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Thursday, September 22, 2011
TUF 14 comes closer to the show's essence

By Chuck Mindenhall

DENVER -- Michael Bisping doesn’t hate Jason Miller. If you’ve watched Bisping in his other stints on the “Ultimate Fighter” -- both as a contestant in Season 3 and as a coach in Season 9 -- you realize this is the story within the story in a series running low on plot resources. How can it be that Bisping and Miller remain civil? Traditionally, Bisping gets his dander up good and proper, whether it’s because Tito Ortiz is nurturing Matt Hamill instead of him or that Dan Henderson doesn’t go in for constant barbs (nor get bothered by them).

This time through? Eh. In Mayhem, he has the usual peeves that come along with being in close proximity with somebody for six weeks, but it’s a kind of brotherly annoyance. That’s just Miller. There’s no true malice.

Bisping admitted as much last night to a small group of media at the Paramount Theater in Denver, saying “Mayhem’s alright in small doses, but when you got to spend six weeks with the guy…” This would almost hold true of anybody. Yet, it’s a feat for Miller -- who has an atypical brand of humor -- to remain on any kind of even keel with one of the more combustible tempers in the UFC.

And honestly, in talking about the events that belong to their muzzled past and yet to everyone else’s future, both Miller and Bisping appeared more likeable. There were a few allusions to some pranks to watch out for ... but even they were quick to dismiss these as the worst of the pending clichés. They would know, after all.

Both fighters seemingly understood early that the fights/fighters themselves -- bantams and featherweights -- were all we needed to appreciate the bigger meaning of the show. If you caught the fights on the season premier last night -- 16 fights, 13 finishes, around 25 busted grills -- it’s easy to understand this kind of yielding. This time, though, it’s all about the contestants with a couple of awkwardly entertaining co-stars (Bisping and Miller), which gets it closer to the show’s original design. Given that the lighter-weight classes are the most underexposed in the game, this takes on a little more significance.

Would it have been better if Chael Sonnen were cast opposite Michael Bisping, as the UFC originally wanted? Of course. The possibility of gaskets being blown is good rare fun. But for those who prefer action over words, there are 16 better reasons to tune in.