Season 15 of "The Ultimate Fighter," on a new network and sporting a new live fight format, offered a few bangs in the cage but not much excitement outside it during its opening episode.
There were no fireworks between rival coaches Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber, who could have been sharing a bowl of popcorn as they watched the live MMA fights cageside Friday night at the UFC Training Centre in Las Vegas.
At one point, they were reduced to discussing tattoos and debating whose blood was leaking in the cage. But other times they did offer some sage tactical suggestions.
"(Mike) Rio needs to change his lock on the body triangle to the other side," Cruz offered.
"Don't lean back," Faber said as a fighter on his back tried to finish a guillotine choke.
And their back and forth with UFC president Dana White saved what could have been a dull show.
"That thing is gushing," said White after Vinc Pichel cut open 21-year-old Cody Pfister with an elbow en route to a submission win.
"What happened," asked White as a referee stepped in to pause another bout.
"Nut shot," said Cruz, referring to a knee to the groin.
Faber was also quick to note that Jon Tuck had broken his toe midway through his loss to Al Iaquinta. "It's actually pointing in the wrong direction," said an incredulous White.
Tuck just looked down and kept fighting.
"It is so broken, it's nasty broken," said Cruz.
The coaches groaned after the fight at a close-up of the misplaced toe.
The opening session was often like listening in to someone's else's conversation.
Cruz, Faber and White were miked as they looked on but there was little else in terms of atmosphere.
At times the minimalist approach worked. During fights, it was almost just raw sound — the fighters panting in the cage and the sound of gloves thudding into bodies.
Friday's show how started with a somewhat stilted interview in the middle of the cage between announcer Jon Anik and White.
And then it was straight to the fights — 16 of them — to determine the 16 final cast members for the 13-week reality TV show. To fit all 16 in in the two-and-half-hour opening, the lightweight fights were restricted to one five-minute round.
There were some familiar moments. A bleeped F-bomb from White, for example.
And some head-turning endings including a eight-second Sam Sicilia knockout of Erin Beach that prompted a few more expletives from White.
Anik's attempts to hype the occasion, calling it "reality television history in the making here tonight," also seemed forced.
There was a lot of Anik, at times asking the obvious of a winner: "What did it feel like to come through in that spot live on national TV?"
But Sicilia rescued him.
"I've been training for three months for that eight seconds and that eight seconds just changed my life."
And the show seemed to stall as Anik struggled to get his timing right in commenting after fights, filling in time before White announced the winner. Interviews with coaches cageside were also somewhat lacking.
Season 15 has gone to a new network — FX, as part of the UFC's move to the Fox TV family. And the show, now dubbed "The Ultimate Fighter Live," features live fights — one ever Friday until the June 1.
Gone is the six-week taped season, rolled out until the live finale. In the weeks to come, there will be a live fight every week leading up to the June 1 conclusion to the season.
There is talent, no doubt in the cast. Of the 32 lightweights that started Friday's episode, nine were unbeaten.
Dakota Cochrane, who made headlines prior to the show over a brief gay-porn stint in college, didn't survive his round in the cage with six-foot-three James Vick.
The five-foot-seven Cochrane lost a split decision in one of the duller fights of the evening.
Belfast's Ali MacLean offered some good pre-fight patter — "My message to my opponent. Call an ambulance because you're coming home bloody" — but he was the one needing an early ride home when he couldn't handle Rio on the ground.
Cristiano Marcelo, at 32 the oldest fighter among the cast, showed his jiu-jitsu pedigree with a guillotine choke over Eddie Bravo protege Jared Carlsten.
And Justin Lawrence, who trains at Anderson Silva's Black House gym, looked dangerous in knocking out James Krause. The stoppage wasn't quick enough for White who laid into referee Steve Mazzagatti, not for the first time.
Other winners included Michael Chiesa, John Cofer, Daron Cruickshank, Myles Jury, Jeremy Larsen, Joe Proctor, Chris Saunders, Chris Tickle (via 24-second KO) and England's Andy Ogle.
Saunders is originally from Montreal although he fights out of Long Beach, Calif.
After his win, Ogle hugged a beaming White in the cage and then wrapped his legs around him as if celebrating a goal with a teammate.
Fighters got US$5,000 for winning by submission, KO or TKO. More than half of the bouts prompted a bonus payout.
The 16 remaining cast members will spend the next 13 weeks locked in a Las Vegas mansion, separated from the outside world other than to train and fight. They will be tracked by camera throughout the series.
The last man standing earns a contract to win in the UFC — and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
"Now the hard work begins," White told the 16 remaining fighters.Suggest a correction