Bring the Ultimate Fighter Back from the Dead! Team Sonnen vs. Team Rashad

Kevin SampsonCorrespondent IIIJuly 27, 2012

Bring the Ultimate Fighter Back from the Dead! Team Sonnen vs. Team Rashad

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    Earlier this year, the UFC launched its inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter Live on FX with high expectations. Unfortunately, The Ultimate Fighter on FX absolutely tanked. It was one of the least watched seasons of The Ultimate Fighter ever.

    There is no shortage of analysis on what went wrong. Maybe it was because they selected coaches from the Bantamweight division, a weight class that is still struggling to gain widespread fan interest. Perhaps the live format was to blame. Maybe moving TUF from Spike TV to FX was a move that lost casual viewers who weren't paying attention to all the commercials telling them that the change was coming.

    At this point, figuring out what went wrong isn't really the most important task at hand. Putting together the most watched season ever of The Ultimate Fighter is all that really matters.  

    So how do you accomplish such a lofty goal? 

Coach Chael Sonnen

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    Two time title challenger for the Middleweight belt Chael Sonnen has made it perfectly clear that he is not interested in fighting for the UFC anymore unless there is a clear path to winning a UFC title. That means that barring Dan Henderson taking the belt from Jon Jones, Uncle Chael will be moving back to his original weight class at 205 lbs.

    I know I’ve stated more than a few times that I don’t like the man’s antics. I still can’t stand the persona that Chael Sonnen put on to get him not one, but two, shots at Anderson Silva's title. But I also acknowledge that Chael Sonnen is flat-out good for the sport, and I freely admit that my extreme dislike for his behavior unwittingly makes me one of his biggest fans by default.

    That is why polarizing characters like Sonnen are so good to have around. Fans and haters alike will pony up their $55 in hopes of seeing a highly polarizing fighter either kick ass or get his ass kicked. UFC 148 is the best selling pay-per-view the UFC has had since Brock Lesnar's last title fight, and it's all thanks to Sonnen's big mouth.

    Chael Sonnen is quite simply the brashest and most outlandish trash talker in UFC history. What The Ultimate Fighter needs right now is a big ugly feud, and you can bet Chael P. Sonnen will deliver!

Coach Rashad Evans

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    After being thoroughly dominated by Light Heavyweight champion Jon Jones, Rashad Evans now finds himself in the same mess as Sonnen: Rashad isn’t going to get another shot at Jon Jones anytime soon.

    And yet nobody else at Light Heavyweight seems to be able to beat Evans. Sure he could try to get a rematch with Lyoto Machida to avenge only stoppage loss to date, but to what end? Beating Machida now would do very little to help him get him his title back. Evans is facing the prospect of needing to win many fights over the course of the next few years before he'll get another title fight against Jon Jones.

    Rashad is already seriously considering dropping down to Middleweight and making a run at Anderson Silva’s title. There's nothing all that exciting for him to do at Light Heavyweight. Why not move down to Middleweight and take a shot at beating the most dominant champion in UFC history? Being the man to finally dethrone The Spider would cement Rashad Evans' legacy forever.

    Rashad Evans brings a lot to the table as an Ultimate Fighter coach. Not only is Rashad Evans one of the best coaches in Ultimate Fighter history, he’s also a very good trash talker in his own right. You can fully expect Suga Rashad to fire back every time Chael Sonnen spouts off.

    And you can expect both men to back up every word they say or die trying. 

Why Not Rampage Jackson?

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    To answer the question before it is asked: No, I don’t think Quinton “Rampage” Jackson would be a better choice to coach opposite Chael Sonnen.

    Yes, I know Rampage Jackson and Chael Sonnen have the beginnings of a small feud brewing. In my opinion, it won’t amount to anything. Quinton is just a lousy choice anyways:

    1.)    Quinton Jackson seems hell bent on leaving the UFC at this point. I doubt a little smack talk from Uncle Chael is going to dissuade him. He’ll probably even say it’s all a PR stunt to trick him into sticking around for one more fight.

    2.)    Quinton Jackson is a terrible coach! He’s been the coach on The Ultimate Fighter twice with his fighters tallying an underwhelming record of 5 wins and 16 losses. None of Rampage’s fighters have ever won the tournament. None of his fighters have even won their way into the finals.

    3.)    At this point, beating Quinton Jackson doesn't really line Chael Sonnen up for a title shot anytime soon. Beating Rashad Evans does.

    Quinton "Rampage" Jackson has the mouth and the personality to make a good show, but there's just too many downsides to make him an intelligent choice to coach on The Ultimate Fighter again. 

Wait, Aren’t These Guys in Different Weight Classes?

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    Chael Sonnen is a Middleweight who is thinking about moving to Light Heavyweight. Rashad Evans is a Light Heavyweight that is thinking about moving to Middleweight. So yes, they are in different weight classes.

    Not only that, but Rashad and Chael are likely to change weight classes at roughly the same time. That means they probably will never be in the same weight class. 

    No problem. Just have Sonnen and Evans fight at a catch-weight of 195 lbs as a transitional step towards their new weight class. And to sweeten the deal... 

Fast Track the Winner of the Coach's Fight to a Title Shot

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    Both men desperately want to win a UFC title belt. Both men are on the verge of changing weight classes to make that dream come true. The beautiful thing is that both men are the perfect test for each other.

    Rashad Evans is the second or third best Light Heavyweight in the world, depending on whose ranking system you go by. If Chael Sonnen can beat Rashad Evans then, in a single stroke, he proves that he is worthy to step in the cage with Jon Jones to fight for the Light Heavyweight title. 

    Chael Sonnen is the consensus second best Middleweight on the planet behind Anderson Silva, and he is the only man to ever pose a real threat to Anderson's title. If Rashad Evans can beat Chael Sonnen then he proves beyond all doubt that he's a legit challenger for Anderson Silva.

    Now I think the winner of the coach's fight should need one more win at the prescribed weight class in order to get a title shot. But if the UFC really wants to, go ahead and give the winner an immediate title shot! No matter which way you go, that's a far better prospect for both men than they would have otherwise. Barring this fast-forwarding move, Chael and Rashad would both be three or four solid wins away from a title shot.

Make It a Season of Heavyweights and Light Heavyweights!

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    Okay, time to break out the big guns!

    Now is the time to do a season focusing on the two most popular weight classes in the UFC. And it just so happens that the UFC ranks are running very thin at both Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight. Here are the numbers per weight class according to the UFC’s website:

    • Heavyweight: 32 Fighters
    • Light Heavyweight: 37 Fighters
    • Middleweight: 57 Fighters
    • Welterweight: 62 Fighters
    • Lightweight: 68 Fighters
    • Featherweight: 58 Fighters
    • Bantamweight: 39 Fighters
    • (NEW) Flyweight: 13 Fighters

    The UFC’s two oldest and heaviest weight classes have long been the most popular with MMA fans. And since these two weight classes are also both desperately in need of more bodies, it’s perfect.

    Remember, the best ratings for any season of The Ultimate Fighter ever was The Ultimate Fighter 10 - The Heavyweights. Fans love to watch the big guys fight!

    Granted, Season 10 featured the inexplicably uber-popular Kevin Ferguson (aka Kimbo Slice).  Unfortunately, you probably won’t have another Kimbo-like character just popping out of the woodwork right on cue.

    Be that as it may... 

Gather the Biggest Names You Can Find

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    The goal is simple: You want to do everything possible to maximize your ratings. Make a big enough splash just once on FX and people will keep tuning in for future seasons.

    As luck would have it, there are many ratings boosting names out there. Crossover celebrities from other sports like Bobby Lashley and Mariusz Pudzianowski already have legitimate potential in MMA. With the right incentive, you might also draw these and other legitimate fighters from the ranks of former NFL stars and professional wrestlers, as we saw with Brock Lesnar.

    They may not win The Ultimate Fighter tournament, but you never know, they might just shock the world. The point is to draw more viewers with a few names they've actually heard of.

    While your at it, throw out a challenge for guys like Houston Alexander, Sokoudjou, Todd Duffee and Tim Sylvia to earn their way back into the UFC through The Ultimate Fighter. Those are names that will draw a lot of viewers. 

    Of course this still leaves you with plenty of slots to find new talent in each division. But how do you convince all of these high profile guys to actually do a season on The Ultimate Fighter? 

    Here's a thought: 

Give the Winner a Million Bucks!

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    Ever since season one, The Ultimate Fighter seemed a bit lost on its end goal. Why is the winning prize a contract to fight in the UFC and nothing else? After all, half or more of the cast of every season end up being signed to fight in the UFC anyways.

    It's time to get serious and offer up a real prize for winning. The Ultimate Fighter combines a grueling gauntlet of physical training, all while trapping 32 men who beat the crap out of other fighters for a living all in the same house. There isn't all that much to do at The Ultimate Fighter house, so now you have 32 professional warriors spending hours and hours in the same space with nothing to do. Toss in free food and alcohol and let the chaos ensue! Dana White himself has said "It's the hardest thing you'll ever do."

    Okay, go ahead and keep on giving the winner the same six-figure contract, but it's high time to do better than that. Giving the winner a free custom-made Harley Davidson motorcycle at the end of last season was a nice touch, but in the end, nothing talks louder than money. 

    If a two-bit minor league promotion like Bellator can give each one of their many yearly tournament winners $100,000 then surely the UFC can do better! The UFC could easily offer up $500,00 to $1,000,000 cash to The Ultimate Fighter winner and still have a few bucks to throw at the winning coach.

    Since The Ultimate Fighter is a rigorous and unpleasant ordeal, then in the vein of Survivor, why not give them a big fat check for all their troubles?

    Offering a large cash prize adds many benefits: 

    1.) Even folks who don't really like fighting are much more likely to tune in to watch guys beating the crap out of each other when they're doing it for a cool million dollars.

    2.) It raises the profile of The Ultimate Fighter: Given the choice, any fighter would rather take a crack at a $1 million prize as their method of choice for entering the UFC.

    3.) This would help to solve another problem: The ever diminishing quality of TUF contestants.

    4.) It becomes abundantly clear to aspiring athletes that there's good money to be made in MMA. A chance at that one-time million dollar payday will draw more and more top athletes to compete in this sport. 

Get the Ultimate Fighter Back on Wednesday Nights!

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    The UFC's broadcast deal with FOX needs to have a little more give and take. The UFC is already helping breath life into FUEL TV, a network that isn't even available to millions of Americans. And The Ultimate Fighter was cast on the altar of good intentions, filling one of FX's weakest time slots: Friday night.

    Weekends are a great time for live events because the weekend is the time when fans can buy tickets to the game or fight or rock concert or whatever else. But even with its live format, The Ultimate Fighter doesn't sell tickets for the event. Friday night is an absolutely lousy time slot for a reality TV show.

    Would it be too much to ask for FX to give up one of its weekday nights? Well, let's take a look at what's on FX this week:  

    • Sunday at 7:00 PM - The Proposal (movie rerun)
    • Monday at 7:00 PM - 27 Dresses (movie rerun)
    • Tuesday at 7:00 PM - Step Brothers (movie rerun)
    • Wednesday at 7:00 PM - The Hurt Locker (movie rerun)
    • Thursday at 7:00 PM - Two and a Half Men
    • Friday at 7:00 PM - Rush Hour/ Rush Hour 2 (movie rerun)
    • Saturday at 7:00 PM - The Hurt Locker (movie rerun)

    Note: All above times are listed in Central Standard Time since I'm in Chicago.

    Would it be too much to ask for FX to forgo doing movie reruns on Wednesday night? I mean sure, The Hurt Locker is probably great an all but you're going to be running it again on Friday anyways. If not Wednesday, what about Monday or Tuesday?

    There really is no good reason for original episodes of The Ultimate Fighter to be banished to the weekend. But if FOX wants the UFC to prove they can put up solid numbers, there's no better test than Team Chael vs. Team Rashad with Heavyweights, Light Heavyweights and a million dollar prize going to the winner. There is no way that movie reruns are going to pull in as many viewers as that! FOX just needs to realize that The Ultimate Fighter is wasted on Friday nights.

What If Dan Henderson Takes the Title from Jon Jones

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    This whole scenario dies if Dan Henderson finds a way to beat Jonny "Bones" Jones and take his title. Chael Sonnen would then refuse to move up to Light Heavyweight, and Rashad Evans would definitely be on the short list of viable title contenders to fight Hendo.

    If Henderson becomes Light Heavyweight champion, some of this concept can still be salvaged. You can still offer up a big payday to the winner of The Ultimate Fighter. You can and should still do a season of Heavyweights and Light Heavyweights. 

    But you would no longer have two coaches with so much on the line. At best, you'd have to settle for a season of Chael Sonnen vs Michael Bisping. That would be a great show, but what if Chael Sonnen declines? What if Sonnen just retires from MMA until further notice? What then?

    So the whole idea hinges on Jon Jones defeating Dan Henderson at UFC 151. I just don't think Dan Henderson even has a puncher's chance of winning, so odds are this scenario in its entirety is going to be completely doable. 

Conclusion

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    The Ultimate Fighter is still a very viable tool for the UFC to grow its talent pool as well as its fan base. Right now, it’s time for The Ultimate Fighter to pull out all the stops and try to put together the biggest season in the show’s history. With the right coaches, the right cast, the right weight classes and a big fat check waiting for the winner, The Ultimate Fighter could easily draw more viewers than ever before. 

    The whole scenario is a win-win for the UFC and the coaches. Either Chael or Rashad gets fast-tracked to a title fight, while the UFC gains a legitimate title contender that knows how to sell a fight. It's no secret that both Middleweight and Light Heavyweight are running low on viable title contenders. It's also no secret that the UFC needs more Heavyweights and Light Heavyweights. And they need better ratings for The Ultimate Fighter. In the end, I don't see the downside.

     

    Have any ideas of your own to add? Disagree completely? Tell me all about it in the comments section below.