It’s painfully clear: The Ultimate Fighter needs to be rebooted.
By this point, nearly everything’s been attempted: Comebacks, country against country, former contestants as coaches, two-time coaches, blood feuds, the whole nine yards.
The biggest problem of the show since season six hasn’t necessarily been with the program itself, it’s been with the taping and airing of the show holding up major UFC titles for long periods of time.
Season six saw Matt Serra win the welterweight championship in April 2007. Because of the show, he wasn’t scheduled to defend the title against fellow coach Matt Hughes until late December 2007 and didn’t even defend then due to injury. In fact, this fight is now just happening, more than two years after the two agreed to coach on the show.
Quinton Jackson defended his light-heavyweight title against Dan Henderson in early September 2007. He agreed to coach on the show and did not defend his title for another 10 months, something that undoubtedly hurt him in his loss to Forrest Griffin.
Season eight saw Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira win the interim heavyweight championship in February and not defend it until December, another long stretch without a title defense. This blow, though, was lessened by Randy Couture ending his UFC exile and returning to defend the true heavyweight title against Brock Lesnar in November. In fact, the hype for that fight started before TUF8 even began airing.
Although the second season held up two titles, the show wasn’t official until June and the titles were defended in mid-November. This is more than acceptable. Seasons three, four, five and nine did not have a title at stake, which, frankly, was great. In the case of three and five, the coaches were bitter rivals who didn’t need a title at stake to create false TV drama. The hatred, for the most part, was real.
Now, we have a strong rumor that SpikeTV wants Jackson to be a coach on TUF10. The opposing coach will be the light-heavyweight champion, which will be either Rashad Evans or Lyoto Machida following their fight next week.
The shame about this is you’re taking two fighters in the prime of their careers out of commission for a long period of time. In the case of Jackson, coaching twice on TUF will have essentially cost him two fights in his career. At this stage, with the UFC already established and interest in the show dwindling, it’s unacceptable for The Ultimate Fighter to be dictating championship fights.
What championship fights has TUF led to an increased buyrate for (outside of TUF1, which is obviously a different case and exempt)? TUF2 was not all that great, the TUF6 fight never happened and TUF7 led to a one-fight pay-per-view. It’s too tough to make a call on TUF8 because the Nogueira-Mir fight was part of a triple main event that more than likely sold on a whole.
The only one here that is debatable is Jackson-Griffin, which would’ve sold regardless due to the drawing power of Griffin. Was taking the champ out of action for 10 months after a great fight (against Henderson, which was my 2007 Fight of the Year) really worth it? Probably not.
Now, my tune would be significantly different is these shows were useful anymore. The talent on TUF1 will never be replicated. TUF2 had some hidden gems and two, maybe three stars have come from TUF3.
To me, the show has been downhill since TUF5, which produced Nate Diaz, Gray Maynard, Joe Lauzon, Cole Miller and Matt Wiman, among others.
TUF6 was built around Mac Danzig, who has been a bust. Ben Saunders is the only other fighter from that season who has a chance and the TUF7 champion, Amir Sadollah, hasn’t even made his real UFC debut yet.
I have high hopes for some of the fighters from TUF8, but going through useless season after useless season to get these guys isn’t worth it, considering most would be in the UFC eventually without the show.
And TUF9 has been so disinteresting to me that I’ve watched two, maybe three of the episodes. And I’m someone who watched every prior season religiously and still regularly watches the TUF1 DVD.
So what can be done to remedy this? Well, not much without a major format change. It’s clear the base of fighters is dwindling. For as much as the actual show portion might stink, having another “comeback” season wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. There’s no way title shots could be on the line this time, but it would give some guys another shot and it would hopefully allow the talent base to rebuild.
The Ultimate Fighter built the UFC. That’s why it’s a shame to see it degenerating to what it is now.