In one of the most controversial decisions in recent UFC history, Dana White announced two weeks ago that Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen would become the coaches for season 17 of The Ultimate Fighter. The choice has been widely criticized as a cheap move to boost ratings on the show. Even Bloody Elbow's own KJ Gould defended the match as exciting and a solid business decision.
The general basis for acceptance of the pairing hinges on Chael being a loudmouth antagonist to Jones' deliberate humbleness. Excitement for a fight between the two peaked after White informed fans that Jones rejected Sonnen as an extremely late injury replacement at UFC 151. Since then, Chael has continued taunt the Light Heavyweight champion, building a compelling rivalry. That tension was the complete foundation of an interesting show to reinvigorate the ratings for the next TUF season.
Last night during the UFC Live Chat, Bones and Chael made a conscious decision to destroy that dynamic. Throughout their interaction, both fighters showed no signs of bitterness or aggression. The two went back and forth laughing and joking with absolutely no drama. Jones even described Sonnen as "pretty nice" and "classy".
Now, I'm not one to glorify professional wrestling style promotion of MMA. However, even a bad reality TV show like The Ultimate Fighter needs a strong narrative to be compelling and the UFC had this one gift wrapped. Even with Sonnen's proven charisma, viewers are not going to watch two fighters quietly respect each other.
We already saw that same thing fail once when the UFC's biggest PPV star of all time was brought in to coach TUF 13. Logically, a star like Brock Lesnar should have caught the eyes of many casual fans. The problem was there was no story to go along with the show when they matched him against current champ Junior Dos Santos. Undoubtedly, Dos Santos picked up many fans with his teddy bear persona, but that doesn't drive ratings. So, after a solid turnout for the first couple episodes, viewership faded when it became clear that neither Lesnar nor Junior were ready to start smashing cardboard doors.
That's exactly the pattern I expect TUF 17 to follow. There will definitely be a surge in viewers following the current abysmal season. The uptick will be supported both by the prolific names of Sonnen and Jones as well as the promised change from the awful Friday night time slot. That won't be enough to sustain interest, though. Eventually, and probably quickly, people will stop tuning in as they realize the feature characters have no contentious drama.