I’ve got to give the UFC credit. They haven’t given up on the The Ultimate Fighter, and are constantly trying to shake things up to keep it interesting. The problem is they’ve been trying for a long time now.
Nearly four years ago they decided to try a live format that had fighters in the TUF house about twice as long as any other competitors had been forced to endure. Damn. For the 17th season they focused less on the in-house hijinx and focused more on the personal stories of the fighters. It helped freshen things up for a bit, but that format lost its steam quickly. Then they made it count with the 20th season by introducing the women’s strawweight class through the show. Though the in-cage action was good, it devolved into perceived cattiness and made it damn near unbearable to watch the rest.
Earlier this year they tried something new again with the ATT vs. Blackzilians format, featuring the two prominent Florida camps going head to head. Though it clearly produced a good atmosphere for the fights, limiting the fighters to just two camps clearly affected the quality. In the most recent season they instilled the biggest personality in the sport in Conor McGregor… and the show still felt stale.
It’s time for the UFC and Fox to read the writing on the wall: fans no longer care about TUF, and it needs to be killed. The original concept was fantastic when it was first conceived, as America was still in love with the whole reality show format of forcing a bunch of strangers to live with one another with limited resources to see how they amuse themselves and irritate others. After 30+ seasons (if we count the foreign versions), the magic is long gone for numerous reasons.
When the first iteration of the show came around, there were about 25-30 better known names that were on the UFC roster, with others floating in and out, often getting only one opportunity to make good on their UFC appearance. With so few constants on the roster, it wasn’t hard to mine for the up-and-coming talents hoping to make the UFC. Half of the 16 man cast went on the make at least 10 UFC appearances; season one light heavyweight winner Forrest Griffin went on to capture the UFC Light Heavyweight Title, and several more would challenge for a UFC title, as Kenny Florian, Diego Sanchez, Josh Koscheck, and Nate Quarry each had title shots during their run.
Now? Season 16 of TUF ended three years ago, an appropriate amount of time for the fruits to be borne. Only Neil Magny and Sam Alvey have made more than five or more appearances, with the season’s winner, Colton Smith, being cut without winning a fight in the UFC outside of the tournament finale. The others still on the roster? Dom Waters, Leo Kuntz, and Igor Araujo. The UFC is now scraping the bottom of the barrel for talent with over 500 fighters on the roster, and most fighters have other options to get into the UFC that don’t include living in the TUF house for six weeks with limited contact with the “outside world.” Can’t blame them for taking those alternative routes.
The fights are typically low quality as well. Dana White often acknowledges this himself by constantly complaining about how boring the fights are. What the hell does he expect? The house doesn’t produce ideal circumstances for producing quality fights. Fighters are forced to fight either three or four times in order to reach the tournament finals, which means cutting weight three or four times while avoiding injury in order to ensure they can continue in the tournament. How can he not expect the fighters to fight conservatively? And for all the talk about fighter safety being number one on their priorities, do they think cutting weight that often is healthy? I don’t think so.
The calls for the show to reach its end have been made for a number of years now, and the UFC continues to ignore the pleas of fans. Part of the reasoning behind that is the contractual obligation they have to fill programming on Fox Sports. That can be understood, but does it justify keeping an unwanted program upon the air? Hell no!
So what do I propose? Well, how about a two hour weekly or bi-weekly show of four fights with some of the hottest prospects? Hear me out… I know that this sounds implausible, but I can assure you that it can be done, and it can solve a few problems in the process too.
The idea stems from USA’s long-running Tuesday Night Fights series from the 80’s and 90’s. There were rarely major fights on the program, but it was there every week to satiate the appetite of fight fans. Why not do the same thing with the UFC? If Fox is worried that it could take away from other obligations or fear it wouldn’t draw the viewers necessary to justify a primetime slot due to lesser known fighters being highlighted, why not put it on Fox Sports 2? There hasn’t been a UFC event originally planned to air on that channel for quite a while. This could end up being a staple for the junior network.
The UFC threw the UFC Fight Night 80 card together at a late juncture after having planned the rest of the events for the year well in advance. The UFC admitted that it needed to put the show together to meet contractual obligations for some of their fighters. Running 43 events, you wouldn’t think that would be a problem… and then you once again remember that they have over 500 fighters on their roster. Running small events like this would help to fulfill the contractual obligations while also providing the younger fighters the opportunity to continue develop their skills. That in-cage experience can be invaluable, as a fighter like Neil Magny has proven over the last couple years.
So what about where it would take place? That would be up to the UFC. Their headquarters is in Vegas, and I could see them hosting an event like that with regularity in any of the variety of venues that exist there… sort of like they’ve been doing for quite a while anyway. But I would favor taking the show on the road. Yes, I realize a card with just four fights might be a bit difficult to sell to a live audience, but that would actually be favorable to a vast amount of the audience, especially if they decide to hold these events on a weekday (which I’ll tackle in a moment). It would be pretty easy to get people to turn out for these if marketed right. Take the show to New Mexico one week and feature a number of the Jackson-Winklejohn fighters to drum up local interest. Go to Colorado where they have a burgeoning camp led by Leister Bowling. Trevor Wittman has a camp there, too. Sacramento is home to Team Alpha Male with a large amount of competitive fighters. I’ve already mentioned Florida having two powerhouse camps. There isn’t a shortage of locations the UFC could use. That in itself should be an improvement over TUF, as TUF doesn’t have a live audience outside of the other fighters in the house, in addition to coaches and members of the athletic commission there to oversee the fights.
Perhaps the most important part that would hook the hardcore MMA audience, an audience that has long stopped paying attention to TUF, is that these fights would count. These wouldn’t be exhibition fights taped months in advance that don’t go on the fighter’s record. They would be the real deal with a real training camp for the fighters with their own coaches who know them best. No rushed weight cutting. No worry about getting hurt bad enough to prevent oneself from advancing in the tournament. There would be no reason not to go balls out as White constantly implores them to do so.
So what type of fighters would headline? With that question, I feel it would be best to avoid a five-round main event for… we’ll call them Wednesday Night Fights for now (replacing the Wednesday night timeslot TUF currently occupies). That way when someone such as Court McGee headlines an event taking place in the Salt Lake area, there isn’t a large outcry that he doesn’t deserve a true main event slot. Or how about Diego Sanchez in Albuquerque? Matt Mitrione in Indiana? I realize none of these guys are must-see-TV, but they are solid, proven veterans who can generate local interest for a UFC event. These wouldn’t need to be hyped as a major event, but if held on a regular basis, fans would know it is there if they are simply desiring an appetizer of MMA in the middle of the week as opposed to a full course meal that a Fight Night or pay-per-view event would provide.
Are there holes to the idea? Yes, of course there are. For instance, would this cut into the Reebok money that gets distributed? I can’t answer that. That’s why it is merely an idea rather than a plan. But I strongly believe that it could work, as the UFC is a billion-dollar empire that has been able to put two events across the world from one another in a single day multiple times. Would a small time traveling weekly show be too much to ask from them? I don’t think it would be.
I don’t see why the UFC is still hanging on to TUF. I’m sick of it and I know that I’m not the only one. I realize the show “saved” the UFC, and that it has a special place in the heart of the organization, but it is time to move on. Please kill the show now before the few happy memories fans have left of the show turn into bitterness towards a crappy product that continues its pitiful existence. At this point it doesn’t matter if they replace it with anything else or not… just please get it off the air!
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