By Zach Arnold | September 17, 2013
Last week’s edition of The Ultimate Fighter was great television. I still believe that the show in general has outlived its usefulness and that the shelf life is pretty much done. On Spike or FX, that would be a correct assertion. However, given the low ratings that Fox Sports 1 attracts, The Ultimate Fighter is going nowhere and will be around for a long time because drawing a 0.7 on FS1 makes FS1 happy. When Fox is happy, UFC is happy.
Everyone, except maybe the participants involved, was happy with last week’s show. It was high drama, both real and scripted. It was 60 minutes of Ronda Rousey & Shayna Baszler bragging about what was going to happen against Miesha Tate fighter Julianna Pena. In round one of the fight, Baszler pretty much got close to scoring a 10-8 round. In round two, it was a different story. As Mike Tyson famously stated, everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. Pena ended up submitting Baszler and shocked everyone.
With that context in mind, Shayna Baszler’s radio interview with Sherdog on Monday was really interesting to listen to. Shayna explained why things went south in round two of her TUF fight.
“I never realized how many fight experts follow me on Twitter until that fight aired but… regardless of what anyone’s opinions are and what they say, I didn’t get tired. I just didn’t… turn it up to 5th gear. I don’t know why and I can’t explain it and I’m not making excuses. I just didn’t do that. I beat her the first round… you know, pretty handily, I think. I felt good. But when she came out the second round and knew she had to fight for her life and did that, I didn’t and I think in some weird way and obviously not literally in the fight but I think in some weird way I was like, ‘what does she think she’s doing fighting like this? this is dumb,’ and so, you know, I kind of checked out and was like, ‘all right, I’ll let her get this out of her system.’ When she cracked me and kind of rocked me a little bit that one time at the beginning of the second round, I was like, ‘well, she has this round so I’m just going to tap her out in the third round’ and that’s a bad attitude to have. I mean, that’s something I should have known with my experience and everything that you can’t check out in the middle of a fight and so I mean, I don’t know, that’s what happened and she took advantage, you know, and I feel like it’s one of the biggest upsets that’s ever been on the show.”
The obvious next question: how could someone, on the biggest television platform she’s ever been on, not ratchet up the motivation to finish an opponent she was handily beating in the first round?
“What people aren’t understanding is that, um, you know, a show like The Ultimate Fighter is kind of built for up-and-comers to come up and prove themselves and work their way up, you know? But on the women’s side it’s not like that because you haven’t even tapped, you guys haven’t even seen the tip of the iceberg of the talent that women have. So, the fact that we all knew each other and, you know, had seen each fight, I mean this was… every girl on that show is a higher-level fighter than you’re ever going to see ever again, I think. Even if they bring women on again, you had the cream-of-the-crop there. And so… you know, you can’t count anybody out but I just, I don’t know. Maybe it’s that I felt comfortable like I knew I had management that could have, you know, I talked about it with some of my management and stuff, ‘we can get you in the UFC, we can do that, but this is going to be way better for you.’ You know? So, maybe I just didn’t, you know, I didn’t fight for my life. I didn’t… I don’t know. I just, it’s… I liken it to like end-of-the-season football when you have that team that HAS to win this game to get in the playoffs and the other team is like throwing their second-string in because they’re already in, you know? That’s kind of what it was. I just didn’t… I wasn’t fighting for my life, I wasn’t.”
The radio host (TJ) asked her the following: “Did it feel more like a sparring session with Pena?”
“It really did and that’s something I really don’t think you can ever understand unless you go on the show. You know, I fought on some huge cards in huge arenas in front of big crowds and to go into the same exact gym we train in twice a day in front of like maybe 20 people, no music, no cheering, roaring crowd, it’s… it’s a weird feeling. I mean, at the time I was like, ‘wow, I am super relaxed, this is great.’ But I think in the end that’s what bit me in the tail. I didn’t, you know, I couldn’t get up. I didn’t get up for the fight and Julianna did a good job, took advantage of it, and you know did what she had to do.”
The aftermath of the loss proved to be as memorable on the show as the finish to the fight itself. Pena was exuding confidence, despite not feeling as if anyone gave her a chance of winning. Tate was celebratory (and rightfully so). Rousey, who largely has been in a miserable mood on the show (at least the way UFC has edited & produced the show so far), had a meltdown. Shayna and Ronda had a conversation on the couch talking about the loss.
“Every emotion that you think you might feel ever in life is, for whatever reason, heightened by 1,000 on The Ultimate Fighter. The environment creates it that way, I think. But, you know, right away I didn’t take offense at Miesha (Tate) of course celebrating for her team’s win and all that and I don’t really think she meant any offense towards me. But Ronda took it that way and what really spoke to me was that whether true or not Ronda believed 100%, you know, that was an offense that Miesha was celebrating during my time of loss. And whether true or not, Ronda believed it and she had my back and I can’t explain to you, you know, Ronda knows the ultimate goal for me is to fight her for her belt one day and she knows that I just horribly let the team down. I mean, they had so faith in me, you know, I just… and for her to still step up and get my back… was, I don’t know. It really spoke volumes about Ronda to me and the cameras will paint her as this villain that they have but the truth is everybody’s a villain, it’s just that some people care when the cameras are on them while they’re being a villain and others don’t and Ronda’s one that doesn’t. She won me over that day … the speech, the talk we had on the couch at the end was a lot longer than what they showed and then just her, you know, the way she had my back I just, um, she really won me over.”
Damon Martin, one of my favorite MMA writers, asked Shayna if she viewed herself as a veteran in comparison to Ronda given how much longer she’s been around the business. Her answer might surprise you.
“As experienced as I am in the ring, truthfully Ronda has a lot more experience being in the spotlight. Her spotlight’s been a lot bigger than mine ever has been, ever, and so, you know, we’ve been in contact about, you know, since the show, ‘make sure you turn this time off your Twitter’ or ‘ha ha ha, aren’t those people ridiculous?’ and stuff like that. But she’s really given me a lot of advice on how to deal with all this, you know, new-found attention on my life and stuff and in that aspect she is very much ahead of me. And on a training aspect on the show, there was never a time where I felt like we were competing or where she was trying to prove herself to me or I was trying to prove myself to her, it was never like that. From the start, I mean the very first practice we had we rolled and for people that grapple, it was a nice flow-roll, we were having a recovery practice, kind of do what you want because we had fought the day before and whatnot. … It was like that the whole time, sparring, training, everything was very… she trained alongside with us, as one of us, and her coach ran the practice, so… I don’t think she, you know, thought of herself as all high-and-mighty on us at all.
“I mean, we’re friendly and everything but I don’t think she takes any offense. I told her the whole season that I was going to see her across the cage one day and we actually joked about the epic trash-talking battles we could have with each other. So, she knows and I know and I think, again, it’s something that I think only as a fighter you understand. I think the fact that we are friends mean we’re going to try to beat the snot out of each other even more so than before. So, my goals are still the same. I just don’t hate her as much as every one else, I guess.”
It’s interesting that Ronda is giving advice on dealing with the spotlight because it’s probably been the biggest (and only) knock on her as a fighter. It’s undeniable that she knows about the pressures of being in the Zuffa marketing spotlight, though, and I’m sure her advice to Shayna has been substantive.