Saturday, March 10, 2012 | 1:15 a.m.
The revamped version of the UFC’s long-running reality show, “The Ultimate Fighter,” got off to an intense start Friday night.
For the first time in 15 seasons, “TUF” aired live on new home FX. The show featured 16 one-round lightweight bouts at the UFC’s training center in Las Vegas to determine which fighters earned the right to move into the “TUF Live” house.
The remaining cast members will fight down to a championship matchup in a single-elimination tournament over the next 13 weeks. FX will continue with the live format at 9 every Friday night.
“I feel this is the best cast ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ has had in a long time,” Myles Jury, one of the hopefuls, said earlier this week. “Having to fight to get into the house, I think these are some of the best all-around guys they’ve found”
UFC President Dana White gave the fighters extra incentive to end their contests early with a $5,000 bonus to anyone who won via stoppage. Nine of the 16 fights concluded before reaching the judges’ scorecards.
But the difficult part has just begun.
“They will never face anything in their career that’s going to be as hard as what they go through here for the next 13 weeks,” White said.
Coaches Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber will select their teams of eight cast members on next week's episode before another fight will take place.
Read an introduction to the 16 fighters vying for the next “TUF” championship below.
Michael Chiesa (7-0)
Fighting out of: Spokane, Wash.
Elimination fight: Submitted Johnavan Vistante with a rear-naked choke at 2:05 of the first round.
About: He’s got a streak to uphold. Including Friday’s victory, Chiesa has submitted five straight opponents in the first round. The last four of them have come with a rear naked choke. He could face a difficult situation if forced to fight fellow cast mate Sam Sicilia at some point in the season. Chiesa and Sicilia train together in Washington. Chiesa won’t lack condifedence. Before arriving in Las Vegas, he proclaimed that he sometimes felt “unbeatable.”
John Cofer (7-1)
Fighting out of: Athens, Ga.
Elimination fight: Defeated Mark Glover by unanimous decision.
About: Cofer is one of the more decorated wrestlers in this season’s cast. He wrestled at the collegiate level for the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, where he studied sociology and education. Before he decided to go after a professional fighting career, Cofer worked as a third-grade teacher. He used his wrestling against Glover, repeatedly taking the Brit down, but also showed strong boxing with powerful straight punches.
Daron Cruickshank (10-2)
Fighting out of: Wayne, Mich.
Elimination fight: Won a unanimous decision over Drew Dober.
About: White, Cruz and Faber could barely contain their excitement over Cruickshank. They yelled out in amazement multiple times during his fight. Cruickshank is well rounded with creative striking and high-level wrestling. It’s no surprise taking into account his background. Both of his parents are high-level martial artists. Cruickshank’s mother was a professional kickboxer, while his father was a black belt in karate. Cruickshank also has a size advantage over many lightweights, as he’s spent most of his career at welterweight.
Al Iaquinta (5-1)
Fighting out of: Long Island, N.Y.
Elimination fight: Defeated Jon Tuck by unanimous decision.
About: The Serra-Longo Fight Team member had a tough time watching season of 12 of “TUF” a couple years ago. He had to think what could have been every time he saw it. Iaquinta made the cast, but had to pass on the opportunity when he injured his hand. Both hands looked perfect Friday. Iaquinta could have passed for a professional boxer in his bout against Tuck, moving and countering his way to an easy win.
Myles Jury (9-0)
Fighting out of: San Diego
Elimination fight: Took a unanimous decision win over Akbarh Jimenez.
About: If Jury doesn’t wind up on Cruz’s team this season, it would come as a major surprise. The two are teammates in San Diego and have trained together frequently. Jury, who has fought mostly at 170 pounds, is one of the favorites to win the season. He made the cast of season 13, but had to leave before the tournament got under way because of a torn ACL.
Jeremy Larsen (8-2)
Fighting out of: Phoenix
Elimination fight: Won a unanimous decision against Jeff Smith.
About: Larsen nearly had his knee shredded when caught in a Smith submission attempt early in the bout. Coming back from dire circumstances is nothing unusual for the “TUF” hopeful who considers himself a boxer. He once broke a rib in the first minute of a fight, but went on to win a decision. As for his fighting style, Larsen can sum it up easily. He molds his game after UFC welterweight contender Nick Diaz.
Justin Lawrence (3-0)
Fighting out of: Los Angeles
Elimination fight: Notched a TKO victory over James Krause at 1:25 of the first round.
About: If White awarded a Fighter of the Night distinction for the debut episode, Lawrence would have won it. The Missouri native shocked Krause, a WEC veteran who many figured would roll to the finals this season. Lawrence staggered Krause with combinations of punches and kicks. The up-and-comer who trains with middleweight champion Anderson Silva at Team Black House looked awfully dangerous. He claimed to have 150 amateur bouts before turning professional.
Cristiano Marcello (12-3)
Fighting out of: Curitiba, Brazil
Elimination fight: Submitted Jared Carsten 2:43 into the fight with a rear naked choke.
About: Marcello will be this season’s resident veteran. He’s the oldest fighter in the house and probably the most well-known. The third-degree Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt had one bout in PRIDE seven years ago. He also helps numerous high-profile Brazilian fighters, including Wanderlei Silva, with their ground games. He’s choked out five of his last eight opponents.
Andrew Ogle (8-1)
Fighting out of: Newcastle, England
Elimination fight: Won a decision over Brendan Weafer.
About: British fighters are typically cast aside as poor wrestlers. Ogle could break that stereotype in this season’s “TUF.” He advanced past the elimination round by controlling Weafer on the ground after securing a couple of takedowns. Although he didn’t show it Friday, Ogle says he also has a strong stand-up game. He learned to fight on the streets of Newcastle, which he described as a “very hard town to live in, people always trying to beat you up.”
Vinc Pichel (6-0)
Fighting out of: Sherman Oaks, Calif.
Elimination fight: Forced Cody Pfister to tap out at 3:39 after applying a d’arce choke.
About: Other fighters in the house must be concerned with the elbows in Pichel’s arsenal after watching his first “TUF” contest. Pichel opened a mammoth cut on Pfister’s forehead with a hard, sharp elbow. It changed the momentum in a close fight and enabled Pichel to work for the finish. Pichel trains out of famed MMA referee “Big” John McCarthy’s gym in Southern California.
Joe Proctor (7-1)
Fighting out of: Pembroke, Mass.
Elimination fight: Defeated Jordan Rinaldi by guillotine choke at 2:08 of the first round.
About: It didn’t take long for the first upset to occur on the debut episode of “TUF” Live. As an undefeated fighter, Rinaldi’s name came up as one to watch this season. But he was in the first fight of the night and couldn’t get past a submission specialist like Proctor, who trains alongside current UFC lightweight Joe Lauzon just outside of Boston. Proctor has four career wins by submission.
Mike Rio (8-1)
Fighting out of: Miami
Elimination fight: Submitted Ali Maclean with a rear naked choke 3:32 into the bout.
About: Like almost all fighters, “The Wolverine” despises losing. But he can live with the one blip on his record, at least knowing it’s what he calls “a legitimate loss.” Rio dropped a unanimous decision to “TUF” 8 champion Efrain Escudero last year, but has blitzed past everyone else in his path. The former collegiate national champion wrestler has finished six opponents in the first round.
Chris Saunders (9-2)
Fighting out of: Long Beach, Calif.
Elimination fight: Defeated Chase Hackett by unanimous decision.
About: “The SoCal Kid” is a crowd-pleaser. He likes to brawl and says instinct take over in his fights. He’s slightly more experienced than most of his competitors this season. Saunders’ last fight before “TUF” came in a major promotion, Bellator, against WEC veteran Chris Horodecki. Although Saunders lost by unanimous decision, he said the experience made him confident he was close to becoming one of the world’s best lightweights.
Sam Sicilia (10-0)
Fighting out of: Spokane, Wash.
Elimination fight: Knocked out Erin Beach in eight seconds.
About: If “TUF” bouts counted as official UFC contests, Sicilia would have already carved out a spot in the record books. His knockout of Beach would rank in the top 10 fastest finishes in UFC history. Beach walked directly into Sicilia’s right hand at the start of the fight. Past opponents could have warned about that danger, as Sicilia had knocked out three straight opponents in less than 30 seconds before making the cast.
Chris Tickle (7-4)
Fighting out of: Bloomington, Ill.
Elimination fight: Defeated Austin Lyons by knockout in 24 seconds.
About: Fans shouldn’t let Tickle’s record deceive them. The Midwestern wrestler is as tough as the six undefeated fighters on the cast. He started his career 2-4, but has won five straight since. All of the losses came by submission. Once Tickle began to shore up his submission defense, he began to see the results he was capable of. His hands could be the heaviest of anyone’s in the cast.
James Vick (4-0)
Fighting out of: Forest, Texas
Elimination fight: Won a split decision against Dakota Cochrane.
About: Potential is the best word to describe Vick’s game. He turned professional 10 months ago, but already has three first-round finishes in four career fights. Vick’s length makes him a tough matchup for any lightweight. He’s 6-foot-3, which is unusually tall for the 155-pound division. Vick said he developed a fighter’s mentality from growing up “dirt poor and from the gutter” in Texas. He played basketball for most of his life before taking up mixed martial arts.