Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2009 | 2 a.m.
- Jan. 26 -- UFC to open line of gyms for regular folks
The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s light heavyweight champion, Rashad Evans, built a name for himself by bullying his way through the ranks on reality TV.
So, too, did the former light heavyweight champion, Forrest Griffin.
Spike TV’s “The Ultimate Fighter” helped countless other mixed martial artists like Diego Sanchez, Joe Stevenson and Matt Sera spread their reputations on a global scale.
However, as the seasons progressed, so did the fighters' extreme actions inside the house they all share.
Some were harmless outbursts between castmates, but others were downright drunken rages. Last season, "TUF’s No. 8" featured some of the most graphic antics, including fighters urinating on other participants’ food.
If either of the two coaches from the upcoming season (No. 9 began filming two weeks ago and will air at 10 p.m. local time beginning April 1) has their way, the show will have a different feel about it — and not just because of the new format that pits Team U.S.A. against Team U.K.
“The UFC and this sport has come a long way since the early days. I don’t want people to look at the guys in the house like they did last season and think we’re a bunch of retards,” said Bisping, U.K. coach and "TUF" Season 3 winner, at a recent taping of the reality show.
Team U.S.A. coach Henderson agreed, saying the production can be fun and exciting for fans without the over-the-top hi-jinx.
“At times, it makes for better TV. But hopefully these guys remember why they are here and don’t jeopardize that opportunity,” said Henderson, who earned his way onto the show and a future fight against Bisping by defeating former middleweight champ Rich Franklin at UFC 93 in Dublin, Ireland, on Jan. 17.
While Henderson (24-7 overall MMA record) — who was the welterweight and middleweight champ in Japan’s now defunct PRIDE organization — is no stranger to fighting overseas, he said if the U.K. crowds get behind "TUF" like they did at UFC 93, the show will be a huge success.
“In Ireland the crowd was great, it was one of the better crowds I’ve ever fought in front of,” said the Temecula, Calif., native. “I heard they were very loud and vocal over there. I was very impressed with the fact that I hardly heard any booing. That means they are understanding the game of MMA better and they respect what the fighters have done to be there.”
Bisping (18-1) said he has the utmost respect for his American counterpart and welcomes the challenge to match up against him after the show.
“I thought Henderson looked great. It was a great fight, but Henderson kind of bullied him for the first couple of rounds,” Bisping said.
“I definitely need to step my game up and I don’t need to say that it is going to be my toughest test so far. I look forward to the challenge.”
UFC president Dana White wasn’t worried about who would coach the American-United Kingdom teams, but he admitted he was apprehensive about how the U.K. team might fare in the Octagon.
“Originally we were worried about the U.K. team not being as strong as the American team, but we got a really good team,” White said on a recent episode of his video blog. “I’m real happy.”
So too is Bisping, who said perhaps one of his U.K. team members can use the show as a springboard like he did.
“There’s some real talent out there. I hope I can pass down some of the things I’ve learned from being in the house and the UFC,” he said.
For Henderson, the opportunity to coach the American team is extra special because of his days as a Greco-Roman wrestler during the 1992 and 1996 Olympics.
“It’s definitely a new challenge and definitely a good fit with my background,” Henderson said. “I got to represent my country when I competed and now I get to do that as a coach, so I’m pretty excited.
“I think the fans will get behind it and be excited if their country wins, too.”
Andy Samuelson is a sports writer/editor for the Las Vegas Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-948-7837.