Saturday, June 20, 2009 | 2 a.m.
If You Go
- What: "TUF" No. 9: Team U.S. vs. Team U.K.
- When: Saturday, June 20 (first bout 3:45 p.m. PT, main card 6 p.m.)
- Where: The Pearl at the Palms
- Tickets: $154-$354 ticketmaster or the Pearl box office
- TV: Spike TV (Cox Cable Ch. 29) 9 p.m. ET/PT
- Betting Lines: Guida +220, Sanchez -280; Stevenson +110, Diaz -140 (odds subject to change)
Las Vegas Sun reporters Brett Okamoto and Andy Samuelson break down recent boxing/MMA news. This week: Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, UFC 99 and The Ultimate Fighter No. 9.
The ninth installment of the UFC’s popular reality television show “The Ultimate Fighter” offered a unique twist as two countries, not mere teams, squared off for the first time for Spike TV audiences.
The finale of the season that pitted the United States against the United Kingdom comes today at the Pearl at the Palms when two of the four finalists in the lightweight and welterweight divisions will win guaranteed six-figure fight contracts to compete in the world’s premier mixed martial arts organization.
“A lot of the top fighters in the UFC have come through ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ process, so I see no reason that the guys fighting in the finals this weekend can’t go out and have a successful weekend and then go on and become a household name in the UFC,” said U.K. coach and Ultimate Fighter 3 winner Michael Bisping.
1. British Invasion
It might have been billed as America vs. Abroad, but the Brits definitely crossed the pond to prove their worth, launching three fighters into today’s finals against a lone American.
Andre Winner will meet teammate Ross Pearson in the lightweight finale, and James Wilks faces American DaMarques Johnson in the welterweight finals.
“We kind of sat down as a team and talked about how we didn’t want to go over to America and get embarrassed,” Winner said.
“While the U.K. is still a little behind the U.S. in terms of the professional MMA scene, I think our results on the show showed the level of talent and progression in not only Britain, but worldwide.”
2. Lone wolf
Johnson — who quoted several lines from the movie “The Hangover” during his media workout Thursday at the Palms, and even compared himself to Zach Galifianakis’ “lone wolf” character in the film, which is based on a bachelor party in Las Vegas — says he feels no extra pressure as the lone U.S. representative.
“You see how small my shoulders are,” Johnson quipped. “I’m just here to have fun.”
The 26-year-old Salt Lake City native downplayed the show’s portrayal of his being angry or having confrontations with Bisping.
“I was angry on the show, but I mean that’s not really reflective of my personality all the time,” Johnson said. “A lot of that came from frustrations and stress of being stuck in the house all the time and just fighting so much. I’m sure there’s a lot of stressed-out people in jail who are angry, and that’s kind of what it was like.”
3. Contrasting contenders
Main event participants Diego Sanchez and Clay Guida, who both have a shot to move to the top of the lightweight ladder with a win today, are opposites in terms of personality.
The hyper-energetic Guida pumped up his music Thursday in the small workout area of the Palms before running around the makeshift training room at full speed. He proceeded to engage in an unusual regimen of leapfrog with a training partner — hopping over his buddy crouched on all fours before quickly sliding underneath him.
“Being an underdog, I’m not new to it. That’s my trademark,” said Guida, who despite back-to-back victories over Ultimate Fighter champions Nate Diaz and Mac Danzig is listed as a plus-220 underdog against Sanchez, who won the middleweight division on the first edition of the reality show.
“I rise to the occasion, fight the big fights and put on a good show for everyone. I come to shine, and I’m ready to roll.”
Then there’s Sanchez, who spent almost three-quarters of his workout performing yoga and breathing exercises.
The spiritual Sanchez admits the routine is a bit unorthodox in the fighting world, but says the benefits are tremendous — especially for cutting weight, as he’s competing in his second fight at the 155-pound division after dropping from the 170-pound welterweight class.
“Balance and flexibility, but also the most important thing in life, breathing,” said Sanchez, who defeated Joe “Daddy” Stevenson at UFC 95 in February in England.
The main story line for this season, besides national pride, was how Bisping and U.S. skipper Dan Henderson helped clean up the show. Last season the show featured the most out-of-control behavior ever to hit the rowdy Las Vegas-based house. It was characterized more for its bodily fluids than the action in the octagon — the fighting that helped popularize the fledgling UFC promotion when Forrest Griffin won on the original show in 2005.
“Most of the guys from both teams were there to fight,” Henderson said. “It makes coaching a lot easier when guys are not screwing around or not wanting to fight. It was a very fun and rewarding experience, and I want to thank both teams for that.”
5. Next big star
Several of the UFC’s biggest names (Griffin, Rashad Evans, Bisping) have benefitted from Spike TV’s attention, and Bisping believes both Winner and Pearson have the combination of fighting skills and engaging personality to be the next star.
“I think not only the winner of that fight, but maybe even both of them have that special combination of traits to make it big time,” said Bisping, who said he won’t be cornering either one or offer a prediction.
“It will definitely be one of my guys,” he said with a chuckle.
The Pearl is the Palms premier concert venue, hosting some of the most legendary and popular names in entertainment.