As much as I hate to admit it, I am honestly looking forward to the upcoming season of The Ultimate Fighter, even if I still think Chael Sonnen is utterly undeserving of the spot as coach opposite of reigning light heavyweight champion, Jon Jones, simply because it gives Sonnen a title bout that he just hasn’t earned.
But still, this is Chael Sonnen we are talking about—one of the most intelligent, well-spoken and cunning men in the sport today—author of…a book, and master of social media as it pertains to enterprise.
Granted, all the talk is of how friendly Sonnen and Jones are, but with both men, you know what rests upon the surface is very deceiving.
This is a competition after all—a contest between two people—and given that I don’t believe that Sonnen stands a snowball's chance in hell of beating Jones in a fight, he’s going to pull out all the stops to beat him in a contest between coaches.
And that is what makes it all compelling, and that is why I feel compelled to watch.
I think both men will honestly make good coaches, unlike Georges St. Pierre vs. Josh Koscheck, where GSP was the coach and Koscheck was simply a man using a group of undiscovered fighters to try to defeat the champion vicariously.
I think both Sonnen and Jones, no matter if they win or lose their title fight, actually care about those men who are looking to them for leadership, and it’s been a long time since The Ultimate Fighter has seen that.
But aside from the paternal aspects of this upcoming season that appeal to me, there is also something artistically pleasing about the clash to come—and make no mistake about it, there is going to be a serious clash—that is terribly random on one hand and outright predicated on the other: I just can’t touch it with a needle…yet.
But I can identify it when viewing other fighters and potential seasons through that lens: it seems to bring notions of conflict—both pronounced and subtle—into view in such a way that they seem to come to life like good oratory in the middle of a war.
In that spirit of discovery I give you 10 more possible seasons of conflict that look at one hand to be poetic and in the other just aggressive, but I don’t think you’ll mind.
After all, each one ends up in a fight.
Nick Diaz vs. Dan Hardy: this has “explosive” written all over it, and if you can’t understand why, then I don’t know what to tell you.
First, you have a natural rivalry in the USA (Team Diaz) vs. The UK (Team Hardy), and that will pull in a lot of people in the course of a season.
If that is not enough, you have two men who love to talk trash and who are equally brash in their own ways. The amount of smack talking and genuine heat coming from both sides—led by their coaches—could quite possibly be on a level the show has never seen before.
Hardy loves to taunt, as Marcus Davis found out, and Diaz simply won’t abide anyone talking smack to him, especially with the whole of the 209 watching.
Then, there is the added dimension of assistant coaches; Diaz would no doubt bring in his younger brother Nate, along with everyone else from Cesar Gracie’s camp, and Hardy would probably pull in Benson Henderson, Georges St. Pierre and countless others, just to be able to say that his assistant / guest coaches have beaten Nick’s.
And that would make Nick Diaz explode as soon as Hardy rubbed his face in it—and Hardy would never miss a chance to do that.
They would need to station the National Guard at both the house and the UFC training center just to make sure fights don’t happen outside of the octagon and fans would tune in just to see if Dana White ended up having a heart attack.
While this may not make sense from a divisional stand point—Michael Bisping is high in top 10 rankings while Hector Lombard is near the bottom—there is still something intriguing about the idea of Team Bisping vs. Team Lombard, and of course it could keep “The Smashes” version of TUF going strong.
Since Bisping was defeated Vitor Belfort this weekend past, he's not going to get a title shot at Anderson Silva and that leaves him with some time on his hands. But odds are after taking time to regroup, he'll be itching to get back into the spotlight; coaching opposite Lombard would be a great chance to rebound.
Both men have a clear and genuine dislike for each other, and that always makes for compelling television; Bisping continually demeans the competition of Lombard as he compiled his longest win streak while fighting in Bellator while Lombard mocks Bisping for being a Chael Sonnen groupie who also possesses feminine hands and a weak chin.
Tensions would be high anytime both men were in the same room with each other and that is bound to translate into serious pressure on both teams.
And we all know what that leads to.
They’ve warred in the media, and given that they are both new faces to the newer television-friendly version of the UFC, Gilbert Melendez and Eddie Alvarez would get to introduce themselves to the masses in the best way possible in a combative sport—a fist fight in a cage.
Before that happens, they could battle each other through their young and unproven charges, and I have little doubt that these men would put the pressure on their fighters to uphold the team name or go home.
Given how the show is built to pressure-cooker specifications anyway, this is the sleeper season on the list.
In addition to being a highly exciting fighter, Donald Cerrone is also becoming known as a good trainer who sets the bar high for demanding as much from his team as he does of himself.
In a coaching contest between himself and Takanori Gomi, his style of humble bravado would mix well with that of Gomi, who is quiet and reserved on one hand, passionate and temperamental on the other.
The UFC has long talked about a season of TUF that would include Japan, and this would be the perfect introduction: eight Japanese fighters vs. eight Americans.
It’s a season that could end up as a barn burner for one major reason; the fighters from Team Gomi would be feeling the pressure born of nationalistic pride, and Cerrone would rally his fighters in kind, the stakes getting higher and higher with each passing fight as no one involved with either team would want to lose.
The show that would also highlight the differences between both camps at the house; how would the Japanese fighters handle living with the Americans?
It’s a pressure cooker situation as is, but cultural differences would surely be notable and hard to reconcile within the confines of any house, no matter how large and a house divided…you can imagine the rest.
There is no one in the heavyweight division quite like Alistair Overeem.
He is feared and despised, praised and prosecuted and all the while he keeps on smiling and keeps on telling anyone who will listen that no matter if he faces Junior dos Santos or Cain Velasquez, he will crush either of them.
It’s hard for me to decide which man—Velasquez or dos Santos—would end up being the better foil for the casual arrogance of Overeem.
Velasquez is the champion and having the title on the line is always good for viewers. In addition, it could also be billed as “TUF: Mexico vs.” and thus showcase a team of fighters representing Mexico, which would be a great way to introduce the sport to that country and fighters from the country to the sport.
For dos Santos, it would simply be an opportunity to prove that he is better than Overeem and that seems like something the former champion has been waiting to do for a very long time.
And just imagine how the show would progress if Team Overeem really started to pile up the victories; Overeem smiling and nodding all the way, smirking in the direction of his opposing coach and talking his talk.
A season like this could be just as explosive as the fight itself.
If there is anyone that could push the buttons on Jose Aldo, it’s the hyper competitive Clay Guida, and when you add his quick-to-shoot-off-his-mouth brother into the mix, you have a highly unstable combination that could yield explosive results.
Guida thinks he’s the best in the world, and he fights like a madman, which is the perfect foil for the calm, cool and collected Jose Aldo.
The question is, just how long could Aldo handle the kind of maniacal fervor that would be pouring out of Guida’s pores every time his team got out of bed each morning?
Both men are known to have a serious work ethic when it comes to training, and their training of their fighters would no doubt reflect their aggressive fighting style. The results would be found inside the cage, where they belong.
Anthony Pettis has been waiting a long time to get another shot at reigning champion Benson Henderson, mainly because he considers a victory to be a sure thing based on the highlight-reel moments in Round 5 that saw him claim the victory in their first fight.
Rematches normally draw more than their fair share of attention, but when the title is on the line and when you add that the last fight had one of those fighters on the receiving end of perhaps the greatest head kick in the history of the sport, and you get a competition that is apt to be very intense.
Pettis took Henderson’s title from him in the WEC and he believes without a shadow of a doubt that he could do it again.
Henderson wants to validate his place as the best in the world at 155 and until he defeats Pettis, that will always be in doubt.
The coaches' competition would be an excellent primer for their bout, and both teams would be feeling the pressure.
In an already tense situation to begin with, there are bound to be a lot of fireworks.
This would be the “Super” show of the TUF series to compliment the “Superfight” everyone is waiting to see: Anderson Silva vs. Jon Jones.
Sadly, while it would pull in massive ratings simply because of the coaches themselves, there is apt to be little drama in terms of bad blood or true rivalry.
Both Silva and Jones seem to like and admire each other, and that could make for some boring television, but it could also refocus attention to where it really should be—on the fighters who make up those teams.
Both Silva and Jones represent dreams achieved and it is likely that their teams would be the most serious students the show has ever produced; how often do unknown fighters get to learn from two of the sport's pound-for-pound greats?
This would be one season where the unknown fighters shine and are put up high, all the while the clock ticks on toward the biggest “Superfight” the sport has ever seen…
Yes, this one was a no-brainer, and yes, I know it’s not going to happen, but it’d be great if it could.
It is really the perfect season of The Ultimate Fighter—the greatest clash of personalities, philosophies and attitudes the show has ever seen and if you strip all that away you are still left with the fact that Georges St. Pierre and Nick Diaz do not like each other.
You’d also have a who’s who of assistant coaches; Cesar Gracie, Nate Diaz, Jake Shields, Gilbert Melendez and probably Ronda Rousey for Team Diaz opposite Rory MacDonald, Firas Zahabi, Donald Cerrone, Nate Marquardt and god knows who else—possibly even names like Jon Jones, Rashad Evans, etc.
There would be a lot of tension between both camps just based on past fights and that’s with the assistant staff alone. Add to that the intensity and manic unpredictability that is Nick Diaz, thrust into the spotlight as coach, with cameramen all around on a daily basis…I can’t begin to imagine how this would play out.
But I like to think he would be able to handle it, just as his little brother did during Season 5.
After all, it’s not like he’d be surrounded by a group of guys who would let him lose focus; his team knows him very well, and I believe he would take all his anti-social hostility and focus it on training his team.
Team Diaz—coaches and contestants alike—would likely be the tightest team the series has ever seen; they would almost have to be, just to keep from coming apart at the seams.
Contrast that with what we know about GSP: he’s proven he’s a great motivator, cool under pressure, focuses on his team above all and would love nothing more than to defeat Nick Diaz in any and all things.
This is one season where anyone who follows the sport and enjoys the show couldn't afford to blink, let alone miss an episode because it would be the most unpredictable season ever.
They started this whole thing together, and truth be told, the first season of the show—clunky and haphazard as it was—ended up being one of the best.
They are both Hall of Fame fighters with a deep love of the game, and the wealth of information they possess, not only of the training necessary to be a champion, but also how to handle the pressures of being a superstar, is simply too great to quantify; the fighters themselves would be the only ones who would understand.
Besides, the last time out, Team Liddell gave Team Couture a pretty good beating, and even though they are retired, I bet they’d love to try it again.