From Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell all the way to modern-day champions like Jon Jones and Rashad Evans, The Ultimate Fighter has tried to bring in the most polarizing and popular figures to help garner some attention for each new season. Ratings are a big issue, though, and the show’s most recent iterations suffered from a steady decline in viewer interest with no lifesaver in sight. Then the UFC found Conor McGregor.
TUF has failed to really produce a lot of high-level talent in recent times. This season doesn’t look like it will provide a significant change to the trend. Looking back on it, we may only remember one thing about The Ultimate Fighter 22: it was the season of McGregor.
The Irishman is an almost unparalleled draw in the current MMA landscape. His charisma and skill attract viewers. Like moths to a flame, people will ultimately tune in. They want to see him either get shut up or continue to keep backing up the talk. It’s hard to look back at previous seasons and think of something more meaningful than McGregor’s current run as a coach on the reality series. The only big season in recent memory may be TUF 20, where the UFC brought forth its very first strawweight title fight with a season filled with the best 115-pound women on the planet.
Fox and the UFC tried to switch up the longtime reality show last season by pitting two gyms, the Blackzilians and American Top Team, against each other. By comparison in the first few episodes, the McGregor-led season was a 27 percent boost in terms of ratings against the changed format.
It’s clear that even with a format change the show just doesn’t have the pull without a name to help drag it out of ratings purgatory. McGregor instantly makes the season more compelling, and the numbers certainly reflect this. Heck, any of the videos posted on Facebook by the UFC for TUF and any advertisements you see on TV are normally centered around McGregor.
His talk on the show helps back that up as well. Now that bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw has left Team Alpha Male, a camp headed by Urijah Faber, McGregor’s coaching opposition this season, McGregor can be viewed as a prognosticator of sorts. The outspoken Irishman’s banter with Faber during filming included moments where he called out Dillashaw’s loyalty to Faber. McGregor went as far as saying that Dillashaw was a “snake in the grass.” Eventually, his prediction came true.
The TUF production crew edited the show in a way that started to push the idea of Dillashaw leaving the camp. It also conveyed the idea that a fight between Faber and Dillashaw was unavoidable. This may be the only other memorable thing about the season. Now, the UFC has already set the path for a Faber and Dillashaw showdown for the bantamweight title, a clash that both fighters in the past have been so adamant to claim would never happen. Now, they have a growing rivalry that has already been established with the casual fans during this season of TUF.
It’s things like Dillashaw and McGregor that make these shows memorable. Some fans will watch it for the fights, but what makes it memorable for other fans is the people involved in the show and the storylines that TUF creates. People tune in to watch the McGregors continue to work their charismatic magic and one-line insults. People tune in to watch storylines develop, like the Dillashaw-Faber feud.
The talent level to reach the title heights of the UFC may not be there this season, but we will remember The Ultimate Fighter 22. When we look back, we’ll remember McGregor and the start of what could be a future title fight in a division that needs a rivalry to help push it further. TUF planted some significant seeds this season. Now, the UFC will reap the rewards.