UFC: Ultimate Fighter II Finale review
by Scott Newman(MMA)
Posted on October 31, 2006, 8:14 AM
After the huge success of the first season of ‘TUF’, it was always going to be difficult for the cast of the second season to replicate the drama and controversy that surrounded the original competitors. And while the first season didn’t throw up any FOTYCs, it was clear that the show had definitely unearthed some gems in the likes of Diego Sanchez, Josh Koscheck and Mike Swick. With the weight classes for TUF II switched to Heavyweight and Welterweight, many people argued immediately that the fighter list wasn’t as impressive as the first season’s. While the WW class featured some well-known fighters on the smaller circuits, and was just as competitive on paper as either of the TUF I classes, the HW class – with UFC being thin in that category already – appeared to consist of blown-up, relatively unproven albeit possibly talented 205lbers, unproven and inexperienced prospects, or straight up journeymen.
The fears about the show turned out to be legitimate. Where TUF I had antagonistic personalities like Leben, Southworth, Koscheck and Hoger, TUF II’s antagonists were either eliminated early (Guillard, Gurgel) or ended up “feuding” with people they would never end up fighting (namely coach Matt Hughes). And the fights themselves, outside of a couple of diamonds (Morgan/Cummo, Gurgel/Von Flue) turned out to be either squashes, or slow, plodding affairs seemingly triggered by a mix of bad injuries and a lack of killer instinct. Even the finale show was injury-struck, as no less than five of the cast were still injured by the time it came around, meaning that we were left with a seven-fight card, and the three remaining healthy fighters without fights. But it wasn’t all bad – the main event of the show was a highly anticipated Welterweight bout between Diego Sanchez and Nick Diaz, and after the Griffin-Bonnar war on the first finale, there was always the chance that we’d get another classic fight. So without further ado...
Schall was probably the most unfortunate guy on the whole TUF II cast, as he badly injured his knee during the first day of taping, and ended up coming home even before the teams had been picked. Jardine on the other hand was able to last all the way to the semi-finals without fighting, largely due to the intimidation factor I believe (he was Coach Rich Franklin’s first pick) before he was surprisingly eliminated by Rashad Evans via unanimous decision. Big size difference here as it’s clear that while Schall is definitely a “heavyweight”, Jardine is one of the blown-up 205lbers that I talked about earlier.
They get underway and Jardine immediately circles around the big man, looking to hit and move, and he lands a nice right hand and a leg kick early. Both fighters swing and miss, as Jardine begins the tactic of winging punches in from the outside, stepping in to deliver and then quickly getting back out of range. Big right to the jaw lands from Jardine, as he continues to work his tactic, hitting Schall with a front kick to the midsection. Jardine continues to attack, coming in with punches from the outside as Schall looks for the big counter. Jardine stuns him momentarily with punches, but Schall recovers quickly, and Jardine continues to work his plan, landing a high kick as the round comes to a close.
The 2nd round begins exactly the same as the first – Jardine winging punches in, then stepping out of range. He works Schall’s left leg with a couple of kicks, causing it to buckle after one especially hard one. Schall begins to press the action more, coming forward and they exchange punches, before Schall lands a knee that Jardine counters with a left hand. Jardine lands another two low kicks to the left leg, and on the second Schall stumbles, clearly hurt. Jardine smells blood and closes in, landing another leg kick, and then another heavy one, chopping him down Marco Ruas style for the stoppage. Post-fight announcers speculate whether the surgically repaired knee was damaged by the kicks.
Not the most exciting opener, but the Ruas chopping down Varelans finish was always one of my favourites from the old UFCs, so seeing a repeat performance of it was pretty cool, and Jardine dealt with the big man impressively considering the size disadvantage.
Guillard, despite continually putting himself over and basically making himself into the most antagonistic personality in the first episode, ended up being the first fighter to be eliminated as he lost a decision to Josh Burkman, while Davis, the former pro-boxer, got crushed by the ground assault of Joe Stevenson in the fourth episode.
Melvin comes out throwing some fast kicks, missing a head one but landing a nice leg kick. They press, and Guillard lands a heavy, fast combination that rocks Davis, and Melvin ends up on top in guard after a scramble. He stands and leaps into side mount, but Davis instantly works his full guard back. Guillard stands again and drops some wild punches, then gets a guillotine and pulls guard, looking to finish. The choke looks tight, but Davis manages to work his neck free eventually, and peppers him with punches from top position, as it looks for a second like Melvin might be tired. Davis looks to pass, but Guillard rolls from the bottom and escapes to his feet. They press with strikes and Davis clinches, but Melvin trips him down into side mount, and lands a couple of elbows to the head to end the round.
They both look to strike to open the 2nd, and Melvin lands a nice leg kick, before ducking a punch from Davis and getting a takedown, into Davis’s guard. Melvin drops some elbows, then stands and passes into side mount momentarily, but Davis reverses out to standing, so Guillard THROWS HIM ONTO HIS HEAD and gets on top in half-guard. Davis manages to get full guard back, but Guillard comes over the top with some vicious elbows, cutting Davis badly over his left eye, and the doctor stops it there when the ref calls time to check the cut. Deep, nasty cut.
Impressive, exciting performance from Guillard who just looked too explosive and strong for Davis, even standing where Marcus was supposedly in his element. As I’ve said before, I’m not a big fan of Melvin’s brash attitude, but you can’t deny that the guy has skills.
Burkman actually put in one of the more impressive performances of the season, taking out Melvin Guillard by decision in the first fight, but broke his arm in the process and ended up being sent home and replaced by Jason Von Flue. Morgan, like Keith Jardine, was able to make the semi-finals without actually fighting, but that was where his run ended as in the most exciting fight of the series, he was knocked out cold by a knee from Luke Cummo, triggering what I’d consider to be the most emotional moment of any of the TUF seasons (“I didn’t make it!” gets me every time). With Burkman looking to be pretty strong against Guillard, and Morgan holding pre-TUF victories over Bang Ludwig and Aaron Riley, this was widely considered to be a contender on paper for fight of the night.
They begin and Burkman closes in immediately, clipping Morgan with a leg kick, before grabbing double underhooks and slamming him to the ground, where he follows with three BRUTAL ELBOWS, knocking Sammy completely unconscious in 21 seconds. Jesus Christ.
Post-fight Burkman actually looks pretty shaken up by his actions, as Morgan looks to be badly hurt and takes some time to come around. Replays show that as Burkman slammed him down, they clashed heads and Sammy was already out cold when Josh landed the elbows, and on one angle you actually see Sammy’s eyes roll into the back of his head. Nasty, nasty stuff. A premature, scary ending (ala Ortiz/Tanner) to what could’ve been a good fight there.
This was the first fight on the televised card, and pit TUF I runner-up and BJJ Black Belt Kenny Florian against Muay Thai champion Kit Cope, who had very little MMA experience. General consensus was that Cope only had a chance if he could keep the fight standing, and even then, Florian had held his own standing with the likes of Chris Leben, so Cope would have to be at his best to finish Kenny before he got a chance for a takedown.
Florian comes out right away and clinches, looking for the takedown, but Cope works to block, landing a nice inside elbow and a hard knee to the gut. He manages to avoid the takedown and they come back out, but Kenny comes forward throwing kicks, taking an uppercut en route to going for the takedown again. Cope manages to avoid again, landing a good knee inside the clinch, but Florian keeps working and finally gets him down, passing almost instantly into full mount. Cope manages somehow to get back to guard, and tries to elbow from the bottom, as Florian works to pass. Cope manages to muscle his way back to his feet momentarily, only for Kenny to trip him right back down and go into side mount. Florian gets a crucifix and works him over with some elbows, before taking the full mount. He pounds away with punches from the top, and then takes a full armbar, but the buzzer for the end of the round sounds *right* before Cope taps out. Florian actually thinks he’s won, but the official explains otherwise. Cope looks badly hurt between rounds from the armbar.
They come into the 2nd, and Cope’s arm looks pretty useless at this point, so he fires some kicks, but Florian gets the takedown quickly and takes Cope’s back right as they hit the mat, where he quickly hooks a rear naked choke to close things off properly this time. Pretty much went exactly as advertised, with Cope landing a couple of good shots standing before Florian took him down and pretty much tooled him. Later it was revealed that it was Cope’s shoulder that was injured in the 1st round rather than the arm, but to be fair I don’t think it made much of a difference anyway – Kenny was clearly in another league altogether on the mat.
Huge contrast between the two fighters here. Stevenson, a favourite to win the competition as soon as his name was mentioned as a possibility, had been Coach Matt Hughes’s first pick, had rolled his way to the finals crushing Marcus Davis and Jason Von Flue en route, and had an impressive record of 23-6, with wins over UFC veterans like Jeremy Jackson and Edwin Dewees. On the other hand, Cummo had been Hughes’s last pick and the last pick overall, was a relative unknown as he came in, and only sported a record of 3-2. With that said though, Cummo had become arguably the most popular personality on the show. Originally coming off as a geek type who was into “chi”, had weird eating habits, and was a bit of a loner, thanks to his quirky side (wearing a ninja mask to the Octagon, binge-eating post victory) and an exciting fighting style, his popularity soared, especially when he beat the gutsy Anthony Torres in an exciting fight by decision, and then followed it up by knocking out Sam Morgan in the fight of the season. Still, most fans felt Joe would roll over Luke here Diego-style to take the contract.
Funny stuff in the “staredown” pre-fight, as when asked if he has any questions, Joe states “Luke – I am your father!” Pretty funny, and even better when you remember that Joe’s nickname is actually ‘Daddy’, too. They clinch off the bat and Stevenson quickly muscles him towards the fence, and then gets a BEAUTIFUL arm drag takedown over to Luke’s guard. Into half-guard and he wastes no time, passing into side mount where he hooks up an arm triangle choke. The choke looks locked up and Joe lands some knees to the body, looking to pass to the other side to finish the hold, but Cummo manages to survive and get back into full guard. Stevenson looks to pass the guard again, and then tries dropping back for a heel hook, but Luke pushes him off with his legs and stands. Stevenson high-fives him, and they restart with Luke looking to strike, but Joe quickly closes the distance and gets a single leg down to a side mount against the fence. Luke tries to use the fence as a means for a reversal, but Joe’s having none of it, and he moves him away, landing punches and elbows and looking to mount. Luke manages to get guard back momentarily, but Stevenson passes right back to side mount and then takes the full mount with 30 seconds remaining. Looking to finish, Stevenson opens up, landing a series of VICIOUS ELBOWS, but Luke manages to survive to end the round.
They begin the 2nd, and Luke closes in and suddenly CLOCKS JOE WITH A BIG RIGHT! Joe staggers back and Luke comes charging in, but Stevenson recovers quickly and grabs the leg, getting a takedown to guard. Joe now looks completely recovered after a moment, and he passes into half-guard, and then quickly into side mount as the crowd begin a “LUKE!” chant. Cummo manages to scramble back into half-guard, but Joe works him over with some elbows, and takes the full mount. Luke scrambles from the bottom again, so Joe looks for an anaconda choke, and then ends up on top in mount again. Luke scrambles once more, but this time puts his arm in jeopardy, and Stevenson locks in a full armbar, but as he looks to straighten it out, Luke manages to stand and then wriggle free! Cummo simply turns and walks away, popping the crowd huge as Stevenson gets to his feet, and calls for the high five again. Cummo comes forward with punches again, but Stevenson shakes them off, and they go into a clinch and end up going to the ground with Luke on top for the first time! Stevenson immediately rolls for a kneebar from the bottom, but can’t straighten it out, so instead he transitions to top position in half-guard. Into side mount, but Luke scrambles back to guard, and the round ends like the first did, with Stevenson dropping elbows. This is a hell of a fight.
BIG “LUKE!” chant to open the third and final round as he opens with a big right again and sprawls to avoid a takedown, but Joe grabs him with a bodylock and trips him down...only for Luke to land on top! Now Luke drops some elbows in Joe’s half-guard as Joe looks to secure a leg from the bottom. Cummo triangles his legs together to avoid a kneebar, and drops some more elbows, as Joe gets his full guard back, looking tired at this point. Luke tries to drop some more elbows, then decides to bring it back to standing, but it’s Joe that lands, clocking him with a right hand before getting a big double leg to guard. He works to pass, easily avoiding Luke’s triangle attempt, and then takes Luke’s back off a scramble. Luke squirms to escape, and they both end up attempting heel hooks, with neither being successful. Luke escapes to his feet, but Joe quickly slams him back down and passes into side mount, and from the ground back to standing, they exchange to end the fight.
Whew. We’re going to the judges, who all score it in favour of Joe Stevenson, but man, did that performance raise Cummo’s stock. Post-fight Dana White describes the fight as “Griffin vs. Bonnar but on the ground”, while Stevenson reveals that he tore his clavicle in the build-up to the fight, but chose to fight injured anyway, and he also admits that he hugely underestimated Luke.
What can you say about this fight? Honestly, Dana’s assessment wasn’t far off, as it surpassed everyone’s expectations mainly due to Luke putting up one hell of a fight, not only managing to survive everything that Joe threw at him, from submissions to brutal elbows, but even coming back with some big shots of his own, getting Joe into trouble on more than one occasion. So while Stevenson’s clearly got a bigger upside (especially as he’s dropped to 155lbs now) and won the fight clearly too, this was a star-making performance from Cummo who practically guaranteed himself a gig for a long time with the UFC. Incredible war and one of the best fights of the year.
Like the Welterweight finals, this was a really unexpected match-up for the Heavyweight finals, as neither guy was considered a favourite coming into the competition. Both men were unbeaten, granted, but Imes was only 3-0 and had only been training for around a year, while Evans was seen as badly undersized at HW and had competed for most of his career at 205lbs before this. The paths to the finals had been interesting too, as Imes had defeated the injured Rob MacDonald with the world’s slowest triangle choke, before upsetting Seth Petruzelli, who was arguably the favourite to win the competition at that point, in the semi-finals. Evans’s story was probably the most interesting thing about the season, as after a lacklustre win over Tom Murphy in his first fight (the infamous “shittiest fight Dana had ever seen”) and a feud with Matt Hughes over his “showboating”, Rashad had gone on to upset both Mike Whitehead and Keith Jardine to book his place in the finals, showing a nice mix of good wrestling skill and quick hands in the process, albeit being unable to finish either fight.
In all honesty, I don’t know what anyone was really expecting here, after the HW fights on the TV show for the most part were terrible, but the thought was that Evans was much more skilled, but might struggle with Imes’s huge size advantage.
They get underway, and Imes immediately snaps off a couple of jabs, before grabbing a plum clinch and trying some knees. Evans manages to break off quickly, and then tags him with a combo, so Imes grabs him and muscles him into the fence with a bodylock. Imes gets the takedown to half-guard, but Rashad works to get back to his feet, and they come up in a clinch where Evans lands a heavy bodyshot. They exchange knees before breaking off, but Imes quickly bulls his way back into the clinch. They muscle for position, and then Imes breaks with a right hand. Imes looks to work his jab, but Rashad comes in with a combo, answered by a knee and a glancing high kick from Imes. Rashad eats a jab, but then comes back and tags him with a fast combination! Imes clinches, but he looks wobbly and Rashad clocks him from close range, sending him TUMBLING TO THE MAT!~! Evans comes in and looks to pound away for the finish, but Imes manages to get full guard, so Rashad tries to pass. He looks to land some elbows from the top, but Imes fends him off and reverses out, getting back to his feet! Rashad gets a front facelock and lands a knee, but Imes breaks free into an upper-body clinch and then breaks off with a knee, and they exchange punches into another clinch to end the round.
Into the 2nd, and they exchange punches right off the bat, with Imes looking to work the jab, while Rashad uses a left hook. Imes tries to grab him with underhooks, but Evans avoids and lands the left hook again. Imes chases forward, throwing punches and kicks, but nothing really lands and Rashad lands a quick combo, only for Imes to come back and tag him with a right! Imes comes lumbering forward, swinging punches wildly as Evans backs up, both guys are looking pretty exhausted at this point. They continue to wildly swing in and out of brief clinches, both getting nailed by punches but somehow managing to shake them off, before Rashad nails him with a big right hand, knocking his mouthpiece flying! Evans comes forward swinging, but Imes answers with some big shots of his own, literally swinging for the fences and tagging Rashad to end the round. Both guys look GASSED OUT now, where they’re getting the energy to swing like that I don’t know.
Into the third and final round, and Imes looks slightly fresher coming in, but Rashad catches him with a combo as they exchange, wobbling the big man. Imes looks in trouble, and Rashad nails him with a big right and he FALLS DOWN LIKE A BIG TREE!~! Rashad closes in attempting to drop some bombs, and ends up in half-guard, but he quickly mounts and slugs away, only for Imes to spin his way out, into a side mount instead. Imes somehow manages to escape to his feet, and he comes forward swinging wildly, as they go into a crude, brave exchange with both men getting nailed with shots. Into the clinch, and Imes takes Rashad down now, getting into half-guard and trying to drop elbows. Evans manages to reverse out, coming up to his feet in a front facelock, and Imes lands some knees, but they break off and exchange punches again, back into the clinch, then back out, and they continue to swing crazy shots at each other until the fight finally ends.
Judges have it 29-28 Rashad, 29-28 Imes, and 29-28 Rashad, giving Rashad Evans the split decision victory and the six-figure contract. I had it 29-28 Rashad, giving him the first and third rounds based pretty much on the knockdowns, but with a fight as wild and well, as crude as that, it definitely could’ve gone either way. I’ve seen a mixed reaction to this one online, as some people absolutely loved it and considered it a great fight, while others hated the lack of true skill and considered it a KOTC-level brawl. I’m somewhere in the middle – Dave Meltzer actually commented that in terms of sheer heart and determination it was one of the best fights he’d ever seen, but in terms of skill it, well, wasn’t, and I’d agree wholeheartedly with that. Definitely not a classic or anything – Griffin/Bonnar and Polakowski/Alfonso are probably better “swing for the fences” brawls, but it was a ton of fun regardless. Since this one Imes hasn’t done much of note due to injury, but Rashad’s dropped to his more natural 205lbs and is making serious waves there, showing tremendous improvement from this fight, so hell, even if overall the TUF HWs were a disappointment, if it’s created a contender at 205lbs, it’s all good.
This was a highly anticipated fight, especially as there was some definite bad blood going in, as Diaz felt that Sanchez hadn’t proven himself enough to warrant the spotlight and the big contract that he was on, and he didn’t keep those feelings to himself, either. There were even rumors of Diaz sending Diego’s family abusive e-mails, and everything, and apparently Nick also threw a shoe at Diego backstage pre-fight. The pre-match soundbites are priceless too, with Diego commenting that “he can’t stop the takedown, elbows will be dropping and bones will be breaking”. I ever mention that I LOVE DIEGO SANCHEZ?
We get a crazy intense staredown pre-fight, with John McCarthy actually having to force Diaz to step back. Serious bad blood going on. They get underway and both come out looking to start the action, but Diego initiates first, landing a jab and grabbing a rear waistlock, and they roll forward with Diego taking Nick’s back! Diaz rolls and they scramble, but Diego stays on top and they end up in Diaz’s guard, where Diego misses a HUGE haymaker, crashing his hand into the mat. Diaz gets his legs up and works an incredibly active guard, but Diego stays on top, and begins to land shots from inside Diaz’s guard, standing every so often to drop some heavy ones down. He passes into the half-guard and they exchange elbows, but then Diaz works his guard back, so Diego stands and eats a couple of upkicks as he drops down with some more elbows. Diego pins Diaz’s legs back momentarily and looks to pass the guard, then lands a punch and spins to Diaz’s back as Nick looks for a reversal. He manages to slip out and grabs a single leg, but Diego hooks an arm for a kimura as they go down. Diaz gets on top, but Diego scrambles and Diaz tries a rolling kimura, but Diego rolls free, sprawling back to avoid a takedown in the process. He stands and lands a knee, and then hits a sick level change, dropping and getting a nice takedown before rolling to Diaz’s back! Diaz scrambles, but Diego gets on top in guard and lands some nice punches, standing and leaning down to drop shots down. Diaz keeps his guard active, but begins to take more punches at this point, and Diego passes guard momentarily before Diaz works it back. Diego continues the ground-and-pound to end the round.
Hell of a first round there, pure action from start to finish.
Diaz comes forward looking to strike to open the 2nd, but slips on a high kick and only just manages to pop back up and avoid a takedown. He sprawls to avoid another shot, but then Diego shoots in again and gets a nice takedown to guard. Diego works some punches from the top, and gets a mini-slam for good effect. Diaz works some counter-elbows from the bottom, but Diego continues to work some heavy elbows from the top and bloodies Diaz up. Diaz tries to reverse out, but Diego manages to stay on top in guard, and moves him towards the fence where he continues to land shots. Diego stands, but Diaz lands a heavy upkick to snap his head right back. Diego sucks it up though and punishes him with punches and elbows from the top. The exchange in Diaz’s guard continues, before Diaz grabs a leg to try to reverse out. Diego sprawls back to block, and then forces Diaz into a seated position, before landing a heavy (albeit illegal, unnoticed) knee to knock him onto his back! Diego takes the mount, but Diaz rolls and goes for a leg, and they scramble and now Diaz ends up on top in Diego’s guard. Holy crap this is a great fight. They exchange inside the guard before Diego reverses out and tries a takedown, and they end up coming back to their feet where Diego lands a knee and a right hand. Diaz lands a one-two, but Diego gets his back again and they go into the rolling cradle spot again to end the round.
Into the third and final round, and Diaz opens with a big left hand, and avoids Diego’s takedown attempt. Diego shoots in a couple more times, but Diaz manages to avoid them and works the jab, cutting Diego open over the right eye, but Diego manages to capture the legs on another shoot, and gets the takedown. Into Diaz’s guard, and both guys are bleeding like stuck pigs at this point, the blood going everywhere, especially over Diaz’s chest. They exchange in Diaz’s guard, but Diaz scrambles and they come back to their feet, only for Diego to get him down and take his back! Diego works to get his hooks in and looks for an over/under, but Diaz manages to get back to guard, showing tremendous defence. Diego lands some punches from the top, but Diaz slips free and reverses to his feet inside a headlock. Now Diaz gets the takedown and works Diego over with some elbows, but Sanchez comes back by using the fence to turn his hips, into a straight armbar attempt! It looks locked in, but Diaz manages to work free, and we see the extent of the cut on Diego’s eye, a really deep gash. Diego reverses the position from the bottom though, and ends up on top once more as Diaz tries the rolling kimura again. Diego continues to land from the top, working to pass Diaz’s guard as the round and the fight finally comes to an end.
All three judges have it 30-27 for Diego, which is how I would’ve scored it too, but a closer 30-27 decision you’ll probably never see. Just a ridiculously good grappling war, but the difference was that Diego’s wrestling enabled him to stay on top for the majority of the bout, and it meant that he was able to do more damage than Diaz and dominate a lot of the position. Diaz showed incredible defensive skill though, especially with his guard, which was tremendously active even if he never actually came close to getting a submission. A lot of people will still call Griffin/Bonnar the UFC FOTY for 2005, and I can understand that, but hell, this is my favourite fight of the year by far, and one of my favourite MMA fights of all time. Incredible level of grappling skill shown, and Diego was able to prove all his naysayers wrong, showing that he does belong within the upper echelon at 170lbs. I didn’t think anything on this show could top Cummo/Stevenson, but bam, there you go.
And the show ends there. Whew.
TUF II as a series might’ve been a bit of a letdown, but I’ll be damned if the Finale didn’t deliver in spades. Seriously, I’d be willing to call this top to bottom one of the best shows the company’s ever put on. There’s nothing close to being what you’d call a bad fight on display here, and when Stevenson vs. Cummo, as good as it was, is only the second-best fight on the card, you know you’ve got an incredible show there. Opinions on Evans-Imes are always going to be split, but I think it’s a really fun war that shows tremendous heart and courage, and I think I’ve exhausted all the superlatives when it comes to Sanchez-Diaz. Honestly, I’d argue that it’s worth buying the TUF II box set for the finale alone – it’s seriously that good of a show. Highest recommendation.
Pride: 9, 10, 11, and 18.
UFC: 21, 61, 62, 63, and 64.
Cage Rage: 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17.
WEC: 10 and 11.
WFA: 1, 2 and 3.
King of the Cage: 15, 18, 21, 23, 29, 30, 32, 33, 36, 42 and 48.
Best of Shooto 2003 vols. 1 & 2.