Has The Ultimate Fighter Come Full Circle?

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Has The Ultimate Fighter Come Full Circle?
(Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

In recognition of UFC 100, Inside Fights recently did a three part series outlining the history of modern MMA. The articles pointed to the significant events that contributed to the ascent of this sport, from cage fighting to a true art form, and beyond.

One extremely significant aspect behind the rapid increase in mainstream acceptance was the resounding impact of one fight. One fight was credited as having changed everything with regards to the future of the sport. For those who know, two names only need be uttered: Griffin and Bonnar. 

Griffen vs Bonnar, at the inaugural Ultimate Fighter season finale, was an event that reshaped the future of this sport. It is hands down one of the greatest wars the sport has ever seen, and was not only brought to fans by the UFC, but done so live on cable TV. A fortunate fact considering the masses of unsuspecting viewers who had tuned in just because it was free.

This result was also due to a groundbreaking reality TV show conceived by Dana White and the Fertitta brothers. A show that would bring MMA, a sport typically only shown for top dollar on pay per view, into the living rooms of current and future fans every week, again, for free on Spike TV.

What followed was a sharp increase in interest regarding the sport. No longer was it just for die hard fans who had been there since day one, and were happy to pay their hard earned greenbacks to support the sport. Now it was brought to an audience who could simply decide to tune in, as opposed to dropping cash on something they may have been on the fence about.

The concept of the Ultimate Fighter laid the foundation for what was eventually to transpire between Griffin and Bonnar. Not only did their fight change the sport but the events leading up to it were crucial in luring in the fans that eventually would be landed hook line and sinker by the finale itself.

Today, many years later, many Ultimate Fighter seasons later, the allure may have become tarnished with time. What was once a cutting edge concept in MMA has become old hat for even the new fans earned so many years ago. While the TUF show always entertains, either by good fights, or just plain human nature, it has become old news. 

While many supremely talented fighters have emerged from the series, it might seem that TUF One raised the bar a bit high. Many times, the allure of the show has been what goes on in between the fights, perhaps more so than the fights themselves. 

While that too holds its value, it leads MMA in a contrasting direction. One that lends itself to the arguments against the nature of what truly is a world class sport. Any attention is good though, and more than one character has contributed to the magnetism of MMA for fans who truly can relate to these fighters as human beings.

Today nine TUF seasons later, something very special is happening.  The sport is buzzing about something other than the most recent drunken rampage on a TUF episode. The sport is buzzing about a fight.

Leading up to this match up, even the fights between virtually unknown heavyweights have set viewing records for the TUF show. This upcoming fight has the potential to smash all records and more than likely will do so in a decisive manner. If this were a battle between TUF show viewer ratings, this would end in a fast and vicious KO. 

The amazing fact of the matter is, this fight is only the third to take place for the entire season of TUF 10, not a finale. If you've been on the space station, or a deserted island, allow me to explain. The controversial newcomer to MMA, Kimbo Slice, is going to square off with decorated MMA veteran Roy Nelson. 

What would be just another episode in the road to the final has become one of the most discussed issues of recent memory in the sport. Not since UFC 100 have fans been so interested in a match up. While the ideas and perceptions of the situation may vary, one very important thing must be noted.

The sport of MMA is about to grow yet again in leaps and bounds. When Griffin and Bonnar fought, no one had any idea of who they were or what they could do in this sport. Kimbo's youtube hits could smash most PPV numbers of any fight on record, and Nelson is a highly recognized veteran of the sport.

Now in only the third episode of TUF 10, the two most recognizable names not coaching are going to figure out their strengths and weaknesses. This, not unlike the very first TUF show, will lure in and more than likely engage viewers that were just tuning in to catch a glimpse. Surely, if Kimbo and Nelson can do their part, those fans will also become a bit more dedicated, a bit more involved in the sport. 

At the end of the day, this is the biggest event in TUF history since Matt Serra shocked the world by taking out pound for pound champion Georges St. Pierre. While many fans have their opinions of the finer points of this match up, one thing is certain. 

MMA will gain from this. This will once again grab a hold of the casual audience and hopefully bring them over to our side of thinking.  Hopefully TUF 10 will find a way, like TUF One so many years ago, to further expand the following in this sport.

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