In the wake of the premiere episode of the groundbreaking 21st season of The Ultimate Fighter to air globally, from incredible fights that helped build the sport (Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar) to wild behavior inside the house, we have seen pretty much every scenario imaginable. Yet, the introduction of women into the mix is historic and shows a clear evolution in how the UFC views women’s fights and the sport as a whole. But is this the last twist the UFC can place on an old idea?

The real key to the show’s continued success will depend upon the direction that the show takes in the coming seasons. In order to really captivate the MMA community, it must focus on the quality of the fighters and the fights they produce and less so on the back story of each individual fighter that has become the focus of other reality-based shows.

As with any long running series made for television, the format can easily become stale. After a while, it offers viewers few surprises, which can lead to experimentation with the format in the hope that it freshens things up for the established viewer and creates further interest outside the normal demographic.

Throughout the history of TUF, we have seen fighters move into the house largely dependent upon one particular martial art, with little care or attention to any other, only then to go on to become prominent mixed martial artists that have progressed into well-rounded household names, contenders and even champions.

If you are to look at the records of all TUF winners across the globe, it makes for good reading, clearly exemplifying that the stars of the present and future are constantly competing within the confines of the show in order to enhance their stock within the MMA community.

MMA has been experiencing a surge in the last 10 years or so, and TUF has been a great tool in kickstarting not just the fledgling careers of young fighters, but also showcasing the sport to a wider audience in order to gain further understanding and legitimacy from the masses.

Despite the undeniable pedigree that the show has for producing talent, it still struggles to capture the imagination quite like it used to when there was a real buzz for each new episode in the early going. However, in the latter seasons, despite still maintaining an interest from the hardcore fans, there is an inclination to skip to the end just to watch the fight.

So, with over eight years having passed since the first season aired, just how can the format be given a facelift to keep the viewer wanting more?

Tournament to Determine Rankings

UFC President Dana White recently criticised the MMA media for its ranking of Chael Sonnen, so he is clearly aware of the current shortcomings of the ranking system. With the current format of TUF, each show generally puts a division on hold for six to eight months whilst the show is being filmed and aired.

However, if the UFC were to come to a consensus top four in each division who could contest the next two title fights between them, the promotion could then focus on the remaining fighters placed five through 20, and that would provide a collection of 16 fighters who could contest an Ultimate Fighter show which would ultimately dictate the ranking moving forward.

If the UFC were to do this for each division in turn, it would mean that each division would get its turn every three to four years or so, thereby allowing enough time in between seasons for fighters to emerge and move up the rankings so that the rankings were a true reflection of the current landscape of a division at any given time.

Regional Winners vs. Regional Winners

The opportunities for the expansion of the UFC are often talked about and envisaged for the UFC over the next 10 years or so, with measures in place to take the sport to every corner of the globe on pay-per-view, as well as in TUF format.

If this is to be the case, then it could be done on a yearly basis whereby, at the same time every year, the winners of each regional competition travel to Las Vegas to live in the original TUF house and compete in one show to become the undisputed TUF champion of that particular year.

This would not only allow the cream of the crop to be discovered, but it would also allow fans to get behind their local fighters and thus create more interest. In sport, nothing creates interest quite like a local making it to the very top.

Fighters Choose Coach or Pick Fights

This idea has been used by Bellator in its launch of Fight Master and, indeed, the first few episodes were focused on this very premise. It offered an interesting twist, differing from any reality format that we had seen previously.

With the greater depth that the UFC has at its disposal, this format could be really successful and lead to character development of current UFC fighters as well those actually competing on the show.

We can now look back on The Ultimate Fighter and see clearly that it has evolved in various forms since the very beginning, but what we must see now is revolution.

In order to continue its success in developing high-level talent, as well as from a commercial standpoint, we must see improvements made to the format of the show to engage and entice the viewer to tune in each week.

The introduction of allowing the families to watch the elimination rounds is a move which goes some way to accomplishing this goal, as it allows for each competitor’s back story to be established from an early stage. However, this must be done in conjunction with, not at the expense of, the quality of the fights themselves.

Overall, no matter what tweaks and improvements are made to the way that the show is displayed on television, it is the quality of the fights that originally made it a success and will continue to do so. On that basis, it is important that the future winners follow in the footsteps of Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans and Michael Bisping in becoming top-tier competition in the UFC.

Photo: TUF Logo (Zuffa, LLC)

About The Author

Greg Byron
Staff Writer

Greg Byron started training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu after his brother introduced him to a local MMA fighter/coach when he was just 16 years old. Greg has trained for nearly a decade in both BJJ and MMA, competing in several grappling events within the UK. In addition to MMA, Greg possesses a law degree and works for a firm in northern part of England.