Is the MMA Talent Pool Drying Up?

Will former UFC, Bodog and Sengoku veteran Nick "The Goat" Thompson make the cut to be on The Ultimate Fighter? Photo via Sherdog

MMA Weekly has a story about the tryouts for The Ultimate Fighter season 11 in Los Angeles on Monday:

There were 190 middleweights and 81 light heavyweights who showed up cauliflower ears and all in hopes of becoming the next "Ultimate Fighter."
...

UFC president Dana White called it a low turnout and said he was looking to recruit three or four fighters that day. After season nine's tryouts drew 700 welterweight and lightweights, he was perplexed by the drop-off.

"It's very weird," he said. "You would think right now in these hard economic times... I thought this would be the biggest turnout we ever had."

The story focuses on several veteran fighters who are trying out for TUF this season including: Jason Lambert, Nick "the Goat" Thompson, Logan Clark, and Wayne Cole. Even TUF season 1 participant Bobby Southworth was back for another bite at the apple.

All but Cole and Clark made it to the second round.

Thompson was skeptical about the veteran fighters' chances of becoming reality TV stars:


"I'm sure none of them will get on, and we'll see a bunch of guys that are terrible but think they're the best fighters in the world," he laughed. "The truth is, if you're a really good fighter it's because you train hard, you don't drink, and you're doing the right things, which makes for boring TV. That's why they haven't had a second season of the veterans. All the veterans sit around and say, ‘oh man, we can't drink, we've got to get up at seven in the morning and run.'"

...

As it turned out, he was wrong, at least for the time being. A Spike representative on Wednesday confirmed that Thompson, Southworth, and Lambert had made it past the first day of auditions. That opened the door for interviews in Vegas, which would bring the fighters one step closer to getting on the show.

More important to me than whether or not SPIKE TV execs make the choice to cast the best fighters or the best reality TV performers is the question of whether or not the MMA talent pool is running dry.

While the UFC has been aggressively expanding its roster and the number of events it puts on per year, the rest of the MMA world has been scaling back.

Important regional circuit promotions like Rumble on the Rock, the WEF and ICON/Superbrawl are gone. Others like HookNShoot, King of the Cage, Cage Rage, and Extreme Challenge are still running shows but fewer than they used to. And no one is doing the kind of great indy events that WEF and KOTC used to which generally featured all local talent with one fight between "name" fighters as headliners.

Sure there are some bright spots in the regional promotional world, like the UWC, Shark Fights in Amarillo, Texas, and XFC in Florida, but we're still running a net deficit in terms of opportunities for local fighters to get experience, build a fan base and hone their skills.

Always remember that amateur MMA barely exists. There are no college or high school MMA programs. There is no equivalent to the Golden Gloves program for MMA. Athletes have to essentially start out at the bottom of the professional ranks.

While I'm all for fighters like Nick Thompson and Jason Lambert getting a second or third chance at UFC stardom, it's distressing to me that the number of applicants for TUF is dropping so sharply. Is that the sound of a straw sucking up the last drops from the bottom of the glass?

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