The thirteenth season of Zuffa Entertainment's reality show "The Ultimate Fighter" premiered Wednesday night on SpikeTV, with 14 welterweight fighters striving toward a common goal: Winning the elimination tournament and earning a six-figure guaranteed contract as a UFC fighter.
The Ultimate Fighter's format features two team captains who mentor their charges and provide personalized training alongside a world-class coaching staff throughout the season. Junior Dos Santos and former heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar are this season's coaches -- they'll also directly battle each other at UFC 131 in June, after the reality show is finished. The winner of Lesnar vs. Dos Santos will likely be next in line for a championship match against current heavyweight title holder Cain Velasquez.
Unlike previous seasons, this time out the contestants did not need to "fight" their way onto the show. All 14 fighters were guaranteed spots in the official Ultimate Fighter house in Las Vegas, where they are sequestered for six weeks, filmed at all hours and forbidden from outside contact with friends and family. The lack of preliminary fights made the screening process somewhat haphazard for the two coaches, who pick their sides in the first episode. Dos Santos and his team primarily occupied the Octagon cage and used grappling and sparring sessions to evaluate talent, while Lesnar employed a series of grueling conditioning drills to establish a draft order. "We didn't want guys that for the last month have been sitting on the couch, eating pizza and drinking beer," said Lesnar.
UFC President Dana White called the coaches into the head office and began the drafting process with little fanfare, somewhat to the chagrin of Lesnar, who won the coin toss for first pick. Lesnar ended up choosing Len Bentley first, then, Charlie Rader, Tony Ferguson, Clay Harvison, Myles Jury, Chris Cope and Nordin Asrih.
Team dos Santos took on Shamar Bailey, then Ryan McGillivray, Javier Torres, Ramsey Nijem, Zach Davis, Mick Bowman and finally Keon Caldwell.
One fighter was injured during the evaluation process - Myles Jury completely tore his ACL and suffered additional knee damage during a half-speed grappling drill. Replacement Chuck O'Neil stepped in to replace Jury on Team Lesnar, while Dos Santos dictated that his first pick, Shamar Bailey, would kick things off in the first fight against Lesnar's last pick, German-born Nordin Asrih.
Bailey quickly grounded the heavy-handed Asrih, and used superior grappling skills to dominate the first round. The second round saw Asrih come out of his corner with some sense of desperation, only to slip while throwing a high kick in the early seconds. This virtually ceded the fight to Bailey, who quickly pounced on his fallen foe and controlled the remainder of the fight. Bailey did have some opportunities for a rear naked choke and other submissions, but was unable to finish the jet-lagged German and had to settle for a unanimous decision victory to advance to the second round.
With the win, Team Dos Santos retains match-making control and will determine the next fight on episode two of The Ultimate Fighter, to be aired on April 6.