It's on: Canada takes on Australia in MMA in 'Ultimate Fighter' spinoff
Wednesday, Jan 15, 2014 09:00 pm
TORONTO - The spotlight is on (Ragin) Kajan Johnson in Episode 1 of "The Ultimate Fighter Nations: Canada vs. Australia" and the Canadian welterweight doesn't disappoint.
The 29-year-old from Victoria, who fights out of Montreal. is hard to miss on the reality TV show.
"Even if I'm injured, I'm more dangerous than anybody else here," Johnson says early on.
He shows his skills in the first fight, submitting the unbeaten Brendan O'Reilly via rear naked choke in the first round.
The show is a spinoff of "The Ultimate Fighter," following in the footsteps of an earlier United Kingdom versus Australia series. There have also been several TUF Brazil spinoffs.
The Canadians, coached by UFC welterweight Patrick (The Predator) Cote (20-8), take on a team of Australian fighters led by fellow UFC veteran Kyle Noke (20-6-1). The fighters square off until only two are left in each division. The final four, along with the coaches, will fight on a televised show in April to decide the winners.
The show was filmed over six weeks about an hour outside of Montreal starting late last year.
The gym, built from scratch, evokes the UFC Training Centre in Las Vegas where the TV show is normally shot. The fighters' home away from the gym is pure Canadiana, however.
It's a giant lodge out in the woods, complete with mounted moose head, a bubble hockey table and maple syrup in the fridge.
It quickly wins Johnson's approval.
"When I walked in the house, I was like 'Money, bro, money,'" Johnson says.
Soon he is rapping while wearing an animal pelt around the house.
The producers follow that scene with an Aussie fighter declaring his team is here simply for business.
The other Canadian welterweights are Olivier Aubin-Mercier (4-0) Montreal, Matthew Desroches (4-0) of Fredericton and Chad Laprise (7-0) of London, Ont.
The Canadian middleweights are Elias (The Spartan) Theodorou of Mississauga, Ont., Luke Harris (10-2) and Sheldon Westcott (8-1) of St. Albert, Alta., and Montreal's Nordine Taleb (8-2).
"The Ultimate Fighter" normally requires a prologue as fighters must win a bout to crack the final cast. The coaches then select their teams.
But with the TUF Nations teams determined at earlier open tryouts in Toronto and Australia, there is little setup here other than the fighters walking into the gym to meet their coaches.
"First one in, first one in," Johnson says happily as he jogs ahead of his fellow competitors.
The coaches immediately get down to the coin flip to get things going, with Cote allowing Noke to do the honours.
"Can we trust this coin?" the Aussie asks.
Perhaps not. Canada wins the toss with Cote, later in the show, choosing the Johnson-O'Reilly fight.
UFC president Dana White usually is on hand to pump up the fighters, but this time he appears only briefly after the coin flip via video.
"Bust your ass. Work hard," he says.
The Australians seem at a disadvantage after their long journey to Canada. And their nose is soon out of joint after hearing the Canadians downstairs rating their skills and experience.
As far as drama goes, it is minimal.
The Canadians, meanwhile, come across as supremely confident of victory.
Cote chooses Johnson (19-10) to face O'Reilly (5-0) because they are two of the smallest welterweights in the house. Also because Johnson, after being sidelined for two years with a serious eye injury, is raring to go.
Johnson, who wears his aboriginal roots over his heart in a bear's paw tattoo, says he took up the sport because he wanted to be a ninja.
The fight is short and not that memorable as Johnson, seemingly not bothered by a laundry list of injuries, takes advantage of O'Reilly's aggression.
A bloody O'Reilly shows his grit by not submitting to a nasty leg submission attempt but has no answers for Johnson's grappling.
"Good fight man, you won," the 26-year-old O'Reilly says afterwards. "But we're not scared. We're Australians."
Johnson, meanwhile, acknowledges later the show is his last chance to make a success out of MMA.
Next week fight features a matchup of unbeaten middleweights in Theodorou and Australian Zein Saliba.