In all my years of MMA fandom, I have never been as disgusted with the sport as I have become over the past few weeks. Zuffa has canceled three events, awarded an immediate title shot to a man coming off a PED suspension, and with today's announcement of the next TUF coaches, its legitimacy takes a major hit. While Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen have two of the biggest names in the sport, a fight between them at this point makes no sense. Holding up the division for what amounts to a veritable squash match is an insult to sports fans that watch MMA, not to mention the number of fighters who had actually earned their shots.
There was a time and a place for this fight. It was UFC 151, when it made all kinds of sense. It was the safest fight for the champion to take on short notice, and a guaranteed big payday for Chael with huge potential upside. But Jon Jones wanted no part of it. Not to save the event, to make sure all the other fighters had a chance to compete, for all the fans who had bought airfare and hotel rooms to see him fight. Not a chance. That wasn't what was best for the young champion, in his mind.
In August, Jones had this to say about Sonnen:
"That guy is a joke," Jones told MMAJunkie. "[A title shot is] what he wants, but I'm not going to allow him to get a title fight from talking. It's not going to happen. Chael Sonnen will not get a title fight from using his mouth.
All of a sudden, with the promise of a full training camp and extra exposure via TUF, the champion's attitude began to swing quickly.
A part of me wants to do it for the fans the other part of me feels as if it delegitimizes the importance of championship— Jon Bones Jones (@JonnyBones)
Yes, Jon, it does. When you go out of your way to fight a MW coming off a loss that hasn't fought in your division since 2005 (in a fight he lost at UFC 55), it certainly takes away from the credibility of one of the greatest titles in MMA. When you avoid guys like Hendo, Gustaffson, Daniel Cormier, and the multiple rematches available within the division to fight Chael, it makes the sport look bad as a whole.
To read this up to this point, you might think I blame Jon Jones for this. I don't. He realized that he had leverage over the UFC, and decided to use it to get the safe, highly profitable fight he wanted. It's not a decision I personally care for, but it isn't my career. Jon Jones is doing what he thinks is best for him and his career, and that is certainly his right. This all falls squarely on the UFC brass, and their deep and never ending love of The Ultimate Fighter.
The Ultimate Fighter was the catalyst that sparked the massive growth in MMA. In 2005, a slew of new fans were born when they saw Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar battle tooth and nail for 3 rounds in what was probably the most influential fight in the history of the sport. TUF was a ratings bonanza for the UFC initally, airing directly after the WWE's Monday Night Raw, and keeping a large percentage of those viewers.
It was a source for free MMA fights early on, which were not as easy to find seven years ago, and the early seasons were filled with quality fighters. 7 members of the first TUF season would go on to compete for either UFC, WEC, or Strikeforce titles, with Forrest Griffin making it to the top of the sport with his controversial upset victory over Quinton "Rampage" Jackson to win the LHW title on July 5, 2008.
The only downside early on to the new reality show was the actions of many of the cast members during the taping. The show quickly became less about the fighters' training, and more about the drama that went on in the house. Fans who watched the first season of TUF will remember the classy actions of Chris Leben, pissing on the pillow of Jason Thacker because he thought it would be funny. In the seasons that followed it became painfully obvious that this was what the UFC wanted, as there was always at least one fighter on each season guaranteed to cause drama in the house.
Drama=Ratings, at least until the bubble burst. Good fighters eventually stopped trying out for the reality show, because the contract for the winner was quite frankly a bad one, and there were plenty of other options for up and coming fighters to get their names out there. Ironically, the massive success of TUF played a major role in it falling apart. With increased popularity came more organizations, which led to more money for fighters because they had options to choose from. The increased opportunities made going through TUF a bad business move for genuine prospects, which led to the decline in talent.
The UFC has tried a number of format changes to keep the series a viable one, including a Comeback season (that led to the greatest upset in UFC history when Matt Serra defeated Georges St. Pierre at UFC 69 for the WW title), multiple overseas editions of the series, having fighters have to win a fight to get in the house, and an all heavyweight season including Kimbo Slice of backyard brawling fame in a last desperate attempt for ratings. Even a season of airing the episodes live and a move from Spike to FX could do nothing to generate interest. The proverbial shark has been jumped, and fans are no longer interested in the product.
The past week looked to be the final nail in the coffin for the series, as the ratings continued a free fall that has become a disturbing trend, covered by BE's Brent Brookhouse here. However, the UFC clearly has no plans to let TUF die a natural death. The booking of Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen as coaches might give them a one season reprieve, but they won't be coaching every season from here on out. What crazy measures will be taken next to save the series?
Legitimate contenders are being put on the back burner so a MW coming off a loss can fight for the LHW title, all to save a reality show in its 17th season that no one has cared about since season 5. Think about that.
If you have anything to say, please do it in the comments.