Time for UFC to get tough on TUF

I suppose if I was between the ages of 18 and 34, I’d find Jesse Taylor’s antics hilarious. I’d find the fact that he got drunk out of his mind, kicked a window out of a limousine, harassed several women, antagonized customers trying to enjoy their leisure time and blatantly challenged security guards’ authority to protect their property a laugh-a-minute riot.

Instead, I find it repellant, just as I found it revolting during another episode of “The Ultimate Fighter” on Spike TV when a once-again drunken Taylor urinated onto the carpet of someone else’s home.

If this is great TV, then you can count me out for Seasons 8 and beyond.

At least UFC president Dana White did the right thing by booting Taylor from his position opposite Amir Sadollah in Saturday’s finale at The Pearl at The Palms in Las Vegas.

The bigger picture is being overlooked in all of this, however. Taylor’s drunken buffoonery might have helped Spike earn a bigger rating, both for Wednesday’s heavily hyped episode as well for Saturday’s finale, now between Sadollah and the man he beat in the semifinals, pre-tournament favorite C.B. Dollaway.

But at what cost did Spike land those ratings? This isn’t the first time one of the competitors on “The Ultimate Fighter” got drunk and rowdy. Most often, it’s harmless. Producers of the show tacitly encourage the fighters with a wink and a nod to destroy the house.

And each season on the show, you know it’s coming as sure as sunrise. What if one of those drunken fighters fell down that tall staircase in the home where the show is taped while horsing around with one of his castmates and banged his head on the floor? And just what if the effects of that fighter banging his head turned out to be a little more serious than a bump or a mild concussion?

What if someone got seriously injured, or died?

Mighty good television, guys.

I’d bet a lot of money that most of the men sitting in a jail cell today for vehicular manslaughter while driving under the influence didn’t expect to lose control of their cars, didn’t expect to hit anybody and didn’t expect anyone to die.

I’d bet even more that a large majority of those newly minted felons were good people from quality families who just happened to get unlucky.

I was at the gym for the first day of taping of Season 7. Taylor, along with Dollaway and Matthew Riddle, were the three fighters I was most impressed with that day as the field was cut from 32 to 16.

Next to Taylor’s name in my notebook, I wrote, “incredibly strong” after his submission victory over Nick Rossborough.

And Taylor proved me correct during the show, rolling through to the finals with relative ease.

He spoke often on the show of his son and of how much he missed him. In one episode, Taylor lay on his back on his bed, gazing lovingly at a photograph of his child.

But he didn’t think much of his child when he became a drunken lout and cost himself a potential life-changing moment.

Instead, that moment will go to either Sadollah or Dollaway.

Sadollah, the introspective son of an Iranian father and Irish mother, is the unlikely finalist. He had no professional MMA fights prior to “The Ultimate Fighter,” though he’d traveled to Thailand and Holland to further his game, learning the intricacies of Muay Thai boxing.

In his semifinal bout with Dollaway, he was Appalachian State to Dollaway’s Michigan. And after taking a beating for a long time – as he seemed to do during every fight – he managed to rally.

“I never thought about winning or losing, or making it to the finale, I just thought about getting better and performing better each day,” Sadollah said. “Aside from the entertainment part, the show posed every major challenge you face as a fighter and compressed it into a worst-case scenario.

“You’re always fighting at the last minute, you don’t have time to find out much about your opponent, you’re in unfamiliar surroundings, you’re away from your friends and your family and you’re fighting in front of huge numbers of people. There was no one there but us in the fights, but we knew it was going to be there for America to watch and judge. It was the ultimate proving ground. I think you just had to forget about anything and only focus on trying to get better day by day.”

And he never lost that focus, even as he scored victories over Steve Byrnes, Gerald Harris and close friend Matt Brown.

Even though White and coaches Forrest Griffin and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson were raving about Sadollah’s toughness from the first day, he was expected to lose at each step of the journey toward the finale, where a UFC contract will be awarded to the winner.

Never was he more of an underdog than he was when he went up against Dollaway, who was treated almost reverentially during the show by Jackson, the UFC’s light heavyweight champion, as well as his fellow competitors.

They used words like “monster,” “awesome,” and “powerful,” to describe him. The show after the early days seemed to be a race to find out who’d get to be the runner-up to Dollaway.

Even Dollaway concedes he got caught up in the hype. The All-American wrestler at Arizona State – who I’m convinced will turn out to be an MMA star – somehow managed to look past Sadollah despite all that was at stake.

“I definitely give him credit for performing a technique,” Dollaway said. “I helped contribute to it, honestly, by being a little overconfident and not thinking his ground game was at the level it was. I made a mistake. I underestimated him.”

For that mistake, Sadollah forced Dollaway to tap from a third-round armbar.

Dollaway went home, angry at himself for the opportunity he blew. But before he went home, he went out with Taylor for the infamous night of partying. Dollaway knew Taylor was facing potential issues with the UFC and perhaps with the police, but never once did he think Taylor would be removed from the show.

“I definitely empathize with him losing the chance he had,” Dollaway said. “And I honestly didn’t think this would happen. I knew it wasn’t good. He was in bad shape that night. Earlier, we were at a nightclub at Caesars Palace and he was going nuts and they told him to leave. Then we got into the limo and went over to Palace Station and he just totally lost it.”

Fortunately for Taylor, nothing tragic happened other than that he made himself look like a fool. Nobody was killed and nobody was injured.

He’ll probably even get a chance to fight in the UFC again.

The larger issue, though, is that Spike and the UFC need to take a look at their procedures and find a way to limit the chance that something tragic may indeed occur.

The show has done a lot for the sport, for the network and for the UFC. It’s far superior to “The Contender,” the boxing reality series that has been axed by both NBC and ESPN.

But the one thing that “The Contender” did correctly is that it let the fighters out of the house occasionally, in a controlled environment. And that helped prevent issues like Taylor’s.

When young men are locked in a home for two months with no phones, no computers, no video games and no contact of any kind with the outside world, drunken binges are frequently what results.

Some of those in the UFC’s beloved demographic probably find it hilarious what Taylor did and don’t understand how wrong, and how dangerous, it was.

Spike and the UFC need to act before a real tragedy occurs before our eyes on national television.

Kevin Iole covers boxing and mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Kevin a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Friday, Jun 20, 2008