Before the UFC on Fuel TV card helmed by Mark Munoz vs. Chris Weidman, I was talking to the “Big Bosswald”, Brian Oswald. The news was that Dana White was going to announce the coaches for both “The Smashes” season of The Ultimate Fighter, which will have the UK face off against Australia, á la TUF9, as well as the next season of TUF for FX.
Naturally, the two of us were discussing our picks and came up with plenty of strong possibilities.
“Smashes” was definitely the tougher of the two. There are, after all, only a few fighters from the UK, and even fewer from Australia. Finding matchups that both fit together schedule-wise and have realistic weight pairings is quite difficult. My guess was Dan Hardy vs. Brian Ebersole. Hardy needs no introduction. Ebersole, meanwhile, is not actually an Australian, but became a staple fighter in their MMA scene, with fourteen matches from 2006-2011 and is 4-0 in the UFC so far.
The UFC opted for Ross Pearson vs. George Sotiropoulos. The logic behind this is somewhat perplexing. Pearson, the lightweight winner of TUF9, has not been especially great since the hot start to his UFC career. He is 2-3 in his last five fights and, for most fighters, another loss would be grounds for termination.
Sotiropoulos is in a similar boat. After winning his first seven fights in the UFC, he lost to Dennis Siver and Rafael dos Anjos. While a 7-2 record is great, a three-fight losing streak is rarely forgiven in the UFC. What makes this more awkward is that Sotiropoulos is a lightweight, while Pearson dropped to featherweight last year.
These two fighters should, technically, be fighting for their jobs. Instead, they are in position for an enormous bump in fame. This ends up being a lose-lose situation for the UFC, as they will have to do a political limbo when it comes to possibly ending up in a position where they must cut one of their hottest fighters. Most seasons of TUF offer a trampoline for already-established fighters to raise their profile by coaching. This is not the case here.
Why they went with this instead of Ebersole vs. Hardy or Lombard vs. Bisping is a mystery. Still, this actually ends up as less of a missed opportunity than the primary season of TUF that will be coming up.
Slated to start this fall, with a coaches fight likely to land in late November, there were plenty of pairs that could make for sparks during the show, and dynamite for their fight. Demetrious Johnson vs. Joseph Benavidez, Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos, Brian Stann vs. Mark Munoz and my own pick, Georges St-Pierre vs. Carlos Condit, all made sense from PR, scheduling, matchmaking and ratings perspectives.
For reasons that do not actually seem to exist, the UFC recruited TUF10 winner Roy Nelson and former top contender Shane Carwin to become the centerpieces of the season. The two heavyweights are well past their primes and are on bumpy roads in their careers at this point after coming very close to the belt.
Roy Nelson, along with other TUF10 castmates, exploded into the UFC's heavyweight scene. After knocking out Brendan Schaub with his now-trademark overhand right to become The Ultimate Fighter, Nelson floored Stefan Struve in under a minute and earned himself a top-contender match with phenom Junior dos Santos.
In this fight, Nelson wowed UFC fans worldwide with his ability to take a beating, but did not take a single round as dos Santos pummeled him for the full 15 minutes and took a unanimous decision win. Unfortunately, two of Nelson's next three fights were very similar, with Frank Mir and Fabricio Werdum hitting him with every manner of strike imaginable from start to finish and walking away with unanimous decision victories.
Nelson has peppered in a pair of knockouts, beating Mirko Cro Cop at UFC 137 and, most recently, Dave Herman at UFC 146. Still, Nelson's stardom has faded amidst his numerous lopsided losses, making one wonder why he would be called upon to coach. Never mind being called upon to coach a season that is absolutely desperate for ratings.
Shane Carwin rose to the top of the UFC's heavyweight division very quickly. After scoring his third first-round knockout in a row, Carwin was tasked with fighting Frank Mir for the interim belt. Again, Carwin won another fight in the first round and was then set up against Brock Lesnar for a title unification bout.
Carwin lost that bout, gassing out in the second round and falling prey to an arm triangle. From there, thanks to a flare-up in Lesnar's diverticulitis after taping concluded for The Ultimate Fighter season 13, Carwin ended up in a top-contender bout with Junior dos Santos. Carwin channeled his inner Roy Nelson and was beaten thoroughly by dos Santos, losing by decision after being punched in the face for a full 15 minutes.
That loss, his latest fight, came over a year ago. In that time, Daniel Cormier has become one of the hottest heavyweights in the world. Alistair Overeem joined the UFC. Mark Hunt turned his career around. Travis Browne flew in under the radars and joined the heavyweight top 10. Fabricio Werdum cemented himself as a top-five heavyweight in the UFC.
The heavyweight division has changed more than anything else in the UFC during that time and Carwin, in many ways, has been left behind. Likewise, as with most fighters who sit out for a year, fans have forgotten him. Those that remember him would simply remember him as the man who got choked out by Brock Lesnar and beaten down by Junior dos Santos. This does not even get into the steroids scandal that came after his loss to Brock Lesnar.
The Ultimate Fighter: Live had roundly disappointing ratings, rarely hitting one million viewers per episode. Even its finale had only half the viewers of the previous season. With another season set for FX, the UFC needed to turn around the sagging ratings and the first step towards this is picking coaches. Again, there were a dozen pairings that could have been made to put the next season of The Ultimate Fighter in a better position to succeed.
Whether or not this will prove fruitful for the UFC remains to be seen. Regardless, there is no getting around the fact that both of the coming seasons of The Ultimate Fighter are starting off with a handicap, and that the UFC is wasting an opportunity to promote fighters with stronger footing and brighter futures than these four.
This does not instantly spell doom for the entire TUF series. But the executives over at FX and Fox cannot be happy about this turn of events.