Chuck Liddell (Sherdog)

Crazy Thought: Would UFC Legends Bring Viewers Back to The Ultimate Fighter?

Every now and then you’ll be hit with a stat that makes you wonder where the time has gone. For example, I spent the majority of my teen years in the 1990s. I still feel like that’s a relatively short time ago and that I can relate to this new generation of kids coming out of college and high school. Then, I heard something that floored me. Kids who started high school this year weren’t even alive in the ‘90s! Another thing I realized a few weeks ago is that the first season of The Ultimate Fighter aired nearly 10 years ago. Has it really been a decade since Chris Leben urinated on Jason Thacker’s pillow? It’s unbelievable how quickly the pages of a calendar start to turn.

Some things age well. Alcohol and cheese are the only two that come to mind at the moment, but there have to be others. One thing that hasn’t improved with age, though, has been The Ultimate Fighter reality show. There have been 27 variations of the series (including the international seasons) since it debuted in 2005. Yet, no matter what tweaks occur within the platform, the seasons always seem to flow like this:

  1. Initial excitement for the announcement of who will be featured.
  2. Mixed reaction from said announcement.
  3. Decent promos and marketing leading to the season premiere.
  4. Positive buzz and momentum for first couple of weeks.
  5. Season goes stale; viewership declines.
  6. Ads implying a great fight or knockout will take place on the next episode.
  7. Ratings make an uptick to see the advertised fight or knockout.
  8. Fans lose interest again until the live finale.
  9. On the day of the live finale, viewers watch the TUF marathon to get caught up.
  10. Season winner is crowned; more often than not, we don’t hear much from them again.

This is really all The Ultimate Fighter has been over the last few years. The Ultimate Fighter: Rousey vs. Tate wasn’t bad, since it centered around the hate between the two coaches. However, we’re still waiting for Julianna Pena to recover from her severe knee injury and make her post-TUF debut. And has anybody seen Pena’s TUF finale opponent, Jessica Rakoczy, lately? That’s just symbolic of how many of the TUF alums have panned out. There are definitely some participants who have done well or are still doing great things inside the Octagon, but the distinction of winning the show has turned into the fighting equivalent of American Idol in the sense that the average fan can’t name the champions of recent seasons (The Ultimate Fighter 20 should at least prove to be an exception there, since the winner claimed a UFC title belt, not just a TUF trophy).


Over the years, some of the suggestions for ways to freshen up the product have turned into reality. We’ve seen the UFC match up the United States against the United Kingdom, feature only heavyweights, and do a live version of the show. There have been good suggestions put into action by the UFC over the years, too, but nothing is giving it the fresh vibe one would hope for. Even this last season, where the house was filled with female fighters vying to become the first-ever strawweight champion, didn’t catapult the show to the success it had many, many years ago.

UFC President Dana White has said there will be a revamped format next year, but the details of those plans have yet to be made public. So, I have a plan of my own that will bring back the viewers and ratings to TUF.

Imagine you see the flashing images on your screen of Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Matt Hughes, Rich Franklin, Tito Ortiz, Ken Shamrock and many other UFC legends. The voiceover says something to the effect of, “They built the UFC as you know it today. They have faded into the shadows, but now they’re looking for one … last … fight. The Ultimate Fighter 21: Legends.”

That’s right: the UFC should bring its legends back and put them in the house.

Look no further than Tito Ortiz for the reason why. Ortiz is a main draw for Bellator because of the name recognition he cultivated during the UFC’s golden era. If the UFC capitalized on fan nostalgia for guys like Ortiz and shacked up these greats in a house for a few months, it would bring back some of the fans the company has lost over the years. It would also provide a history lesson to viewers who have jumped in more recently. Obviously, something would have to change with the objective of the show, because there is no way these guys will be training to fight preliminary matches in an effort to crown a season winner. The entire season could focus on them living in the TUF house, rekindling old feuds, training with each other and following them in their daily lives as they are sent out to do things by the UFC. It could be charity, fight-related activities or just the normal day-to-day things, but there would be plenty of interaction between the fighters, as well as between them and the fans.

There would have to be some sort of fight at the end, though, right? Well, assuming they are medically cleared to do so, each fighter in the house would indeed fight another member of the house in the live season finale. I know, your initial reaction is that it would be sad to see our favorite fighters way past their prime get taped up one more time for one last fight. But could it be any worse than Ortiz’s third fight with Forrest Griffin or his recent clash with Stephan Bonnar? And could the ratings be any worse than they have been in recent memory? I say let’s give it a shot.

My other idea? Round up everyone on the WWE roster who has an interest in MMA and have them all compete for a UFC contract. In light of recent events, that actually seems too realistic, but I like to dream big.

The Ultimate Fighter 21: Legends, coming soon!”

It’s not such a bad idea, is it?