It's no secret that this season's The Ultimate Fighter is suffering. After an initial 1.5 million viewers tuned in for the show's debut on March 30th and a steady rating for the next five episodes, the ratings hit a new low last week, garnering only 1 million viewers, or a 0.8 household rating. The NBA playoffs may be one of the reasons why the show is losing viewers, but one fan told Dana White that the show was "unbearably boring, unbearable to watch" at the UFC 129 Fan Expo in Toronto. Interestingly enough, Dana White agreed:
Source: MMA Digest
The gist of the Q&A session is that Spike TV and the UFC had a deal in place that gave the UFC less shows to work with this season. One could surmise that Spike TV purposely worked this into the deal to tone down the UFC's ratings pull due to the looming contract renewal process. In any case, it was decided that the show should focus more on the personal stories of each fighter, thus the elimination round was axed.
We might not be having this discussion if the elimination round was included this season. After all, it would have likely weeded out the less experienced fighters from the show and upgraded the skill level overall. It wouldn't guarantee an end to the boring style of fighting that some fans loathe however, and in reality -- that's always a risk that The Ultimate Fighter will be plagued with in future seasons.
Talent has become more and more of an issue in recent seasons. Promotions like Strikeforce and Bellator have grabbed touted prospects from the talent pool early in order to beat the UFC to the punch, thus the show has focused more on abrasive personalities and feuds over the actual talent of the fighters. The show has still produced some gems, but there has been increased turnover in the latter seasons.
The buyout has eliminated one of the UFC's key competitors in the talent market, and the addition of an out-of-competition insurance policy should give the UFC a huge edge in acquiring new talent in the future. The recent business moves by the UFC could indirectly affect the quality of talent that the UFC features in their upcoming seasons. The Ultimate Fighter season 14 should have an edge over past seasons simply because it will feature two weight classes that have never been featured, bantamweights and featherweights, but beyond that -- we have no idea what changes will occur.
What's in store for future seasons? Can the UFC get the talent to entice hardcore fans while still keeping the personal stories interesting? Is the stale format year after year to blame? What's the solution?
Talented prospects battling it out under the same format would work in my eyes. The fighters are the product that consumers are focusing on the most, and the skills of those fighters has become increasingly visible in the eyes of even casual fans in the last couple of seasons. Personalities can get ratings, but sixteen fighters who are deprived of everything but food and alcohol are going to create drama, no matter who they are. Get better fighters in the house, or cancel the show.