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5 Oz. Feature: An apology to Amir Sadollah

i.jpgLas Vegas, Nevada — When I first read an Associated Press article last year that covered the in-person tryouts for the current season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” I was struck by the coverage devoted to Virginia-based fighter Amir Sadollah.

I had never met the man or had even seen him fight. However, based on the circumstantial evidence, I was less than enthusiastic when hearing he made a strong impression with casting officials.

The article extolled his virtues as being a humorous guy. We also learned from the piece that he was 0-0 as a professional with limited amateur experience. So I thought “Great, another fighter with no pro fights under his belt who is being selected because they believe he could make great television.”

Then I thought, “Didn’t the UFC and Spike TV learn their lesson with Blake Bowman?” Bowman had a reputation for being a character; someone who could call attention to himself and drive viewership. The problem was, by UFC standards, he couldn’t fight a lick. In spite of being an upstanding citizen the entire time he was involved with the taping of the show, he was not invited to be a part of the finale.

Bowman was the only fighter involved with the cast of TUF 6 not to be invited to the finale that hadn’t either quit or been kicked off. It also turned out that he wasn’t the over-the-top character that many had purported him to be. Bowman seemed like a nice enough guy, but not someone who was so entertaining that it compensated an obvious lack of fighting experience.

In my eyes, Sadollah was another Bowman and exemplified everything that was wrong with what had become of “The Ultimate Fighter.”

Boy, was I wrong.

The reality is (no pun intended) is that Sadollah is everything that’s right about the TUF concept. Not every fighter involved with the show is going to be a Mac Danzig or a C.B. Dalloway. Meaning, you’re going to have your blue chip prospects in the cast, but it’s a necessity to mix in a few sleepers.

I slept on Sadollah and I’m here to say that I was wrong. The aim of the show is to create stars and as a colleague pointed out the other day, this kid could be the middleweight version of Forrest Griffin.

Win, lose, or draw, Griffin is a favorite of the fans. His never-say-die attitude and an ability to take a licking and keep on ticking have endeared himself to many UFC followers. He’s also someone that has been portrayed on television as a laid back guy that brings a high level of affability.

While there are many differences between Griffin and Sadollah, there are similarities that are striking. Sadollah finds himself in the finals of the current season of TUF but he didn’t exactly steamroll his way there. The Cinderella story has had to pull off several rallies after taking his fair share of punishment. What Sadollah has lacked in fighting experience, he’s made up for with heart.

And while we weren’t in the house with these fighters 24/7, Sadollah represented himself in a professional manner at all times on the show. He was respectful of the opportunity given to him during all of his confessionals and as far as I could tell, never got caught up in some of the typical antics that take place in the house that anger many purists. Another thing he had in common with Griffin was an unassuming dry sense of humor. This attribute helped make Sadollah even more likable.

It doesn’t take a genius to know that he’s going to get a strong reaction from the crowd when he’s introduced to the audience at the Palms. America loves underdogs and Sadollah was expected to take the loss in every fight he was involved in. And despite already having beaten Dalloway once this season, dare I say he’s an underdog yet again?

Regardless of Saturday’s outcome, the UFC has a fighter in Sadollah that could become a UFC household favorite for years to come. The ability to bring an unknown fighter like Sadollah into the limelight has made TUF a invaluable marketing tool for the UFC. In year’s past, we’ve seen less and less of those stars being created.

So while I thought Sadollah was bad for the show, he was TUF had been sorely lacking in recent years. It’s okay for a fighter not to have a lot of experience coming into the show, just so long as he’s someone that has potential and the ability to conduct himself as a professional and not cast the sport in a negative light.

For better or worse, there will be 1-2 more seasons of TUF. The key to ensuring that fighter quality is respectability is allow UFC officials even more say in the selection process so they can help Spike casting officials determine the difference between project and prospect.

The good news is that TUF 8 will feature the lightweight and light heavyweight weight classes. By only having to find eight finalists per each weight class as opposed to 16, that will decrease the burden on casting officials since there will be less spots to fill. If they can find themselves 1-2 more Amir Sadollahs, the show will prove to be a success regardless of the ratings.

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