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By Mark Carpowich on 12/4/2008 10:46 AM

Not since Season 5 of The Ultimate Fighter have we had lightweights competing for a UFC contract. Not since Season 5 have we had a fight in the backyard of the TUF house. And not since Season 5 have the final two episodes aired on the same night, back to back. Tonight, in an inadequately advertised deviation from the show’s regular program schedule, we’ll get all three…again.

Following a poorly produced WEC event that, for the second straight time, ran past its allotted time window on the Vs. network (and made me miss the main event as a result), the penultimate episode of this season of The Ultimate Fighter begins with Ryan Bader and Eliot Marshall weighing in for their semifinal matchup at 205 pounds. Coach Frank Mir brags that he has three fighters at 205 in the semis, while rival coach Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira has just one. But Nogueira is confident that his one guy – Bader – will emerge victorious because he is a better striker and wrestler than Eliot.

Nogueira continues to put over Bader, predicting he will win the show’s six-figure contract in the season finale. We then see the two men sparring in the octagon, Nogueira sans head protection. Keep that up, coach, and you’re going to end up as sane as your boxing instructor, Coach Al “Stankie” Stankiewicz.

Eliot is not intimidated by Ryan, calling him merely a “difficult challenge,” which when you think about it is pretty redundant. For the second time in this episode’s early minutes, Mir states that the fight is a bad matchup for Ryan, because his wrestling won’t do him much good on the ground against a jiu-jitsu ace. Eliot is equally confident, proclaiming himself to be better both standing and on the ground. In typical Season 8 style, Eliot makes his prediction in rhyme, saying Ryan will “choose where he wants to lose.” Ryan doesn’t think so, and says he is “looking forward to just winning this fight, and looking forward.” Sounds like Ryan’s been doing a little headgear-less sparring, too.

UFC president Dana White is in the octagon for the start of the bout, and announces that tonight’s semifinal matchups will each be three rounds. We’re ready to fight, and Eliot gets the action started by throwing a high kick that doesn’t really land. The next one does, though, albeit juuuust a little lower. Ryan teases needing a timeout, and Eliot backs off, but then the action resumes after they achieve limited success in attempting to touch gloves. After some pretty tenuous standup, Ryan gets a takedown halfway through the round, and pins Eliot against the cage. Ryan holds him for the remainder of the round, landing the occasional shot but not doing much significant damage.

Eliot comes out aggressively at the start of round 2. Ryan manages to catch one of several kicks thrown by Eliot, which leads to an easy takedown. Ryan uses his weight effectively in holding Eliot down, causing Mir to immediately start complaining about the lack of action. Eventually agreeing, the referee stands them up, and the fighters touch gloves. Huh? After a brief exchange, Ryan scores another double-leg takedown, and stays on him for the remainder of the period.

Round 3 starts with Eliot catching a kick, but rather than take Ryan to the mat, Eliot attempts to stay standing. Ryan regains his balance, though, and easily takes Eliot down instead. Eliot tries to scramble out, but Ryan holds him down, partially aided by a quick grab of the fence that Mir whines about for at least 30 seconds afterward. Apparently he didn’t see the closeup camera shot of Eliot grabbing the fence during the previous round. The referee ends up standing them up again, but Ryan just gets another takedown. Mir loudly proclaims the fight to be “boring,” then sarcastically shows his appreciation for the “great wrestling match.” Who is he, Junie Browning? Ryan controls the rest of the fight, and walks away with a unanimous-decision victory. Mir is unimpressed, saying Ryan isn’t a good fighter and managed to win “with limited abilities.” Eliot accepts the loss more humbly, however, saying that making excuses isn’t his style.

Now that the first light-heavyweight bout has ended, it’s time to move to the lightweight division, where Philippe Nover and George Roop are ready to compete. As they weigh in, Dana praises Philippe, and says that George has his work cut out for him. Still, Mir thinks that George showed a lot of grit battling through a hand injury in his victory over John Polakowski last week, and believes George can make it two in a row.

As fast-moving clouds pass over Las Vegas, Philippe pays his opponent a tepid compliment by referring to him as “a very qualified fighter.” He says the pressure is on him, since everyone is predicting he’ll win, but still feels confident enough to guarantee a first-round submission. George, meanwhile, plans to win by knockout, and says he’ll make Philippe bleed. For some reason, an avant-garde shot of barbed wire is shown as George says this. George likes being the underdog, and says he can’t be knocked out. We’ve heard this somewhere before, haven’t we, David Kaplan? Philippe, meanwhile, compares himself to a hungry tiger, and calls George “a little deer.” Or did he say “a little dear”?

Following an overly philosophical ad for the new “Call of Duty: World at War” video game that is designed to appeal to those who still haven’t gotten enough of Mir tonight, we head into the cage. Philippe comes out aggressive, rushing at George and overwhelming him with several big punches before scoring a takedown. George is able to reverse position, though Philippe immediately goes for a kimura. Philippe works as George does pretty much nothing to defend it, and finally manages to pull it behind George’s back as he folds George in half. George taps, and Philippe is on his way to the finals.

As Dana heaps yet more praise on Philippe, Nogueira compliments his fighter, then says he is proud to have two fighters in the finals. Will there be any more? Find out on the next episode of The Ultimate Fighter, which airs…now!

The season’s final episode kicks off with the other light-heavyweight semifinal fight, which will feature Team Mir teammates Krzysztof Soszynski and Vinny Magalhaes. As the men arrive at the gym, and Krzysztof politely opens Vinny’s locker-room door for him, Krzysztof says the fight will be a classic grappler-striker matchup. Krzysztof acknowledges Vinny’s jiu-jitsu credentials, which include a world championship, but says punching a jiu-jitsu black-belt in the face will quickly turn him into a brown belt. Krzysztof refers to his fists as his “wife” and “son,” and promises to bring them to Vinny’s face. Vinny, meanwhile, tries to repeatedly convince us that he is not nervous.

Before Spike can run a commercial break, our fight is under way. Vinny wastes little time in jumping up on Krzysztof, then pulling guard. Krzysztof is unable to introduce Vinny’s face to his wife and son, but does manage to get out of his guard, then backs up and forces Vinny to stand again. For the next minute or so, Krzysztof lands inside leg kicks at will against Vinny, who does absolutely nothing to defend them. Finally, he has had enough, and Vinny pulls guard again. He works a quick armbar, then gets Krzysztof to tap. Afterward, Krzysztof calls the fight “very disappointing,” and says he’ll go home to work on his jiu-jitsu…ironically, it turns out, with his Team Quest teammate Vinny.

Just like that, it’s time to move to our final lightweight bout, as volatile camera-magnet Junie will take on Efrain Escudero. As clouds pass through the Las Vegas sky, Junie runs on a treadmill and talks about how focused he is. Seconds later, however, Junie shows an incredible lack of focus, complaining about the inadequate training he is receiving, then actually tells Mir that he doesn’t want to fight in the semis. He asks if Shane Nelson can fight in his place, saying he doesn’t want to lose on national television on account of the poor training he is receiving. Mir is frustrated and calls Junie a “head case.”

Back at the house, Junie and Vinny talk about the light-heavyweight final with Team Nogueira losers Shane Primm and Roli Delgado. Shane is tired of Junie’s negative talk, and says that nothing matters other than what happens inside the cage. Shane reminds Junie that he hails from the “show-me state,” which prompts Junie to show him what it’s like to have a glass thrown at him. As Shane tries to figure out what’s happening, Junie is in his face, and throws a few punches at Shane. Vinny leads Junie away as Shane tells Junie to take his medication, then says he hopes Shane Nelson is in cardio shape. Yeah, because a Shane-Efrain rematch is really what the fans want to see. Their first fight just left so many unanswered questions.

As Roli, Shane Nelson and Vinny discuss the potential fallout from what has just happened, Dana shows up at the house and wants to speak to Junie in private. Dana asks Junie whether he is retarded, bipolar or just afraid to fail. Um, is “all of the above” an option? Dana accuses Junie of throwing a coffee mug at Shane. Sure, because Junie is much more likely to be drinking coffee than booze. Dana tells Junie that throwing glasses at people usually leads to jail, and says he wants to kick Junie out of the house, but is willing to let his housemates have a say because he doesn’t want them to think he’s showing “unbelievable favoritism” to his “long-lost cousin.”

Dana assembles the fighters upstairs, and asks whether Junie should stay. He then totally skews the decision-making process by saying that the way to get rid of guys on this show isn’t to vote them off, but rather to beat them off. He then realizes how that sounded, and to make sure everyone knows how funny Dana is, the cameras make sure to catch all of the fighters laughing at this well-rehearsed slip of the tongue. Not surprisingly, the guys want to Junie to stay, and Dana predicts that justice will be served. Somewhere in the crowd, Shane Nelson breathes a huge sigh of relief.

It’s fight day, and Junie says he will quit fighting if he loses to Efrain. Junie says he is already in the finals, Efrain just doesn’t know it yet. Efrain wants not only to win, but also to hurt Junie. We head to the octagon, where Junie walks in first…then immediately sits down in his corner, leaned up against the fence as he waits for his opponent. Who does he think he is, Jake “The Snake” Roberts? Junie tells us that he can show up out of shape and still beat Efrain. Given his cardio in his last fight, I have a feeling we’re going to see that theory put to the test.

The fight starts, and after reluctantly touching gloves with Efrain, Junie arrogantly bends at the waist to get in a last-minute stretch. After landing a couple of quick, sharp leg kicks and a nice punch to the body, Junie is scooped up and dumped on his back. Able to escape, Junie rushes at Efrain, only to wind up in a guillotine. After Efrain has it locked in, Shane Nelson yells to Junie, “Watch the guillotine!” Hey, thanks for that timely advice. Junie wastes a ton of energy trying to take Efrain down, finally getting his neck free and electing just to hold Efrain against the fence. The round ends with the fighters in the center of the octagon, Efrain getting the better of the standup.

After another video-game ad airs featuring Mir, who this time announces he has already told his wife not to talk to him when the game comes out (with an attitude like that, I don’t think you’ll have a problem getting your wish), we start round 2. Junie is aggressive on the feet, throwing (but missing) a nice combo that ends with a spinning back fist. He then shoots a double against Efrain, who is a vastly superior wrestler, and not surprisingly is unable to finish. Efrain, on the other hand, scores a takedown with a single, and lies on Junie as he pushes a forearm into this throat. Softened up, Junie falls right into a D’Arce choke, and is forced to tap. As Team Nogueira celebrates, Junie runs away before the referee can even announce the decision.

Afterward, Efrain says he chose to stand because he wanted to beat Junie at his own game, a strategy that Nogueira found to be risky. Mir, meanwhile, is back to complaining, this time that Junie didn’t listen to him. Mir reveals that he became so frustrated during the fight, he finally just sat down and stopped coaching. Mir says he isn’t out there just to be a cheerleader. I guess he doesn’t remember the fight where he offered the sage advice, “Beat his ass.” Mir admits he actually enjoyed watching Junie get choked out. Dana agrees, and once again says that justice was served.

Outside, Junie blames his coaches for his loss, saying he was out of shape. As a frustrated assistant walks away, Junie announces he is done fighting, and will take up a new career once he returns home, probably something involving flipping burgers. Back inside, apparently the semifinals were a collective “hair vs. hair match,” as we learn that Nogueira has earned the right to shave off Mir’s hair. As Dana twice refers to Mir as a “supermodel,” Nogueira does his best Brutus Beefcake impression on Mir’s head.

As we go off the air, Junie says he isn’t really retiring, and will be back to fight. I’m sure Dana can’t wait to give this guy a job. Sure, Junie, we’ll see you on a future UFC pay-per-view. Maybe you and Jeremy May can take on Gabe Ruediger and Noah Inhofer.

Random thoughts:

Why would this week’s preview tell us to “get ready for a highly anticipated lightweight battle?”

I mean, if it’s highly anticipated, why would we need to get ready for it?

Did you notice Nogueira immediately clarified his bold claim that Ryan will be a champion, by predicting that he will merely win the show’s contract?

First guest coach Anderson Silva, now Nogueira – how come this team’s coaches always wind up in full-blown headgear-less sparring sessions with Ryan?

If Eliot thought he was better than Ryan both on the feet and the ground, why did he consider himself the underdog?

Given the way it turned out, wasn’t it ironic that someone told Eliot on his way to the cage that “it’s not a wrestling match, it’s a fight”?

Why was Mir so obsessive about the three-strike combos?

And how annoying were his constant complaints to the referee?

Did you notice that previous weeks’ subtle camera shots of Arianny’s cleavage were replaced this week by shameless close-up boob shots?

And why do her form-fitting shorts include a belt?

Did the Ryan-Eliot fight remind anyone else of the Chris Leben-Josh Koscheck bout in Season 1?

Did Eliot really say afterward that making excuses for a loss “isn’t my style”?

Wasn’t this the same guy who complained incessantly about the judging in his elimination-round loss?

After seeing George’s ballcap and Philippe’s sunglasses, was I the only one wondering if they were weighing in for the battle of unnecessary fashion accessories?

How overly articulate were Mir’s video-game ads?

Do the game’s makers really think anyone is going to buy it based on a testimonial from Frank Mir?

When Philippe was working for a kimura on George’s far side, why would Shane Nelson yell for him to throw an uppercut?

Why didn’t this week’s first episode include an advisory that another new episode would be on immediately afterward?

Was anyone else expecting a little more of a build for the Krzysztof-Vinny fight, given their tension as teammates?

Am I the only one who giggled when Krzysztof referred to his right hand as his wife?

Why didn’t we get to see how the coaching situation worked out for the fight between two Team Mir guys?

And why wasn’t one of them sent to train with the opposing team, as has been done in previous seasons?

Didn’t it seem like the show’s producers treated the Krzysztof-Vinny fight as a formality, and were more interested in moving on to the Junie storyline?

Why would Junie be afraid of losing on national TV, but didn’t think there would be any shame in quitting on national TV?

If you lived with Junie, would you sit anywhere near him if he had a glass in his hand?

So Junie throws glasses at two people, punches Shane, kicks Tom Lawlor, and gets to stay on the show, but someone in a previous season was kicked out for merely encouraging a fight at the house?

Why did Junie and Shane Primm both automatically assume that Shane Nelson would be the one to replace Junie?

Why did Roli say he couldn’t believe Junie would throw a glass at someone again, after having dodged a bullet the first time he did it?

I mean, if he got away with it once, why wouldn’t he do it again?

Does anyone think that Dana would have let “boring” characters like Roli or George stay on the show if they did the same thing?

Wouldn’t it have been great if Efrain leveled Junie when he bent over to stretch his legs?

Why did Mir tell Junie between rounds that Efrain’s standup “sucks,” when Junie wasn’t doing much better?

Even though it wasn’t successful, didn’t Junie’s double-leg shot on Efrain look nice?

After hearing Dana tell him he should have been kicked off the show three times already, wasn’t it funny to hear Mir keep yelling “three strikes” at Junie?

Earlier this season, didn’t Junie accuse Efrain of being a one-dimensional fighter whose sole submission was a D’Arce choke?

And wasn’t it fitting that Efrain used it to beat him?

How come Dana criticized Junie for sitting down in the cage, but didn’t say anything when Mir did the same thing outside the octagon during the fight?

Did you notice that Efrain ignored Nogueira’s advice to move from side to side during the fight, yet Nogueira didn’t sit down in protest?

If Junie actually backs up one thing he said this season, don’t you think it will be his prediction that he’ll end up flipping burgers back home?

Mark Carpowich can be contacted at