Opinion & Analysis
GOODMAN: The Ultimate Fighter needs a facelift - six ways to liven up the format
By Jed Goodman, MMA Torch columnist
Nov 7, 2007, 16:13
The Ultimate Fighter needs a facelift. The show that helped the UFC emerge into the mainstream is no longer the driving force behind the popularity of MMA.
T.U.F. started two years ago as Zuffa's foray into reality television. It introduced America to the "New UFC" by showing the world that mixed martial arts was no longer some form of cockfighting, but a showcase for world class athletes; in the process it made Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture, the first coaches of the show, household names.
The concept of T.U.F was simplistic but effective; the producers, in one hour, were able to take two unknown athletes and have you not only care about them, but most of the time, witness fights that lived up to their hype. Dana White said the season finale of The Ultimate Fighter 1 between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar was the one of the most important fights in UFC history. Like Ali-Frazer or Holyfield-Bowe it was a fight for the ages. Griffin, one of the winners of season 1, became the model for everything that worked on T.U.F; charismatic, exciting to watch, and a true warrior in the octagon.
This season the ratings are down to their lowest ever; the show is simply watered down. No disrespect to any of the individuals on this season, each has shown heart by stepping into the octagon and shown courage by leaving their families and jobs behind for a shot at their dream (let's be honest how many of us would be willing to do that?). However, as a whole, these sixeteen fighters are the least skilled of any season. Watching these fights makes me feel dirty, like I'm watching bum fights or like I just typed the word "girl fights" on youtube (go ahead and see what pops up). Either the producers have run out of fresh young talent (which often happens in other mainstream sports when you create too many expansion teams) or the producers are choosing story lines over talent. I lean towards the latter.
By choosing less skilled fighters for the sake of entertainment, the producers are dangerously close to bringing the sport back to its root, a kind of tough man competition. Dana White said last season he did not want people to think of his fighters as thugs, but top level fighters. Yet by bringing unskilled athletes onto the show he is giving middle America the wrong impression about the UFC and the expertise it takes. There is a reason it's called mixed martial arts, there is an art to high level fighting.
A substantial share of the audience is now trained to appreciate the science of the sport. These are the MMA fans that don't yell "boring" every time someone takes it to the ground or "boos" when a fighter goes for a submission It is these fans that are turning off T.U.F. for the lack of ability displayed. Yes, some of the UFC audience still comes for the brutality, the blood, and to witness the spectacle of the knock out in person, but many enjoy watching the technique and resourcefulness of a fighter. Tyson Griffin vs Clay Guida is a candidate for fight of the year. The pace, skill and aggression both men showed for 15 minutes was electric and their ground game displayed technical wizardry. It's like playing XBox 360 instead of Atari 2600.
Dana White has said in past interviews the two most important reality shows were The Ultimate Fighter and American Idol because unlike other reality shows, A.I. and T.U.F. have stars that viewers want to continue to follow even after their reality TV time is up. After five seasons White's point is valid, but will it be during the next few seasons?
According to the new Spike TV deal with UFC, beginning in 2010 Spike TV will air only one season of T.U.F. They should immediately begin to find new ways to revitalize the show; changing the location of the house to a new city, which has been discussed, is not the quick fix they need. With six more seasons guaranteed for The The Ultimate Fighter, here are six new ways to make each season livelier:
The Ultimate Fighter Season 7: I Hate Dana White. Dana White has plenty of MMA fighters he does not get along with; bring back the 16 most disgruntled ex-UFC fighters and let the winner get to face White in the octagon on the live season finale.
The Ultimate Fighter Season 8: Little People. There has been as season for each weight class, this is the obvious next step (tell me you wouldn't watch at least one episode).
The Ultimate Fighter Season 9: Road Rules Challenge. Wouldn't you love watching those smug MTV reality stars get their comeuppance? I can't wait to see Rampage take out The Miz in the Inferno Challenge.
The Ultimate Fighter Season 10: Fighting with the Stars. It turns out Elite XC is doing their own version with Herschel Walker and Jose Canseco, but there is always room for competition. Let's get John Cena, Kobe Bryant and the annoying Perez Hilton to face the best talent in the UFC.
The Ultimate Fighter Season 11: Cathouse. There are plans in the coming seasons to change the location of T.U.F. house. If you're gonna put them in a new house that matters, make it the cathouse from HBO's after hours program.
The Ultimate Fighter Season 12 : The Tito and Jenna Show. Watch the fun frolics of Tito Ortiz as he trains for his comeback and Jenna Jameson as she trains for her own...ahem...comeback.
OK, so those are bad ideas, but a few minor adjustments to the current show can have it back on track:
1. Pick better talent. Either from searching the dozens of lower level MMA organizations or scanning the locals gym. Focus more on their ability and less on their drama.
2. The fighters should have a certain amount of experience. Current season contestant Blake Bowman's' record was 0-0. He's a funny guy better suited for Last Comic Standing.
3. Don't just rely on UFC fighters to "vouch" for the applicants. It has been reported that many of the current contestants were friends of UFC stars. Blake Bowman (sorry to knock you again Blake) got in because he was friends with Cole Miller. Jared Rollins apparently was helped by Rob Emerson. In Hollywood it might be about who you know, but in MMA it should be about talent.
4. Don't always put the fight on at the end of the show; how many people have said they know how the fight will end based on the time the fight starts? Give us a twist, perhaps an over-run like WWE does with Monday Night Raw or put the fight on in the middle of the show and hook us to the end with another catch. Dana White could have hyped the announcement of the Wanderlei Silva- Chuck Liddell fight on T.U.F. instead of the Scream Awards.
5. Quality over quantity; the show seemed to work better when they had 8 fighters in 2 different weight classes.
Just give us a show that gets us excited to see fights and features top notch fighters. If I wanted to watch a show about a New Yorker named Joey with girlfriend problems I'd watch Friends. How about showing me what I tuned in to watch: the ultimate fighter.
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