The year 2005 marked a pinnacle moment in the history of sports culture. Eagerly yearning to take their company to the next level, the owners of the UFC decided to take a gamble in creating an innovative media product to showcase to the world what mixed martial arts is all about. Fresh, revolutionary and very appealing to the public eye, the reality-based fight television show The Ultimate Fighter is considered to this day as the catalyst which propelled the UFC and the sport of MMA to mainstream status.

However, as the profit started to rise and fame seemed to be setting in, something changed. Eight years of filming and 16 seasons later, this great show once known for exposing the passion and great talents that exist in MMA has dwindled down to a state of mediocrity and overrated publicity which has overshadowed what the show truly stands for.

During the course of its lengthy run, The Ultimate Fighter has definitely undergone a lot of changes, some of which have hurt the show’s reputation. One of the biggest contributors to the tarnishing of the show is the increase in the number of seasons aired per year. When the show first burst onto the scene in 2005, the creators constructed an elaborate outline of two seasons per year with a three- to four-month gap period in between to let spectators soak in all the events that occurred from that particular season.

Flash forward to 2012 and this strategy is no longer being employed. Last year, a total of four seasons of the show—seasons 15 and 16 of the core American series, plus the international TUF Brazil and TUF Smashes—emerged. Some of the seasons ran concurrently—season 15 and TUF Brazil aired from March to June 2012, and season 16 and “The Smashes” aired from September to December 2012.

The managing of the product during these time frames appears to be completely unorganized, with no conscious thought about the material’s presentation. In addition, dual concurrent seasons can be very smothering for the viewer because it leaves one in a tailspin due to there being so many things going on at one time instead of the focus being generated toward one show within those three months of viewing.

Another downside to this is that although the fighters get some exposure from being on the show, it also hurts their reputation in the long run. In the early years of The Ultimate Fighter, the greatest asset to the rise of these athletes was the show’s presentation of each fighter. This technique allowed the audience to build a connection with characters they loved or despised through the events that occurred during the competitor’s journey to become the champion of that season.

This year introduced us to a huge pool of 64 fighters (16 contenders each season) that made it into the fight house to become the next Ultimate Fighter. With the promotion and its network partner obviously more concerned with pushing the brand at the end of the day, the participants involved are at the losing end of the stick.

Whether it was because of the change in the time slot or day of the week on which the program aired, TUF 16 produced the worst ratings in the franchise’s history. However, although the UFC may have lost that battle, it will still remain a wealthy business regardless of the outcome. The real victims are the hard-working fighters—including the winner of that season, Colton Smith, who got more negative feedback than good during his time on the show—featured on the show that are barely even noticed or recognized by the average fan.

Damage control needs to be seriously implemented in order to not only save the reputation of the show, but also to make it relevant to the fans again. Programs like TUF Brazil and other overseas counterparts need to be removed from the UFC’s televised programing. With past seasons filled with fighters from different countries, including the United States, Brazil and England, there is no need to add additional shows to the TUF marque. Airing a single edition of the show around the globe would be more effective.

Finally, the UFC needs to go back to the strategy which sparked its rise in popularity. By going back to airing two seasons of the show per year with a four- to five-month break in between each season, the company gains enough time to go over better ideas for the next taping. In addition, it assists in generating more attention to one season, which helps the fighters get more exposure and raises the possibility for the network of accumulating higher ratings.

No matter how one looks at the situation that is playing out today, without question The Ultimate Fighter is a major contributor to the constant rise of mixed martial arts. With the new editions of The Ultimate Fighter 17: Jones vs. Sonnen and TUF Brazil 2 airing around the same time, it seems as though the creators are continuing their strategy from last year. But perhaps the UFC should reevaluate its philosophy in order to return the show to the glory of its prominent years, else running the risk of continuing on in mediocrity with no effort to show the true essence of what mixed martial arts is all about. In the case of The Ultimate Fighter, it’s quite possible that less really is more.

Photo: The Ultimate Fighter 17 (Zuffa/FX)

About The Author

Monta Wiley
Staff Writer

Monta Wiley is an aspiring sports journalist that has covered the world of MMA and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He has been a regular contributor to US Combat Sports. Monta has a Bachelor's degree in Aviation Administration from California State University-Los Angeles. Outside of his writing, you can find Monta at the gym honing his BJJ technique.

  • Beau Dure

    I’d argue that they might want to cut U.S. production down from two seasons to one, then make a bigger deal of the overseas seasons. TUF Smashes was the best of the four TUF seasons produced last year. I don’t think Americans would turn away from it just because it was all foreigners.

    So I like the idea of having a single TUF going around the globe, but I wouldn’t get rid of TUF Brazil. It’s clearly a good idea to produce it, given the massive ratings in Brazil, and the hard-cores at least will want to see it in the USA. (That’s a little more challenging to air to a mainstream audience than TUF Smashes because subtitles can wear down viewers’ patience.)

    • monta

      yes great point beau !! But lets just say if “The Smashes” gets watered down like every other TUF show…then it becomes overated and mediocre…