By Loretta Hunt
With a series debut that brought in some 1.7 millions viewers, The Ultimate Fighter returned last night for its second one-hour installment. Documenting the journey of sixteen up-and-coming fighters in the hunt for two UFC contracts, week two's offering focused on character development, as well as its first two competitor eliminations. Here's what went down:
Episode 2 joins the sixteen potentials on Day 5 of their quests for a UFC contract. Coaches Couture and Liddell begin their separate training sessions with the eight fighters they selected in the first episode, and Team Couture is observed at the UFC Training Center first. Of his team selections, Couture says, "It was important to me, rather than pick the strongest or maybe the most athletic guy in the group here, to pick a group of guys that I thought would come together as a team and work together as a team." While his team trains in the background, Couture comments on two of his fighters. He commends middleweight Chris Leben's "explosiveness," and points out that although middleweight Chris Sanford is a skilled fighter, he has come onboard in less-than-stellar shape.
Liddell is also impressed with his team, but explains his training methods will be different than Couture's, catering more to each individual fighter's strengths and not his own. Like Couture, Liddell shares the impressions a few of his fighters have made on him, including Josh Koscheck's great wrestling, Kenny Florian's scrappy striking, Forrest Griffin's toughness, and Bobby Southworth's well-roundedness despite coming in a bit out of shape.
Back at the fighters' house, Team Couture light-heavyweight Stephen Bonnar voices his irritation with what he describes as egocentric behavior on the part of Team Liddell middleweight Diego Sanchez. He points out that Sanchez tracks water on the bathroom floor as he goes back and forth between the tub and the shower, and later confronts him in the kitchen when Sanchez cuts the tips of asparagus off for a shake and leaves the stems in the refrigerator.
Jumping to an open field by Lake Mead's shore, all sixteen fighters are lead to an obstacle course for their first "Team Challenge." Host Willa Ford announces that today's challenge was designed for the light-heavyweight fighters, and the middleweights will watch from the sidelines. On a handled platform sits a recliner that each light-heavyweight team will have to carry under and over various horizontal poles on route to a stretch of race through Lake Mead itself. Coaches Couture and Liddell will sit in the recliners, with the first team getting across a designated finish line being deemed the victor. The losing team's coach will have 24 hours to decide which light-heavyweight he will eliminate the next day.
At the whistle, Team Liddell almost immediately pushes ahead, hitting the water buoys first, while Couture nearly takes a dip as his team struggles to keep him above water. Team Liddell crosses the finish line first, saving its members from elimination the next day.
At the house, the recreational drinking continues with Leben again in the thick of the action. Lodune Sincaid also emerges as another heavy drinker/exhibitionist, reinforced by housemate Griffin's comment that he's a drunk and will get cut for it.
At the dining room table, Leben continues to rub his housemates the wrong way with his boisterous talk and callous attitude. Viewers learn that Leben and teammate Mike Swick have fought each other before in a match in the WEC promotion last January. Footage of the fight shows Swick eat Leben's left hook and go down in the only loss of his professional career. With Leben's taunting at the table, a slightly-ruffled Swick vows he will get the rematch and avenge the loss.
When light-heavyweight Sincaid comes downstairs dressed in a provocative outfit to match his even more provocative posing, the room erupts in laughter. But, the mood quickly swings the other way when Sincaid and the three other Couture light-heavyweights meet in the living room to discuss who might be eliminated in the morning.
At the gym, the first fighter elimination commences with all eight light-heavyweights in attendance. Host Willa Ford directs Couture to choose which fighters he would like to stay. Couture selects Stephan Bonnar, then Mike Swick, but Ford interjects before he names his third to give the last two fighters a chance to say their peace. Couture listens, and then selects Sincaid to stay on despite his lack of focus. Citing that he has struggled physically to keep up with the workload, Canadian Jason Thacker becomes the first participant to be eliminated from the competition.
Back at the house, tempers flares once again between Swick and Leben, but this time, light-heavyweight Nathan Quarry has to physically lead Swick outside to create some distance between the two. Leben follows them outside and guarantees an angered Swick a rematch.
Later, Leben is seen jumping the fence of the grounds in search of a telephone. Numerous fighters comment that they've all signed contracts forbidding this type of behavior. Throughout the night, some fighters have been observing drinking, including Leben and Sincaid. In what he later calls a "moment of clarity," Sincaid ceremoniously pours a "40" out on the lawn, outwardly questioning his personal choices up to that point in the competition.
Come morning at the training complex, Couture and the team confront Leben. Leben hastily apologizes to Swick for his comments and behavior, claiming he will not drink for the rest of the show. Sincaid volunteers an apology to Swick for supporting Leben in his verbal attacks, and later addresses the camera with his plans to "clean up his act."
At the first "Middleweight Challenge," each team is instructed to carry a log to a check point and saw it into four pieces, then put it back together with brackets at a second check point and get it across the finish line. As with the light-heavyweight challenge earlier, the losing team's coach will have to eliminate one of his fighter's the next day.
Again, Team Liddell jumps out ahead thanks to middleweight Josh Koscheck, who saws his piece quickly and then saws a teammate's piece as well in speedy fashion. Team Liddell crosses the finish line with a lagging Team Couture behind them, leaving Couture with the daunting task of whittling his team of seven down to six. Back at the house, numerous fighters contemplate that Leben will be the first middleweight to be sent home.
At the inaugural middleweight eliminations, Nate Quarry and Alex Karalexis make Couture's cut. Given the chance to plead their cases, Chris Sanford points out Leben's errant behavior as a reason why he should be dismissed, but Leben is spared elimination when Couture declares it is his job to produce the better fighter in the end.
Quote of the Week: As a noticeably-shaken Jason Thacker bids his goodbyes down the line of fighters towards the door, Bobby Southworth quietly instructs him to "Keep your chin up. Square your shoulders. Stand up strong. Walk out of here like the warrior you are."
The Ultimate Fighter airs Mondays nights at approximately 11:05 PM EST/PST on Spike TV (time approximate after WWE RAW).
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