Despite showcasing its biggest star, the Ultimate Fighter reality series has failed to produce solid traction among its target audience.
Season 10 of the Ultimate Fighter brought in the UFC’s biggest draw in Brock Lesnar and rising striking artist Junior Dos Santos. The season opener shattered Spike Television’s records, but fell off the tracks shortly thereafter.
This derailing started after Season 2 saved UFC. Not too long ago in 2005, the UFC was struggling to reach the public. When the UFC presented Spike with the idea of a reality show, Spike rolled the dice and won.
Season 1 was a revelation to the public. With fighters like Kenny Florian, Forrest Griffin and Nate Quarry, the audience were pleasantly surprised to see that the world of Mixed Martial Arts consisted of educated men. What was once referred famously as “Human Cock-Fighting” by Senator McCain was in fact a true sport of heart and skill.
The season concluded with a main card that had four of its biggest characters challenging each other for two of the UFC’s contracts. The opening bell brought Kenny Florian against the charismatic Diego Sanchez. Hundreds of thousands started tuning in as the two fought for the crown. Sanchez outhustled Florian and was awarded the TKO victory, but both heads were raised high as the audience roared with appreciation. What the two men did not know is that their performance would start a wave of television viewers. Hundreds of thousands were tuning in by the second.
When Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonner took the stage the viewers kept turning their television to Spike and their bloody fight registered with one million viewers. It was a beginning of a long love affair with Spike and the UFC.
Unfortunately for Spike they did not use the same formula for the following seasons. Season 2, with personalities like Rashad Evans, brought in viewers, but was mostly riding on the momentum of the first season.
What the series has revealed is how loyal the UFC fans are. It also has revealed how it cannot keep new viewers. Spike and the UFC are masters at promoting an event. In the Ultimate Fighter’s case, it is the season premiere which is usually met with a huge opening. Unfortunately the show is not a one-time event and television viewers have little patience.
So what does Spike and the UFC need to do to get back on track to yield new viewers? If it is true that we learn from history, then they simply need to repeat what they did on Season 1. It seems the seasons of late have consisted of personalities that frankly are not too interesting.
The UFC and Spike have focused too much on the coaches and less on the fighters. What Season 1 did so well is it made the fighters the stars. At the end of the season viewers really were not interested in the Hall of Fame coaches, Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell. Rather, they were transfixed on the fighters—what would Chris Leben break next time in the house? Would it be Josh Koscheck’s face? What would Quarry or Florian do to keep the house and the team together?
As MMA fighters and fans, we are not interested in showcasing established fighters trying to coach athletes. Brock Lesnar said himself recently that he is an athlete not a coach. We see these fighters who are called “Coaches” bringing their real coaching staff to teach the fighters. What is left is a convoluted mess to the viewer. Who is being showcased anyway? It surely is not the potential Ultimate Fighter.
In my heart I know that the savior of the UFC and Spike TV can come back to reign again and reach a wider demographic. Get back to your roots, UFC. Showcase the fighters and you will not only garner new interest, but also gain the ambassadors like those that Season 1 produced for you.