It’s crazy to think “The Ultimate Fighter” starts its 14th season Wednesday night on Spike. I am in the lowest common denominator when it comes to most reality shows. I think that’s because I have the attention span of a gnat, but I love TUF. I know seasons 11-13 didn’t produce many lasting memories, but I have high hopes for this season. Maybe those are the same hopes that Charlie Brown has each time he goes to kick the football, but I think we have the ingredients needed for a good (if not great) season.
It starts with the coaches. After suffering through nice guys Junior Dos Santos and GSP, we now have coaches you either love or hate in Michael Bisping and Jason “Mayhem” Miller. It’s funny, but I have as many friends that can’t stand Miller as those that hate Bisping’s act. As we saw with Rampage Jackson and Rashad Evans in season 10, when you have two coaches jaw-jacking each week it’s pretty damn entertaining.
When the coaches fight at the end of the year I think Bisping wins easy, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to the many ways “Mayhem” will attempt to get under Bisping’s (thin) skin. That was the complaint you heard the most when Bisping coached against Dan Henderson. People were mad that Dan didn’t trash talk more, but in hindsight didn’t that make Dan’s brutal KO much more enjoyable?
Miller doesn’t possess Henderson’s punching power, but he always has something to say when a camera is around and the next couple of weeks should be no different. By week #3 I bet we hear Bisping say “I really don’t like the guy.”
The coaches can be the best talkers in the world, but the show will always come down to the fighters and the fights themselves. Guys like Junie Browning, Jamie Yager and Alex “Bruce Leroy” Caceres made for good drama within the four walls of the house, but had nothing within the eight sides of the octagon.
I don’t know that we can expect anything new when it comes to what we see in the house. Pranks, drunken idiots and guys looking like fools on national TV for giving up a shot in the UFC because they missed a girlfriend no longer seem interesting. Chris Cope who was on the last season of TUF told me a very funny story about in-house “drama.” According to Cope, as soon as guys lost a fight they would do anything in their power to get a fight on the season finale.
In order to do that, they would have to find a conflict (real or faked) with another member of the house. Cope said it became a running joke as guys would look for the lights of the TV camera and would then approach the closest fighter standing around and tell that guy why it was important they fought on the finale.
Maybe the most intriguing part of season 14 is the debut of featherweights and bantamweights. Some of the best fights happen in the lower weight classes and with Dana White announcing fans now have the chance to vote on fight, KO and submission of the season; you have to believe guys will go for it for a shot at that $25k bonus.
White has been guilty of over-hyping TUF in the past, but knowing the premiere is two hours long to show all of the elimination round fights is fine with me.
This will be the final season of TUF on Spike before the UFC’s new TV deal kicks in with FX. Season 15 will feature live fights, coaches training with their teams and longer seasons. Change is good and hopefully the changes will keep the show around for a while.
One of the biggest problems has been trying to live up to what we saw in the first season. In hindsight it’s crazy to think guys with such strong UFC careers as Josh Koscheck, Chris Leben, Kenny Florian, Diego Sanchez, Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin were all introduced in that class.
People talk about the classic fight between Bonnar and Griffin as well as the natural dislike between Koscheck and Leben, but many of us forget the episode in which Bobby Southworth had to cut 20lbs to make weight. That was insane as Southworth kept trying to quit while Koscheck forced him to stay in the sauna. You thought there was no way Southworth would be able to fight, much less win. Southworth did win and it was one of the many memorable moments of season one.
Fighters in the following seasons must have gotten the message as I can’t remember another incident of guys needing to cut so much weight in so little time.
Producers of the show have a chicken/egg dilemma when it comes to casting. Do you look for funny guys who are decent fighters or good fighters that may not have the best personality? It might seem like an easy choice, but with the average household having 300 channels you need guys that are entertaining.
When you have 16 guys living in the same house, you need to do something to stand out. From the brief preview on the UFC’s website I saw a guy with green hair. I don’t know his name or his record; I just figure he must be tough as hell to walk into that situation with green hair so I will pay attention when he fights.
With the anticipation comes pressure to live up to White’s declaration “These are the best elimination fights ever.” That sets the bar pretty high. I’m sure there will be a couple of blogs along the way where I am complaining about what I think is wrong with the show. It happens every year, but if we can get a couple of new names to remember it will all be worth it. If we get to the end and the only fight we want to see is Bisping vs. Miller, then even next year’s changes may not be enough to peak interest in a show that has meant so much to the growth of MMA