Thoughts on The Ultimate Fighter From Former Participants

The most recent installment of The Ultimate Fighter has drawn intense criticism from a variety of sources, including myself.  Though some may feel that the debate over the show's direction has carried on far too long, the importance of the reality program to the UFC and the entire sport of MMA is so great that the issue deserves further analysis.  By utilizing the experiences of several TUF veterans, Danny Acosta does an excellent job of conveying what the show once was, is now, and could become.  Gabe Ruediger gives his take:

“There are plenty of guys in the UFC that aren’t as known as the guys from the TV show. It creates characters. You can’t buy that,” Ruediger said, “Most guys, you’re gonna get thrown to the wolves.”

Ruediger still receives hateful comments and deals with pre-conceived notions from fans. However, his name continues to ring a bell, which makes the entire experience worthwhile in his mind.

“It’s a reality show,” Ruediger said. “I’m the smartest guy to realize that being normal is not the way to get any exposure. You have to go above and beyond. You have to be yourself on level 15 in order to ensure you get camera time. I mean, there are multiple members of each season that are just forgettable. No one knows who they are. Why is that? Because they didn’t provide entertainment.”

Nate Quarry worries of potential damage to the sport:

“It gets to a point where it’s almost degrading to the work we’ve done for the sport,” Quarry said. “We tried so hard to show that we’re not these mindless guys that just go in and beat the s--t out of each other. We’re actual athletes who train hard and have struggled to get where we’re at. Now, you’ve got these guys who are really moving backwards and taking away what we spent so much time trying to build up.“

Whether TUF is failing or succeeding depends on what the objectives are for the show.  If building reality stars and pulling down decent ratings is what the UFC is after, the program is quite successful.  One can't effectively argue that the antics of TUF 8 didn't yield significant amounts of media buzz.  However, if getting MMA into key new markets like New York is a goal, the program's emphasis on crass, shocking behavior runs counter to this important objective.  While the show isn't directly inhibiting MMA's growth, highlighting individuals that conduct themselves in a blatantly unprofessional manner isn't going to win over individuals that aren't sold on the legitimacy of the sport.  If, for some reason, you don't believe that people outside the hardcore community are important to MMA, you're absolutely kidding yourself.

The Ultimate Fighter utilizes a tried and true format.  It's understandable that the UFC and Spike don't want to make too many changes for fear of killing the vehicle that's delivered remarkable results.  This same old, predictable structure is also tailor made for individuals who are willing to a make a name for themselves by acting like outlandish characters instead of professional athletes.  Obviously, a certain amount of showmanship is necessary to build interest in fighters and fights.  Taking showmanship too far into the realm of obscene behavior isn't an exercise which will yield favorable results in the long-run.  This behavior seems to be encouraged to some degree by those running TUF.  In my opinion, inaction in this instance could be much more damaging than making changes that might not work out.  We don't remember Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar, over three years after their exciting first battle, because they acted like degenerates on cable TV.  The two are hailed for displaying heart and skill in battle.  These traits should be the focus of The Ultimate Fighter.

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