This Saturday, the UFC brings The Ultimate Fighter: Team Carwin vs. Team Nelson to an official close with the live finale. Clearly, it's been mostly a bust of a season, and that's reflected in the finale. That finale is actually a pretty good card, but it's not thanks to TUF, as only the finalists and coach Roy Nelson represent the show. So as we draw to a close, let's look at the season's highs and lows. We'll get the negatives out of the way first, because sadly, they were plentiful:
- Coaches Roy Nelson and Shane Carwin were serious duds. Neither man showed much personality at all, and both seemed to really be phoning it in all season. To make up for Carwin's demeanor, they tried to push a Nelson vs. Dana White dynamic early, but seemed to give up on it after a few episodes. When Carwin dropped out of the finale, yielding his spot to Matt Mitrione, it was hard to care.
- The one thing Roy Nelson did contribute was picking a pretty bad team. The result - in the interest of a Team Nelson vs. Team Carwin finale, they used teammate vs. teammate matchmaking and we're stuck with the dull Colton Smith in the finals. I still argue it should be Mike Ricci vs. Neil Magny in an all Carwin final Saturday.
- The fights. Through all the seasons, one of TUF's saving graces has been the promise of a free fight every week. This season, at times that felt less like a promise and more like a threat. I don't know what happened here, but some combination of skill level, tentativeness, and playing it safe combined to make a ton of seriously boring fights with only two finishes all season. That also meant less time to actually see much training or get to know the fighters, which is not a good thing.
- The ratings. Record lows here, with one week pulling in only 624,000 viewers - the lowest rating in the 16 season run of The Ultimate Fighter.
OK, enough of that. We could beat on this season all day, but the truth is, there was some good to come out of it.
- Mike Ricci. Win or lose in the finales, Ricci comes out of this as the most interesting fighter by a mile. He has a unique personality, and a solid all around game. He has more experience than many TUF cast members these days, so I hope he is still evolving his game. I don't think he is ready to have huge success in the UFC right now, but I'd like to see him stick around and grow.
- Neil Magny. More raw than Ricci, with fewer fights to his credit, Magny none the less has looked like the potential long term star of the season since early on. He still has to fix some holes in his game (close that defense!), but he's young, dedicated, and talented. I'm glad he's getting an official shot in the UFC.
- The Ricci vs. Magny KO. Speaking of these two, how about that Ricci elbow to close out the regular season? That was a thing of beauty. The only KO of the regular season, but it would be a lock for the best KO regardless.
- Setting a precedent for the fighters not competing on the finale. It sounds harsh, but this is a great move. There should be real value in winning the show, and right now, with everyone getting a UFC shot, there hasn't been much of a difference. This also allows the product to not be diluted by guys who just aren't ready for the UFC. Bristol Marunde was vocal in that he felt this was unfair, and I am sympathetic, but I think he's off base. Being on TUF has increased the exposure for all of these guys. They should be able to translate that into bigger regional fights. If they excel in those fights, they are already on the UFC radar, and I'm sure Dana and company would come calling.
- Four words: Let me bang bro! The house smashing brawl episode is usually the season low point, but this year, it was a rare treat thanks entirely to two men. Julian Lane and Michael Hill managed to immortalize themselves in the world of MMA memes thanks to Lane's drunken war cry. That would have been enough for a chuckle, but it was Hill who really made it a moment for the ages with his tender hug and soothing words - "I do. I do let you bang, bro." Genius. An honorable mention goes to Hill's line that started the whole episode off: "I was disappointed in myself, so I decided to hit the bottle." I'm still let down that meme didn't also take off. You could even say I am disappointed. Which I guess means I need to go hit the bottle.
See how it all wraps up this Saturday at the TUF Live Finale, and join us here at Bloody Elbow for all the fight coverage that night.