by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
Animosity Reigns Supreme

Ultimate Fighter Season 3: Episode 1

By Damon Martin, MMAWeekly

In what promises to be the most exciting year of the Ultimate Fighter yet, season 3 kicked off with a good debut episode, giving fans a lot to look forward to over the next few months. President Dana White opened the episode giving a breakdown of both coaches, Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock, and telling the back story about the rivalry between the two legendary fighters.

Dana White sat down with both coaches, asking them to stay professional during the show and keep their obvious hatred towards each other at bay, and focus on training the fighters hoping to earn the guaranteed contract to compete in the UFC. Dana also acknowledged the 500lb elephant in the room when he admitted that he and Tito Ortiz hate each other but he was doing what was best for the show. When the two coaches finally came face to face, the tension was very thick in the room, but eventually they agreed to do what’s right and wait until their actual fight to throw down, and they even managed to shake hands in the end.

As the fighters were introduced, the Ultimate Fighter finally got more of an international flavor with the introduction of light heavyweight contender Michael “The Count” Bisping, who is also one of the favorites going into the competition, and Ross Pointon at middleweight, both competitors hailing from the United Kingdom.

The UFC brass had to realize after the success of the first season and the overall disappointment of season 2 in regards to the “reality” parts of the show that they had to interject some new life, and nothing says energy like the re-introduction of a lot of alcohol amongst 16 adrenaline fueled fighters.

A party ensued during episode 1 that saw everybody trading shots and guzzling beverages throughout. Middleweight fighter Kendall Grove took it upon himself to be the first fighter to drink enough to pass out and some of the others decided it was a good idea to shave his eyebrows for being the first one out for the evening. Needless to say, the result was amusing and luckily no one had their bed spritzed on, nor did anyone fall asleep on the lawn only to be awakened by the cooling stream of a water hose.

Instead of having dueling workouts knowing that the coaches would just not be able to stay in the same room with one another, they instead opted to allow Shamrock time with the light heavyweights first, while Tito took the middleweights and they alternated the next day. For this season, instead of the UFC assigning assistant coaches as they had previously done before, they allowed each coach to pick their own assistants. Tito Ortiz brought along grappling guru and Abu Dhabi submission champion Dean Lister and stand-up coach Saul Solice, while Shamrock opted for his boxing coach Roman Pollock and his strength and conditioning coach, Dan Freeman. While Ortiz’s helpers seemed like naturals to teach and instruct the fighters, almost everyone questioned Shamrock’s decision to bring a bodybuilder like Dan Freeman to help coach on nutrition instead of opting to bring a submission specialist help with ground fighting.

Shamrock tested each class of fighters looking for who he believed to be the best, and Tito did the same. The fighters tended to question Shamrock’s method of evaluation versus Tito who was more hands on, training with the students all along the way. A great many fighters expressed interest in landing on Ortiz’s team, while very few looked at Ken Shamrock as the person who will lead them to the championship bout.

When it came time to pick Tito Ortiz got the first pick and took Matt Hamill, one of the most inexperienced fighters on the show who is hoping to become the first deaf fighter to compete in the UFC. Shamrock countered with his top pick, Jesse Forbes, who currently sports a 1-0 record in pro competition. The remainder of the teams broke down like this:

Team Shamrock: LHW: Jesse Forbes, Tait Fletcher, Mike Nickels, Kristian Rothermael

MW: Ed Herman, Solomon Hutcherson, Ross Pointon, Kalib Starnes

Team Ortiz: LHW: Matt Hamill, Michael Bisping, Josh Haynes, Noah Inhofer

MW: Danny Abaddi, Kendall Grove, Rory Singer, Mike Stein

Other interesting notes from the team selections included an extreme animosity from Ed Herman who said publicly that he wanted to land on Tito’s team and felt like he would really excel there but when it came time to choose between him and a fairly new MMA competitor like Mike Stein and Ortiz picked Stein…it was obvious that Herman was none too happy and quickly turned on Ortiz for not picking him. Also, Tait Fletcher ended up as the last pick, landing on Ken Shamrock’s team and only time will tell if he can taste the same success that Luke Cummo did last season when he was picked last and made it all the way to the finals of the show.

As the two teams filtered into the UFC training center, Dana White revealed yet another big change to this season. Instead of having challenges involving male mud wrestling matches and sock chases, they opted to flip a coin, the winning coach would pick the fight and whoever’s team wins will pick the next fight and so on and so forth. Also, after watching Keith Jardine, Kenny Florian, Mike Swick and Sam Hoger make it to the semi-finals in each of their respective seasons without ever fighting, Dana revealed that each fighter would fight at least once, and those winners would square off in the semi-finals of this season.

After the coin flip determined that Shamrock’s team would pick the first fight in the middleweight division, they picked Kalib Starnes from Shamrock’s team to face Mike Stein from Team Ortiz. Stein was largely inexperienced in MMA, with most of his combat career coming in boxing which is obviously not the only thing needed to win in the UFC. As Dana White described after the fight ended, it reminded him of the match-up between Diego Sanchez and Alex Karalexis from the first season, in which the new guy seemed simply outmatched, as did Stein when he took on the much more well rouded Kalib Starnes in the first fight. Stein didn’t defend the takedown at all, pulled guard just as Tito had instructed him not to do, and then proceeded to get pounded by Starnes, causing referee John McCarthy to call a stop to the fight in the first round.

Now Team Shamrock holds the power to pick the next fight in the light heavyweight division next week and Team Ortiz will now re-group after losing the first member of his squad in the inaugural fight of the season.