The next installment of the UFC's reality show, The Ultimate Fighter, will land on Fox Sports 1 this September and feature both men and women competing for UFC contracts.
That bit of information, we already knew. What we don't know is whether or not Ronda Rousey and Cat Zingano, the two coaches, will be able to get TUF out of the rut it seems to be in and into the next level of entertainment.
What does the "next level" mean? Essentially, a show that becomes "must-watch television." I believed Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen were going to create a newfound buzz for TUF,, but even that waned once word got out that no fireworks were going off between Sonnen and Jones during the taping of the show. Even Uriah Hall couldn't sustain excitement leading up to the finale, and his loss to Kelvin Gastelum doused his expectations a bit.
Now TUF is going to have one heck of a shot to recapture some of the buzz it once had during its first couple of seasons. Pitting two female coaches against each other and announcing the show will have male and female fighters is probably something the UFC is doing as a last-ditch effort for the series before they scrap it altogether and come up with a different idea for a show.
Imagine if it was announced that the two coaches were going to be another matchup of UFC vets. Let's say Rashad Evans coaching against Dan Henderson. Although both fighters are well-known and respected, it would have been a catastrophic decision because it wouldn't have given the show an opportunity to become great again. And it was great at one time, mostly due to the fact that we couldn't believe we were getting actual MMA fights on a major cable channel—but that was back in 2005.
Producers need to be more innovative than ever nowadays to capture viewers and keep them throughout a season.
The first thing I hope they fix, which they probably won't, is having the show play on a three-hour delay on the West Coast. Surely with all the technology we have today there can be some way to have the show broadcast live coast-to-coast. On FX and other networks that delay their shows on the West Coast, the problem is cutting into normally scheduled programming that is an important source of advertising revenue.
My gut feeling is that this upcoming season of TUF isn't going to be any more successful than previous efforts. Rousey has captured as much attention as any UFC fighter in the history of the promotion, but I don't believe she has brought in as much of a "new" audience that the UFC and media would lead one to believe.
If you were to go around and ask 10 people at random who Ronda Rousey is, I'd be surprised if more than three or four of them gave the correct answer. Then again, the same could probably be said for just about everyone else in the sport. Heck, go ask 10 random people who Anderson Silva is, and you'll get the same, if not a worse, response.
The UFC will do a good job of getting people excited for TUF 18, and Fox will no doubt put forth a tremendous effort in marketing the new channel. I just don't know what else can be done to give TUF a breath of fresh air. Moving to FX couldn't do it, promoting live fights every Friday fell flat and now mixing men and women in the same show appears to be the next idea.
There are plenty of roads the UFC can take with TUF 18. If this season doesn't take TUF to the next level (and I don't believe it will), then don't be surprised if the UFC looks to scrap TUF altogether.
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