The Ultimate Fighter: American Top Team vs. Blackzilians had its debut last night, at 10 pm ET on FOX Sports 1.
It was the latest twist on the TUF formula, now ten years and twenty-odd seasons old — and in some ways it felt new.
In others, well, not so much.
The premiere began with some beautiful photography of South Florida, where this season will be set. It’s a good idea to bring in some local color and set the tone for the rivalry between the two teams. Those efforts culminated with an excited atmosphere at American Top Team for the episode’s bout. (They will switch off between the Blackzilians facility and ATT’s home base for the bouts.) This is good.
The cameras keep coming back to UFC President Dana White, as has been the case in the past. At one point, a member of the cast describes how he felt he “made it” as he shared White’s presence. It’s well-trodden soil here, and in one observer’s opinion, the TUF setting could use some new personality.
There’s a new system of points rather than the usual tournament format — the winner will be a team, rather than an athlete. This brings attention to the teams, which is what sets this season apart. This is probably good.
There’s an argument in the house brewing over food, like Diego Sanchez and Stephan Bonnar over asparagus ten years ago. Ah, memories. Then, there were some familiar training montages. And then, finally — there’s a fight.
The fight features a developing talent in 23 year old Michael Graves of American Top Team vs. the 27 year old, more seasoned, wrestling-based Kamaru Usman of Blackzilians.
Graves begins the bout with the advertised standup attack, including a nasty oblique kick. But it’s Usman with some good wrestling acumen, and a bit of ground-and-pound, which keeps the first round pretty even. In the second, Graves takes Usman’s back for an extended sequence; but Usman has his moments too.
“Uh, vai morrer” (Portuguese for “ooh, you’re going to die!”) is chanted by one of the two crowds. Whoever it is, it’s a little odd for a US crowd to chant that in a bout between a white guy from Georgia and a Nigerian-American. But, eh, whatever.
Most importantly, the fight is.. okay. White even admitted it was nothing special, with neither guy really going for it. Recent TUF seasons just haven’t had the level of talent that we saw from the show in the past.
Last season’s fight, though, got me amped for the rest of the season, and that one turned out pretty good.
This one didn’t, but hopefully things pick up.