With a KO stoppage and some prime internal drama within Jones' team, this latest installment of TUF had elements catering to both the hardcore MMA fan and the casual Reality TV viewer. However, you might find that your enjoyment of this particular episode will be dependent on which of these two archetypes you more closely resemble and what you expect to get out of this new season.
The show opens with the fighters arriving at the TUF mansion and getting acclimated to their new living situation. The supplemental coaches for both teams are given brief rundowns with Sonnen acquaring the help of former fighter turned dietary guru, Mike Dolce, UFC fighter, Vinny Magalh„es, and three of his personal trainers. Jones' coaching staff consists of Muay Thai instructor Stonehorse Lone Goeman and three active MMA fighters: Frank Mir, Bo Jenkins, and John Wood.
So far, the dynamic of Sonnen's team appears to be more relaxed and affirmative when compared with Jones' team that already has tension brewing; Joshua Samman and Robert McDaniel of Team Jones immediately expressed doubts regarding teammate, Gilbert Smith Jr., and his ability to win the first fight of the tournament against the much taller and lankier Luke Barnatt of Team Sonnen. Jon Jones and his coaches soon catch wind of this and it eventually comes to a head when a couple of Gilbert's teammates have a conversation with him in the locker room (after or before training) about their concerns with his upcoming bout-- which Gilbert takes as an ambush.
We also learn a bit about Luke Barnatt, the only Brit of this season, who apparently stuck with MMA in his adult years after discovering he had natural fighting talent. His parents, being advocates of following your own dreams, saw no problem with his current career path. Luke Barnatt, by his own admission, fights with intuition, rather than calculated technique, and uses his grit and no-quit attitude to wear down his opponents.
Amidst all this development, Chael manages to visit the TUF house and have a backroom conversation with Uriah Hall, one of his fighters, about him possibly being the best competitor in the tournament -- perhaps a foreboding of the fighter that Dana has been hinting at before the season who, according to him, sent all his opponents in an ambulance.
The match itself largely comprised of fighting for position and the take-down. Gilbert got his share of take-downs but often neglected to set them up and as a result got caught with a powerful flying knee to the head in the second round as he was shooting for a double leg. With this win, Sonnen's team effectively takes control of the next match-up.
Overall, not too much to complain about with this episode as we are treated to a fantastic finish and a healthy amount of Reality TV drama. The production, taking its cue from the last episode, is once again top-notch and notably more cinematic than any other TUF season; the fighter interviews that utilized more dynamic close-ups and the tighter editing are definitely good additions.
The flying knee by Luke Barnatt was spectacular to behold but prior to that was some more of the old unsightly pummeling and wrestling that many will probably view as boring. Furthermore, the interactions between the fighters and the frustrations within the TUF house took more precedent than actual footage of training and specific game-planning this time around. As such, one can certainly find significant issues with the show already depending on what type of viewer you are.
According to the preview, the next episode will feature a historic KO that according to Dana is "One of the nastiest knockouts I've ever seen in the fight business..." so this following installment might be the one to kick off the action right.
My Final verdict:
7/10, solid entertainment with a a few nagging issues