The Ultimate Fighter 20 is now two weeks into the season and has opened up to some mixed vibes. For those of us who are entrenched in the MMA world, it’s often hard to have a pulse on the reception of the casual fan. Ratings have historically been a good indicator, but even those have been more difficult to use as a gauge with more and more people opting to not watch the show live and instead viewing it on their DVR or catching it when it rebroadcasts. Regardless of the ratings, it is apparent that this edition of TUF needs to pick up the pace in some areas to build momentum leading to the series finale.
A common theme in past years of TUF has been tension between the coaches and camps. Rivalries between coaches such as Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate, Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell, or Dan Henderson and Michael Bisping, just to name a few, carried the show at times and helped build many of the fights that took place between the coaches at the end of the season. Gilbert Melendez and Anthony Pettis seemingly have been given direction to not have any communication with each other; at least that’s how it appears in the broadcast. There isn’t even as much as a glance toward each other at any point, including fight announcements. One of the more notable coaches on the staff of either side, Nate Diaz (Team Melendez) has had his image appear only once or twice. All signs are pointing to a very cordial relationship between the two camps, which doesn’t do much to build up their upcoming fight, nor does it give any “watercooler” talk for viewers. There’s not much that can be done at this point with the show already in the can, but we can hope for some sort of interaction between Melendez and Pettis.
If sparks aren’t going to fly between coaches, then rivalries really need to develop inside the house. Felice Herrig and Heather Clark are the front-runners to provide the biggest fireworks before, during and after their fight. Herrig will no doubt be the one fighter who will continue to draw attention to herself, and she has already struck a nerve with Clark. The two will face off against each other in their upcoming preliminary fight.
While Herrig and Clark will create a storyline, there has to be more substance to the personalities of these fighters. It’s such a unique group of women, and viewers are only getting a snippet of what goes on in the house. Yes, the UFC has long made a concentrated effort to keep the bulk of what it broadcasts focused to reflect what goes on inside the gym, but watching these fighters hit bags and run on treadmills does not make for interesting television to most. Fans want to see more interaction between the stars of the show outside of training. It would be a huge disservice to both the fans and fighters if the show continues the way it is and more air time isn’t devoted to life inside the house.
We’ve established the show needs more substance, something that’s going to really give it a buzz to carry it through the next few months. The Ultimate Fighter in itself is a tired format that needs a shot in the arm. This season was intended to reverse its course with the bold teaser trailers and tweaks to the way the fighters were selected, as well as how the match-ups were determined. Although most aren’t entirely sure how accurate the fighters were ranked, the rankings were intended to help protect the more notable fighters from drawing a tough preliminary match-up and being bounced in their first fight. Unfortunately, we now lose the opportunity to see a fighter call out another fighter and see them go at it in the prelims like we were able to in prior seasons.
All is not bad for this season of TUF. Not by a long shot. The foundation for an exciting show is in place. The talent and personalities are there, in addition to a UFC belt awaiting the winner at the finish line. The success is going to be dependent upon whether viewers feel intrigued to keep coming back to the show every week or opt to just tune out until the finale when the champion is crowned.
We need more insight into these fighters, and it takes more than just a three-minute back story to feel connected to them. These are all brand-new names for most UFC fans, and relying on promoting a UFC champion at the end of the show is not going to be enough to maintain the attention of the viewers each week. It’s only been two weeks, but based on trailers, tweets and interviews, it feels as if we may be missing some of the drama and rivalry that we look forward to in a TUF series.