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Ultimate Fighter Finale Morning After: Bader, Escudero Are Stars; Browning Stole the Show

Junie Browning stole the show when he defeated Dave Kaplan last night at the Ultimate Fighter finale -- he stole attention that should have gone to Ryan Bader, for a dominant TKO win over Vinny Magalhaes, and to Efrain Escudero, for a fast-paced and exciting unanimous decision win over Phillipe Nover.

The Ultimate Fighter is supposed to be about taking a group of MMA prospects, pairing them off in a tournament, and determining which one is the best of the bunch. As far as that goes, Bader and Escudero did everything that was asked of them. Both of these young men are impressive up-and-coming MMA fighters, and we'll be seeing a lot of them in the coming years. They have bright futures in the UFC.

And yet it's Browning who continues to have everyone talking. It was Browning's second-round submission win over Kaplan that earned Fight of the Night honors and a $25,000 bonus from the UFC. Bader and Escudero got six-figure contracts with the UFC by winning their fights at the Finale, but both men walked out of The Palms in Las Vegas last night with less money and less fame than Browning.

When I talked to Browning last week, I came away much more impressed than I expected to be. He came across like a reasonable, even likable person, and he clearly understood that if he wants to be an MMA star -- not just a reality TV star -- he's going to have to work hard.

And all indications are that he is working hard at his new gym, Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas. He showed off a very solid stand-up game last night in his win over Kaplan, and he appeared to be in better shape than he had been on the show.

But even as I write that, I wonder if I ought to be writing about Bader and Escudero. Those two are the real stars of this season of The Ultimate Fighter -- even though Browning stole the show.

My favorite sights of The Ultimate Fighter Finale
1. The look of pride on the face of UFC interim heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, after his pupil, Bader, beat Magalhaes. Nogueira has said from the start that Bader has the talent to be a great one, and Bader looked last night like he's on his way toward proving Nogueira right.

2. Escudero wearing a look of calm confidence as he made his way to the Octagon for his fight with Nover. I don't want to read too much into facial expressions, but Escudero looks like a man who has no fear going into a fight.

3. Anthony Johnson and Kevin Burns -- whose controversial first fight ended with Burns poking Johnson in the eye -- hugging after the fight. There was some bad blood between these two stemming from their foul-plagued fight, but both of these guys are professionals who conduct themselves the right way.

Knockout of the Night: Johnson's kick to Burns' head wasn't just the knockout of the night, it was a knockout of the year candidate.

Submission of the Night: Krzysztof Soszynski for the kimura that forced Shane Primm to tap.

Fight of the Night: Browning's win over Kaplan, which many people thought was unworthy of main card status, earned the Fight of the Night honors.

Johnson, Soszynski, Browning and Kaplan all get $25,000 bonuses. I don't have a huge problem with any of those, although Kaplan didn't really fight very well against Browning, and I probably would have picked Escudero-Nover as Fight of the Night.

Quote of the Ultimate Fighter Finale
"My weight class is middleweight. I made some mistakes. I want to apologize to the UFC, Jason and all my fans. I promise it will never happen again." -- Wilson Gouveia on coming in four pounds overweight for his fight with Jason MacDonald.

I was glad to hear Gouveia say that, but it still doesn't sit well with me that Gouveia pummeled MacDonald a day after failing to make weight. A five-pound advantage might not seem like a big deal, but weight classes exist for a reason. Gouveia looked like the bigger, more powerful fighter, and it's hard to give him much credit for the win.

Around the Web
"I thought it was perfect karma that Browning got such a tepid and lukewarm response from the Vegas audience when he came to the cage and during his fight. Compared to the reaction that Ryan Bader got from the same fans." -- Zach Arnold,

"If the best SpikeTV producers and the UFC can do is to show men urinating and ejaculating in others' food, throwing a glass at a defenseless fighter and making a star out of someone without a whit of class, then it's time to put a wrap on the reality series." -- Kevin Iole, Yahoo.

Good Call
"Those antics are what got him here right now. That's why he's on the main card." -- Joe Rogan on Junie Browning benefiting from acting like an idiot.

Bad Call
"He's a model citizen now." -- UFC announcer Mike Goldberg on Chris Leben. Uh, Mike? Leben is currently suspended for using steroids.

Musical Notes
Dave Kaplan came out to "Tenderness" by General Public. Because really, nothing gets you pumped for a fight better than this:

Ground Game
Browning, who got choked out by Escudero in the Ultimate Fighter semifinals, still has a lot of work to do on his jiu jitsu. With a minute remaining in the first round last night, he had Kaplan's back and was close to sinking in a rear-naked choke, but he wasn't able to finish it, and 30 seconds later Kaplan was back on his feet and landing punches. A more skilled fighter than Browning would have won that fight more quickly.

Stock Up
Cung Le. No, Le was nowhere to be seen last night, but his name was spoken several times on the broadcast. It's rare for fighters who work for other promotions (Le is under contract to Strikeforce) to be mentioned so prominently on a UFC broadcast, but Goldberg, Rogan and Johnson all said Le's training was a big reason that Johnson's ability to kick has improved.

Stock Down
Vinny Magalhaes. What happened to Magalhaes last night is what so often happens to one-dimensional fighters. As great as Magalhaes is at jiu jitsu, he simply lacks the stand-up skills and, at least based on what I've seen of him so far, the killer instinct to be a great MMA fighter. He wilted when Bader drilled him with a big right hand.

Fight I Want to See Next
Forrest Griffin vs. Rashad Evans. This is usually where I write about a future fight I hope to see from one of the previous night's competitors. But there's no greater symbol of the significance of The Ultimate Fighter than the fact that Season 1 winner Griffin will take on Season 2 winner Evans for the light heavyweight title at UFC 92. Some day I hope to see Bader and Escudero fighting for titles as well.

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