Let me get this out there right off the bat: this is not, in any way, going to be a post b*tching about this latest incarnation of “The Ultimate Fighter”.
Quite the opposite, actually – because I’m loving this season of the UFC’s reality TV bonanza. It seems to me that this season addressed many of the complaints fans have always had about the show: no more cheesy nu-metal intro, no more (ok, not as much) in-house drama, more focus on the fighters, two dedicated and committed coaches who represent the sport very well, and a more polished and professional feel overall.
Actually, if you ask me the entire “Fox era” of the UFC has thus far been all aces. Ok, that stupid commercial featuring the Junior Dos Santos photoshoot from Hell (literally) is a glaring exception, but aside from that it’s been sunshine, lolipops and…ok, some plain old bad luck regarding how some of the network fights have turned out.
With the third installment of “The Ultimate Fighter” live on FX airing tonight, I thought I’d do a quick run down of some interesting, weird, and mostly overlooked facts about this season. And when I say “overlooked” I mean “I haven’t read much about it”, so if the MMA site you follow has been all over these stories…well, good for you, you’re ahead of the curve.
For the rest of us, there’s…
1) No training camps for the live finale
This realization kind of snuck up on me while I was looking at the UFC’s event schedule for this summer. It’s something that hasn’t gotten a whole lot of coverage but to me, represents a major difference from how previous season’s have operated.
In the past, the show would be taped months in advance, meaning the two finalists would have time for a full training camp (6-8 weeks) before their finale fight. Not this year: the “live fights” aspect of the show means the two men meeting in the finals will have exactly a week to prepare for the biggest fight of their lives.
Is it unfair? I suppose not – neither guy will get to put in a training camp, so the playing field should be even. And I admit, this will add to the raw, unpolished, “rookies fighting for a shot in the big leagues” feel TUF has always done so well.
But it was nice in the past to see the finalists come in with a full camp under their belts. It let us see how they look with a little more refinement, polish, and operating on a dedicated gameplan.
In other words, it let us see how they might look as full-time fighters in the UFC. Watching two guys scrap immediately after spending months cooped up in the booze-soaked drama mansion of the TUF house might not offer the same insight.
2) Coaches training while coaching
Here’s another first for “The Ultimate Fighter”, one that thankfully has gotten a little more play in the MMA media: both coaches will be training for their UFC bantamweight world title fight while coaching their respective teams, right up until the very week before they fight.
This could have dramatic consequences for either guy’s preparation. Of course Urijah Faber trains out of his own Team Alpha Male camp in Sacramento, California. And Cruz is famously associated with Alliance MMA and Team Lloyd Irvin. These are both pretty renowned camps, and either guy is the star player in their respective fiefdoms. I get the feeling they’re both used to familiar training camps with familiar faces.
I wonder how these guys feel about having to hold their camps in Las Vegas – or having to travel back and forth, depending on what the UFC’s scheduling arrangements are. Either way, neither guy will be getting the “usual” camp and that adds a level of drama and uncertainty to their July world title fight.
3) No bad guy to root for
Speaking of this season’s coaches, watching Cruz and Faber interact on the show has been an interesting experience for me. In fact, I recall turning to my little lady mid-episode and saying something along the lines of “it seems so odd that these two guys dislike each other”.
See, aside from the beef between the two men (which I have every reason to believe is real, not manufactured for the benefit of the TV cameras), these two guys are extremely similar. They’re both handsome, young, and well-spoken. They’re both quieter guys with laid back attitudes, the kind of guy(s) you’d like to grab a beer with. And they’re both coming off as fantastic, committed coaches.
And here, Houston, is where we have a problem: there’s no a**hole to root against.
The “unlikeable” coach is a staple of TUF since the Shamrock/Ortiz season, during which Ortiz completely reversed fan sentiment by being a fantastic coach, while “good guy” Shamrock was out playing golf instead of coaching the boys. We all remember the classic “a**hole coaches” seasons of the show – Bisping vs. Hendo. Rampage vs. Rashad. GSP vs. Kos. These are the classic seasons that have defined “The Ultimate Fighter”.
This season, we have a legitimate beef to sell – but not one standout, obvious (whether by their actions or the magic of editing is anyone’s guess) “bad guy” to hate on. Not yet, anyways. Everyone has their opinion on the Cruz/Faber beef and who they’re pulling for, but one thing we can all agree on: they both seem like great guys.
Good for the sport – but (potentially) bad for short-term ratings.
4) Commentary and post-fight interviews
I love me some Jon Anik – and even I was caught off guard the first time I heard his voice on an “Ultimate Fighter” broadcast.
But I got over it. This aspect of the show hasn’t gotten much coverage because let’s face it: it’s hardly news at this point. Anik has become synonymous already with UFC programming on FX and Fuel. No one was really all that surprised to see him pop up on “The Ultimate Fighter”.
But it’s still pretty dang cool. To me, this sort of polish – the “commentary” before the fights, the interviews live in the cage, the overall presentation – is what fans have been calling for for years. Now that it’s here, I hope they’re sitting back and basking in it all.
This sort of thing makes it feel less like a reality TV show in it’s millionth season, and more like a serious sports tournament where the winner actually matters (as opposed to who made the most drunken boob of themselves on cable TV).
5) …But are they really going to interview EVERY loser?
Ok, so I might be slobbering all over the UFC’s production choices on this season of TUF. But one choice almost brought the whole thing to a screeching halt in last week’s episode.
Are they really, seriously, actually going to have Jon Anik interview the loser in every single fight? I get these are personalities and people viewers may have started to care for, but seriously now: are we going to ask EVERY SINGLE LOSER if they feel confident about taking that wild card spot? Could a more obvious question be asked of somebody?
“Uh no Jon, despite my horribly disappointing loss on live network TV in front of millions, I hold no hope of getting that wildcard spot and instead hope they’ve kept my job at Burger King open for me back home!”
C’mon now. Broom this part of the show quick – or at least thing of a question to ask that isn’t so mind-numbingly awkward and obvious.
By Elton Hobson