Friday, April 6, 2007


By Brian Knapp

The UFC stage belongs to the little guys for the next two months.

The premier episode of “The Ultimate Fighter 5,” which debuted on Spike TV tonight at 10 PM EST/PST, featured mental gamesmanship between coaches B.J. Penn and Jens Pulver, an emotional breakdown from an overweight Gabe Ruediger and a one-sided fight between Cole Miller and Allen Berube.

So began the quest of 16 lightweight fighters vying for one elusive, six-figure contract from the UFC. “The 155-pounders are crazy mother f—kers,” said UFC president Dana White. “I don’t know if it’s because they’ve got little man’s complex or they’ve just got chips on their shoulders, but they are nutty. I wouldn’t want to be living in that house.”

Destined to be a storyline throughout the show, Penn and Pulver wasted little time in rekindling their rivalry. The two fought at UFC 35 in 2002 – Pulver won a unanimous decision – and will collide in a highly anticipated rematch on the show’s season finale June 23 in Las Vegas.

In tonight’s opener, Penn accused Pulver of exhausting the fighters before he could evaluate them, then turned the tables in dramatic fashion during the selection process. After Pulver won the coin toss, which afforded the former UFC Lightweight Champion the right to set the first fight, Penn dropped what appeared to be a premeditated bombshell.

“If any of you here know for a complete fact that you want to be on my team and give me 100 percent, and you don’t want [anything] to do with Jens Pulver’s team, raise your hand,” Penn said. Ten of the 16 lightweight hopefuls took the bait. Noticeably upset, Pulver seemed to play along, which led to an entertaining verbal tug of war between the two coaches and White.

Once White, who ordered both coaches to “shut the f—k up,” regained control of the situation, the selection process got under way. Penn picked Randy Couture protégé Gray Maynard with his first pick; Pulver countered with Corey Hill, who, at 6-foot-4, towered over the rest of the group.

As the show progressed and the two teams filled out their rosters, lines were drawn in the proverbial sand. Bad blood brewed between Hill and Ruediger, who quickly emerged as one of the show’s strongest personalities. Later, scales revealed Ruediger was more than 20 pounds overweight. Sensing he could become an early target, Ruediger broke down in tears in the team van. His teammates sent no sympathy his way. “You just gotta stop giving 100 percent in the kitchen,” teammate Allen Berube quipped.

Ruediger was eventually spared an appearance in the season’s first fight and the monstrous weight cut that would have accompanied it when Pulver handpicked Berube as an opponent for Cole Miller. A lanky 22-year-old from Augusta, Ga., Miller (11-2) was identified by both coaches as a fighter worth watching. Berube (2-1), meanwhile, a 32-year-old restaurant owner from Tampa, Fla., who has been “training jiu-jitsu and MMA for a year, year and a half,” was easily one of the show’s least experienced fighters. “I don’t consider myself a professional fighter,” Berube said. “I was just doing fights to get advertising for my business. All of a sudden, I’m in Las Vegas on ‘The Ultimate Fighter.’”

Miller, who looked more like a day trader than a mixed martial artist, vowed to end the fight quickly. “I don’t f—k around,” Cole said. “I’m here to put people away. I’ll break him.”

Fight day dawned with Team Penn members donning blue war paint reminiscent of Mel Gibson’s character in “Braveheart.” Neither Miller nor Berube did much standing, but when their fight hit the ground, Miller moved in for the kill. Though he failed in attempts to sink in a guillotine choke and Kimura, he successfully isolated Berube’s arm and locked in a triangle choke from the bottom, earning a victory by submission 2:33 into the bout.

“Miller was doing a good job wanting to setup his triangles,” Pulver commented. “He kept his legs up, made sure his hips were where they needed to be, pulled down on his head and finished the fight.”

Miller beamed with confidence afterward.

“To all those viewers who were thinking, ‘Oh, look at this cocky mother f—ker …’ I told it like it was,” Miller said. “I didn’t say any more; I didn’t say any less. I said exactly what was going to happen. It wasn’t getting out of the first round.”

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