Though television ratings have sunk with FX's new, live version of the Ultimate Fighting Championship's reality series, "The Ultimate Fighter," Friday's show should draw a larger crowd from the Southern California market.
In a quarterfinal match in the 155-pound (lightweight) division Friday night at 7 p.m. (DirecTV) and 10 p.m. (cable), Long Beach's Chris Saunders, 26, will fight Sherman Oaks' Vincent Pichel, 29, in a quarterfinal in Las Vegas.
Pichel trains at UFC referee John McCarthy's gym in Valencia, finding a discipline to help him conquer anger issues that plagued his youth.
"I went to and got kicked out of nearly every high school in Simi Valley," Pichel said, reeling off the names of Simi Valley, Santa Susana, Apollo and Simi Valley Adult School. "I got kicked out of adult ed for throwing a book at a teacher, so I gave up on school."
At least for a while.
Pichel said he returned to the school in 2010 and received his high school diploma, crossing paths with a female teacher who recalled the book-throwing incident.
Did he throw the book at a woman?
"No, male -- I have some morals," Pichel said.
They don't necessarily exist in the UFC octagon, where the hard-punching fighter with a 7-0 professional record has won his first two fights on "The Ultimate Fighter" by submission on the canvas.
"I like to punish guys, so they'll remember that beating I gave them," Pichel said.
Fighting for "TUF" captain and UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, Pichel said he's had to tone down his hostility while residing with the other "TUF" competitors in the same Las Vegas house with rivals captained by challenger Urijah Faber.
(The Cruz-Faber title fight scheduled for July 7 was postponed last week when Cruz tore a knee ligament).
"I definitely have some anger issues, but fighting got me to control myself," Pichel said. "It used to be that when I was at parties and someone said something to me that I thought were fighting words, you fight. What do I need to chat about?
"But now I know that fighting can make things worse. Plus, I have the confidence, I know I can [beat you up], so you get a free pass."
In the house, Pichel has asked producers if he can choke out anyone who plays a prank on him, or if he could light firecrackers to awake those who keep him up late at night. Both requests have been denied.
Now he gets a shot at Saunders, who was the final qualifier for "TUF."
"I don't see this fight going any way other than in my favor," Pichel said. "He's powerful and has good leg kicks, but I don't think he'll be able to stop my power, my combinations ... me picking him up and slamming him on the ground."
That kind of action could help "TUF," which has seen ratings slide as much as 20% from last year's taped-results version on Spike, with four of 10 episodes on FX drawing less than a million viewers.
Saunders, a Long Beach Millikan High and Long Beach City College product, wrestled in high school and advanced to jujitsu and muay thai training, although he doesn't officially have a home gym. He works out with friends at a Lakewood facility known as the Sweatshop, and became skilled enough to win a $2,000 purse at promoter Roy Englebrecht's MMA shows in Orange County, and also competed in the Bellator organization.
"My plan was, 'Just get into the ["TUF"] house, and then I can get the best training possible,' " Saunders said. "I'm in the right circumstances."
Saunders too is confident of winning Friday, maintaining it's a match similar to his most recent victory.
"He'll stand in front of me and bang, but I'll be faster -- we had hoped this fight between the two California guys would materialize," Saunders said. "It's been a long road getting here, getting through the local shows, which can be dangerous.... It all paid off."
A southpaw, Saunders said his quickness and boxing skill typically confuse opponents when complemented by his hard kicking.
"Guys don't like to spar with me, they'll ask me to tone it down," Saunders said. "Of course I do. I'm a nice guy."
A contrast to Pichel, in other words.
"He's Vince ... loud, outspoken, rambunctious," Saunders said. "Our whole team is laid back, we let things go. When it's time for training, it's all business. But the Cruz team, they're all serious, and don't take down the wall."
Kings' determination was key in Game 1
Kings send almost-instant message to Coyotes
Line of Dustin Brown-Anze Kopitar-Justin Williams tough to handle
Vincent Pichel, Chris Saunders ready to brawl