Two hours! Two semifinals! Crabman arguing with Uscola in the house! Are you ready?! Do you wish this wasn’t on opposite Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals and some MLS games?
Let’s go …
The first bit of suspense is in the opening credits. Will they replaced Ortiz with Franklin? The answer: Yes! That must’ve cost some money.
I spoke with Franklin on Monday for a story you’ll see Friday, and it’s strange to see him here. Coming in so late in the season put the mild-mannered fighter in a tough spot.
The assistant coaches hyped last week walk in. It’s Forrest Griffin, sporting the Evan Tanner facial hair, along with wrestler Gray Maynard and Tyson Griffin.
Franklin is a great choice for this assignment. He starts by listening, an underrated skill. Griffin — Tyson Griffin, that is — points out that they’re trying to taper McCray’s training since he’s been going hard for several weeks and needs to come in fresh. So they’re really taking the “do no harm” approach, which makes perfect sense. It’s also exactly what a set of more egotistical coaches would NOT do.
“I go from fighting a guy I hate to fighting one of the nicest guys in MMA,” Chuck Liddell says in a quote I’ll need to add into the story I just filed.
We hear a bit about the difficulties of having teammates Court McGee and Brad Tavares train to fight each other. As if that has never happened on The Ultimate Fighter. Did anyone see the last season, when we were left with Team Rashad plus Marcus Jones?
Back to the house, and it’s prank time. Everyone vs. “Team Yager.” Of course, that includes Kris McCray and Brad Tavares, both of whom are fighting in a couple of days and just found their sleep interrupted by silly string and air horns.
Tavares, who has a short memory, claims he and his crew never interrupted anyone’s sleep. He gets back at everyone by breaking their chess board. But only the edge has broken off, so it’s still playable. I’ll have to see if Spike can hand over video of some of these chess matches. This is Sports Myriad. We do chess.
Scouting Tavares vs. McGee — Joe “Chris ‘Jesus’ Ferguson” (or “Caveman”) Henle says Tavares doesn’t tap, nullifying McGee’s ground advantage. Dana White is torn between Tavares’ talent and McGee’s rapid improvement. He picks McGee.
Fighters in the cage, Arianny walking … time for an ad break. That was a long first act by TUF standards.
We return to a solid fight between two guys who seem to have bright futures in the sport. Not much separates them through two rounds. In the third, McGee looks a little smoother with some combinations and takedown efforts. He stuns Tavares a couple of times.
Each guy lands an unintentional groin shot in the third. McGee then lands a second, though he mutters as he returns to the corner that he thought he got the leg. The clearly winded Tavares could use the break, even with just 45 seconds left. Upon resumption, McGee lands a solid left that drops Tavares. A quick scramble gets Tavares to his feet, but McGee picks him up and takes him down.
White muses aloud that McGee just won the fight. But the man with the long beard and intriguing life story (harrowing struggle with addiction) doesn’t leave it to the judges. He sinks in a rear naked choke. Tavares tries to work his way out and, as Henle predicted, doesn’t tap. Referee Josh Rosenthal is on top of things and sees Tavares fade out of consciousness.
Fight over. McGee is in the final, prompting a rush back to the archives to see if he’s the first fighter to lose a first-round fight (on a controversial decision against the impressive but eventually injured Nick Ring) and make it back to the final.
Tavares is clearly disoriented when he awakes, then distraught. White tells him the fight was worthy of the finale — and though White may be prone to hyperbole, he’s right.
White also is a big military supporter, and he brings five Marines to do some cross-training. The Marines teach the fighters some drills and vice versa. The Marines are particularly interested in learning escape techniques, which Franklin and his assistants tackle with enthusiasm.
The Marines also come over to the house for a cookout and some chit-chat. Franklin talks with one Marine who looks like he’s straight out of high school, and he says he has been in the service for 23 years. Franklin nearly spits. “How old are you?” “41.” Franklin laughs and says God gave him some good genetics. Somewhere, a marketing genius starts trying to recruit Sgt. Forty to film a Stay Young the Marine Way video.
After the break, it’s back to prank time. Yager starts with the clever idea of taking people’s left shoes. That somehow devolves into throwing bags of food out the window at a couple of guys. James Hammortree takes it badly and goes in to dump some trash on Yager’s bed. Yager says he wasn’t the one who threw the flour, which somehow justifies tossing stuff in Hammortree’s quarters.
Uscola, who has been barking back at Yager all season, charges in. Bleep. Bleep you. Bleep that. You bleeping quit. (That, of course, is directed at Yager.)
Yager keeps pushing and pushing until Uscola says, “OK, let’s go outside and do this.” He goes to get his shoes and walks out. Yager goes to the window and peers out like he’s expecting a pizza delivery. Then he sets about returning shoes. Uscola finally shrugs and comes back inside.
Crabman sees the bright side. He figures he has annoyed so many people that they’ll all ask to fight him in the finale, and White will just give him his pick of opponents. Maybe White will introduce tag-team UFC and let people take turns teeing off on him.
Back to an actual fight — it’s Bryant and McCray in the second semi in a rematch of a first-round bout Bryant won by solid three-round decision. McCray, known to us in Northern Virginia as a quick-finishing fighter, sets the early pace with takedowns. Bryant seems tentative and awkward, and McCray gains confidence as he lands solid shots, including one powerful uppercut. 10-9 McCray in the first.
(Meanwhile, the Blackhawks lead 3-2 with 4:55 in the third. Executives at Versus, which carries both the NHL and UFC, must be beside themselves trying to watch both. And then the Flyers tie it. Maybe we’ll get overtime and can catch the end.)
Round 2 goes a little better for Bryant. His striking isn’t crisp, but he manages to press McCray against the fence most of the way. Franklin calmly tells McCray that Bryant may have won that round and that he can’t afford to spend the third round against the fence.
No ad break — an Ultimate Fighter rarity — and we’re off to Round 3. McCray lands a couple of uppercuts and then gives Bryant a turn against the fence. Bryant gets out, but McCray comes forward agains and wrestles him down. They stand again, and Bryant lands his best punch of the fight. McCray shakes it off, though he has slowed since the first round, feeling the effects of five fights in six weeks.
Bryant gets McCray to the fence, but McCray quickly works his way out. Bryant is swinging as wildly as Keith Jardine but not as effectively. McCray gets the better of an exchange in the center of the cage and walks Bryant to the fence. 45, 44, 43 .. each second against the fence brings McCray closer to victory. Bryant gets back to the center briefly, but McCray pushes him back, and that’s how they finish.
Should be 29-28 McCray, and he has his hands up. Bryant’s corner yells at Bryant to raise his hands, too, in an effort to give the judges a subtle nudge. It’s close, and it’s nowhere near the first semifinal. If McGee-Tavares looked like a finale, this one looked like a prelim. But McCray should take some sort of endurance prize, at least.
Byrd 30-27, Peoples 29-28, Trowbridge 30-27 … all for McCray. Yes, folks, Cecil Peoples got it right.
Franklin jokes that he’s the first undefeated coach in TUF history. Liddell doesn’t dispute the decision. Neither does Bryant, smiling through a fat lip that he’ll get better.
And so we have Court McGee and Kris McCray, who in this wild season both lost but both showed a lot of potential. Based on tonight, McGee will likely be the betting favorite.
Promo time: Liddell-Franklin this Saturday. Then a “special episode” looking back at the season and promising additional footage of additional arguments. We can’t wait for the spinoff, Everybody Hates Crabman.