is hurt, and it’s Tito vs. Chuck in … dodge ball! The ads that run in the next hour, as Spike shows Best of Pride, tell a more dramatic story — a serious injury that leaves Tito facing questions, plus a blowup between longtime best buddies Liddell and Dana White.

Results so far:

  • Kyle Noke (Liddell) def. Clayton McKinney (Ortiz), submission
  • Brad Tavares (Liddell) def. James Hammortree (Ortiz), close decision
  • Rich Attonito (Liddell) def. Kyacey Uscola (Ortiz), DQ
  • Jamie “Crabman” Yager (Ortiz) def. Charles Blanchard (Liddell), TKO
  • Josh Bryant (Liddell) def. Kris McCray (Ortiz), solid decision

Two fighters from each team have yet to fight:

  • Liddell: Court McGee, the guy with the Scott Ian goatee
  • Liddell: Joe Henle, the scarier version of poker star Chris “Jesus” Ferguson
  • Ortiz: Seth Baczynski, who lost a three-round prelim fight to McGee but returned when Chris Camozzi left with a broken jaw
  • Ortiz: Nick Ring, Tito’s top pick
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