I’VE ALREADY MENTIONED how after last season’s lackluster The Ultimate Fighter (TUF 16), I wasn’t planning on following the current season (TUF 17). However these plans went by the wayside when I found out that, like last season, this season would be featuring a fighter based out of Santa Rosa, CA (the base of operations for us here at Sensational HQ).
Feeling duty bound, I’ve since watched every episode of TUF 17 from start to finish. Still, I’ve been remiss in providing my Gino Vegan thoughts on the goings-on, so after sitting down to watch the 6th episode tonight I’ve decided to get caught up.
First, let me say that this season is leaps and bounds more entertaining than TUF 16. Part of this is due to the coaching tandem. Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen are not only more compelling on-screen characters than Shane Carwin and Roy Nelson, but they’ve actually taken on a true “coaching” role with their teams (at least that’s how the show is presenting it), and both coaches have been interesting to watch in said role.
Further, while the Jones-Sonnen dynamic itself hasn’t been characterized by the snark and trash talk that defined their relationship prior to the season, their weird “odd couple” buddies vibe has worked just fine. So, on account of Jones and Sonnen alone, I haven’t felt bad about watching.
In addition to Jones and Sonnen, this season’s cast itself is more solid than the last one. Other than Dom Waters, Mike Ricci, and the other Canadian dude who looked like a mashup of Christian and Bret Hart, I can’t clearly remember any of the fighters from TUF 16. In contrast, while not every fighter this season jumps off the screen, there’s definitely a nice field of memorable personalities, coupled with some pretty solid fights as well.
However there’s one aspect of TUF 17 that stands above the rest as this season’s most intriguing feature. While I set out watching TUF 17 to follow the progress of Santa Rosa’s own Collin Hart (who fought and won a couple of episodes ago, turning full heel in the process), his story has become overshadowed by another narrative that’s developed over these first six weeks, one that reached a crescendo tonight.
The narrative in question is the story of Uriah Hall. Mr. Hall was a standout on the show from his first appearance, cutting an imposing figure and presenting a compelling story of a bullied child who recast himself as a confident kicker of heads. The story built momentum along the way, as Hall won his post-debut fight in shocking fashion: a brutal knockout of his opponent, after which Mr. Hall appeared distraught and contrite.
As the show moved on, Hall seemed to have the makings of a top babyface. When Collin Hart enacted his aforementioned heel turn–aggressively shoving his middle finger in the face of his opponent “King” Kevin Casey during their weigh-in (over perceived disrespect from an earlier lame house prank), and later dispatching Casey in remorseless fashion–Hall seemed ready to avenge his teammates’ loss to Hart and get payback for the finger.
Still, viewers focused on continuity might remember seeds planted earlier in the season that showed a different side of Uriah Hall. During a scene where various members of the cast were kicking back at the house, Mr. Hall seemed to react very strongly to some absent-minded ribbing on the part of one his peers. After referring to a the cast members with chef experience as a “professional cooker,” Hall was chided by (I believe) Josh Samman who said he must have meant “chef.”
This correction caused Hall to seethe with silent rage and later express an intense dislike for Samman. Hall admitted he might have been overreacting a bit, but claimed sensitivity to this sort of thing based on his aforementioned childhood experiences.
The angle wasn’t really touched again, until tonight. First, in an aside unrelated to the episode’s fight, Hall was shown sparring with teammate Luke Barnatt who complained of Hall hitting too hard during the exercise and went on to run down Hall as a bad teammate.
Tension between Hall and Barnatt continued throughout the episode, leading Hall to abandon his (Team Sonnen) teammates in favor of hanging out with some guys from Team Jones. For a few minutes, it appeared a full-on defection might be in the works, as a jovial time was being had by all.
But then some off-hand comment (which I can’t even remember) caused Hall to snap, lashing out at (again, forgive me if I have the wrong guy) Adam Cella, the recipient of Hall’s devastating knockout kick a few weeks back, and asking Cella if he (Cella) was a “bitch” like his (Cella’s) girlfriend.
This led Team Jones to turn their back on Hall, sending him packing to Team Sonnen, who had already turned their own backs, and so by the end of the episode Hall was a man without a country. A “ronin” if you will:
But to me, this is exactly where Hall will thrive. His abilities as depicted thus far have been so ahead of everyone else on the show that it only makes sense for the season to now focus on the story arc of URIAH HALL vs. THE WORLD. The misunderstood lonewolf against the pack. And you know what? I’m pulling for Uriah.
Being a bullied child myself, and living as the adult who exists in the aftermath, I know what it’s like to react irrationally when confronted by a group dynamic, to always feel like the outsider, to almost willfully become the bad guy to protect oneself from further hurt. Unfortunately, in my case I didn’t grow up to be a 6′ tall dude with a lights out spinning wheel kick, but hey, I can relate! So let’s do this thing Uriah. For all the loners, Dottie. All the rebels. Let’s win one for the bad guys!
Back with more on Season 17 of the Ultimate Fighter if and when I get around to it…