Even though it was actually the second episode of the season, last Friday night played host to the first episode of the new format of The Ultimate Fighter.  It can be argued that the UFC was on its last legs the prior to the first season of the reality show, and the show is the reason that the promotion has gone from near bankruptcy to the biggest mixed martial arts promotion on the planet.

With each and every season, there have been a couple of tweaks to the format, such as fighters being eliminated through challenges in the first season, having to win an entry fight in the seventh season or a wildcard slot for the second round of fights in the 11th season.  The big thing implemented this season was that the fight at the end of the show would air live, rather than the previous format which left viewers watching a taped fight.  This change drastically changed how long a season will play out.  Because each fight airs live every Friday night, the season will take place over a 13-week period, rather than the normal six-to-eight week taping period of the past.

Like most reality television shows, the fighters on The Ultimate Fighter are sealed from the outside world and do not get to listen to the radio, watch television, or make phone calls.  In nearly every season of the show, there has been an eruption or two between the fighters at the house.  If you think about it, it is inevitable.  They are thrown into a melting pot where they have to share the same kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and personal space as their competition.  With the extended number of weeks this season, there is even more time for fighters to get on each others nerves and explode. Personalities are destined to clash with one another throughout the course of the show.

The conflict created between fighters will not be the only difference, however.  One of the more heartbreaking things that has happened in the show’s history took place last week, when Michael Chiesa fielded a phone call early in the show.  Any diehard fan of the show immediately knew that something was up because they can remember Noah Inhofer walking off of the third season when he demanded to call his girlfriend to dispel rumors that he had cheated on her.  Chiesa’s phone call was from his family to inform him that his father had passed away.  Unfortunately, death is a part of life, and the fact that the show unfolds over the course of a week allowed Dana White to allow him to fly home and attend the service and get back in time to train for the week.  Not only that, it was revealed that Chiesa’s father had been sick for a while, but because the elimination fights aired live, his father was able to watch before he died.

Because of the different length of the season, it really changes the dynamic of the show.  All of a sudden fighters have a week to prepare themselves and train for the fight, rather than just a couple of days.  A fighter who excels in the stand up game who gets paired with a strong wrestler will be able to work exclusively on takedown defense for several days, rather than a one to two day cram session before being thrown into the Octagon.  Additionally, the world knows what fight is coming.

Another positive to the extended format is that it allows for fighters to heal from injuries.  Often times, even when victorious, fighters are medically suspended for a period of time.  Even though the fights on the show are considered amateur contests, the Nevada State Athletic Commission still oversees things.  Cast member Jeremy Larsen was already medically suspended due to a laceration on his head from his elimination fight.  According to the NSAC, he cannot compete until April 16, however he could have been cleared as early as last Friday.  Knowing that he didn’t fight last week and won’t fight this week gives him more and more time to heal the cut, which may not have happened in previous seasons.

One of the best things that comes out of this new format is that we regain the element of surprise as to when a fight will end.  It didn’t take long to figure out in the old format if a fight went the distance or was a quick finish.  If the fighters were walking to the cage in seasons past with seven-minutes left in the hour long episode, you knew you were going to see the fight finished in the first round.  If the fight started just past the 30-minute mark, a three-round decision loomed. If Friday night’s episode was any indication, it appears as though the fight will start with roughly 10 minutes left in the hour-long block.

This scenario poses interesting questions, however.  We saw the show last longer than the regular time slot because of the fight selection and from this it is safe to believe that if a fight goes all three rounds, the episode could run 25-minutes long. This is assuming that the fight does not require a timeout scenario that comes from a low blow or an eye poke. This could present a problem in the future.  The UFC got away with it in the first episode, only running  long by a few minutes. Fans who missed it live and watched it on their DVR likely saw the whole fight, but missed the fight selection.

And there are going to be questions as the season progresses.  Like what is going to happen if a fighter misses weight on Thursday evening so badly that they cannot shed the additional weight?  In the past, it has been a first class ticket home, and the show moved on.  If that would happen again, there wouldn’t be a fight to air on Friday night, which hurts the format of the show.

Time will tell, but in the meantime we have to wait each Friday night to learn about the events of the week, to watch the fight, and find out who will square off in the week that follows.  So far, the live format appears to be a hit, but we will have to wait and see if that keeps up as the season progresses.

Photo: Mike Chiesa reflects on the loss of his father (Zuffa, LLC)

About The Author

Brian McKenna
Staff Writer

Brian McKenna was born and raised in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. A sports nut from as long as he can remember, he came to be a fan of Mixed Martial Arts from a roommate watching The Ultimate Fighter while attending Westfield State College. Brian came to writing by starting his own blog, Four Down Territory, which focuses on Boston based sports, life, and of course MMA.