The Modern Relevance of "The Ultimate Fighter" | UFC NEWS

April 28, 2012 12:04 pm by Jake Chastain

By Jake Chastain:

So, at this point it is no secret that MMA is the world’s fastest growing sport, popularity-wise as well as competition-wise. Everywhere you turn there is a new MMA gym opening up with prospective fighters moving through its ranks, a new television program that wants to host an MMA promotion, and fans continue to spill over the already-packed railings of the MMA community. This is a great thing for those of us that love the sport so much. New clothing lines and sponsors are spawned, new fan events and expos are becoming more abundant, and most importantly; the absolute best fighters in the world are finally making their way into the sport as full time professional athletes.

MMA is rapidly sweeping the globe with popularity and the cause is not by luck or accident. The UFC has become such an amazingly successful sporting promotion that it almost puts every other MMA promotion to shame. I’m even confident enough to say that it puts other sporting promotions to shame in some aspects as well. What the UFC has single handedly done for the sport is remarkable. The way it has steadily grown, taken baby steps when necessary and giant leaps when it was able to, the way it held itself so professionally as “THE NUMBER ONE” MMA promotion on earth, and the way it still continues to flourish and grow in so many different areas, is astounding. And if you ask any fan or UFC executive what originally helped launch this ongoing growth they will all tell you the same thing: although it was a combination of several things done right, the debut of the UFC’s reality show, The Ultimate Fighter, was what sparked the raging fire we now see blazing across the sporting globe.

This show, which for the first 14 seasons aired on the “man-channel” of SPIKE TV, gained enormous popularity after its first season aired back in 2005. The finale featured one of the most popular and important fights in UFC history as Forrest Griffin scrapped with Stephan Bonnar for three rounds of non-stop stand-up action. The two solidified their place in MMA history after that fight, which was broadcasted over record breaking viewership numbers across the country. That season set the stage for a revolution in the MMA industry. Since season one the UFC has aired 13 other seasons, some of which showcased multiple weigh classes and an abundance of future talents. The Ultimate Fighter reality show has produced three UFC champions and an overwhelming number of other talents that are still vying to hold the UFC strap one day, and it wouldn’t be crazy to think that the reality show could produce another champion in the near future.

The UFC is now at a huge turning point in its ongoing evolution. The promotion recently signed a huge 7 year deal with FOX TV and has already begun making the many transition that they feel will take the sport and the promotion to an entirely new level. For starters, FOX is now in control of the reality show we were just talking about. The first season under the new FOX contract (which is the 15th installment in the reality series) is now airing on FX and is broadcasting every fight live on Friday nights. The transitions and adjustments made to the show have been abundant and at times hard to swallow, but as time goes on the changes will become less noticeable and the many adjustments will start paying off.

My point is that as the UFC has steadily grown and overtaken the sporting industry in such a rapid manner that there have been many things that have changed and have been adjusted to better suit the growth and popularity expansion of the UFC. However, one thing has not faded away: The Ultimate Fighter reality show.

In a business mindset one must always be willing to cut losses and move on to new and expansive ideas, but in order to stay legitimate over a long period of time one must also realize that the working pieces of a machine must be kept fresh, oiled, and running smoothly. This is exactly what the UFC is doing in its latest installment of the reality show. Small tweaks have been made to the show over time, some things that fans sometimes don’t even catch…but the important thing is that the show is producing new viewers, expanding its popularity, and is fishing out the best talent that the MMA community has to offer.

Here is something to think about: last season (season 14) showcased bantamweights and featherweights. It was the first time the show had played host to either of the two weight classes. At the season’s end I found it easy to say that the show had produced at least four or five legitimate UFC caliber fighters from its cast. These are promising numbers considering both the featherweight and bantamweight classes are newly adopted in the UFC, meaning the talent is still not as deep as most of the other weight classes. My point is that although many fans felt that last season was not as interesting or exciting as some of the seasons past, the main goal of the show was still reached: new talents were found…and both winners of season 14 could very well be title contenders in the future.

So even as old-school fans start to feel as if each season is the same thing re-spun over and over again the reality is that the show is still extremely successful in what it is setting out to do, and that’s to find all the hidden gems that are scattered and buried within the MMA community.

Now the UFC finds itself hosting its first “LIVE” season in Las Vegas (The Ultimate Fighter: Live) while it is also hosting its first ever TUF season abroad (The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil), which is being coached by legendary Brazilian fighters, Vitor Belfort and Wanderlei Silva. Not only is the show continuing to grow and transform in the U.S. but Dana White and the UFC brass have decided to take it a step further and take the show overseas. Brazil is the perfect stop for the first TUF season abroad because it has been widely considered by many to play home to many of the best MMA talents. This hosting a TUF season in the heart of Brazil seems like the perfect way to discover the best Brazilian talent. This is not only huge for the promotion and the sport but this will finally give the fans a chance to compare the fighting talent abroad to that produced here in the U.S. This is a giant step for MMA because there is often a debate about how many great fighters get passed over just because they never get the chance to showcase their skills on a big stage…well, it seems as if that problem is now solved. Brazil is the first stop, with the show currently airing as we speak, and White has expressed interest in taking the show to several other countries including India, the UK, and many more. I never would have imagined that 15 seasons into the reality series that I would have the ability to say that “this is just the tip of the iceberg.”

I felt that this was a relevant topic to discuss because I’ve recently noticed that the viewership ratings for TUF have dropped slightly and many fans have voiced their displeasure with how the series has started to transform its image and how the show has become less interesting with each passing season. Now, I’m not one to say that The Ultimate Fighter is not obligated to hook fans and keep us intrigued, but I just feel that I need to point out that the show is not solely for the fans. The Ultimate Fighter has become one of the easiest ways for the UFC to find new MMA talents and contenders while also creating characters that the organization can market in the future. The MMA evolution continues to transform and as it does so does The Ultimate Fighter reality show. As long as the show is being produced we can rest easy that new, competitive fighters are indeed on the rise. Keep your eyes open, fight fans…you don’t want to look over the next big thing in the sport. After all, he may just come from the next season of The Ultimate Fighter.

-Jake Chastain


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