Australian mixed martial artist Vik Grujic is one of the stars of The Ultimate Fighter: Nations, Australia vs Canada, currently airing on FX. Throughout the series, Vik will present to The New Daily readers an exclusive blog detailing his thoughts and experiences, post TUF Nations. Log on to The New Daily every Friday for Vik’s weekly blog.
The Canadians had drawn first blood … so the mood was sombre during Team Australia’s van ride back to the cabin. We arrived home to see the Canadians celebrating the first victory. Rightfully so, too. Fighters are a proud bunch and as well as feeling for Brendan’s loss, we felt the loss for Australia.
The Canadians were toasting and celebrating when we came home … and thankfully, it seemed like they had also pulled their fingers out of their backsides, too. With the first fight out of the way, they seemed more open to conversation. Now it really felt like the tournament was well underway!
Well, everyone seemed more friendly … except for grumpy guts Nordine Taleb from Team Canada. Since the first day, he had been rather intimidating. He looked the part and played it to a T. Nordine has a French-speaking background, so his understanding of the English language and of our open friendliness may have been misinterpreted. It may have seemed to him that we were trying to pry information from his Team Canada teammate, Elias Theodorou — one who’s ever so eager to talk about himself. Whether it was a tactic by some of the Aussie boys or not, I’m not too sure if anything would have eventuated from it. Nonetheless, Nordine barged into the kitchen, interrupted everyone mid-conversation and called for the now-infamous “Team Meeting” that Nordine has been somewhat immortalised for by us Aussies, ha ha.
As we expected, the video footage before Nordine barged in revealed that all the talk was simply about our relationships with one another — it was nothing about getting the Canadians to drop their guard.
Zein Saliba, a tough fighter with a carefree attitude, was the man who’d represent Team Australia against Elias. He was pretty candid about some of the nicknames we’d come up with for Elias — Roger Ramjet, Buzz Lightyear and Woody from Toy Story seemed fairly apt! At this point in the series, all Team Canada really knew about Zein was that he was a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt. Little did they know that this had been a running inside joke for Team Australia from day one. Zein had actually only recently been awarded his brown belt, and no one from Team Canada was any the wiser. Coach Kyle Noke even made it a point to even call Zein the “Professor” in a bid to add to Zein’s intimidation factor!
Zein walked around the house mostly at weightl, eaving very little to cut. His approach to the fight was very relaxed and confident. I fought Zein in December 2011, so I fully understand his mental toughness. He is the perfect example of how you should never judge a book by its cover. Zein’s apparent lazy, carefree attitude can give people the wrong impression that he is not intelligent or calculated. How wrong they can be!
Not many can understand the bond us fighters can have with our former opponents.
Things around the house were still somewhat tense — some eye contact here and there, little looks you would receive as you walk by the Canadians as they sat together in their group. Still, this was a game to be played by both sides. I enjoyed my role and played in return!
The birthday cake food fight was a great way to raise spirits for Team Australia. When the food fight broke out, I was in the shower and walked out and saw the aftermath, hahaha. It was all in good fun.
Training was a daily ritual now and the chance to train and learn with coaches like Kyle Noke, Israel Martinez (Izzy) and Roberto Alencar (Tussa) was amazing. Coach Adrian Pang finally arrived from Australia and the team was now complete.
Still feeling the effects of jet lag, I managed to pick up a few nasty injuries on the way. Still, training was not to be missed. The opportunity to learn from some of the best provided by the UFC was a privilege and an honour.
The weigh-ins went smoothly for both Elias and Zein … well, except for Elias and his “cat claw” antics. Zein never budged. His stare down was impeccable. Elias looked quite drawn out and dry in his weight cut, so it must have been a difficult cut for the undefeated fighter/never been punched in the face/model/actor/best hair in MMA/got paid $500 for a date once/yada yada yada/blah blah blah!! Elias can easily be misinterpreted, however. He seemed like a very nice guy … he just got a bit too egotistical when the camera was pointed in his direction. I guess that’s a flaw in any man’s character!
Fight day was upon us, and Zein was ready to go as Team Australia gathered on the bleachers ready to cheer and chant. The first round saw a very scrappy and tight clinch game unfold. There was a lot of work against the cage, some scrambling and some missed opportunities from Zein. Elias pushed the pace and pulled off some takedowns, scoring the points he needed to secure the round. At no stage, though, did it look like Elias could finish the fight. Not once did he even attempt to posture up to throw some strikes, seemingly content to get the points and go into round two.
The second round was much of the same, really. The action was non-stop, but there was no threat of a finish. Elias worked hard to secure the takedowns and did nothing of substance on top other than draw out the round. Zein was obviously getting frustrated but couldn’t shake Elias. This is obviously a game plan that has worked well for Elias in his career thus far.
This is a debate many MMA enthusiasts have. Do you play it safe, score the win and come out on top regardless of people’s opinions? Very high level fighters in the UFC have made a career fighting with this system. Have they been successful? Yes. But it’s not a crowd-pleasing style, either! These same UFC fighters have been cut from the roster for making MMA in the UFC a boring sport to watch in many a fan’s opinion. Fight to finish, or fight to win on points?
Elias’ hand was held up as the victor, bringing Team Canada its second successive victory. Zein was furious with himself … for losing? Yes! But also for not beating the one guy he said he didn’t want to lose to.
All due respect goes to Elias for his victory. We must be gracious in defeat as well as a victory. But this was our second straight loss and talk of consecutive losses and a potential “sweep” was demoralising us. National pride was at stake. By losing, we lose the opportunity to fulfil our dreams to fight in the UFC. We also let down our nation!
We’re representing millions of Australians, those who claim MMA is too violent and only for the primitive man. We carried the flag as ambassadors for the UFC and Australia as a nation, regardless of whether they knew of our patriotic venture. Even now, many people don’t even know or appreciate what we have done for our country!
Next up were the fight picks, with the line-up of usual suspects waiting for Team Canada to reveal the next bout. As Team Canada coach Patrick Cote announced the pick, Olivier Aubin stepped forward first but shuffled back when Chad Leprise’s name was announced. Got to be honest … it was a little move I was kind of amused by!
For Team Australia, Chris Indich was called up to do battle. Chris is a proud indigenous Australian and a fierce warrior. He looked very calm in the face-off. This is a battle not to be missed, for sure!
On a side note, Zein has spent the past few days with me here in Melbourne and we’ve spoken and laughed about him being labelled a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt and a “beach guard”. Although we fought a few years back, Zein and I now share a strong bond. Not many can understand the bond us fighters can have with our former opponents. Over the course of four days here in Melbourne, Zein and his lovely fiancée spent every day in my home with my family. We even sat together and watched this very episode and discussed the finer details of the the show and the fight. The point I am trying to make is, we are professional athletes … not animals!!
• Watch The Ultimate Fighter: Nations, Australia vs Canada on FX every Thursday at 4.30pm. You can read Vik Grujic’s weekly blog every Friday on The New Daily.