Jon Jones vs. Chael Sonnen: Is the Ultimate Fighter Dead If TUF 17 Fails?
If a highly-charged match-up, like UFC light heavyweight champ Jon Jones vs. Chael Sonnen, can't resurrect the long-running Ultimate Fighter television series, nothing will.
The series has been running since 2005 and counting the currently airing incarnation of the show, has put on sixteen seasons.
Now tell me what show, if any, has been able to sustain quality and viewer satisfaction over sixteen seasons?
Evidently, The Ultimate Fighter isn't one of them. Just last week, it earned the lowest ratings in the history of the series; a paltry 624,000 viewers on average. What's worse is that the previous week's show did 1.1 million viewers.
Losing approximately 500,000 viewers over the course of one week is bad, no matter how UFC president Dana White spins the declining ratings. That many viewers not sticking around for the next episode indicates that the show has lost its ability to resonate with and captivate the casual fan/ vaunted 18-34-year-old male.
Furthermore, the trend of declining TUF ratings indicate that, in general, something is amiss—big time.
Much of the punditry is focused on the show's Friday night time slot. A slot that's poor for any show, let alone one whose primary demographic is out drinking and partying that night instead of sitting home to watch what boils down to be the same exact antics and inconsequential, low-level fighters that have been on the countless other episodes and seasons.
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The conventional wisdom from the MMA community also argues that the show changing channels from Spike TV to FX has caused some of the decline in viewership and that once fans learn of this change, they'll come flocking back in droves.
This hasn't happened yet and judging by the continuously dismal ratings, isn't going to happen at all.
Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen have been brought in to change this.
Jones is the youngest (non-tournament) champion in UFC history, a solid draw (he drew an estimated 700,000 buys against Rashad Evans at UFC 145) and is the second most divisive figure in MMA right now.
Of course, the man he's second to in that category is his TUF 17 counterpart, Chael Sonnen.
Sonnen's lurid trash talk and professional wrestling-esque gimmicks divide fans but, more importantly, get them talking and get them watching and buying.
Sonnen is one of only a handful of men in UFC history to have been in the main event of a pay-per-view earning over 900,000 buys. Needless to say, he is a lightning rod for attention.
Pairing these two—who have already gone back and forth a bit via Twitter—should, in theory, inject a much needed dose of interest and vitality into the show and therefore, increase its viewership.
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After all, how could putting big names on the show not get people watching, right?
Well...it's not that simple.
A similar strategy was employed by putting former WWE star Brock Lesnar on TUF's thirteenth season, but the effect on the ratings was dilatory, if it even had an effect at all.
Thus, putting the biggest names you have available at the moment is not a panacea for The Ultimate Fighter television series.
If Jones-Sonnen fails to bring in the viewers, the show will need either serious retooling or outright deletion.
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