The Ultimate Fighter Not What It Once Was, Personality Watering Down Competition
It is amazing sometimes how time can change perceptions, how what once was revered as a catalyst for rising talent can later become a sideshow geared at luring bubble gum fanatics.
As progress is made and results dissected, sometimes the bad comes with the good.
Such seems to be the case for the UFC's hit reality show on Spike TV known as The Ultimate Fighter.
It is no secret that one of the single most important fights in the history of the sport was a result of TUF competition between season one light heavyweight finalists Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin.
Forged in the fires of stiff competition amongst quality competitors, these two changed the entire landscape of the sport as the two best light heavyweights to come out of season one. Forrest Griffin eventually went on to win the UFC light heavyweight title.
Their one of a kind display of aggression, heart and open war captivated a sea of both MMA fans and unsuspecting future supporters of MMA.
Maybe they set the bar too high, but looking back over twelve TUF seasons, lately it seems to have become a watered down version of what it was once intended to be.
That is not to say TUF has not produced many great talents.
Names like Rashad Evans, Ryan Bader, Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez come to mind as competitors who have shined brightly since their run on TUF.
Then again, names like Escudero, Danzig, Lutter, Wilkes; they all won the show and never really saw their potential come to fruition in the UFC.
Why is that? How could a guy fight through that house and win that competition and then sputter out when they bump into UFC-caliber fighters?
There is one answer that makes a lot of sense. It is an answer that lies more in theory than actual fact, but the theory is a strong one without a doubt. It has to do with the selection process employed by the UFC.
The selection process is something that is not made public to the average fight fan. But for those in the know, for those who have attended TUF tryouts and been through the interview process, they note a frustrating trend when performing for and talking with UFC brass.
To put it bluntly fight fans, a fighter's doorway into today's TUF house is every bit as much about their personality as it is about their fighting abilities.
If one knows where to look and who to ask, there are testimonials upon testimonials of high caliber fighters who tried out only to be sent home to their regional promotions, families and friends.
Equally frustrating is the fact that more than a few low caliber fighters have been allowed a place in the house based primarily on their flamboyance more so than their abilities as a competitor.
So when a TUF winner finds himself in the finals, who did he have to beat, or who did his competition have to beat to make it there?
There are earlier seasons of TUF where the entire field yielded UFC-caliber fighters. Even the losers went on to impact their divisions.
Lately, it would seem that not even the winners are capable of making a dent.
That might have a lot to do with decent fighters being proven as such as they compete with heels, tools and clowns who were brought to the show to increase ratings, not the competition.
And that, fight fans, is a glaring problem with the current state of TUF.
How can a guy who looked so good beating up a Bruce Leroy, or a Jamie Yager honestly be expected to perform as well against a UFC seasoned veteran?
The bottom line is they can't. Beating up a sideshow who just so happens to know a few MMA moves is not the same as competing with a Dennis Siver or a Nate Marquardt. And when these gentlemen enter into this venture their entire goal is to make it to the UFC to make their mark against fighters just like that.
So how does it help the brand, both TUF and the UFC brand, and how does it help the fighters, both the TUF contestants and the veterans in the UFC? How does weaving in these TV-friendly personalities improve both the competition and in turn the sport?
Simply put fight fans, it doesn't. It promotes the watering down of so many aspects that they are hard to account for.
Now here we go again with the latest season of TUF with coaches Brock Lesnar and Junior Dos Santos, and at first glance what appears to be another lineup of hot heads and personalities.
Sure, the season just started, but it was not fight highlights that TUF showcased to tease for the upcoming season, it was temper tantrums and brawls outside the cage that were highlighted to keep viewers coming back.
What was featured as a lead-in to the rest of the season mirrored more of a group of two year olds needing a few minutes in time out, not a group of athletes focused on changing both their lives and this sport.
Once again, their abilities and potential are taking a backseat to their temper tantrums and immaturity.
Listen, personality is great. Look at what Tito Ortiz did for himself and the sport. Hell, even TUF winner Michael Bisping has taken his abrasive personality all the way to the bank.
But honestly fight fans, who gave a rat's ass about their personalities before they saw them fight?
It was their fights that drew fans in, not their antics or actions outside the cage. Douche bags are a dime a dozen, elite fighters are rare.
So why the allure to see guys many fight fans have never heard of, only to watch them act like infants long before they prove themselves as competitors? It makes no logical sense other than to say people love a train wreck.
The thing is, MMA is not at train wreck. Those days are deep in the rear view for the entire sport. Placating to the masses and giving the impression that this is the caliber of individual the UFC wants on board is counterproductive to say the least.
When a competitor can show up for TUF tryouts, steam rolls the competition, well, they should be welcomed with open arms into the house.
The sad fact is that if the guy next to them shows halfway decent talent but is a loose cannon, the first guy gets a ticket home and the goofball gets an invitation.
Sad but true, and again if you know who to ask, it happens much more than anyone might like to admit.
And to give credit where it is due, the UFC is running a business and they need to lure viewers to the show. So there is some marketing genius in what it is that they are doing, no one can deny that.
But looking back at the field of fighters who have competed for TUF and then made their way to the big show, lately the talent has seemed extremely watered down. With a few exceptions, like Jonathan Brookins, for example.
But in the end the bottom line is that quality fighters—real competitors—are being left on the table so showboats and clowns can increase ratings. The sad thing is, that is a shortsighted approach in many people's opinions.
To focus on the ratings of TUF more so than legitimately increasing competition and recruiting the absolute best fighters out there is an overall detriment to the UFC. Listen, Jamie Yager quit on his stool when he competed on TUF.
The Dana White many fight fans know would never welcome a kid who quit after two rounds of exhibition fighting into his UFC.
But the allure of Jamie Yager the heel, not Jamie Yager the fighter, was too much for the UFC to pass on. Therefore, Yager was offered a chance to fight in the UFC.
It makes no logical sense. Hell, Jose Canseco would fight in the UFC if they let him, and who wouldn’t want to see him get his ass kicked by Randy Couture?
But if this sport is ever going to become what it is capable of being, the time will have to come where the competition dictates opportunity, not personality.
There are hundreds of fighters in our own backyards who have a bad taste in their mouth who would 100 percent agree with that sentiment.
They have to sit at home and watch the Yagers fumble their way through the competition while they work twice as hard to make their own opportunities in this sport.
Lord knows if they had shown their asses during the interview process that might have given them with a chance to prove their worth to this sport and maybe even make a dent in their division, as opposed to these one-and-done clowns who have no business being at this level of competition.
From a business standpoint it is understandable why the process goes as it does. But in the long term it seems like a recipe that will justify many of the detrimental perceptions that critics have for this sport.
Someone should say something.
This article originally featured at Hurtsbad MMA.
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