Team U.K. sweeps TUF 9

LAS VEGAS – Michael Bisping can officially be declared the winner of the coaching end of his two-part battle with Dan Henderson, as Team U.K. members Ross Pearson and James Wilks became the Season 9 winners of The Ultimate Fighter reality show on Saturday night

Lightweight Pearson, who beat his Team U.K. teammate and training partner, Andre Winner, had a close call in a match fought mostly in the clinch.

Middleweight Wilks, a transplanted Brit who just opened up a gym in Laguna Hills, Calif., giving his win a double business purpose, finished Team U.S. member DaMarques Johnson of Salt Lake City, Utah, with a choke at 4:54 of the first round, in a surprisingly one-sided match.

Team U.K. coach Bisping, who stayed low-key at the show, hopes winning the first battle will be a good omen for his match with Team U.S. coach Henderson at UFC 100 on July 11, where he is an underdog, just as Pearson and Wilks were.

Pearson (8-3) noted that after spending six weeks training with Winner (10-3-1), he tried to come into the fight bringing something new, and was also surprised with Winner’s strategy.

“I was really surprised he wanted it to be a clinch fight,” said Pearson, 24, who worked full-time as a bricklayer in Sunderland, England, before being selected for the show. “I wasn’t expecting that.”

Although the matches on the reality show aired in both countries over the past three months, they were actually taped over a six-week period in January and February. With three members of Team U.K. in the finals, the live show was expected to draw a large audience in Pearson’s native country, where the series this year had its greatest television exposure to date.

“Three fights in a six-week period takes a lot out of your body,” noted Pearson. “I was really tired. Then I had to train really hard for the final. I recuperated and rested and I didn’t pick up any new injuries.”

Little happened in the first round that Winner seemed to win on a final flurry. The second round was also close, with Pearson connecting more from the long clinches.

The Las Vegas crowd was more patient than most, and aside from one catcall early with a few fans trying to mockingly start a “USA” chant, they didn’t react negatively to a slower paced fight than the numerous wars up and down the show.

Pearson again connected with more punches and knees from the clinch, including hurting Winner with a late punch, which spelled the difference.

Pearson and Wilks each received a three-year contract with UFC, which covers nine fights.

Pearson said the odds being against him didn’t bother him because he didn’t even know until right before the fight.

Winner, who was born in Grenada, had finished all three opponents on the reality show in the first round.

“I beat Jason Dent and Richie Whitson, and I thought they were the two best on the American team in the weight class,” said Pearson about his own performance on the reality show.

Wilks, on the other hand, admitted to not being happy he was a 3½-to-1 underdog to Johnson.

“I was a little upset,” said Wilks (7-2), who was never in trouble in the fight. “I saw the odds at the sports book yesterday. They really didn’t affect me at all. They didn’t see enough of me to fairly judge my skill level.”

“He [Johnson] came in with emotion and anger and I think that was part of the difference,” said Wilks, who admitted not being ready for the top-tier contenders in the welterweight division.

“I think it’ll take me a year or two to get to where I’m ready to fight the top fighters,” he said.

Wilks dominated both the striking and grappling aspects of the fight, and had Johnson (14-7) in trouble with a triangle, and while holding Johnson in place, delivered a series of elbows. Johnson escaped, but was bleeding from the nose. Wilks tried a choke, which Johnson defended, but wasn’t as lucky with a second choke attempt. Johnson tapped out just six seconds before the end of the first round.

Dave Meltzer covers mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Send Dave a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Sunday, Jun 21, 2009