One misconception about The Ultimate Fighter that I don’t think carries much weight is that the champion’s prize is meaningless because so many of the contestants end up getting signed anyway. True, it does seem disingenuous when the show adds half a dozen new recruits after hyping that there can only be one "ultimate fighter", but 1) it wouldn’t make any sense to toss these freshly promoted characters to the curb and 2) winning the show has more benefits than just a spot on the roster.
The winner’s six figure contract is both more and less lucrative than a casual viewer is lead to believe; no, it is not a lump sum payment and no, there is no guarantee that the fighter will be paid in full. It’s my understanding (and the conditions may have changed over the years) that the contract is for up to nine fights, with show/win money starting at 12K/12K and escalating over the course of the deal until it averages out to around $300,000 in total. The contract is not ironclad as several winners have been cut after mediocre showings. On the flipside, the fighter is also not bound to the limitations of the contract, as Forrest Griffin got massive raises in his 7th and 8th post-TUF fights against Shogun Rua and Rampage Jackson respectively.
Just from a monetary standpoint, even if you flame out like Efrain Escudero or James Wilks (and inevitably Colton Smith), a couple of wins in that initial string of appearances would provide a financial boon that the majority of fighters in the world would kill for. You also have to factor in how far being the feature fighter on a nationally televised show will go with sponsors (likely negligible these days).
For the other fighters who are brought back for the finale? $8,000 to show and if you don’t win, you’re out.
Many fighters have gone on to great success and major pay days without even making it to the tournament final. Melvin Guillard, Gray Maynard and Matt Hamill (though he bowed out due to an injury) immediately come to mind. There are countless others who have had multiple appearances for the company. I agree that you don’t need to win the show to have a career in the UFC. But winning makes the whole process a hell of a lot easier.
I’ll close with a question: Is there any chance that Amir Sadollah would have ten UFC appearances under his belt and still be cashing Zuffa checks if he was never a TUF champion?
Promos over the course of the season have hinted at some sort of catastrophe and it looks like this will be the episode where it happens. Cody Bollinger’s meltdown, Anthony Gutierrez’s reckless eating and the sweet, sweet smell of Armenian BBQ set the stage for what should be a classic. Seriously though, bringing BBQ to the house when there are still fighters who are focusing on making weight? This didn’t seem like a bad idea to anyone? Gutierrez and Sarah Moras even make note that prior to this season, the last contestant to miss weight shared a living space with the evening’s chef, one Manvel Gamburyan. He’s a jinx!
I hate you Manny.
It is tough to watch Gutierrez chowing down on that greasy, fat filled meat. Later in the episode, we see Ronda Rousey being the good coach and offering her wisdom on proper dieting. Whether he can make the weight or not, there’s no way that he’s entering the cage in optimal shape. He brushes her off and in his testimonial expresses his weariness at people questioning what he eats. He’s completely blind to the fact that he’ll pay badly for these habits when he gets older. I couldn’t anticipate that the chickens would come to roost so soon.
I realize now that an oft-repeated preview of David Grant tearfully looking to Rousey for support was an obvious red herring. This isn’t the first time I’ve been deceived by a reality TV competition and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
I bet she doesn’t even need those glasses.
Team Rousey seems determined to avoid a convoluted training situation. They decide it’s best to stay out of preparation altogether, allowing the fighters to pick their own corners. Gutierrez picks Josh Hill from Team Tate, Shayna Baszler and Jessamyn Duke while Grant rolls with his homeboy Michael Wootten, Chris Beal and fellow semi-finalist Jessica Rakoczy. Rousey is broken up about having to abandon her charges after having trained with them for weeks. It’s hard to tell if she’s just doing it for cameras, but I choose to believe. If I’m wrong, then this isn’t the first time I’ve been deceived by a reality TV competition and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
The segment ends with a special treat: armbar training from the Olympic medallist herself. I do like me a good armbar. This is Rousey at her best. No bulls**t. Just fantastic technique, execution and supreme confidence.
Rousey: You guys can go tell everybody how I do my armbar. I don’t give a f**k, I’m going to get it anyway.
It’s time for the coaches’ challenge! This is one segment every year that never fails to entertain, if only to see how bad these finely tuned warriors are at other sports. Some of the most recent challenges have been awesome, including last year’s excavator showdown between Chael Sonnen and Jon Jones and the destruction derby competition with Ross Pearson and George Sotiropoulos from the criminally underrated TUF: The Smashes. Grant jokes that this year’s set-up had him anticipating a dance competition, which would be the greatest thing ever. I’d pay good money to see Ronda do some ronds des jambe.
Instead, it’s just the wall from American Gladiators. Where’s Al Kaplan when you need him?
Rousey wins, throws in a classy "F**k you, bitch!" at Miesha Tate, and plugs their fight for good measure. Even Chris Holdsworth can’t help but laugh at how..."Ronda" it is. I’m all for people being real and up front about things, but that is no excuse to be a jerk. Just because you’re honest about being a sh**ty person doesn’t excuse you being a sh**ty person.
And now the main event...making weight. I don’t even know where to begin with this. It’s just delicious. As delicious as the mayonnaise that Gutierrez so gleefully spreads on his sandwich. Let’s count this one down.
Gutierrez is pleased with himself. He is ridiculously arrogant about his ability to eat whatever he wants, accusing the others of being jealous of his physiology (sounds like Julianna Peña).
Oh sorry, that was Grant’s weight the morning of the weigh-ins. He’s going to make it easy. We find out that he used to be a DJ under the name "DJ Davey G". It’s a travesty that we’re only hearing about this now and that he gave that up for his stupid family.
Now, where were we...
Gutierrez is employing the Bollinger "mind over matter" strategy. He says all the right things about how much he was planning to weigh before going to sleep and how big he was after an hour and a half at the gym without ever confirming it. Perhaps if he can convince himself that he’s losing weight, it will magically disappear.
A bad omen.
The situation is tense in the Team Rousey locker room. Rousey is pissed about the last minute cut, especially since it’s clear that Gutierrez had indulged in some late night snacking. There’s no reason he should have been the size of a featherweight when he woke up.
Time for another weight check.
The lie unravels as Baszler says she never saw him check his weight and that he was drinking a NOS on the way to the gym. When Rousey asked him how the cut was going, Baszler figures he must have been guessing. The rest of us refer to this as "lying".
He keeps taking breaks! Rousey says that there’s no point in periodically checking his weight anymore, he just has to power through. There’s so much tension. Running. Sauna. Running. Sauna. Running. Sauna. I might have to change my pants after this.
*phew* that was close...oh wait, that’s Grant again. And this is at the actual weigh-ins. Mr. Gutierrez?
Well, f**k. There is no f**king way he cuts those last four pounds in an hour. This really reflects poorly on both Rousey and Tate after the Bollinger debacle. As much as I’m enjoying this, don’t think I don’t have sympathy for Gutierrez. Yes it’s all his fault, but I can’t imagine how that must have felt to see that number on the scale. "How is it one-forty?" he says, despondent. That has got to just crush a man.
Rousey: It doesn’t matter if you don’t make the weight. What matters is that you don’t quit.
There’s nothing the coaches can do to help Gutierrez. He responds to the challenge by literally lying down. He admits that he "f**ed up the last three or four days and then caps it off with one of the saddest sentences in TUF history:
Gutierrez: ...I just drank the bathwater.
He’s not going to make it.
And pork is in his belly.
With all due respect to Gutierrez and the other fighters who endure these grueling weight cuts, I love this stuff. Love it. There’s something about these athletes pushing themselves that much further to get an edge that is just crazy to me. There are pros and cons to extreme weight cutting. The idealist in me believes we should find a way to abolish it; the rubbernecker in me wants to know everything about how it’s done. I’ve been spoiled by not one, but two dramatic weight cuts this season. It’s like pornography. I’m not kidding.
The coaches and contestants run a gamut of emotions. Grant looks absolutely disgusted and I don’t blame him. I wouldn’t celebrate either. Baszler looks like she wants to cry. Rakoczy can’t even look in his direction. Rousey decides to make weight as an act of contrition, apparently dropping 17 pounds in 24 hours with no preparation (check out Duke’s blog for the details and the sweet surprise she got for her birthday). Dana White has the most appropriate response:
The bitter taste of victory.
Next week: Raquel Pennington v. Jessica Rakoczy. Also, Gamburyan gets permanently banned from appearing on the show.
I know you all are too lazy to track it down yourselves, so here’s the clip from Duke’s birthday celebration. There is no reason this shouldn’t have been on television.