By Thomas Gerbasi
CAUTION: SPOILERS INCLUDED – There’s a new gym and 28 new fighters to kick off the 11th season of the Spike TV reality series “The Ultimate Fighter.” But holding the reigns over the two opposing teams are two familiar faces, former light heavyweight champions Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz, both of whom return to the coaching ranks after previous stints on TUF.
As the premiere episode opens, UFC President Dana White informs the 28 middleweight hopefuls that this season will introduce a wildcard into the TUF formula, with two fighters in the house (chosen by the coaches) getting a second chance to earn the final spot in the quarterfinals after the first seven preliminary bouts.
From there, it’s off to the fights…
Pasadena’s Jamie Yager makes an immediate impression, not only with his huge afro, but with a quick knockout of Coconut Creek’s Ben Stark, who he decimated with a series of kicks.
“I definitely did my job in there and I think the other fighters are definitely gonna be watching those head kicks coming upstairs,” said Yager. “And that’s what I want to do – I want to put the fear in their heart and let ‘em know I’m coming.”
10-0 Jordan Smith of Utah was up next, facing fellow unbeaten Brad Tavares (4-0) of Hawaii. This one ended quick as well, with Tavares knocking out Smith with a right hand in the first round.
Stephanville, Texas’ Cleburn Walker battled Woodbridge, Virginia’s Kris McCray (5-0) in the next elimination bout, and McCray immediately impressed with a throw that dislocated Walker’s shoulder and forced referee Herb Dean to halt the bout, moving McCray into the TUF house.
Following McCray into the Octagon were France native Norman Paraisy (5-1) and Ocala, Florida’s James Hammortree (4-0). After taking an early takedown from Paraisy, Hammortree took control on the mat with a ground and pound attack that almost produced a referee stoppage at the end of the first round. Paraisy wanted to quit between rounds, and despite the pleas of cornermen John Hackleman and Howard Davis Jr., he did, giving Hammortree the TKO win.
“That’s embarrassing,” said Liddell. “It’s amazing to me that a guy would do something like that. It’s like tapping to strikes – wait, I think Tito did that once.”
Nick Ring (10-0) moved on to the house in the next bout with a TKO win over Woody Weatherby, and Kyle Noke joined him with a bloody two round decision win over Warren Thompson.
Court McGee vs Seth Baczynski was up next, and both fighters went to war, battling to a draw after two rounds. In the sudden victory round, McGee gutted it out and won the final stanza and the fight via unanimous decision.
In fight number eight, it was Cincinnati’s Victor O’Donnell squaring off against Lakewood, Colorado’s Chris Camozzi. Both fighters had their moments in an exciting first round, and there was more back and forth action in round two, leading, not surprisingly, to a draw verdict and a sudden victory round. The third round continued the torrid pace of the previous two, but this time Camozzi broke out in front to take the unanimous decision win.
The ninth fight of the elimination round saw Sacramento veteran Kyacey Uscola (18-15) taking on Irvine’s Brent Cooper (5-1), and it was Uscola making short work of his opponent via knockout.
Joseph Henle also earned a spot in the house with a come from behind submission win over Constantinos Philippou, who was dominating the bout before an armbar ended his night.
Next up, American Top Team’s Rich Attonito pounded out a two round unanimous decision win over Lyle Steffens, Josh Bryant did the same via majority decision over Greg Rebello, and Charles Blanchard halted Jacen Flynn in the first round.
In the final fight of the elimination round, Minneapolis’ Charley Lynch (6-0) and Orlando’s Clayton McKinney (4-2) are friends outside of the Octagon, but they didn’t act like it when the bell rang. McKinney took control early behind his takedowns, but Lynch rebounded with a solid ground and pound attack. After the two stood and traded against the fence, Lynch emerged with a broken nose. McKinney then moved in for the finish and got it as he stunned his foe and then got the TKO with a follow-up barrage.
“I think we’ve got some serious talent here,” said White after convening the 14 elimination bout winners.
After episode one, the following fighters have earned a spot in the Ultimate Fighter house for this season:
For weekly recaps of The Ultimate Fighter, as well as fighter profiles, stay tuned to UFC.com.