UFC: The Ultimate Fighter 5

by on 6th July 2008

I’m not a fan of reality television. I used to be, when Big Brother was an interesting social experiment. Not it’s nothing more than a freak show, with contestants only wanting to take part because they think it will lead to fames and riches, when in most cases it doesn’t. Which is why I was somewhat reticent when I was asked to review the DVD release of The Ultimate Fighter 5.

By now most of you reading this will know what this show is all about. A group of mixed martial arts fighters enter a competition, are split into two teams coached by two established MMA stars, and the teams are pitted against each other in a single elimination tournament until one remains, with that one getting a UFC contract.

This release is all about the lightweight division, with old rivals B.J. Penn and Jens Pulver handling the coaching duties, with the occasional appearance from a guest trainer or two.

The drama begins with the very first episode. When the teams are picked, Penn asks the fighters to raise their hand if they’d rather be on his team. Ten out of the sixteen do, which causes problems and friction from the get go.

But the drama doesn’t stop there. It goes in throughout the entire series, and some of these moments are just as good as the actual tournament.

For instance, there’s Gabe Ruediger of Team Penn. Despite knowing for months that he would have to fight at lightweight, he enters the house twenty pounds overweight, and worries about how to lose the weight, which he’ll have to do when it’s his turn to take part in the tournament. But when he is chosen to fight, he leaves cutting weight far too late, always eating junk food, and on the day of the official weigh-in, eats a piece of what looks like a very tasty chocolate cake. He proceeded to take cutting weight very very lightly, and is sent to the sauna. Eventually, he passes out, still three pounds over the lightweight limit, and is rushed to hospital because of dehydration. Needless to say that UFC President Dana White wasn’t to happy, and threw him off the show the following day, punishing his former team as well.

Then there’s the backyard brawl between Noah Thomas and Marlon Sims, two fighters who had been eliminated from the tournament but were still due to fight on the season finale. After having engaged in a heavy drinking session, Thomas and Sims start to brawl, egged on by fellow contestant Allen Berube. The fight finishes with Sims slamming Thomas on concrete, opening up a cut on the back of Thomas’ head. The next day Dana White pays a visit to the house and really lays into the fighters verbally, saying how he’s worked for six years to try and improve the image of mixed martial arts, and how their fight may have caused a great deal of damage to the sport’s image. He then throws Thomas, Sims and Berube out of the competition.

There are tons of other moments I could mention, but it wasn’t all tense drama, especially during the final hours in the house. To lighten everyone’s mood a little, Dana White gave the two coaches a challenge – a best of three table tennis match, with the winner getting ten thousand dollars for his team. This was probably the funniest moment of the show as Pulver, who claimed never to have played this game before, and Penn, who took the whole thing incredibly seriously, went at it. Pulver won, by the way.

As for the fights, many of them would have been great on a main UFC show in front of a live crowd. Joe Lauzon (who actually defeated Pulver at UFC 63), Gray Maynard, Nate Diaz and Rob Emerson looked very impressive during their fights, although there were a couple of surprises, particularly the performance of the little tank that was Team Pulver member Manny Gambaryan. Manny made it all the way to the final, as did his team-mate Diaz, meaning that there would be no Team Penn presence in the final.

So having gone through the first three discs of the collection, disc four contains The Ultimate Finale, the full UFC show broadcast on Spike TV featuring the tournament final, so this is where the style of this review changes a little, as we move into proper show review mode, with Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan handling the commentary duties.

The show begins with four lightweight fights, starting with Matt Wiman from Team Penn against Brian Geraghty from Team Pulver. A quick one here, with Wiman dominating from the beginning. Once the fight went to the mat, Wiman transitioned well, until he was able to take Geraghty’s back, unleashing the ground and pound to get the TKO victory. Impressive stuff from Wiman in this one.

Then it was on to Leonard Garcia against Allen Berube, a Team Penn member.  A good fight from start to finish saw some good work as both men went for submissions and showed some good moves on the mat. However, towards the end of the first round Garcia was able to take Berube’s back and synch in a rear naked choke. Berube fought it for a few seconds before tapping. A good back and forth fight with good performances from both men.

Next, Roger Huerta versus Doug Evans. This was certainly a very interesting fight. The much heralded Huerta looked good early on, but Evans upped the anti a little and almost got a submission, locking Huerta in a body triangle and almost synching in a rear naked choke. Needless to say that this just wasn’t a good round for Huerta.

A more intense Huerta came out to start the second round, and connected with a few good shots before Evans came back and took him down a few times. Evans looked in control, until Huerta took over, using various positions to take control, ending up on Evans’ back and connecting with numerous unanswered shots. As Evans didn’t respond to this, the referee stepped in and awarded Huerta the TKO win. Good stuff from both fighters.

Up to the middleweight division next, with Thales Leites taking on Floyd Sword. The Brazilian looked great in this one. Dominating from early on, he took Sword down early, transitioned well, and although Sword’s defensive moves worked at times, Leites regained the advantage immediately, and soon synched in an arm triangle choke for the submission victory. A very impressive and dominating performance from the Brazilian, and very enjoyable as well.

Back down to the lightweights, and it’s a battle between Team Penn members Rob Emerson and Gray Maynard. The one was explosive at the start as both fighters went all out from the start, with some good work from both men before Maynard took control, dominating the rest of the round with some excellent transitions and submission attempts, and a body shot that clearly hurt Emerson, and it was only the bell that stopped him from winning the fight there and then.

Maynard’s blows to the body were obviously affecting Emerson at the beginning of round two, so much so that when Maynard took him down, Emerson cried out in pain and tapped immediately. However, if Emerson had been able to deal with the force of the takedown, there was a chance that he could have won, because Maynard had actually knocked himself out during the takedown. But that wasn’t the end of the drama. Because of what happened to both fighters, the referee ruled the fight a no contest, a decision that didn’t sit too well with Maynard, who claimed he wasn’t unconscious at all.

The next fight features Cole Miller of Team Pulver against Andy Wang, who was actually a member of both teams on the show (watch the DVD and you’ll see what I mean.) This was one I was interested in, mainly because of Wang’s performance on the show, or to be more exact, his inability to follow instruction. Wang’s failure to utilise his ju-jitsu skills proved to be his undoing, just as they had done on the show. Instead of taking Miller down, he chose to brawl with him, and it cost him dearly as Miller knocked him down and went for the follow-up, with the referee stepping in seconds later to stop the fight, giving Miller the TKO victory. While this was a good performance from Miller, Wang once again had a stinker, mainly because of his failure to use his natural talents.

Then it was on Joe Lauzon of Team Penn, a guy who impressed me a great deal on the show, to take on Brandon Melendez of Team Pulver. An excellent first round saw Lauzon take control early one, and his transitions were a joy to behold as he worked over his opponent. But Melendez came back well, and had Lauzon in a spot of bother before Lauzon regained his control for the remainder of the round, first going for a rear naked choke, before ending the round with a heel hook attempt.

Lauzon dominated the second round from the beginning, taking him down, then taking in back, always working to get into a position for a rear naked choke. However, Melendez was able to counter the attempt, only to find himself in a triangle choke immediately afterwards. With the choke well synched in, Melendez had no choice but to tap, giving Lauzon the submission victory, ending an excellent performance for Lauzon.

Time for the final next, with Team Pulver members Nate Diaz and Manny Gamburyan going at it for the big prize, a UFC contract, and the title of The Ultimate Fighter. The first round began extremely well for Gamburyan, as he took Diaz down early and dominated the early stages of the fight. But credit where credit is due, Diaz came back well, and even when Gamburyan was in the dominant position later on in the round, Diaz was constantly going for submissions.

The second round ended unfortunately after just twenty seconds. Gamburyan went for a take down, which Diaz defended well, but Gamburyan tapped immediately, realising that he couldn’t continue because he’d dislocated his shoulder. Diaz had won the match and now The Ultimate Fighter, and holder of a UFC contract. But I couldn’t help but think that if Gamburyan hadn’t suffered that injury, he’d have gone on to win, so dominating was his performance.

Main event time, the re-match between old rivals and coaches on The Ultimate Fighter 5 B.J. Penn and Jens Pulver. Oh, and let’s not forget that these two aren’t exactly best friends as well. A great first round saw Penn dominate the first half of the round by connecting with a hard right that sent Pulver staggering. He then took him down, showed some excellent mat work, before almost synching in a triangle choke, which Little Evil was able to escape from. From there Pulver began to work his way back into the fight, connecting with a strong elbow to Penn’s head, before the round came to an end.

The second round began in the same way as the first, with Penn dominating from the get go. Penn took Pulver down early, and despite some good defensive work from Pulver, the Prodigy was able to transition at will, to the point that he took Pulver’s back and worked well until he locked in the rear naked choke. Pulver had no choice but to tap out, giving Penn the submission victory in a near flawless performance.

Now that parts out of the way, if you’re looking for the extras, there’s a behind the scenes section on disc four, while disc five features a ton of them, including features on B.J. Penn, Joe Lauzon and Jens Pulver, as well as additional scenes and cast auditions.

In conclusion – even though I’m still not a fan of reality television, I think I’ve become a fan of The Ultimate Fighter series. The fifth instalment in the series features some great dramatic moments, some outstanding fights, and an excellent finale show. In short, it’s an excellent advertisement for the UFC and mixed martial arts in general, and this is one reality show where you can make threats of physical violence against your fellow housemates!

Revied by JuLian Rodbourne

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