Wednesday, March 28, 2012

TUF Missing Out

The fight and show that put UFC on the map.
Fifteen years ago, the Ultimate Fighting Championship was barely removed from Tank Abbott and Royce Gracie fighting a guy with one bare hand and one boxing glove that resembled more of a Street Fighter character than an elite athlete. Dana White still had some hair and wore a tie for God's sake! The perception of what the sport of MMA was along with getting little attention and enthusiasm from fans all changed after Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonner went to battle for the first winner of the UFC's reality show, The Ultimate Fighter.

Now, this reality show finale was a little bloodier than Kelly Clarkson vs. Justin Guarini, but the impact it had was comparable. The UFC saw it's biggest ratings to date, and used that excitement to spring board to the fastest growing sport in the US.

Stick with the Bic, Dana.
So clearly, this show is important and even a tad sentimental to the UFC brass. It has produced more talent than any reality show ever with multiple champions, top contenders, and every day fighters that are still in the organization today and incorporate new TUF fighters every year. The show has, without a doubt, been a success.

Recently TUF has struggled to meet the ratings success of previous years. For better or worse the format has remained the same, or as some critics say stagnant. The talent hasn't been up to snuff with previous years, which is sort of to be expected. With the UFC bigger than ever, anyone that's anyone wants to be in the UFC already. Top quality guys will just sign outright without passing through TUF. It's reached a point where it's tough to envision a future champ ever coming through the TUF ranks. Ryan Bader is the last winner that might have a shot, but he's had some setbacks and looks to settle in as more of a borderline top 10 light heavyweight.

There are people that still watch TUF and even less people that care what the ratings are, but facts are facts and TUF is not performing as it should. Now, as TUF transitioned from Spike to FX, the ratings were already dropping steadily, Kimbo Slice season aside, so to expect a network change to a Friday night format to suddenly jump start a fledgling show is sort of like expecting the Teutuls to start assembling IKEA furniture instead of choppers for ratings points.

However, the first truly significant format change took place this season. The fights, all of which used to be pre-recorded months ago (aside from the televised live finale) would now be live. Live fights, real-time in a quick paced show. This is a great idea. There are even more people in attendance of the fights to remove the eerie silence that used to take place during early fights. Just the slapping sound of punches and kicks connecting, deep breaths of fighters, and feet sliding on canvas provide a more visceral feel to the fights, but do take away from the excitement of it.

Will there be another contender from TUF?
The format upped the shows pace and intensity, and the quailty of fights (...meaning finishes) has been great. There is just a natural energy that comes from a live fight over a pre-recorded bout. There are no chills or thrills, just the knowledge that you're watching the eventuality of an outcome that happened months ago. It's why all worthwhile sporting events are live, why awards shows are live. It's about the anticipation and the excitement.

Updating the format has made the show much more enjoyable. Sadly, the Friday night time slot does not help it's cause. I watch the show, but only on DVR over the weekend. I do wonder how many people haven't even given the new TUF Live an opportunity to entertain them. It is interesting, and with more focus on the fights and fighters than general antics in the house, the show runs like more of the UFC's excellent Countdown series than a simple reality show.

There is an interest in seeing how these potential future UFC stars act, but most people turning into TUF are there for the fights, the training, and the aspects of being a professional MMA fighter that draw them to the sport in the first place. With the UFC and Fox relationship just starting, I doubt anyone will panic over "only" pulling in a million viewers on FX on a Friday night, but the new format is a positive. Don't let the lower ratings make you think otherwise.

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