The UFC is a traveling circus of sorts, part sport and part entertainment. You never know what an event will bring. All we know for certain is that a collection of fighters will step into an eight-sided cage. The rest is anybody's best guess.
Will an underdog score a life-changing upset?
Will the show be filled top to bottom with exciting finishes? Or will the action remain at a kind of slow burn?
And, most importantly, who will Dana White yell at after the fights are all over?
Chad Dundas and Jonathan Snowden, two of Bleacher Report's lead MMA writers and industry insiders, don't have all the answers. Frankly, they likely have none. But each man has applied his keen wit to The Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale to bring you a collection of bold predictions about what's to come.
Do you want to bring even hotter takes to the proverbial table? Make it happen, captain. Looking forward to the boldest of takes in the comments.
Depending on which reality you adhere to, Bradley Gray Maynard and Nathan Donald Diaz will meet for the second or third time on Saturday at The Ultimate Fighter season 18 finale.
After a two-round TUF 5 exhibition won by Diaz in 2007 and a split decision taken by Maynard in 2010, they hook up for the (sort-of) rubber match this weekend as a pair of lightweights just trying to keep their heads above the swell. They both need this, though I suspect Maynard probably secures victory by lopsided unanimous decision.
Diaz, though, will show up to the post-fight news conference flanked by his bros from Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and full of Stocktonian indignation. He’ll bemoan the judges, the unified rules and the fact this makeshift main event was three rounds instead of five. He’ll say Maynard never hurt him and will contend if there were no rounds, no rules and no time limit, he obviously would’ve won.
Here's the thing—Chad and likely Diaz will both be right. MMA is not strictly a "fight." It's an athletic pursuit, a particularly brutal game. And a certain kind of athlete, much like that one cousin who cares way too much about the family game of touch football after Thanksgiving dinner, will do whatever it takes to win.
There's every likelihood that Diaz would win an actual fight, one contested on a desert island and only over when one man isn't able to make it to the rescue boat. But that isn't the game he's playing. He's playing a game with points, judges and a time limit. May the best man win.
Also, War Diaz!
Will UFC fans buy women's MMA? Despite Ronda Rousey's limited success, I think it's still a question without a clear-cut answer. So, I understand the UFC hedging its bets here, putting manly men in The Ultimate Fighter house, albeit wee manly men. After all, there was legitimate fear that the UFC's core audience simply wouldn't watch a group of women compete for a prime spot in the UFC.
Something funny has happened on the journey though—the women have been the stars of the show. Not only are they more interesting and better ratings draws, they are better in the cage as well. In some ways the class of talent here harkens back to the glory days of The Ultimate Fighter, when the show's winners were ready to compete at a high level right away.
Women have arrived. Next time they won't need to ride into the spotlight on the backs of their brother fighters. They've earned the limelight.
I only ever had two real fears about women in the UFC: 1) That the company’s Rousey-centric curiosity would wilt as soon as she lost or left to chase Hollywood dreams and 2) That the UFC would never figure out how to market female MMA in a way that wasn’t awkwardly sexualized and/or openly patronizing.
Dana White’s recent announcement that the organization is looking to add a strawweight division did a lot to ease my first concern. The second one is still very much a work in progress, but I remain hopeful.
Because here’s the thing about women’s MMA: The product is outstanding. These athletes deserve to be featured at the sport’s highest level, and anybody who disagrees with that either hasn’t watched enough of them or is probably still steamed over the 19th amendment. Case closed.
Wait, was there a prediction in there somewhere? Something about an all-female season of TUF? Sure, I’m down. Bring on the 115-pounders.
He built this city.
I think it was around the time of TUF 10—you know, the heavyweight season where the big surprise entrant was Kimbo Freakin’ Slice—that I started thinking, “Well, they can’t just keep doing this forever.”
Turns out, I was wrong. Turns out, the UFC can and will just keep making seasons of TUF, on and on into infinity, with only negligible changes to the format. Turns out, producers can even make more TUF—Brazil! British Commonwealth! China!—where they take the exact same show but hold it in different countries.
This weekend, we’ll put a bow on TUF 18 with the creeping dread that the elimination fights for TUF 19 are already in the books. That season will air in early 2014 and will no doubt be immediately followed by the gala celebration that will be TUF 20. And then TUF 21. And then TUF 22.
I know why they do this. This show is cheap to make—really cheap—and every once in a while they actually manage to pull a decent fighter off the scrapheap. So I guess my prediction is that the UFC just keeps making the same season of TUF again and again, until our civilization falls to a Walking Dead-style apocalypse.
Which is when we’ll get our first season of TUF: Zombies
For all the complaints about TUF, and they are legion, it remains an incredibly valuable tool for the UFC. While it hasn't built a genuine star using reality television in years, it has produced wave after wave of undercard talent.
You know how, when you watch a boxing show, most of the fighters underneath the main event match feel like complete strangers? That doesn't happen in the UFC. It's a three-hour show filled with old friends. That's because of The Ultimate Fighter.
I hope it never goes away.
Rory didn't need no Tuf!
In the old days, The Ultimate Fighter's resident flamethrower flamed out fairly quickly. The casting process was divided between the show's producers and the promotion, creating a hodgepodge of charmingly inept reality television stars and serious fighters capable of making their presence felt long after the cameras stop rolling.
Those days are done. Going forward I expect that the resident weirdos and heels, like Roxanne Modafferi and Julianna Pena, will be real fighters. There's no place anymore for athletes to gobble up television time if they aren't potential stars. It's a waste of everyone's time.
As this show goes forward, and as Chad says it will run forever and ever, it will increasingly be stocked with the kinds of fighters who have the chance to make it. Right now the UFC is not pushing top prospects to the show—and I don't think it's a coincidence that it hasn't built a homegrown star in years. Sometimes the best way forward is to take a step back.
Perhaps that will be true of the first few seasons involving female fighters, but I’m not sure I can get on board with this sentiment on the whole. The most talent-rich TUF cast ever was the first one, and since then—aside from a couple notable exceptions—it’s been a long, slow slog to the bottom of the barrel.
At this point the company is producing seasons with such regularity I doubt there’s even time for the sport to forge and mature quality prospects fast enough to keep up. Besides, when the UFC comes across fighters who are “potential stars,” it doesn’t bother sending them to open tryouts for a reality show; it just signs them and sticks them in the Octagon.
That’s why guys like Conor McGregor, Rory MacDonald and John Hathaway went straight to the big show instead of suffering through the indignity of TUF.
Nah, from here out, TUF will mostly be for B-listers, and even the B-list is starting to look pretty picked over.