Love him or hate him, Chael Sonnen has a knack for creating a buzz. Many first started paying attention when he began to blather on about Anderson Silva before UFC 117, but his act was finely tuned by then. He's never been a stranger to controversy, that's for sure. But today, the sun may have finally set on him and his fighting career due to the California State Athletic Commission upholding his suspension. And I couldn't be happier.
Yes, that's probably a terrible thing to say. Vindictive even. But my statement stands, because the CSAC did the MMA world and the UFC a gigantic favor today (even if they don't realize it yet). You see, in the midst of Chael's "impassioned" testimony today, he stated that Dana White would allow him to join Michael Bisping as head cheerleaders on the newest season of the UFC's fading reality show if his suspension was lifted. Yes, Chael Sonnen would have been a coach on The Ultimate Fighter 14, which begins filming in 18 days. While I'm sure a lot of you would have looked forward to that, I would have hated it. Why?
Because The Ultimate Fighter 14 is about featherweights and bantamweights. And it should stay that way.
Remember The Ultimate Fighter 5? It has more in common with TUF 14 than any other season, because it was the first (and only) season to focus strictly on the development of a new division. They went with 16 lightweights for TUF 5, as a way to jumpstart 155 by flooding it with known, marketable talent. That's it. Their coaches weren't overly focused upon, and they even fought on the finale instead of a glitzy PPV. Six guys from that show are still with the UFC four years later (including all four semi-finalists), and one is a legit top three guy (Gray Maynard).
So...what am I getting at? Well, the UFC hasn't exactly done a stellar job of promoting the 135/145 divisions as equals to the other five so far. In fact, they're stagnating to a degree right out of the gate. A lot of fights in the new divisions are on facebook or in a place where they're not getting the eyes necesary to build stars. There are very few marketable fighters in each division, and a lack of fighters in general. Bantamweight has 23 fighters under contract, featherweight 31. In comparison, lightweight has 52. Welterweight 48 [Authors note - I used the proven scientific method of counting the number of UFC profile pages in each division to get these numbers].
This matters because lightweight was in the same position four years ago, and TUF 5 did an excellent job of kickstarting things. This is their big chance to flood the 135/145 divisions with talent that has already been on TV, just like they did back then with 155. There's very little chance of the fights on TUF 14 being boring or plodding, but the necessary focus needs to be placed on the contestants to build them as potential future stars. The FIGHTERS. And this is where it goes back to the choice of coaches.
TUF 5 worked well because the coaches maintained a presence without overshadowing the contestants. If they had allowed Chael Sonnen and Michael Bisping to be the coaches for TUF 14, we'd barely find out who the fighters were. Hell, they might even just skip the fights. Putting guys from these divisions on the show just to push them into the background would be totally counterproductive. And why do it? So they can focus on the witty (?) banter of a couple of loudmouths that will sell exactly one fight? It's completely shortsighted.
There's no doubt that TUF ratings are way down this year, and Dana believes he needs color and controversy to pull them back up. Obviously, Bisping and Sonnen would have provided what Dana wanted in that regard. Would Chael Sonnen have made a good TUF coach? Yes, I believe he would have under the right circumstances. And if it were any season between TUF 6 and TUF 13, I wouldn't be writing this. The talent pools on those shows weren't deep enough for it to matter anyway, so they were free to focus on the coaches and their antics. But not this time around.
This is when they should be revisiting their own history and going with coaches that put the focus back on the fighters. Because these two divisions are going to become the backbone of the UFC for years to come, and they need to be built correctly so they don't collapse. The CSAC made this possible today with their ruling today, so I thank them. Chael Sonnen will not be on hand to poison The Ultimate Fighter. Justice was served, and the biggest benefactors just happen to be the smallest guys in the UFC.