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BlueLander 11-24-2012 05:46 PM

'TUF' times: Sonnen says he turned down spot on 'TUF 1,' Jones once cut from tryouts

LAS VEGAS – The debut season of 'The Ultimate Fighter' has long been recognized as the starting point of MMA's current popularity boom and was responsible for launching the careers of stars such as Stephan Bonnar, Kenny Florian, Forrest Griffin, Josh Koscheck, Chris Leben, Diego Sanchez and Mike Swick.

But as successful as the 2005 series debut proved, imagine what it could have been with one Chael P. Sonnen (27-12-1 MMA, 6-5 UFC).

Sonnen, who coaches on the upcoming 17th edition of the series, says he actually turned down a spot on "TUF 1."

"When the show very first started, the first coaches ever were my coach, friend, teammate Randy Couture vs. Chuck Liddell, arguably the greatest light heavyweight ever," Sonnen told ( "In fact, the argument would be between those two: Chuck and Randy. I was just a fan. I watched it as a fan. They asked me to be on the show as an athlete, and I passed on the chance. It was on a different network at that time, but an executive at that office invited me on as an athlete. Then I loved the show.

"I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know what it was. I sat down and watched it, and I regretted that decision. I really enjoyed watching it, and all these years later, here I am."

Sonnen coaches opposite UFC light heavyweight champ Jon Jones (17-1 MMA, 11-1 UFC) on "TUF 17," which debuts in January on FX. The first 14 seasons of the series aired on Spike TV and led to a long partnership between the fight promotion and the cable TV channel. UFC President Dana White has often referred to the series as a "Trojan horse" for the sport, with top-level athletes starring in a series that was half reality TV and half competition. Fans responded to the show, which was unlike anything on TV at the time, and the first cast is still considered the most prospect-rich group to date.

"That first season was nasty," Sonnen said. "You've got guys like Nate Quarry that didn't win it, and look how great he is. You've got guys like Josh Koscheck that did not win it. Stephan Bonnar. Kenny Florian. These guys didn't win it, and that's when you can really understand that first season."

With Sonnen, it is often necessary to take his claims with a grain of salt, and multiple high-ranking UFC officials admitted to that they actually couldn't remember whether or not Sonnen's name was considered for the first edition of "TUF," which did not feature tryout sessions but instead a group of hand-selected athletes. Still, it's an interesting footnote in terms of what might have been.

Since that first series, the show has produced more than 100 UFC fighters and even a few UFC champions. Still, many MMA pundits question the remaining value of the program after 16 seasons on the air. Sonnen, who is currently in Las Vegas taping "TUF 17," insists this new edition will reinvigorate what some consider a tired proposition.

"When you see the guys that don't get into the house – when you see the black belts and the champions and the veterans and the flat-out studs with very incredible resumes that did not get into the house – that's when you're going to understand how loaded this bracket is," Sonnen said. "The No. 1 thing that I'm going to do is we're going to change the narrative of this show. This is not a frat show, and it is not a reality show. I don't know how those terms ever got coined. This is a tournament, period.

"All the way back to the greats – Royce Gracie and Dan Severn and Ken 'Never Should Have Been in the Octagon in the First Place' Shamrock – they never went through anything like this. Those guys did a great job. Those guys got me in the sport, the Don Fryes and the 'Tank' Abbotts, the real fighters. But it's nothing like a 32-man tournament. It's nothing like having to make weight five times, fight five times, have no preparation, not have your coach, not have your team, not sleeping in your own bed – and be expected to win anyway. It's nothing like that.

"Somewhere, somebody called this a reality show, and I just don't get it. So is the Super Bowl. It's reality, and it's a show, but I don't get it. This is real. This is the realest tournament ever. We have a guy that lost his job for taking this opportunity. He's got a wife and kid, and if he doesn't win this, he doesn't know what's going to happen to him. I could name a few of those stories like that. The sacrifice that these guys are going through to put it all on the line, it's humbling."

Sonnen's opposing coach also had a near-miss with "The Ultimate Fighter," albeit much later in the show's run. Because of the presence of alcohol in the "TUF" house, contestants must be at least 21 years old. Jones, who would go on to win the UFC's 205-pound title at just 23 years old, was underage when he went to an open tryout session and was ultimately told there was no way to bend the rules.

"I tried out for 'The Ultimate Fighter' back when I was 20 years old," Jones said. "I remember making it through the first round and then approaching a table to grapple for the second round and having Dana – I think himself, I remember him being at the table – saying, 'Man, you're too young. You're 20 years old, and you have to be 21 to apply for this show, but we're going to let you roll anyways. But you can't go much further than this.' I was like, 'Alright.' I was rolling and having a great time, and that was it. That was the end of the scenario."

Jones obviously didn't take the snub personally, as he made his debut for the promotion at UFC 87, less than one month after his 21st birthday. Now he views his role as coach as a bit of a full-circle moment.

"It's kind of surreal to me to know that just four-and-a-half years ago I was trying out for the show, and then to be on the show as such a young coach is just like, 'Man, we're doing things right,'" Jones said. "I said that to my manager. I said, 'We're doing it. We're doing things right.' It's just surreal to be a guy who was rejected from the show and now be the coach."
Looks like the Sonnen situation may or may not have been a reality, and Jones was only cut due to age. Nevertheless, it is interesting.

Joabbuac 11-24-2012 06:58 PM

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They should of bended them rules....

Imagine having a guy like Jon Jones come through TUF, that would raise the credibility of its later seasons hugely.

Hammerlock2.0 11-24-2012 07:02 PM

So they couldn't let a great fighter in the house because they needed the alcohol to get someone to behave like a jackass. Good that we're clear on that.

luckbox 11-24-2012 07:34 PM

It just blows my mind how they are still doing this TUF thing. This type of reality television is dead, and the fact that they are ramping up for the 17th, yes that is the seventeenth season of the same show with minimal changes from the first show till now is just lazy on their part. The show peaked at season 5 and has gone downwards ever since. Knock in on the head already.

LL 11-24-2012 10:17 PM

Would have been cool to see Jones/Bader on TUF.

Joabbuac 11-24-2012 11:58 PM

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Originally Posted by TheLyotoLegion (Post 1650933)
Would have been cool to see Jones/Bader on TUF.

Some might think im utterly mental for saying this, but looking at the fighter Jones was in 2008....I think Bader would of had him back then.

cdtcpl 11-25-2012 12:15 AM


Originally Posted by Joabbuac (Post 1650947)
Some might think im utterly mental for saying this, but looking at the fighter Jones was in 2008....I think Bader would of had him back then.

Maybe, only because JBJ has shown he can wrestle with Bader. Though I think he could have been out-struck by a couple of different guys.

FBrown 11-25-2012 12:42 AM

My favorite season was still the Heavyweights edition with Roy Nelson, Schaub, Kimbo, McSweeney, etc. I'm hoping this one proves to be even better than that one. I'm also kind of glad Sonnen wasn't on the show as I don't think he would have won it at that point in his career.

Roflcopter 11-25-2012 02:08 AM

Jones was fairly awful back then.

He didn't know how to throw a punch. His takedown setups were bad.

He was just raw talent.

Andre Gusmao wasn't much of a great fighter but he pretty much just gets by him on physical skills and aggressiveness alone. It's an ugly fight.

Jones wouldn't have done too well on that TUF with how little experience he had.

BrianRClover 11-25-2012 10:15 AM

If the UFC is smart they will continue to let Chael be the voice of this season. I would have never used the word tournament despite is obvious accuracy. The man can SELL!!!

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