It's no secret that the UFC's venerable Ultimate Fighter franchise isn't nearly the ratings juggernaut that it used to be.
Last Friday's episode scored just 872,000 viewers, while the debut episode of the latest season pulled in 947,000.
Those numbers are a stark contrast to those that the show used to pull during its heyday on Spike TV. By comparison, the viewing figures for Episode 1 of Season 14—the final season before the show moved from Spike to its current home on FX—were roughly 1.5 million, while the second episode pulled 1.6 million viewers.
Make no mistake about it: Those numbers still represent a lot of people watching The Ultimate Fighter. But they aren't as good as they used to be, and that's an important consideration in an instant-reaction society.
What can be done to fix the problem? I'm not sure there's an easy answer. There's a good chance that the format, which has barely been changed since the first season, has simply run its course. Folks are seemingly losing interest, and the numbers reflect that attitude.
I think the show needs a complete overhaul. Take away the tournament. Change locations. Make it a show unlike anything they've done in previous seasons, and folks might come back. And switching the broadcast to a different night, when people are more apt to sit in front of their television instead of hitting the town for a different kind of entertainment, is a no-brainer.
I don't think it's going to happen, though. The costs of producing a show of this nature are enormous, and the UFC already has a facility in Las Vegas that doesn't cost them a dime to rent or purchase. It makes financial sense for Zuffa to film in Las Vegas, just like it made financial sense for them to run smaller Strikeforce events at the Palms.
But without any drastic changes in the offing, what can be done to make the show interesting again?
I think you need more star power from the coaches. I understand that the coaching roles are being used to build up other fighters—and the traditional season-ending battle between them—but a heavy dose of championship-level stardom would help a great deal.
To that end, I think Jon Jones should be installed as a coach for the next season of the show. And I have the perfect opponent in mind: Daniel Cormier.
Yes, Cormier's still in Strikeforce. And he's also a heavyweight. But if Cain Velasquez does what I think he'll do in December, dethroning Junior dos Santos to win back the heavyweight championship, then Cormier will most likely be forced to drop down to 205 if he wants to contend for a championship. We already know Cormier and Velasquez likely won't fight each other, so a drop down makes sense.
If Cormier wins his final Strikeforce fight, he'll enter the UFC as a title contender. And yeah, that includes light heavyweight, where Jones is quickly becoming so dominant that few other light heavyweights will be interesting enough to the general public to capture big pay-per-view numbers.
Cormier's wrestling skills, power and ever-evolving stand-up game would make him a very intriguing challenger for Jones.
And on top of that, Cormier is an excellent coach, especially in the wrestling department. He speaks very well, with the authority of someone who has been competing in high-level athletics for his entire life. And while he doesn't always get to show it, he has an engaging and entertaining personality that would make him a great television character.
And then you have Jones, the UFC's great hope for the future and a man who may soon be considered the greatest fighter in history. He's starting to show a new, charismatic side, where he says what he thinks and doesn't care about the consequences. It makes him much more entertaining, and putting him on The Ultimate Fighter for 13 weeks would only serve to increase his profile.
I'm extremely interested in Jones vs. Cormier and the possibilities it would bring. But I'm also interested in seeing both fighters pushed as hard as possible, because I believe both of them can be major stars well into the future for the UFC.
Would it give the franchise a complete makeover? No. But a complete makeover isn't in the works, and so you have to make the best with what you have.
Putting the polarizing light-heavyweight champion on television with an opposing coach who has the skills to beat him might be enough to get people to tune in.
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