The Ultimate Fighter is the UFC’s answer to reality TV and, given how the UFC is martial arts’ answer to cockfighting, you can imagine the grace and sensitivity with which they’ve risen to the occasion.
For its ninth season, TUF pitched a team of UK fighters against counterparts from the US. The program was broadcast on both sides of the Atlantic, but the producers lacked the cultural sensitivity to bother taking out the subtitles under the British fighters when it arrived over here, buried on Virgin1, with each episode playing several days after it had been broadcast in America. Also, if you’re watching Virgin1 at 11pm on a Sunday night there’s a good chance you can’t read, so it was doubly offensive.
Not as offensive as Team America, though. Making fun of Americans is easy, lazy, racist, and ignorant, but that’s no reason not to do it when they really deserve it. The American team excelled at chanting USA! USA! and, well, not much else, it turned out. Holed up in a Big Brother-style house with their opponents, when they weren’t praying, crying, talking obsessively about themselves or blandly about nothing in particular, the cracks soon started to emerge and the in-fighting promptly began. The resident black sheep was Jason Pierce, who took issue with his teammates’ occasional beer-drinking and revelry as well as their inability to be pious, humorless pricks like him. I mean, just look at him:
By the quarterfinal stage, this band of foster brothers were lining up to kick each others’ asses, rather than those of their enemies from across the sea. Which is just as well, really, as the best fighters on (shudder) Team UK mopped the floor with them every time they were asked to do so. Pierce withdrew due to a mystery injury, asked to be re-instated in time to fight, had his request denied. Skip forward a few more cut scenes of 30 grown men sitting around dressed like retarded gangbangers and he’s feeding his teammates’ British opponents notes on how the Americans plan to fight. Brilliantly, he denied this to camera, despite being filmed cutting his bros’ balls off earlier that day. The levels of idiocy and anti-climax were then jacked up as Team USA leader, UFC ‘legend’ (it says here) Dan Henderson, failed to react or stamp any kind of authority on the situation. Instead, he continued to walk and talk like Robocop on a diazepam bender, as he had done for the whole series.
Team UK, in contrast, seemed like a riot. Ignoring the terrible name and half-arsed attempt at getting their own chant going, this was a bunch of guys from a variety of cultural and class backgrounds, from regions of the country that are a world away from each other, who simply turned up and got on with it, having a good time and making some new friends in the process. All the things that Team USA should’ve done, if they’d bothered to learn their own ideology and, well, the tournament rulebook. The only arsehole in the UK pack was their leader, TUF 3 winner and now established UFC fighter Michael Bisping, and he was more of a good-natured maniac, truth be told.
Brilliantly, all the best aspects of British culture unfurled themselves before Team USA’s nonplussed eyes. They had accents that didn’t sound like a Hugh Grant or a Guy Ritchie film, they ran riot around their side of the house partying on their nights off, and for their final meal they dressed up nicely with a range of shirts that seem to span Moss Bross to Burtons, sat down for a meal together and had Bisping give them a 30-second speech at the end of it about how proud of them all he was, delivered with the mumbling grace of a emotionally-repressed tough guy. A real man, in other words. Then one of them threw a teammate into the swimming pool and got dragged in and then coated in flour for his troubles.
To be fair, not all the Americans were wankers. Californian army kid Frank Lester was allowed the only credible breakdown on their team, when he subbed for arch-bottler Pierce, won his second chance bout and then fell at the last hurdle for qualifying to fight in the finale. Seeing a twenty-five year-old man with a kid to support learn that he is not quite good enough to do something for a living that he’s worked harder for than most people will ever work for anything was stirring stuff and, mercifully, the producers didn’t milk it. Lester’s admission in the final episode to one of Team UK that the only reason he didn’t like him at first was because his teammate lost to him was typical of his likable, candid honesty, too, and handily emphasized the problem with most of the arrogant tossers with whom he shared a camp. Likewise, Alaskan rube Richie Whitson stayed on good terms with eventual Lightweight champion Ross Pearson, even after Pearson had accidentally spread Whitson’s nose across his face with a late blow in their bout.
The only American to make the pay-per-view finale was DaMarques Johnson who, when he wasn’t wearing his baseball cap at a ridiculous angle and talking about what a badass he was and how the strength of his faith inspired him, got a squirt of water up his nose from Bisping’s water bottle for being such a prize dickhead. When Bisping went to apologise 30 seconds later, Johnson was too busy brooding in the car park and rushing to find a camera to tell that he’d kick Bisping’s ass, given half the chance. He also had a king-sized bug up his arse about the other Welterweight finalist, James Wilks, presumably because Wilks had the temerity to be well-spoken, polite and really quite good. Johnson earned his spot in the final with some impressive bouts but was promptly found out at the PPV and ended up tapping out in the first round, with implicit recommendation that he not let the octagon’s door hit him on the arse on the way out.
Next up is TUF 10 which, for the sake of diversity will feature only heavyweight fighters. It will definitely lack the peculiarities of 9 that gave it great moments of unintentional comedy and cod sociology, so we’ll just have to go back to enjoying watching half-naked men beating the crap out of each other, which is where we came in…