The Ultimate Fighter has issues.
The UFC's venerable reality show suffers from a host of problems, from the day of the week that it airs (Friday nights aren't really a good television night) to the simple fact that it's been around for a long time with few changes in the format.
Sure, they've added fights to get into the house and a few other minor wrinkles over the course of 16 seasons, but you're essentially seeing today what you saw in the very first season, and it's just not clicking with the public the way it used to.
Is there a way to save The Ultimate Fighter, to restore it to the glory it once had in the old days?
I'm not sure. A change of scenery might help matters a bit, and moving the show to a night where people actually stay in the house and watch television would probably improve ratings drastically.
Having recognizable coaches probably wouldn't hurt matters, either.
This is not to say that Roy Nelson and Shane Carwin aren't known commodities in the UFC, because they most certainly are, just like Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber before them. They're recognizable names, but they aren't superstar attractions. They aren't the kind of guys where you say "yeah, I'm not going to miss any episodes of TUF this season".
Jon Jones is the kind of fighting superstar that TUF needs.
He's one of the three biggest superstars currently on the UFC roster, and he has the star power and clout to instantly turn The Ultimate Fighter from has-been to must-watch television. He'd need the right opponent, of course; Chael Sonnen would be the perfect antagonist for Jones, but Sonnen still has to get past Forrest Griffin in December.
What about Daniel Cormier?
The Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix winner is going to make the jump to the UFC sooner or later, and if Cain Velasquez becomes the heavyweight champion in late December, Cormier will likely make the move to light heavyweight. Providing he wins his last fight in Strikeforce—and it's impossible, at this point, to determine when that's actually going to happen—Cormier would be an instant contender at light heavyweight.
But Jones isn't all that interested in coaching against Cormier.
"I'd be interested in a TUF season in the future, but it'd take the right opponent. As far as Daniel Cormier saying he wants to coach against me, he would want that, wouldn't he?," Jones recently told ESPN. "He's relatively unknown. I want to do it when the fans are aware of both guys, and when it's spunky and when it raises a lot of viewers. I'm not here to raise his stock."
Judging by this comment, I'd say there's one thing Jones doesn't understand about The Ultimate Fighter.
Sure, it's used to find new talent to infuse into the UFC roster. But at its core, The Ultimate Fighter is about creating stars, both in terms of the coaches that serve on the show and the fighters competing in the tournament. It's about creating those stars and, over the course of 12 to 16 weeks of television, building those stars up for a fight against each other.
I'll admit that Cormier may not be a household name just yet. He's got a world of fighting skills and I think he's one of the most dangerous fighters in the world, but few outside of MMA's fervent, hardcore fanbase have any idea who he is.
That's not his fault; it's simply because he's been toiling in Strikeforce, which is primarily a hardcore fan promotion.
The bottom line is this, I think: Cormier is going to be a title contender, and I think he's going to be a contender at light heavyweight. Yes, I think Velasquez is going to beat Junior dos Santos in the rematch, which will force Cormier to adjust his diet, to start eating well and work his way down to a manageable weight where he can start a cut to 205.
And if Cormier is going to be a title contender, if he's going to hang around the top of the division, then doesn't it make sense to find a vehicle that can help build him into a star?
Creating buzz for Cormier doesn't just help the former Olympian's bottom line—it also helps Jones out. Because the time is going to come when Jones must face Cormier on pay-per-view, and I'm sure Jones would much rather have a guy standing across the cage who just spent three months on weekly television than someone who didn't receive the same kind of promotion.
After all, Jones does receive a portion of the UFC's pay-per-view profits. If he's going to be facing Cormier on pay-per-view anyway—which, again, I believe he will—why not use The Ultimate Fighter as a vehicle to build the fight?
Cormier is engaging. He's an excellent wrestling coach, as evidenced by his selection as the wrestling coach at American Kickboxing Academy. He's likeable, friendly and has the genuine ability to come off as a star. Those are the exact qualities I'm looking for in potential coaches for The Ultimate Fighter. It doesn't hurt that Cormier represents a chance to create another superstar.
At the end of the day, Sonnen and Cormier are both perfect candidates for the show, though they bring completely different things to the table.
With Sonnen, you'd get three months of the larger-than-life pro wrestling persona that helped turn him from an also-ran middleweight into one of the UFC's top five pay-per-view draws. He'd create drama out of thin air, and by the end of the season, fans would be salivating for their chance to see the title fight.
With Cormier, you get a chance to create another superstar who is going to be around for awhile. Even if he fails in his first chance at the title, it won't be his last opportunity. If Jones is intent on establishing a historic legacy for himself, there's a pretty good chance he'll have to go through Cormier at some point to do it.
Why not use the UFC's reality show to help build up a rivalry that could last for years? It makes perfect sense, if only Jones could see it.