Story by Anthony Springer Jr
As the eighth season of The Ultimate Fighter comes to a close this Saturday, it seems that the latest installment of the Spike TV reality show will largely be remembered for one person: Junie Browning.
Browning, a Kentucky native, became the show’s most infamous fighter to date with antics that were at times appalling (spitting on a black belt before a fight) and outlandish (throwing a glass at another fighter). After a lot of trash talking, Browning was dismantled in the semi-finals by Efrain Escudero via D’arce choke.
“I think Junie Browning was a huge disappointment,” Frank Mir said during a telephone conference for the finale. “The biggest mistake that I made was probably not trying to force him off the team harder. I’m not a babysitter; hopefully Junie will find that in the future: somebody to console him and give him the special love that he needs.”
While Mir was glad that Browning was defeated in the semi-finals, he wasn’t in favor of the Kentucky fighter being able to participate at all. “It looks better that Efrain got to smash his ass in the fight and show that he quit in the fight. There’s a chance that he would’ve won and that would’ve looked bad. But I don’t think he should’ve got to fight Efrain. It’s a privilege that we all go through hardships to be on the platform we’re on now. For him to have that behavior over and over again and still be allowed to compete… If you’re a pro football player and you shove somebody in practice, you don’t get to play on Sunday.”
Drama aside, the season produced light weight finalist Phillipe Nover (who takes on Efrain Escudero), a fighter Dana White has repeatedly hailed as “the next Anderson Silva.” Being mentioned in the same sentence as the reigning middleweight champion means that there are high expectations and big shoes to fill. In spite of that, Nover is taking it all in stride and focusing on one fight at a time.
“I took that as a compliment,” he said of the comparison. “I’m not saying that I’m the next Anderson Silva, but I fight hard. I’m pretty much ready for any competition.”
With Nover stealing the show inside the Octagon, it’s almost easy to overlook the potential fireworks in the light heavyweight showdown. Season favorite Ryan “Darth” Bader will face Vinicius “Vinny” Magalhaes.
Though Bader was the favorite coming in, the Arizona wrestler will have to beat back criticism following his uneventful decision victory in the semi-finals over Eliot Marshall. Bader says exciting fights are important, but winning is the ultimate goal. “I just had to win,” Bader said of his performance. “I didn’t fight like I usually do. It wasn’t the most exciting fashion, but a W is a W at the end of the day. But you also have to be exciting. People don’t want to watch somebody laying on somebody else. At that point, I was going in to get that win. At the end of the day, you have to win and that was my goal, to make it to the finale.”
On the opposing side stand Magalhaes, a fighter with amazing jiu-jitsu skills coupled with highly questionable stand up. Magalhaes’ skills earned the praise of Frank Mir, who says in addition to Vinny’s athleticism, he performs moves seldom seen in MMA.
“Vinny does things that I can’t do,” Mir said. “If I put my foot in some of the positions that Vinny did, I wouldn’t be fighting anymore. You’d call 911; my leg would be going to one hospital and I’d be going to another.”
One thing both Magalhaes and Bader had to do was keep the secret that they were both in the finals. For Magalhaes, keeping the secret meant dealing with people who assumed he wouldn’t be in the finals.
“Everybody was predicting that Krzysztof [Soszynski] would be in the finals against Ryan, so they assumed I’d be the loser,” Magalhaes said. “So I just stayed quiet regarding the finale. But at times it was hard because some guys were so annoying asking me if I was going to be on the main card or the undercard. It was funny. I didn’t go into the competition to be another competitor, I go in to win. It was hard not to tell anybody.”
Bader admitted it wasn’t as difficult to keep mum about the results. People were asking me when I was starting to train, but basically I did the same thing; told people that I hoped I’d make it on. It wasn’t too hard though, you just kinda keep to yourself. That’s what makes the show exciting to watch and see how it all unfolds.”
The Ultimate finale kicks off tomorrow night on Spike TV at 9:00 p.m. EST.