The new season of The Ultimate Fighter premiered tonight on FOX Sports 1 after Luke Rockhold demolished Costas Philippou via a nasty series of liver kicks at UFC Fight Night 35. The new season of TUF began with a revamped opening sequence featuring UFC President Dana White and the contestants of the new season talking about the importance of representing their respected countries as they introduce the two proud nations of Australia and Canada pitting their most promising prospects against each other.
Team Canada’s head coach Patrick Cote leads his team against Australian coach Kyle Noke for the new season. The two teams are shown entering their brand new TUF gym located in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada and begin their training.
Australian coach Kyle Noke stated in an interview of FOX Sports 1 after the premier of Episode 1 of TUF that the location made no difference to neither he nor his team.
Team Canada wins the traditional coin toss to launch the season. The win gives coach Cote the power of picking the first matchup, however he decides to hold his verdict until later into the episode.
As usual the customary $25,000 reward is offered to the combatants for best fight, best knockout, and best submission of the season. However, this year an incentive is presented to the fighters proclaiming that any fighter that finishes their opponent will be given an additional $5,000 reward.
Conveying their experiences into passion filled speeches to their pupils, the two coaches take to the locker rooms with their respected teams. Cote and Noke are perfect for the job considering both are previous TUF competitors themselves.
The two teams make their way to the beautiful Canadian architectural log cabin, tucked away into a secluded part of Quebec City, in which they will spend the entirety of the season.
Further along in the premier episode, Coach Cote announces the first matchup to be Canadian Kajan Johnson, a very explosive personality and MMA vet with 30 professional bouts in his short 29 years, vs. tough as nails and undefeated Ausy Brendan O’Reilly.
Johnson touches on the fact that he has many lingering injuries that could possibly hinder his ability to properly train, but feels confident in his ability to perform. Kajan is a very spiritual fighter focusing on his belief that it doesn’t matter who is the better fighter or the better prepared, but rather who is the freer fighter inside the cage. His injuries aside, Johnson still feels that “Even if I’m injured, I’m more dangerous that anyone else here.”
Brendan sees this as a huge opportunity, as well as he should, and though he may look like just the average brawler he has a huge respect for the sport as he stated that he doesn’t just see MMA as a “blood sport” but instead, more of an “art”.
Both fighters make their respected weight in this welterweight matchup. A lot stands on this bout for the two warriors, as they are the first up to represent their countries.
The two make their way to the Octagon to get the battle underway.
Round 1– Yves Lavigne is in charge of this bout. O’Reilly charges forward early with an attempt at a takedown. Johnson is quick to avoid the attack and secure the clinch. O’Reilly presses forward as Johnson lands a couple knees to Brenan’s forehead. O’Reilly finishes the takedown, but Johnson posts up with a hand and is able to regain his footing an return the fight to standing rather quickly. O’Reilly secures a body lock and dumps Johnson to the canvas, however the dynamic Kajan is able to scramble and threatens O’Reilly with a somewhat deep leg lock. Throughout the scramble O’ Reilly is cut above his right eye and bleeds profusely. Johnson gives up the submission attempt to return to his feet. Johnson is able to complete a takedown and gains control of O’ Reilly’s back with a single hook in and over/under control. O’ Reilly raises to his feet with Johnson still attached to his back. Johnson releases his grasp, creates space, and lands some strikes. The two engage and throw ill-intentioned punches before O’ Reilly makes another rushed attempt at a takedown that Johnson sees from a mile away. This time Johnson makes a beautiful transition to O’ Reilly’s back and is able to secure the choke and finish the Australian.
Kajan Johnson def. Brendan O’ Reilly via rear- naked choke in the very first round.
This victory marks the first fight that Kajan Johnson has had in over a 2-year absence from the sport. The victory moves Kajan into the semifinals of the welterweight bracket as we see Kajan place his photo next to his next potential opponent’s vacant spot.
O’ Reilly made it a point to pay a visit to the Canadian team and to Kajan, after he received stitches in his eye, that he is in no way scared of anyone. O’ Reilly was surprisingly humble with his loss, viewing it as a learning experience more than anything. This bout is the first taste of defeat that O’ Reilly has on record, but he still feels that in a way it was a “good thing”.
With Johnson’s victory, Canada still possesses control of matchup selections. This time Cote doesn’t hesitate to announce the next bout. In the season’s first middleweight matchup Canadian Elias Theodorou (8-0) from Toronto will face off against Sydney’s Zein (4-0) Saliba. Both fighters are undefeated and are 25 years of age.
The new season has been promoted by the coaches as not being filled with a pile of drama from the contestants within the house, but rather for explosively entertaining fights through out the entire season. UFC President Dana White said it the best when he said, “If guys thought fighting in the toughest tournament on television was hard, imagine how they feel doing it with a whole country on their shoulders.” These warriors are not only fighting for money, or a six-figure UFC contract but, if not more so, for the pride and honor of their countries. As Dana said, “(The UFC) put national bragging rights on the line along with the UFC contract.”
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