Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Reinventing The Ultimate Fighter: Why This May Be The Best Season Ever

I have come full circle on The Ultimate Fighter. What started out as my introduction to MMA instantly became must watch TV for me as I followed the show and it's fighters season after season. But, admittedly, I began souring on it the last few seasons for many reasons. Every component of the show started to seem stale, and with very few of the fighters actually making a mark in the UFC it was hard to consider this the same breeding ground that produced Forrest Griffin, Diego Sanchez, Josh Koscheck & Rashad Evans. Instead we were starting to see winners sporting a sub .500 record and many of them getting the pink slip before we could even say coaches challenge. But, to Dana White's credit, he doesn't resist change. He embraces it. And that is what smart businessmen do. Dana revamped the show and is now in the midst of the best season I can remember. Even Entertainment Weekly listed it atop their "Must List" a few issues ago. So what is different?

Most importantly, the fights. Great fights make great seasons. This season, thanks to Urijah Hall, we've enjoyed some devastating knockouts, a few sudden victory battles, and many surprises. There have been some disappointments as well, but they pale in comparison to the seasons that seemed to only have boring fights (see The Ultimate Fighter: Heavyweights). Perhaps the vetting process to make the show got better, or perhaps they just got lucky. But no matter how Dana assembled this cast, it worked.

Next, the coaches. It is easy to utilize TUF as a platform to create juice for otherwise juice-less fights (see Bisping vs. Miller) but Dana White knew that the formula wasn't working. So he offered the gig to two of the best guys in the sport, who needed no extra promotion to sell their fight, and man has it paid off. Not only are these guys good on TV but they are also tremendous coaches. Sonnen in particular, has somehow transformed himself from UFC carnival act to a motivational guru. This season has also shown that you absolutely do not need trash talk to make a season. These coaches seem to get along fine and that hasn't hurt at all. The trash talk on previous seasons had become transparent anyway and it very seldom translated into fireworks inside the octagon.

Lastly, the show has very subtly changed the way it is filmed. It has moved from a standard reality show format and now mirrors the well produced Countdown shows that they use to promote upcoming fights. There is a much greater sense of urgency in the filming of the fights, the interviews and the training, which makes it feel much more intense. Speaking of training, there is more of it and less of the bullshit in the house. Which is good because if I saw one more Junie Browning or Julian Lane I was going stop taking The UFC seriously.

So lets see if Dana White can keep this TUF magic up. The Ultimate Fighter has been on my "Must List" for a while, but it'll take a few more seasons like this to continue getting EW type press.

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