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Disappear? TUF S**t!

By John Philapavage | December 18, 2007

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I wish The Ultimate Fighter would just disappear. That’s right. Cease to exist. I don’t want to hear how it’s declined, or how it never was, any more. I don’t want to hear how it built the sport, or how it builds a mainstream fan base anymore. Let’s just cancel the contracts, go our separate ways, and three years down the line we can figure out if the show had any value in making new stars or not.

These are the kind of thoughts I have anytime I sit and read the net, or turn on my I-Pod and listen to an MMA podcast. It’s a big sticking point with the five percent nation –you know, you the hardcore reading this right now – that Dana White and UFC have become the devil, and the signature show of this evil ministry involves these poor kids with limited experience on Spike TV.

I’m sorry, it’s not the fighter. It’s the show.

We ALWAYS love the fighters, even if we haven’t figured out it should be because they take a few years to develop, and this is a show to find diamonds in the rough. What’s that phrase, “love the sinner, hate the sin”? Tommy Speer must be saying a lot of Hail Marys.

I realize the show needs an overhaul, but essentially, it is what it is. If they take out drunken fights it’s just guys sitting around. If it’s just straight training it appeals to a smaller demographic of people. If we add games and challenges, go past what the first season had, then the 5% nation will shun the show. The Ultimate Fighter has to serve a lot of masters, and that’s before it gets debated at sites like this.

The casting of the show is only 1/3 the UFC’s choice to begin with. Spike TV officials like Spike senior vice president of sports and specials Brian J. Diamond have a hand in casting, along with the Production Company Executive Producer Craig Piligian. Then Dana White gets his say. Spike wants entertaining contestants, Piligian wants compelling TV, and White wants the best fighters. You figure out the equation.

Some argue the burden lies on UFC more then the three-way split indicates. Fight Opinion’s Zach Arnold and Sherdog’s Jordan Breen have passionately painted a picture of the negligence during the selection process on UFC’s part. They point to the tryout itself. A fighter (or anyone who wants to come) travels to a regionally selected hotel, where they wait around all day and fill out forms. When it’s your turn, you hit some pads, and another randomly selected fighter rolls with you for a very short period. That is supposed to show whether they’d like to see more of you or not. That’s it. From recent reports I’ve read of actual tryouts, that is a completely accurate depiction.

Breen pointed out two other talking points that hinder the process. Fighters like Drew Fickett, Roger Huerta, and Jon Fitch all tried out, and when they showed potential, instead of being put on the show they were drafted right to the UFC. Not only have instances like that hurt the show, but critics like Breen argue that the compromise of a “drama” fighter with the network has gotten lazy.

And there’s also the argument that having fighters for dramatic effect inside the house does not mean they have to lack talent inside the octagon. I agree, and I’d point to Chris Leben and Josh Koscheck from season one as proof.

“It’s TV, it goes without saying Spike and the producers are going to be trying to manufacture drama for the get go,” stated Breen in an e-mail inquiry. “But that doesn’t mean that ‘drama’ fighters have to be garbage fighters. The first season showed this. Good fighters can still have personalities and personas. However, actual talent and accomplishment does not appear to be much of the a qualifier to get on the show at this point. It’s not good enough to say ‘This guy is on there as a plant, just as a character’. You can have dramatic personalities within guys who can actually fight.” I thought about paraphrasing him, but the quote sums it up so well, I left it in. Point taken, Breen.

Beyond the casting, or the hand cuff of the show having to take place in Las Vegas, the real problem might be the fighters themselves. MMA fans have this bizarre idea that there are top level fighters sitting around that UFC ignores and doesn’t put on the show.


Where are these main event level fighters that will burst onto the scene? UFC started a vacuum with TUF 1, and anyone who is anyone is anyone has signed with one of a million upstarts of is one of 200 UFC contract fighters. However, if they did exist – and granted UFC should come to tryouts with scouting reports and having made several invitation calls – those fighters would be signed to much better deals then the horrible TUF contracts. Even if you find these magical fighters, the fact they are on TUF makes them “reality stars” in many condescending eyes (therefore, being irrelevant).

Everyone has a cure-all, and I’m no different. I’ve got my hack writer idea for what would entertainment me, and everyone else be damned! I would take a page from IFL, since they aren’t going to be around to be compared anyway, and grab famous coaches/or trainers. Now you have your Tito Ortiz types with Team Punishment, and obviously he’ll have guys in the UFC and others in rival organization. So Have Tito, or Dan Henderson at Team Quest for example, and you tell them to grab 2 guys at certain weights from their team.

Obviously that’s not a full team. So the first two episodes would be these known fighter/coaches going across the nation grabbing lower level guys and giving them a shot at their gym and therefore, the TUF show. And hey, make it smaller teams and four coaches (how about throwing in Greg Jackson. He’s been good to your bottom line), so it doesn’t take all of their time of. I took that off the top of my head. It’s no better or worse then anything else I’m hearing.

Or they could give us Rampage and Forrest as coaches, and the same people who hate it will hate it, and the same people who love it will love it. Typical.

Look. Everyone wants to fix The Ultimate Fighter. Everyone is so concerned or offended with its existence. But the ratings are pretty much the same and the guys coming off it have ten times the chance of making the sport mainstream – everyone’s supposed goal – then any of a hundred skilled, but colorless, fighters.

So cancel it. Disappear!

Then come back two years later and tell me how PPV and TV numbers look. I’m tired of hearing about it. That’s my brilliant solution.

Topics: All Topics, John Philapavage, Media, MMA, UFC | 15 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

15 Responses to “Disappear? TUF S**t!”

  1. Luke says:

    Johnny…that was quite the rant. I’ve been feeling similarly recently. I don’t think the program needs to be overhauled, just fix the selection process, and everything should be fine.

    I have no problem with prospects being put on TUF to gain some exposure so people know who they are when they fight on PPV, or a UFC Fight Night card.

  2. Zack says:

    Someone in Stamford, CT is angry that he didn’t get a double decker on TV first.

  3. Jordan Breen says:

    For reference, I said that Fickett was on Zuffa’s radar. He didn’t tryout I don’t think, however Zuffa went to watch him fight Florian. They ended up putting Florian on the show and giving Fickett a pass into the UFC.

  4. I don’t watch TUF at all (although I do watch the finales, which I consider a totally different animal).

    However, Forrest recently indicated in an interview that he felt like the TUF experience helped him out by exposing him to training techniques that actual UFC fighters were involved with, and putting him in a kind of intense training camp type environment.

    The bootcamping aspect may have value for guys who are on the cusp as fighters. The TV show part is pretty much a waste of time though. Ultimately, it’s a good excuse to let someone else pay for you to put a dozen or so guys in one place for six weeks, train them, and hold smoker fights.

    Is that bad?

  5. Paul Horton says:

    Here’s some free consulting for Dana & Zuffa:

    1. Take your best fighters (all 16 should be TOP guys).

    2. Turn TUF into a tourney for them to win a Grand Prix belt

    3. Each week bring in different trainers with specialties (like in American Idol)

    4. Let them leave the house like other reality shows or at least allow them entertainment (dudes with their shirts off sitting around doing nothing is boring bullshit)

    5. Losers go to the loser house and off set.

    Viola! Hit show that gives HUGE, unprecedented exposure to fighters you don’t have to worry about being scrubs.

    I know why Dana doesn’t do this but I leave that out for now and just put this out there…

  6. Jim Allcorn says:

    I almost feel as if I should apologize for still enjoying the show, what with all the TUF hate & backlash against it. But, f**k it! I doubt I’ll ever stop watching.

    That having been said however, I’ll be among the very first to agree that the show could use an overhaul. Something, almost anything at this point to add some life to what’s become a stale formula.

    And, the quality of it’s contestants/fighters has got to be improved somehow. ‘Cause, honestly, this last lot ( aside from Mac Danzig, of course ) was pretty pathetic. I mean, c’mon. Richie Hightower proved in the finale that he’s a scrappy kid with a big set of balls, but he’s definitely NOT UFC material.
    And you can imagine what that has to say about that poor, skinny southern kid that he actually managed to beat up rather quickly & easily in his lone win on the show!

  7. Luke says:

    Paul – I don’t see why thats necessary. Whats wrong with finding good young prospects to put on the show? You can still go out and find the best trainers for them, etc. But UFC doesn’t need PRIDE’s Grand Prix tournaments. I think they’ve proven that through the last two years.

  8. I don’t think that this needs to be an all-star tournament, but it IS a good opportunity to stage a real tournament, since you have six or more weeks to run your first two rounds of two eight man tournaments.

    The wrinkle comes where you have to disclose fight results for sanctioned fights when they occur.

    TUF can have their non-record unsanctioned fights and keep the results secret so that there’s a hook to the show, but you can’t pull that with a real tournament.

    You’d end up with something more similar to the IFL scenario where you know what the results are weeks in advance of any televised bouts. I’m not sure how that would float. Especially since they currently shoot starting months before the show premiers.

  9. Luke makes a great point about the shows direction. I’d think the average person would enjoy finding new guys with the idea of watching them become stars. I’d think the idea of established stars would be self contained, in that it would only capture people for 8-12 weeks, and then the only stars are 2-3 people who already were anyway, while damaging to the public anyone losing in the first two rounds.

    What completely supersedes the above point is that we’re talking about putting the 16 best in a free TV tourney. That’s 8-12 weeks of fun for free for anyone who catches on, but the ratings increase would never be enough to justify the money lost. This year UFC was projected to gross 180-195 million on PPV. Last year that figure was roughly 220 million. Now of course they only keep about 40%, but think for a second about that. I took two years because not all major fighters fight in one year, and definately not in marquee matchups. It’s not perfect, but we’ll use two years in relation to the 16 top stars fighting on TUF idea.

    220 mil plus, we’ll say 185 this year, is thats 405 million and I’ll be lazy and cut it in half to 200 mill. The real figure is below this, but not below 170 million in revenue. One season of TUF doesn’t pay out anything like that. In fact, the whole Spike deal is reportedly 100 million. The effect to the future isn’t going to blow things up because casual fans don’t get hooked by great fights, they get hooked by drama or a fighters look and personality at first, unless the guy is a Mike Tyson and runs through everyone. See Houston Alexander about that road.

  10. “Five percent nation”, huh? How’s that for an obscure hip-hop/religion reference? You must have the Knowledge, Wisdom and Understanding.

    BTW, cancelling TUF is OK with me. I prefer The Contender, even though I’m much more of an MMA fan than a boxing fan.

  11. Luke says:

    Thanks John. I think TUF has been critical to UFC’s success, and judging by the number of rankable fighters the program seems to have uncovered, I think its worth continuing. UFC just needs to start exercising some muscle, and get some stronger fighters on the program.

    I’m not sure that UFC has the strength to influence Spike or Piligian Films into shifting some of the focus onto the quality of the fighter, but if they’re not fighting that battle, they need to start. As others have said, being a strong personality, and a good fighter are not mutually exclusive.

  12. RL Dookie says:

    The last season was a dud, talent-wise, but every previous season has resulted in five or six solid and exciting new fighters entering the fold.

    Season 4 resulted in the rejuvenated careers for another five or six veterans, not to mention a current champion.

    I neither love nor hate the show, but you really can’t deny that it’s effects on the UFC go beyond popularity and ratings: it’s producing top fighters.

    Also, peace to the gods and the earths.

  13. Swedish guy says:

    One thing that I for one can’t understand is why the show HAS to be taped so long in advance? Why can’t it be televised while it’s being filmed?

    It’s not all that hard editing together a weeks worth of events in the fighter house/on the fighter bus as above/in the fighters’ homes or whatever format they prefer/ to a mere 42 minutes of television.

    The UFC could open up a world of new show possibilities through making the show semi-live, perhaps with some sorts of feedback for the potential audience (“NEXT MONDAY the TUF bus stops at YOUR TOWN where you’ll be able to roll around with rampage, forrest and the 16 contestants…” and then two days after, on the wednesday, BOOM, it’s on national television and the 16-40 year old males attracted to TUF can watch themselves.

    No one knows ahead who wins, what happens or who wins sanctioned bouts. At least not if they play it smart.
    As with you John, this is just off the top of my head. Sorry for the incomprehensible language use but it’s early sunday the day before christmas eve and I’m at work… that sucks.

  14. CHris says:

    yea hoenstly, TUF needs to go. it should have gone last season.

    Hopefullly M-1 finds another way otehr than a TUF like show to compete with the UFC

  15. JASON2006 says:

    John…You must be mad that the TUF guys can beat the PRIDE “superstars”. It is all about exposure for MMA and I thank Dana and Zuffa for everything they have done for our sport!!!

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