For the UFC, setting up the next season of The Ultimate Fighter may be a no-win situation for the company.
On the positive side, the show is likely to get the best ratings in years with Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen as opposing coaches. The meeting between the two coaches, which is scheduled for April 2013, will also be a big money boost as it may be the most hyped fight since Sonnen’s bout with Anderson Silva at UFC 148.
Of course, with any major decision like this, there are plenty of negatives.
For one, the UFC has made a mockery of its light heavyweight rankings by shooting Sonnen to a title shot without him even fighting a top 205-pounder. Perhaps even worse than Sonnen getting bumped to a title shot is UFC President Dana White’s comments about why other top contenders were passed over.
“Everyone of these guys that are bitching about a title show now, were offered the fight and turned it down. They refused to fight Jon Jones. Now they’re bummed out because Chael stepped up on eight days notice and he’s going to coach The Ultimate Fighter and fight him? I mean, it’s pretty simple,” White said.
The placing of Jones and Sonnen as coaches on TUF shows just how much the UFC values its reality show. If you ask me, it’s faith that’s misplaced in a dying show. The crop of fighters that enter each season seem to be getting worse and worse with each passing year. Sure, there are a few gems, but overall the quality of fighters (and thus fights) has been going steadily downhill.
The UFC realized this and began inserting coaches who could draw fans in to watch. Guys like Michael Bisping, Jason “Mayhem” Miller and Brock Lesnar are all guys not known for their coaching ability. They were brought in because they could attract fans in to drive up ratings. Lesnar, in particular, was a total flop, as the former champion just walked around talking about chicken salad and chicken shit for an entire season.
Can Sonnen and Jones save TUF? I’m not sure, but they will undoubtedly provide a massive ratings boost. Jones has become the most polarizing figure in MMA today, where fans love him or love to hate him. The same can be said of Sonnen as well given his “Chael P. Sonnen” persona and how much it’s helped his career thus far.
Ultimately, the bantering between Jones and Sonnen will overshadow the crop of fighters (just as the coaches do every year) and TUF should see its best ratings in years. Also helping the chance for a ratings increase is the decision to move the show off of Friday nights. Friday night is not a prime television-viewing night for the main demographic of the UFC, young males.
So the UFC’s reality program will likely be back for at least one season, but at what cost?
The UFC’s title picture is extremely clouded and now it’s become more evident that a fighter’s ability to sell a fight overshadows the actual ability to fight. Sonnen is a great fighter in his own right, but there’s no way a claim can be made that he deserves a title shot over Dan Henderson, Lyoto Machida, or the winner of Alexander Gustafsson vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua without using Sonnen’s salesman-like personality.
The fans that are fight purists—the ones that believe title shots should go to whoever has the best fight record—won’t like what’s happening in the light heavyweight division. But at the very least, it should be entertaining to watch.
Photo: (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)