Strife between casting couches and casting coaches
August, 11, 2012
By Chuck Mindenhall
Rod Mar for ESPN.comIt’s barely underway, but there’s already drama trickling out of "The Ultimate Fighter 16" house. Not from the crop of welterweight participants, who are still shrouded in mystery and being canned for preservation just like the old Spike days.
It’s from the coach, UFC heavyweight Roy Nelson, who hand-picked a peculiar coaching staff to help mold the upstarts -- people who didn’t necessarily meet with UFC president Dana White’s approval.
Who were they? There was former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion/current Bellator fighter Muhammad Lawal, who is serving a nine-month suspension for testing positive for an anabolic steroid; there was Kurt Angle, the professional wrestler and one-time Olympic gold medalist; and then Victor Conte, who’s ran the gamut of morality in all things steroid related.
Not exactly the most fetching bunch of names -- in fact, it reads like a devil’s den of asterisks. But it does make you wonder what exactly Nelson and the proposed coaching staff would have been teaching. And that begs a further question -- wouldn’t that make for compelling television? This is “reality” television, after all, where drama and conflict are meant to play out candidly. That we commonly talk about TUF as being a house of bottled-up testosterone sort of broadens the set of qualifications to a visionary like Nelson.
Wouldn’t that crew know how to manipulate, canalize and redirect testosterone?
That’s a sadistic maybe, because we’ll never know -- Dana White put the kibosh on it. And that he did, both head coach and big boss have been barbing at each other via interviews and on Twitter. White told MMAFighting.com that Nelson is being a “pain in the a--.” Nelson told MMAJunkie.com “I’m always at the back of the bus when it comes to the UFC. I’m trying to further MMA to the next level, hold journalists up to higher standards, holding fights to higher standards, holding promotions to higher standards, holding athletic commissions to higher standards, and even holding the fans to higher standards.”
It sounds like a pioneering effort was being hatched by Nelson. Instead, he is compromising with more savory names that make sense to the company and brand image. They are Skrap Packers like Jake Shields and Gilbert Melendez, and the Diaz brothers, Nick and Nate.
You know it’s a strange situation when the Diaz’s appear more savory than the alternative. The conflict between coach Nelson and opposing coach Shane Carwin isn’t the centerpiece of drama -- it’s between Nelson and White, who’ve been contentious off and on for years.
It wasn’t that long ago that Nelson was meeting with White to discuss the matter of just staying on the UFC roster. A win over Dave Herman later, and the boldness we saw from Nelson on TUF 10 comes storming back. White has never been a fan of Nelson’s attitude, the Falstaffian physique, nor the nature of all that hair and beard. Yet he still gives him opportunities.
Nelson has done an infuriating job of politely ignoring White’s tastes. And he still dances to White’s tune.
All of this should dial up the intrigue just a little bit when the new season of TUF airs in September on FX. But it’s a reminder once again that the inmates don’t run the big house (even the most persistent inmates). White does. And in this case it’s hard to find fault with his reasoning for saying no to a coaching staff of Lawal, Angle and Conte. When associations are so strong, dissociations can be smart.
But you can’t help but feel a pang. When a show is accused of growing stale and here comes Nelson thinking way outside the box, wouldn’t it have been fun to see what was up his sleeve?