Coach Sonnen is first class
Whilst Uriah Hall’s spectacular knockout win on The Ultimate Fighter grabbed the headlines, the latest episode legitimised the selection of Chael Sonnen as a coach on the iconic reality show.
When it was announced that the Oregonian would appear opposite UFC Light-heavyweight Champion Jon Jones there was acclaim and outcry in equal measure.
To some, Sonnen’s brash, outlandish humour was exactly the sort of life-affirming injection needed to revive a flagging brand.
To others, Sonnen’s title tilt represented all that was wrong with the UFC matchmaking model: a challenger chosen on their reputation rather than their resume.
After all, he was returning to a weight class where he’d done little of note, to challenge the most phenomenally-gifted young fighter to grace the Octagon. Their criticism was valid.
Yet three episodes into this season, there has been a conspicuous absence of the WWE-style antics that have punctuated Sonnen’s career to date.
The sports entertainer has been replaced by a more serious soul, focussed on the task in hand.
I talked in this column last week about how this is a more humble incarnation of The Ultimate Fighter. It seems that this extends beyond the editing suite.
Days before Uriah Hall delivered the kick that will likely bookmark his career, the young hopeful was pictured deep in conversation with his superstar coach. Talk centred around Hall’s fear of failure and it was fascinating to hear Sonnen, a man whose public persona oozes arrogance, discuss his own fragility in this regard.
He told his protégé how he had learned not to conquer, but to co-exist with his insecurities. It was said without fear of losing face, and with a candour that clearly strengthened the bond between both men.
It was a reminder that away from the machismo and muscularity that characterises this violent vocation, fighting is a sport contested in mind and body.
And whilst the premise of “The Ultimate Fighter” is about finding the next big thing, Sonnen seems genuinely committed to ensuring that each of his pupils evolves under his tutelage.
Percentages tell us they won’t all become superstars. For some this will be the pinnacle of their careers. They will have to parade their skills on a lesser stage, occasionally for meagre sums that insult the risk incurred.
Sonnen’s experience will ensure that these men emerge from this process better-equipped to exist in this unforgiving line of work.
It’s no more than they, or we, could ask for.
Carmouche shares Rousey’s Spotlight
Get ready for the media onslaught that will preface UFC 157, headlined by the inaugural UFC Women’s Bantamweight Title fight between Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche.
Betting lines suggest that as long as she successfully negotiates the cage door, Rousey retaining her belt is a foregone conclusion.
With those odds, it was debateable whether Carmouche would get a mention in this week’s UFC Primetime series, the traditional vehicle for boosting pay-per-view numbers ahead of the big show.
There was a fear in some quarters that this edition might be little more than a 22-minute Rousey infomercial.
In fact, the preview gave us an emotional insight into the back stories of two truly remarkable fighting women.
As expected, Rousey commanded more airtime. But rather than resort to lazy hyperbole about her world-class talents, the producers told a different story: a young woman still struggling to come to terms with her meteoric rise to fame.
It’s easy to forget that she has just nine minutes of Octagon time in her amateur and professional career combined.
Whilst she’s now a regular on magazine covers and chat show sofas, fortune hasn’t always been her friend. Within weeks of winning Olympic judo gold in 2004, Rousey was bartending to pay the bills.
Yet it was when talk turned to the tragic loss of her father, who committed suicide in the face of impending paralysis, that this became powerful viewing.
Rousey broke down in tears as she spoke of “prostituting” his memory by discussing it so openly as part of her media back story.
It was a shocking, gut-wrenching admission that no one would agree with.
For her part, Carmouche’s contribution did little to relieve the tug on our heartstrings. As an openly gay female fighter, the path to acceptance in professional mixed martial arts has been anything but straightforward.
Working 16-hour days teaching, answering phones and squeezing in training sessions at her San Diego gym just to make ends meet, the bright lights of the UFC seem a world away. Her heart and desire cannot be questioned.
Judging by the shots of Rousey’s arduous training regime, the champion is taking her opponent seriously.
And so should we.
When Dana White dubbed it “the Ronda Rousey Show”, he did this occasion a great disservice.
UFC 157 is history in the making: the story of two pioneering female fighters who have shown great courage to reach the defining moment of their careers.
That’s all the promotion this fight needs.
However, if you do prefer your combat with a healthy, or otherwise, dose of testosterone, then perhaps your interest was piqued by the latest revelation about MMA’s most controversial contraband.
It was confirmed this week that Vitor Belfort was the beneficiary of a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) when he fought Michael Bisping in January.
The ageing Brazilian warrior continues to turn back his own Octagon clock, though like other testosterone users, he’ll argue that he enjoys no unnatural advantages over his opponents.
Until the governing bodies can address the issue more conclusively, the debate will rage.
But if you are undecided about the power of testosterone, you might want to watch this video of a 74 year-old bodybuilding doctor who credits testosterone injections with his new zest for life…
If that’s not an advantage, I’m not sure what is.
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