By Zach Arnold | September 18, 2014
There are many things bad reality TV shows can be guilty of but the cardinal sin of failure is being boring. The Ultimate Fighter 20, the all-female MMA fighter edition on Fox Sports 1, is the worst of all Ultimate Fighter worlds. Every lousy aspect from previous seasons, so far in the first two episodes, has been compiled into one package of awfulness.
This is not what I envisioned when UFC announced an all-female version of The Ultimate Fighter. I can’t imagine that long-time supporters of women’s MMA are enthralled by Zuffa’s presentation so far.
Before the launch of TUF 20, I was asked by a national media reporter how UFC would market TUF 20 and women’s MMA in the future. I said the biggest problem facing the company is the fact that 80% of UFC’s current demographic is male and that their main concern is promoting female fighters would be trying to market it towards men the same way Spike TV marketed Manswers. The same way that Jim Rome asked Ronda Rousey about sex. There’s a reason fans thought it was OK to ask Ronda Rousey about her sex life after the Jim Rome interview.
While I was concerned about the way UFC would present female fighters on The Ultimate Fighter, my concern was about how UFC would portray the female fighters and if they would do it right. Right meaning not scripted. Right meaning educating fans on a women’s MMA world they didn’t know much about. Right meaning that we would get to see how complex & difficult the road has been for them to make it to the UFC. There’s a lot of compelling stories to tell.
Too bad UFC and Fox decided to blow it on the storytelling front. This show, so far, is excruciatingly boring and not very educational at all.
There are several points of emphasis that I want to address in regards to why the launch of TUF 20 has been lousy so far.
1. The training — what are the fighters being taught?
The UFC’s trademark has been to two bring in two high-profile coaches to teach the contestants new skills. You would think that those skills would be shown on television. Perhaps some real education on moves like inverted triangles, D’Arce chokes, and north-south chokes. You and I know what those moves are but the masses don’t necessarily know the finer points of Eddie Bravo’s Electric Chair.
So what did the UFC focus on with Anthony Pettis & Duke Roufus? Felice Herrig criticizing Pettis and crew for over-coaching. What exactly Pettis and Roufus were over-coaching on, I’m not sure. Neither is the television viewer.
Not once during this process did we learn any techniques that Roufus or Pettis were teaching the fighters. No strategy. No technical analysis. Nothing. The first 40 minutes of the second episode was a complete waste of time until the fight.
Here’s a tip to UFC: if you’re going to bring in high-profile coaches to train fighters, teach the viewers at home some knowledge of the kinds of moves the fighters are being taught. For God’s sakes, I watched Bellator do a better job of educating male fans by using the Bellator girls with Jimmy Smith in minute-long skits than anything TUF has shown since moving to the Fox television platform.
Most notorious coaching advice ever: "Sit back. Sit on her face!" I don't know whether we're ready for this. #TUF20
— Stephie D (@CrooklynMMA) September 18, 2014
2. Where’s the color on the individual fighters?
Color not as in skin but color as in personality.
Look, we get why they brought Felice Herrig on the show. It’s questionable they ranked her the sixth best fighter in a 16-woman tournament. I get it. She’s eye candy. She’s the talker. OK. So be it. But, so far, the presentation of Herrig has been rather shallow. So has the presentation of the other fighters on the show has also been rather shallow as well. Hey, look, here’s that teaser by the narrator stating “an innocent game turns raunchy.”
Yes, there have been a few segments here and there of a few minutes in length like the profile feature on Emily Kagan moving to Israel only to come back to Albuquerque. But there is no real definition of these fighters to the audience watching at home. There’s no list of two or three specialized moves in offense or defense. Hell, the audiences have no idea what kind of martial arts disciplines these fighters represent. Let the female fighters tell their professional and personal story. Stop putting them into this cookie cutter Ultimate Fighter marketing box that has been a recent failure.
You can’t tell me that these fighters don’t have great stories to tell. Where are the awe-inspiring video packages displaying the finishing abilities of the fighters in the tournament? Dana White says we have the 16 best 115-pounders in the world. OK, give me some PRIDE-style video packages showing why they are awesome. Do something to market them!
3. Stop airing the fights towards the end of the shows
By airing the fights towards the end of the shows, you can pretty much predict right off the bat whether a bout is a two or a three rounder. And if it’s a two rounder, whoever wins the first round is going to win the fight. So, by in large, this tactic is a drama killer.
The fight needs to air in the middle of the program. There needs to be some time to breathe after the bout occurs for a more full-flavored reaction from both teams. Plus, give the show a chance to build up next week’s fight rather than rushing the fight announcement at the very end. Let the natural & organic drama percolate. Stop forcing everything into a template.
Let the fighters themselves dissect what happen. Stop inserting Uncle Dana into the process like a game show host.
Bottom line? I know that there’s a lot of supporters of women’s MMA who are taking it easy publicly on TUF 20 and don’t want to say anything negative because they want to see women’s MMA grow. Privately, they’ll state the obvious but publicly they’re not ready to do so yet.
You can come up with all sorts of rating computations to say that millions of people watched TUF 20 if you combine DVR viewers & live viewers & network re-airs. I get it. Telling the world that 3 million people watched the debut show sounds great. Is the show going to air on network television every week? Likely not. How many re-airs will there be on FS1? Staying power is the real issue here. So far, I’ve seen very little from TUF 20 that will convince the casual MMA fan to stick around for the next two months. The first two fights have been OK to watch but nothing special. The rest of the time is filler and not educational at all. If the format does not change for TUF 20, this will be a significantly wasted opportunity for UFC. I do not blame the contestants on this show at all if this experiment doesn’t meet or exceed expectations. The ingredients for success are right there.