By Zach Arnold | June 19, 2013
On a night where we saw War Machine return to action and win, Babalu retire after a loss, and Seth Petruzelli get blitzed by King Mo, Bellator launched Fight Master on Spike TV.
The format of the show revolves around four coaches (Joe Warren, Greg Jackson, Randy Couture, and Frank Shamrock) and qualifying fighters picking the coach they want to work with in training camps. The personality of the four coaches is great and Frank Shamrock absolutely shines with his strong, devious personality. It’s a lot of fun to watch. Jimmy Smith plays the role of Dana White (bald, no tie, in-cage instruction guy) and semi-hosts the show by leading the interaction between the fighters and the coaches. Some of the obversations by the coaches are great. Personal highlight was Joe Warren getting burned by having a fighter he didn’t want selecting him as their coach. One fighter ripped on Shamrock by saying he’s an old guy from a bygone era and couldn’t teach anything about today’s MMA scene.
The idea of the show being dominated by the personality of the coaches is the core strength of the show. It also leads to the show’s core weakness.
The biggest problem with The Ultimate Fighter is that the show declined in ratings due to the fact that UFC was no longer recruiting the best fighters to participate on the show. If the UFC wants a hot free agent, they’ll simply sign them to a new contract. By doing this, they undercut the prospects of their own reality show because what you end up with are fighters on TUF who win the reality show and then go nowhere on UFC undercards.
Bellator & Spike attempt to cover up this flaw now in the MMA talent pool by putting most of the focus on the coaches rather than the fighters. It may help the television rating of the show but it still doesn’t address the fact that UFC has so many fighters under contract that it is tough to recruit that hot, new prospect for a reality show because the depth just doesn’t exist right now. This is the glass ceiling that will prevent reality shows like TUF and Fight Master from becoming really popular.
As evidenced by Wednesday’s debut show, we didn’t get to see a whole lot of in-cage action with the fighters. It was simply highlights and then focusing on the reality TV drama as to which coaches the fighters wanted to work with.
For a one-hour reality TV show, it dragged. And dragged. And dragged some more. The editing by Spike was awful. There were a million commercial breaks and right before a fighter selected a coach, they cut away to a commercial. It was the perfect excuse for the viewer at home to switch the channel to go watch the Boston Bruins/Chicago Blackhawks game or another program on television. And when Fight Master came back from commercial break, the fighter picked the coach and we moved onto another fighter. Rinse and repeat.
I came away mildly interested in the show because I really like the coaches and think that there’s potential with this show due to the different feel than the bland, cookie-cutter Ultimate Fighter format. With that said, I’m not sure how seriously fans will take the show because of the lack of talent available for a reality TV show like this. Also, Bellator isn’t a strong brand name like the UFC so I’m not sure if the Spike TV brand will carry the day on this. The hook for UFC’s reality show is that you get a contract with the UFC. That means something to the masses. Does the hook of a fighter winning a contract with Bellator mean much to the viewers at home?
I’m keeping an open mind for this show but only for a couple of more weeks.