The Ultimate Fighter was originally created as an experimental show to gauge if reality TV based on MMA would work, and has produced a number of successful fighters for the UFC. It has also given many unknown fighters a chance to rapidly catapult their names into relevancy via the show, something that would have taken them years otherwise, if it ever happened. And of course, the TUF Season 1 finale between Forrest Griffin and Stephen Bonnar is given credit for propelling the UFC into its current age of prominence.
However, as more and more fighters enter the UFC, creating the necessity for more diluted cards, serious fans of MMA have begun to question the true relevancy that The Ultimate Fighter holds for today’s rapidly moving MMA world. Take the two most recent seasons of TUF that were filmed here within the United States. The first, TUF:Live, featuring Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber as coaches, was an experiment in itself that ultimately saw a ratings decline and not a ton of fan allegiance. Perhaps the Friday night time slot had a great deal to do with this. Seeing Michael Chiesa triumph in the wake of his father’s passing was truly inspirational. I’m just not sure enough fans tuned in to see his emotional victories take place.
The second season of TUF on its new network FX will end this weekend when Mike Ricci faces off with Colton Smith at Welterweight. Again, at the Friday night time slot, the viewership of this season has been less than stellar. This may depend on the coaches, as Shane Carwin seemed to legitimately care about his team and tried to better them. Ricci has stated he did not think there was anything that he could learn after training at TriStar with Rory MacDonald and Georges St-Pierre, but that he surprisingly did get much better. Roy Nelson’s team, on the other hand, has constantly complained throughout the year about the lackadaisical attitude of their training while being alienated by the odd strategies of Coach Nelson and his team.
Perhaps choosing a fighter best known for his huge gut was not the best choice of action for a TUF coach, especially when you are trying to up the ratings on a new network. Dana White expressed his ire towards Nelson on several different occasions. Also, the season-ending fight with Nelson facing Shane Carwin had to be canceled because of an injury to Carwin. Now, Nelson will face Matt Mitrione at the finale. Is that truly a fight that UFC fans will be clamoring to see, especially in a year full of outcry surrounding too many watered-down cards? I would have answer that question with a resounding no.
That brings us to the debut of two TUF seasons in countries outside the US, one in Brazil and another featuring Great Britain versus Australia. The first Brazilian season, coached by Vitor Belfort and Wanderlei Silva, brought us a very lackluster finale that failed to deliver for Brazil in my opinion. Belfort was hurt, so the main bout featured Silva versus Rich Franklin, hardly a headlining bout in my eyes. Now, we are set to see George Sotiropolous face off against Ross Pearson in the finale of TUF: The Smashes this weekend. Nothing against either fighter, but is this the bout to headline a Friday night card when many are losing interest in the UFC due to so many events? I know that big names don’t always result in great events, but casual fans most likely don’t care about that.
It doesn’t seem to be working right now, we will see how the ratings turn out for the two cards this weekend. Obviously the UFC has taken notice as well, scheduling a move to Tuesday for next season and signing two huge names as coaches in Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen. The two will face off in April for the ultra-prestigious UFC Light Heavyweight title, so there is much at stake here. Expect a spike in ratings for sure next spring, but if the UFC needs to go all-out to sustain any bit of lasting popularity for their reality show, can that be a good sign? I’m all for unknown fighters getting their shot at national exposure, but is this turning into too much of a good thing? Where do you think The Ultimate Fighter should head as fans?