Seven Ways of Looking at the TUF 13 Finale
After a pay-per-view letdown last weekend, it's nice to have a solid, free fight card to lift our spirits. Now for an examination of the interesting storylines, annoying questions, and begrudging admissions surrounding the TUF 13 Finale.
I. No one has less to gain and more to lose on Saturday night than Anthony Pettis. Theoretically, he earned a UFC lightweight title shot when he beat Ben Henderson. Then circumstances conspired against him in almost comically unfortunate fashion, one after another, and now he'll probably have to win two more fights before getting a crack at the gold. Clay Guida is a tough guy to start that journey against. His pace is unrelenting, and he can make you look bad even if you beat him. Aside from a paycheck and a chance to stay active, Pettis can't possibly get much out of this bout that he hasn't already been promised. If he doesn't win and look at least fairly decent doing it, though, those promises are worth about as much as a slurred offering of undying love right around bar closing time. Pettis can't go up right away, no matter what he does. He has to win just to stay where is, and that's never a good spot.
II. On the other hand, it's an ideal situation for Guida. Talent-wise, he's not among the best in the division. But talent is only part of the equation in this business, and Guida knows it. His work ethic is exemplary. His toughness is unquestionable. He has the cardio of a gazelle on methamphetamines. In short, he's a truth machine who will, over the course of a fight, make sure the whole world knows just how seriously you took your training. You can beat him if you show up fully prepared and don't make many mistakes. Anything less and he'll expose you. This is not a fight Guida is especially expected to win. More than anything, it's a way of keeping Pettis in the conversation. If Guida loses, fine. He's always fun to watch, so he's not going anywhere. But if he wins? Then suddenly we can't even have a conversation about the UFC lightweight title picture without breathing his name. That's exactly where Guida wants to be right now.
III. What does it mean to be "The Ultimate Fighter" in today's UFC? If you look back at recent winners and finalists from the UFC's long-running reality show, you quickly find that some Spike TV exposure and a cut-glass trophy does not an MMA superstar make. Some go on to do well. Others do just well enough to hang around. A few get dropped altogether. Lately, relatively few non-finalist contestants on the show even get a tryout in the UFC, which kind of makes you wonder about the true significance of being the best among a group that, on the whole, is deemed not quite good enough for the big leagues. Winning the show is a nice start to a UFC career, but it's only a start. Remember that when the winner is getting slapped on the back and showered with love in the center of the Octagon on Saturday night.
IV. No one seems quite sure what to expect out of Tim Credeur and Ed Herman, and that's kind of fun. You take two hard-nosed guys who have been out of action for nearly two years – one with a knee injury and the other with a brain...thing – put them up against each other in a fight both really need to win, and there's no telling what will happen. Fight of the Night? Wheezing, ring-rusted performances from one or both? Totally forgettable decision? Desperate, frantic attempts to gnaw one another's faces off? Who knows. If I had to bet, though, I'd say they're going to put on a show for at least one round. If it goes longer than that, it's anybody's guess.
V. Kyle Kingsbury has earned a step up in competition, but he's still not getting it. No disrespect to Fabio Maldonado, who seems like a tough dude, but Kingsbury has won three straight in the UFC. Most recently he crushed a very tough Ricardo Romero at UFC 126, which might have led one to believe that he'd get a bigger name opponent in his next fight. Maldonado has one fight and one win in the UFC, over the now not-so-employed James McSweeney. That's not to say Maldonado isn't ready for this level of competition, but Kingsbury has already proved that he is. If he wins this, how about giving him a name that fans will recognize in his next outing?
VI. And now that I'm thinking about it, where's the love for Scott Jorgensen? Back in December he challenged for Dominick Cruz's bantamweight title. He lost a one-sided decision, sure, but how do you go from a title shot to an unaired prelim fight on a TUF Finale card with one defeat? Seems like a precipitous drop for a guy who's known to put on exciting performances. Winning five straight may qualify you for a crack at the belt, but apparently one loss to the best in the world at 135-pounds and you get nudged into a dark match just so fans don't have to miss Chuck O'Neil vs. Chris Cope. What a business.
VII. Okay, I admit it: I've been spoiled by all those Facebook prelim fights. Now when I look at a card that features five TV fights and six genuine dark matches, I actually feel a little short-changed. As if it isn't free. As if an opportunity to see every single fight on the card is a birthright and not a pretty recent (and also awesome) development. How quickly we get used to the new normal. Still though, you're telling me I probably won't get to see Jeremy Stephens and Danny Downes go at it? Bummer, man. That's a bummer.