There are some people who will immediately say that The Ultimate Fighter isn’t worth saving. I think the more MMA on television the better. However, the show is not as compelling as it needs to be. What are the problems? First, fighters don’t want to coach. They need to be fighting and getting shelved for the show hurts. Second, the coaches’ fights have been flopping. Delays or cancellations to injury or illness (Rampag/Rashad, Tito/Chuck, Lesnar/Dos Santos) have plagued the last few seasons. Third, the quality of the competing fighters has diminished. Look at season one’s roster. Okay, now look at season eleven. Ouch.
I think the best way to save the show would be to radically alter it and instead of having fighters coach, use existing teams and trainers. Forget the house in Vegas. Send two groups of eight fighters to separate camps for 2 weeks to train. Bring them back and have your eight first round fights all in the same day or over two days. Send the winners back for 3 weeks to train and bring them back for the four quarterfinal bouts. Send them back for another 3 weeks and do the semis. Keep the finale the way it is. Focus more on the fighter’s personal stories and get better coverage of their training. We don’t need chair-throwing, door-smashing, and roommate-threatening. We’ve seen it all already. Show people what it means to be a fighter, not an idiot locked in a house for 6 weeks with a bunch of guys.
Also, by using an existing team, in their own gym, the level of coaching and training is going to be better. Guys will improve a lot more. Plus, fight teams have more of a reputation to protect, so they have more interest in seeing these guys improve. As opposed to Rampage saying, “I ain’t no coach.” And we would get to see how the best teams actually train. They still need to get better fighters to start with. I don’t know if the fighters on the show get any kind of compensation, other than those $5000 finish bonuses, but Zuffa may need to pay some better prospects to get them on the show.
So here’s an example: Ultimate Fighter 14: Team Cesar Gracie vs. Team AKA. Send 8 bantamweights to Stockton and 8 to San Jose. Every few weeks, bring the guys into Vegas and run the fights. I would bet the improvement you would see in these guys from their first fight to the semis would be much more dramatic. And on the finale, Joe Silva could probably come up with a fight or two with veterans of each camp. I don’t know if we’d be able to get Shields vs. Koscheck as the main event of a free show, but something on the level of a Nate Diaz vs. Mike Swick (as an example, since we don’t know when Swick will fight again) would be a good match up.
There are plenty of good match ups out there. Along with AKA and Cesar Gracie, Arizona Combat Sports, Black House in San Diego, Xtreme Couture, Grudge, The Pit, and Greg Jackson’s are all quality camps on the West Coast, so the travel wouldn’t be as bad for the fighters.
The last chance The Ultimate Fighter had of being interesting in its current format was Sonnen vs. Bisping and that disappeared along with Sonnen’s career. If the UFC wants to continue with this show, radical change is needed and soon.