By Thomas Gerbasi
CAUTION: SPOILERS INCLUDED – 14 middleweight fighters have earned spots in the house for The Ultimate Fighter: Team Liddell vs Team Ortiz competition, and the road to the ultimate finale has begun. But before further eliminations can begin, coaches Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz must select the teams that they will lead into battle.
As the fighters get settled in the house, there are obviously some lingering after-effects of the previous fights to get over, with Chris Camozzi forced to deal with an infection stemming from a broken tooth, Clayton McKinney with a banged-up shoulder, and Court McGee recovering from his grueling win over Seth Baczynski.
The next morning, Ortiz wins the opening coin flip and opts to take the first pick, with Liddell getting to choose the first fight.
Ortiz’ first team pick is Nick Ring. Liddell counters with Kyle Noke. When the picks are complete, this is how the teams look:
“As I’m putting my team together, I’m looking for guys who have great standup, guys that have great ground games, and great jiu-jitsu,” said Ortiz. “Each one of the guys has a bit of a strength on their side and Team Punishment will prevail because I have each of the components to make a great team, and I’m very happy with the picks I have.”
‘The Huntington Beach Bad Boy’ was also critical of some of Team Liddell’s picks, saying that they were “very questionable because the guys don’t look like 185-pounders.”
Even UFC President Dana White said, “I honestly don’t know how he (Liddell) could have made some of those picks. Chuck’s good with strategy, Chuck wants to win this thing, so maybe I’m wrong.”
Afterwards, White spoke with Liddell about his choices, with ‘The Iceman’ telling him, “I got what I wanted. Me and him disagree on fighters all the time. I definitely want to prove everybody wrong, and I think I’ve got tough guys.”
To help him get the fighters ready in the gym and the Octagon, Liddell introduced longtime trainer John Hackleman and 1976 Olympic boxing Gold medalist Howard Davis Jr. as two of his assistant coaches. Ortiz has brought in his longtime coach, Saul Soliz, and jiu-jitsu black belt Cleber Luciano, as the first two of his coaches.
During the first practice, Team Ortiz’ McKinney is still being bothered by his shoulder injury, which the doctor believes may be a torn rotator cuff, so an MRI has been scheduled. Camozzi doesn’t look to be in fighting shape physically either, but mentally, he’s ready for whatever is thrown his way, even if that means fighting in the first bout chosen by Liddell.
But it’s not to be this week, as Liddell opts to have his first pick Kyle Noke take on McKinney.
Back in the house, McCray, Yager, and Tavares have formed a quick friendship, and during the night they pull off the season’s first prank by firing off air horns and waking up their fellow competitors, who weren’t too happy about it. Uscola and McKinney were particularly angry at the prank.
The next day at the gym, McKinney got good news from the doctor, who told him that there was no tear in his rotator cuff or muscles. There was a bone bruise, but he was clear to fight.
Hurt or not, Ortiz keeps pushing his team hard, but there is time for some levity, as cupcakes are brought in for his birthday.
“My wish is to make sure we go undefeated this year, and every Mexican kid’s birthday has to have a piñata, so we got really lucky.”
Then Ortiz points to the Chuck Liddell piñata hanging over the Octagon, which proceeds to get beaten open, sending money flying around for the team.
The focus soon turns to Australia’s Noke, who used to work security for the late Steve Irwin, “The Crocodile Hunter”. A longtime vet of the sport, Noke has all of Liddell, Davis, and Hackleman’s confidence heading into the opening fight.
And as far as the end of season bout with Liddell and Ortiz goes, “The Iceman” is eager to put a third knockout loss on his rival’s record after some comments Ortiz made in recent interviews.
“If I put myself in the wrong position, he might get dropped here,” said Liddell of Ortiz.
Both fighters made weight for their bout, and after referee Herb Dean waves them in, the competition is now truly underway.
The two trade kicks in the early going, with little sustained action. But after two minutes are gone, things pick up when McKinney gets Noke to the mat. McKinney looks to be in control, but suddenly Noke reverses position and sinks in a bout-ending triangle choke that eliminates the Florida fighter.
After the fight, Ortiz shows McKinney where he went wrong and has him demonstrate it to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
“You make mistakes and you grow from it,” said the former light heavyweight champ to the devastated McKinney. “You can still be in the wild card.”
After Noke’s victory, Team Liddell moves to 1-0 in the competition. Here’s how the teams look:
Clayton McKinney – Eliminated on episode two by Kyle Noke
Kyle Noke 1-0
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