AS MENTIONED ELSEWHERE, “Mr. Sensational” Gino Vega hopped onto the train of Mixed Martial Arts fandom early in the life of the sport, then got distracted, then lost track of it, then felt too overwhelmed to get back into it, then bit the bullet and started following it again a year or two ago, and now has become a re-acclimated devotee of the sport he never should have taken his eyes off of in the first place.
Due to the novelty associated with the early stages of this re-acclimation, The Sensational One at first looked forward to every moment of MMA programming that came his way. However, novelty being novelty, said novelty soon wore off, and while the Vegster is still down to watch just about anything MMA-related, he’s come to terms with the fact that not all MMA programming is created equal.
One program that Mr. Sensational was particularly excited about upon returning to the MMA fold was the UFC’s Ultimate Fighter reality show. The Ultimate Fighter came on the scene just as Mr. Sensational was moving away from active MMA fandom, so he’d missed out on this phenomenon that created so much buzz. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to Mr. Sensational, the Ultimate Fighter heyday had already come and gone, and what he found when he started watching the show last season was a hollow remnant of the series that had gotten such notice years before.
It’s not that TUF is a bad show, per se. If you like MMA, what’s to complain about a series chronicling young and unknown fighters as they vie for a UFC contract and a tricked out Harley Davidson motorcycle? Where the complaint lies in in the fact that–while earlier iterations of TUF managed to make new stars out of the unknowns on its cast–the show’s format has become so familiar, the UFC’s roster is so loaded, and the product itself is so exposed that it’s difficult for these current crops of unknowns to break out and establish themselves as stars the audience can invest in.
Between UFC pay-per-view events, UFC events on Fox, UFC events on FX, UFC events on Fuel TV, and Bellator now every week on Spike TV, MMA is everywhere, and it’s hard enough to keep up with the faces we know much less get to know new ones.
Making matters worse, last season featured Shane Carwin and Roy Nelson as the coaches for the two opposing teams of hopefuls, and while I dig both guys as fighters, as coaches they were non-entities. So, TUF Season 16 consisted of a lot of guys you’d never heard of being put into a position not to shine and two coaches who did nothing to elevate the drama or urgency of the proceedings.
As such, while I watched every single episode of TUF 16, I barely remember any of it. I probably wouldn’t have even made it through the whole season if it weren’t for one hook that kept reeling me back in.
Among the TUF 16 hopefuls looking to punch, kick, choke, or stretch their way onto the UFC roster was one Dom “Sho Nuff” Waters of Santa Rosa, CA. Since the show featured a fighter from the same city as all of us here at Sensational HQ, it felt only right for the MSGV blog to cover his progress in its entirety.
Being a pretty chill seeming dude, Mr. Waters didn’t figure too heavily into the reality TV shenanigans during TUF 16, and his appearances were confined to an impressive KO win on the first episode, a run-in with a frothing at the mouth lunatic mid-season (a confrontation in which Mr. Waters handled himself admirably), and finally a contract-hopes-ending loss at the season’s finish.
And so after the close of TUF 16, without a Santa Rosa connection, TUF 17 probably wouldn’t have even been on the Sensational radar, except for the fact that–in an attempt to bring life back to the flagging franchise–UFC and Fox upped the ante, naming UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones and UFC’s resident master of the heel-ish promo Chael Sonnen as the coaches for season 17.
Jones shot to fame with his clean and Godly living, Nike sponsorship festooned, youngest ever UFC championship reign, and has since become a love-to-hate figure following a very impious DUI arrest and a refusal to take a last minute fight with Chael Sonnen, which led to the first ever cancellation of a UFC PPV event (UFC 151).
Sonnen, on the other hand, is an anti-hero of sorts who may not have the best record in the UFC, but consistently talks his way into high profile fights and gets under the skin and into the heads of his opponents with his scathing, deadpan sarcasm.
Following the UFC 151 debacle, Jones and Sonnen were put on an inevitable collision course, and so after their stints as opposing coaches on TUF 17 they’ll meet for a Light Heavyweight Title fight. Presumably, the high stakes at the end of the rainbow and the personality/stature of both coaches involved will give TUF 17 some of the star rub it desperately needs.
If Mr. Sensational is at all representative of the potential TUF viewing demographic, then the UFC/Fox ploy worked, because The Sensational One went from zero interest in TUF 17 prior to the announcement of Jones and Sonnen to some interest afterward.
Still, it was a tempered, “leaving-it-on-the-background-while-reading-crap-on-the-internet” interest. That is, until Mr. Sensational saw the final list of contestants for the two hour season debut.
Right there on the list, for the second season in a row, the words SANTA ROSA, CA jumped off the page. The Sensational One double checked, and indeed, Collin Hart (4-1-1 in Mixed Martial Arts competition) was listed as fighting out of Santa Rosa, CA.
And with that, Mr. Sensational realized he was once again in for a full season of TUF viewing. It just didn’t feel right to back Dom Waters last season and ignore Collin Hart this time around. If Santa Rosa is going to take the UFC by storm, The Sensational One wants a front row seat, dammit!
So Mr. Sensational watched the TUF 17 two hour debut the other night and came away with following impressions:
The debut episode of TUF 17 was a two hour affair during which a series of fights took place to determine which contestants will move on to the main portion of the show.
Unlike previous season debuts where this initial tourney takes place in an empty room, this time the contestants were allowed to invite friends and family, a change that definitely improved the otherwise sterile atmosphere and gave something more to latch on to narrative-wise. We got to see the fighters’ families, get a sense of what their motivations were, etc.
In addition to the helpful presence of an audience, Jones and Sonnen were a HUGE upgrade over Carwin and Nelson. While the two weren’t at each others’ throats, and in fact were downright cordial, they brought a level of engagement and charisma that was missing last season. Jones even took it upon himself to leave his seat and offer advice to fighters mid-fight in a couple of cases. This definitely gave the otherwise generic proceedings a bit of personality.
And speaking of personality, while none of the fighters jumped off the page as tomorrow’s Liddells today, there were a couple of guys who Mr. Sensational still remembers the following afternoon.
The most signiicant cast members to make it to the next round (excluding Santa Rosa’s Collin Hart who I’ll mentioned separately) were, from a Gino Vegan perspective, Tor Troeng, Clint Hester, and Uriah Hall.
Tor “The Hammer” Troeng is a fellow who hails from Sweden, where he works as a research assistant in mathematics at Umea University. Coming across more like an extra from a Dogme 95 flick than a kicker of heads in his pre-fight promo, Tor stated that to him, an MMA fight is another problem to be solved (just like mathematics, get it?). Tor proceeded to do just that, and though Mr. Sensational remembers absolutely nothing about his fight, The Sensational One remembers Tor as a fighter due to his memorable back story and personality.
Clint Hester, from the Atlanta area, is a laid back seeming southern dude who speculated with a grin pre-fight that the fighters’ house would be like “federal prison” due to its dudes-only nature. That was kind of scary. Mr. Sensational doesn’t remember a whole lot about Mr. Hester’s fight, but he does remember that Mr. Hester won in a convincing fashion that impressed Chael Sonnen, which is enough to make Mr. Hester memorable.
Uriah Hall out of NYC is an imposing, kick boxerish looking figure who told a tale of social anxiety at a young age, a feeling of alienation and not belonging, and how martial arts provided a focus for him to rise above these issues. Since Mr. Sensational could relate to all of this except for the martial arts part, Hall immediately became a favorite here at Sensational HQ, and we were glad to see him move on with a victrory in his fight, after which he graciously bonded with his opponent.
Which brings us, finally, to Collin Hart of Santa Rosa, CA. Mr. Sensational wasn’t sure when Mr. Hart would make his appearance on the show or what to expect, and it turns out his was one of the last bouts featured on the episode.
There tend to be a few different personality prototypes for the fighters on these MMA shows, and among them the three most common are the focused/humble martial artist fighting for his dedication to the craft, the underdog family man who’s fighting to improve his family’s lot in life, and the bully/brawler who just likes to fight.
Mr. Hart was depicted as the latter, his pre-fight profile infoming us of his day job bouncing for a bar in Santa Rosa, where he’s learned that there’s a satisfying feeling when heaving the body of an unruly drunk.
After Mr. Hart took to the octagon for his bout, someone–Dana White?–mentioned that he’d been dubbed Collin “The Dick” Hart at casting. Collin then proceeded to win the fight without displaying any particularly “dickish” behavior, but to be honest, other than the Santa Rosa angle, Hart’s portrayal hadn’t given Mr. Sensational much to glom on to, until one of the coaches mentioned that Hart looked like a young Randy Coutre, and they were totally right!
At that moment it all came together. The bruiser/brawler prototype following in the footsteps of such legendary former bouncers as Bas Rutten, along with the sporting of a Coutre-ish look and demeanor, combined to sell everyone here at Sensational HQ on Collin Hart, and we’ll be looking forward to charting his triumphs and travails as the season continues.
So after one episode TUF 17 is heads and shoulders better than TUF 16, but we’ll see how that continues as the weeks go by, as well as what lies in store for Santa Rosa’s own Collin Hart. Until then, and as always, thanks for reading.