The UFC has picked up 11 fighters from all-female MMA promotion Invicta, as they will be starting their own strawweight division. They will have an open try-out to sign 5 more fighters, and will have these women go through their long running reality show, The Ultimate Fighter, to crown a new 115 lb champion.
It introduces a new division, provides good exposure and marketing to their eventual champion, and it also serves as a stab of adrenaline for the show's ratings. Three birds, one stone.
The problem though, is that this reality show basically used the same formula for the better part of a decade, and a number of MMA fans have felt that it has gone repetitive or even 'stale'. The stakes are higher for this upcoming season, and while that on its own can drive up interest, there has never been a better time to add in a few changes.
Some people have suggested a complete revamp or rework of the entire show in the past, but with that being beyond unlikely to happen, here are three simple and more realistic changes that could drastically change this upcoming Ultimate Fighter season for the better:
3. NO CHAMPIONS OR TITLE CONTENDERS AS COACHES
One of the biggest complaints about TUF, is that when they cast champions or top contenders as coaches it automatically freezes the entire division. Not only do they have to film it for 6-8 weeks, they also won't be able to compete for several months while the show gets edited and aired every week.
When we could be seeing interesting match ups unfold, we instead waste the valuable time of the already short shelf lives of these fighters. Why? So we can watch the 'TV drama' of people predictably talking trash with the occassional flipping of the bird?
But without champions or top contenders being the poster boys of the show, how will they get ratings you ask? Well that brings me to point number 2.
2. USE TEAMS OF UFC LEGENDS FOR COACHES
Now, the solution I propose, is to simply use UFC legends as coaches. They have a bunch of pioneers and Hall-of-Famers at their disposal like Chuck Liddell, Royce Gracie, Mark Coleman and several others.
Hell, they can even use a combination of multiple coaches to lead each team like having Matt Hughes and Jens Pulver coaching a team against Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar. Mix and match these legends properly, and you could get an entertaining blend for TV.
This way, you won't freeze a UFC title or put a division on hold. Also, since they won't be fighting after the event, it would lessen the drama between coaches and it wouldn't shift the focus away from the fighters. This is especially important for a season like TUF 20, when you're not hyping a future fight between the coaches, but building a show to try and market a new division and a new champion.
If there were to be a bit of drama, it would be ones built on past rivalries from legends, rather than fabricated ones designed to "sell" a fight.
Side note: I would be more interested in seeing how these retired top fighters would compete on creative tag-team coaches challenges, than watch top contenders kick at doors and curse at each other.
1. ADJUST WEIGHT LIMITS FOR TUF EXHIBITION BOUTS
The most important change in my book has to come from the way they force fighters not only to compete several times in a few weeks, but to also keep cutting weight over and over on that short period.
Because of this current format, it is always widely assumed that after TUF, most competitors would be dropping down a division. These girls can't do that. Not only are they fighting at the lightest division available, the whole point of this thing is to provide exposure and crown the absolute best fighter who will represent and champion this new weight class.
There's also the bigger issue which is fighter health. Having to cut weight multiple times in that period not only puts the larger fighters in the division at a severe disadvantage, it is also very unhealthy. If you're talented and can make weight, you should be able to contend for the title. Having to also win the battle with the scales over and over for 6 weeks is unnecessary, and again, very dangerous.
So what's my solution? Adjust the weight limits for fighting in the house.
First fight should still be at 115 lbs (or whatever the season's normal weight limit is), and fighters should cut weight like they normally do for a fight.
Since there would only be a short gap between the next few bouts, subsequent exhibition fights in the TUF house should then be contested at a slightly higher weight. Something like a 120 lb catchweight or something similar would already prevent excessive weight cutting, while still allowing them to be within range of what they should weigh in the cage.
Finally, the fights at the live finale, including the strawweight title fight of course, would then be back at the normal 115 lb limit. This happens several weeks after filming, and they would have an entire camp to drop down in a much healthier way.
This way, the competitors will still have to prove they can make the normal limit, while also not having to cut an unhealthy amount of weight several times in a short period.
It also avoids having most TUF winners be severely undersized, lessening those who would immediately drop down in weight after. This is especially important for TUF 20 as you will have girls are fighting for a belt. You want to get legitimate strawweights instead of 105'ers, and ideally, you want to crown the most talented of the bunch. All that exposure and marketing could be for naught if a huge factor for getting through the tournament was hinged on fighters not having to cut much weight compared to others.
These changes won't make anything perfect, but given the situation, these small alterations severely decrease some of the negative components of having to compete in TUF.
All photos by Esther Lin
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