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Earlier today Luke Thomas posted an article at SBNation.com covering the Kimbo Slice vs. Brock Lesnar ratings comparison for the newest season of The Ultimate Fighter. Nate expanded on the piece with his own thoughts here at Bloody Elbow earlier as well. While I can fully understand the comparison of the two "larger than the sport" stars, I think the more interesting takeaway from the season will be to see just how much gas is left in the Brock Lesnar Starpower tank.
While there will be episodes throughout the season that outdo the debut's rating, the debut is a good indication of the general interest level in the base product being shown (coaches, involved fighters, etc). The first episode ratings break down like this (thanks to Matt Bishop and Tim Burke for doing the legwork on tracking down the numbers):
Season 1 - 1.42
Season 2 - 1.8
Season 3- 1.95
Season 4 - 1.7
Season 5 - 1.4
Season 6 - 1.5
Season 7 - 1.3
Season 8 - 1.2
Season 9 - 1.34
Season 10 - 2.9
Season 11 - 1.5
Season 12 - 1.3
Debut episodes had been on a quite pronounced downward slide prior to Slice's involvement on season 10 and then resumed almost where they left off in season 11 and 12. This isn't an indication that the show is in trouble or that people don't care about fighters such as Georges St. Pierre (coach on Season 12) but rather that audiences aren't overly interested in tuning in to see stars act as coaches on a show that has typically been the same drunken nonsense by nobodies in between training montages.
After a disastrous first round against Shane Carwin (which Lensar was able to recover from) and a complete trouncing at the hands of Cain Velasquez, it will be interesting to see what kind of "must see" aura Lesnar maintains as he heads into the coaching stint and the eventual showdown with opposing coach Junior dos Santos. The Kimbo season had the benefit of getting to see Slice step into the cage at some point, something TUF 13 will not have with Lesnar. Will significantly larger numbers of fans than normal turn on Spike TV to see Brock Lesnar work with a Shamar Bailey or a Nordin Asrih?
Personally I'm expecting a debut episode rating somewhere around 1.8-1.9, which would be a strong number boosted by the Lesnar press tour to promote the show. From there it's all up to how engaging Lesnar's personality is from episode to episode and if the curious casuals tune out when they're not seeing Lesnar engaged in violence.