By Thomas Gerbasi
CAUTION: SPOILERS INCLUDED – This is it – Two fighters will emerge from semifinal matches this week to earn a spot in the main event of The Ultimate Fighter: Team Liddell vs Team Ortiz live finale on June 19th in Las Vegas. Who will it be?
As this week’s episode opens, former UFC middleweight champion and TUF2 coach Rich Franklin is getting used to his new workspace for the final week of the competition after being brought in to replace the injured Tito Ortiz not only as a coach, but to fight opposing coach Chuck Liddell as well.
“I don’t know any of the guys’ names, I don’t know what they’ve been doing,” said Franklin, who also has Forrest Griffin, Gray Maynard, and Tyson Griffin on board as assistant coaches. “Ace” and the coaches immediately get down to business, with the focus being on the team’s lone semifinalist, Kris McCray.
“I thought the coach change was gonna affect me a little bit more, but they jumped right in and really broke my style down,” said McCray. “It worked out good.”
After an air horn and silly string prank on McCray, Yager, and Tavares, and Tavares isn’t happy about it, breaking a chess set in protest.
Speaking of not happy, Liddell is still upset over not getting to fight Ortiz, but he moves on to getting his three semifinalists – McGee, Tavares, and Bryant – ready for their fights, which includes a teammate vs teammate bout between McGee and Tavares.
“It’s gonna be a hard thing to watch,” said Liddell.
Tavares weighs in for the bout at 185, while McGee checks in at 185.5.
In the first round, the veteran McGee looks to be the more relaxed of the two, and his activity level shows it. With 1:30 gone, he closes the distance, locks his opponent up and then takes him to the mat. Tavares stays active and gets back to his feet and seems to be getting into his rhythm. McGee remains the aggressor though, bulling Tavares to the fence and getting off some close range strikes before the Hawaiian escapes. McGee finishes the round strong with a takedown in the final minute.
McGee holds the striking edge early in round two, briefly rocking Tavares with a right hand. Tavares comes back strong, but McGee still refuses to relinquish the lead. This leads to some solid exchanges with both having their moments before the bell.
The final round begins with an inadvertent low kick from Tavares that brings a momentary halt to the action. After the bout resumes, the two finalists continue to engage on the feet, drawing shouts of encouragement from their Octagonside teammates. Just past the midway point, McGee rocks Tavares again with a right hand and then looks for the takedown, but Tavares is able to keep his feet. A low blow by McGee prompts a stop to the action with 1:20 left, and after resuming, McGee takes the striking edge and looks to close strong before another low shot. McGee is warned by referee Josh Rosenthal. In response, he goes upstairs with punches to the head that stun Tavares and lead to a takedown. McGee then sinks in a rear naked choke and finishes the fight with less than 15 seconds left, earning himself a technical submission win and a berth in the finals.
“There are no words to describe how I feel,” said McCray.
After the first semifinal bout, the teams are brought to the gym to meet with UFC President Dana White and a five man team of United States Marines who train with the fighters for the day and teach the fighters the drills and techniques they use in their everyday life before a meal with everybody back in the house.
Afterward, the pranks continue, and this time Hammortree, McKinney and Uscola get into it with Yager. Uscola even goes as far as to call Yager outside, but Yager doesn’t bite. He is the one guy all three want to fight at the TUF11 finale though.
In the second semifinal, it’s a rematch, as Bryant takes on the man he decisioned on episode five, McCray.
Both fighters weigh in at 186, and the pace is fast as the bout begins, with McCray closing the distance and getting a couple quick takedowns. Bryant gets back to his feet just as fast, but McCray won’t let him breathe long enough to break completely loose, and he goes back to the canvas. This time Bryant gets himself free and looks to work his striking game, but it’s McCray who lands the better shots until a late surge from the Team Liddell member.
Bryant looks to even the score in round two, but again, McCray is the more effective of the two, as he scores with his strikes while at long-range and keeps his foe from scoring the takedown at close quarters. Bryant still gets his shots in, but isn’t being consistent enough offensively.
It’s more of the same in the final round, and despite fatigue setting in, both fighters leave it all in the Octagon, exhausting themselves before the final verdict, which reads 30-27, 30-27, and 29-28 in favor of McCray, who now meets McGee in the final at The Palms on June 19th.
“You never had an undefeated coach in the history of TUF, until now,” joked Franklin, who ends with a 1-0 record.
On June 12th, coaches Chuck Liddell and Rich Franklin meet in the main event of UFC 115 in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The following week, on June 19th, it’s the TUF 11 finale, as Court McGee takes on Kris McCray.