I agree with many MMA fans out there that The Ultimate Fighter isn't the same effective vehicle that it once was in mining new talent for the UFC. In the last 10 seasons of the show only John Dodson has been mentioned as a true title contender to emerge from the show. That isn't to say some fan favorites (Roy Nelson) or feel-good stories (Court McGee) haven't emerged, but they have been few and far enough between that most fight fans just don't care anymore.
So like most fans out there, I didn't really give a thought to looking up TUF China. Until a day off and a lack of funds limited what I could do for that day off that is. I figured what the hell... lets see if there has been anyone who might be worth paying attention to in the future emerges from the Chinese product. I won't name names of the fighters based on the slim off-chance someone will want to see for themselves so I don't completely spoil everything.
I understand what the main purpose of the show is: to make headway in China. Dana White and the rest of the company don't expect to find a contender out of this show. What they are trying to do is capture the Chinese audience and introduce them to the MMA game. This is what the original Ultimate Fighter did for a good portion of the US audience. Why wouldn't it work in another country. If they can find one guy (yep, just one) who can stick around for more than 5 fights I expect that they will consider the product that they mined to be worthwhile. That may not sound very impressive, but look at how long many of the current TUF veterans have been sticking around. It is actually a reasonable goal.
There is really only one way to describe it: these fighters are more raw than a steak cut directly out of the cow. One of the contestants was a yoga instructor who had never done any training on striking. It would seem they pulled people of the street who looked like they met the weight requirements and seemed to have the necessary physique to fight. Luckily, Cung Le, who has the role of mentor and chief coach for both teams, recognized the unsuitability of this and was able to convince the poor guy to leave the show. Keep in mind though that I said raw; I didn't say that these guys suck. Any guy simply willing to step into the cage is more than likely going to be able to kick my ass so I don't have room to say that even if I did actually think that. But it appears that each contestant has at the very least a solid background in one thing or another. One showed nice striking and landed a beautiful overhand left to floor his opponent and another showed a strong reversal and throw indicating some wrestling background. Le summed it up for most of these guys after the first fight: if they can get the proper training these guys could develop into legit UFC fighters because at this point they would get brutalized even by the lower end guys on the roster.
Here the issue with that: Will the Chinese government allow these fighters an opportunity to find a suitable camp to develop their talents? I'm not totally sure what the Chinese government does and doesn't allow with their athletic citizens, but I did pay enough attention to Yao Ming's handling to know that the government does get a say in where they get to go. I could be wrong based on the fact that Ming played a more globally accepted sport and was a phenomenon that the government wanted to have their hands all over him and control what was done with him. Maybe they will consider these guys to be small fries and let them do whatever they want. I hope that is the case as camps such as Tristar, Jackson's MMA, and ATT could do wonders for the development of these fighters. It would easily be the best thing they could do to develop them.
There are a couple of other things worth noting. Though Le functions as the mentor, there are still two teams who are coached by UFC/WEC veteran Tiequan Zhang and Hailin Ao. Most of us know that Zhang isn't exactly a high level fighter, but he does own a couple of UFC/WEC victories. Not a lot is mentioned about Ao's background, but he seems fairly knowledgeable and a good coaching choice for the show. But he left the show after the second fight of the season for personal reasons that are never revealed. And we thought Tito Ortiz was bad for leaving when he did during his second stint as coach. Up to this point Cung Le's trainer has been filling in and actually seems to be an improvement, but I just figured it was weird as hell. Also, the subtitles have been somewhat humorous. Le doesn't speak Chinese, so he speaks English to them and someone translates to the others what he is saying. They still have the English subtitles for him (as well as the others that speak some English) and its funny what they translate to. In a post fight recap, Le states how one fighter "took advantage" of a situation and it was translated as "took revenge." At another point he refers to a fighter as a "kid" and it is translated as "kick." He also mentions Cain Velazquez at one point and his name is translated to "King Fransk." I wonder how much Mr. Fransk would appreciate that?