The Ultimate Fighter 16 begins in September, and the coaches will be none other than Shane Carwin and Roy Nelson.
Oh yeah, there are also 32 welterweights vying for the coveted “six-figure contract” and that extremely dated plaque that declares them The Ultimate Fighter. But that’s secondary.
After 16 seasons of TUF, the format is a tad played out, to put it kindly.
A bunch of young guys with a lot of bad tattoos and dreams of fighting glory leave behind their lives, wives, girlfriends, kids and jobs to live and train together for a few months. As they do this, television cameras capture their inner children and the inevitable tomfoolery that results from putting young men with a lot of testosterone together in an awesome house stocked with liquor.
It was certainly a winning formula for a reality television series. But it got old about eight seasons ago.
Now, rather than being a show about finding the next great fighter, it’s become a platform to promote the coach’s fight.
There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but let’s call a spade a spade here.
It’s a win/win situation. The ratings may be down, but they’re still good enough to justify its existence. And if a great fighter emerges from it, that’s just an added bonus.
As it stands, the show hasn’t produced a title challenger since Season 5, but you never know. The big prize, though, is the promotional value for the fight between the coaches at the season’s conclusion.
However, there lurks a TUF curse that is seldom spoken of. Over the past four seasons, only one coach’s fight has come to fruition, due to injuries. Hopefully this time is different, because Nelson and Carwin are not only perfect as opposing coaches—they’re also going to put on a great fight.
Carwin and Nelson are diametric personalities. Nelson is the affable clown, the overweight fighter who embraces and plays into the persona by rubbing his belly and sporting a bushy beard and a very impressive mullet.
Carwin is more straight-laced, chiseled and clean-cut. He even holds a day job as a civil engineer. And he will speak out when he disagrees with the negativity he so despises, as he did when he denounced Brock Lesnar after his UFC 100 win over Frank Mir for antics he considered disrespectful, then turned around and defended Lesnar upon learning that he had diverticulitis.
When you look at Roy Nelson, you think, "This is a guy I want to go out for beer and wings with." When you look at Shane Carwin, you think, "This is a guy I want running something important."
These two were originally scheduled to fight at UFC 125, but Carwin suffered a neck injury that required surgery. They even partook in a minor tweet war after Nelson learned that Carwin was named in an old steroid investigation.
No charges were ever filed in that case, but that didn’t defuse the bomb Nelson set off by going where he did.
This is all likely to surface again as the season begins. Carwin will attack Nelson’s weight. Nelson will call Carwin a “juicehead.” It’ll be great entertainment for a show that is desperately lacking.
Then they will fight, and say what you will about Nelson, but the guy can thump. He takes a beating better than anyone, and his overhand right commands respect. If Carwin is fully recovered from the back surgery that has sidelined him for the past year, he remains one of the most ferocious heavyweights in the sport.
However, at 37 years old with two major surgeries involving the neck and back over the past few years, it’s not unreasonable to assume he may not return as the sheer terror he once was.
But that is exactly what will make this a great, competitive battle.
Let’s be honest—Carwin at full force would demolish Nelson. With the playing field a little more even, this has the potential to be a phenomenal fight that should mask a very ordinary season of a show way past its expiration date.