Over its seven year history, The Ultimate Fighter has progressed from the savior of the UFC as we know it to a stale, recycled formula. And I know I am not alone in saying that, over the course of those years, I tuned out. But now, with the promise of the new Live on FX Ultimate Fighter, for the first time since Kimbo Slice stepped into the house, my interest has been piqued. And so I tuned in Friday night with high hopes. Would this in fact be the dawn of a much-needed new era of The Ultimate Fighter? As it turned out, the answer was not so cut and dry.
Despite the live aspect, on the surface, this had many of the standard TUF elements. The gathering of the fighters, the Dana White speech, the pre-show fights in the UFC training center, the Dana White speech part 2... all was there. And yet it can't be denied - this TUF felt different.
How? Simple: it felt like a sport. This episode seemed to get back to the basics of the show and focus heavily on scouting the best unsigned talent in the regional scene. Gone were the huge audacious personalities, gone was the 3rd grade level trash talk between coaches. Instead, the focus was squarely on the fights themselves. Now, a part of that is surely due to this being an action packed, 16 fight filled opener, but there were little touches too that kept this focused on the sport aspect. Jon Anik's interviews with winners, Faber and Cruz's insightful commentary, the emphasis on fighter records - add it all up and what do you have? A sport, which is exactly what the show should be.
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The question now: once we have more time to focus on training and living together, will we still keep up this focus? Or as I type this is one contestant busy peeing on another's head in a drunken rampage? I ceratinly hope it's the former, as this week's show was a breath of fresh air. And for the first time in ages, I look forward to tuning in next week to find out.
Every week, I'll keep this up and include some thoughts on the week's fight. With 16 fights this week, that's a bit much, so here are my 4 fighters that have left an early impression:
- Cristiano Marcello - I was excited about the idea of a Rickson Gracie blackbelt being included, and I wasn't let down. His fight was Gracie Jiu Jitsu to perfection - takedown to mount to submission. Beautifully simple, and very hard to stop. I'm interested to see more of his stand-up, because he is a strong early favorite in my eyes.
- Justin Lawrence - Just a whirlwind of beautiful destruction from Lawrence, with some very nice kicks thrown in. If he keeps that up, he doesn't need the TUF contract to have a healthy future in the UFC.
- Daron Cruickshank - Again, anyone with flashy kicks gets my appreciation, and I enjoyed Cruickshank's Tae Kwon Do stylings. He ran out of steam as the fight progressed, but still impressed me.
- Sam Sicilia - Hard to know much from a fight that was literally once punch, but what a punch it was. Sicilia clearly has heavy power, and I liked his attitude as well.
Check back next week for more Ultimate Fighter Live thoughts.