No one can argue the triumphant impact The Ultimate Fighter had on this once dying sport we call mixed martial arts. In a time when many pundits questioned if the sport would ever make it and survive its “dark days,” the UFC introduced its ultra-popular reality television series. Season one of TUF was historic in every sense of the word, but not necessarily because of what happened during the show. Instead, it was the lasting effects the show has had in the landscape of the MMA world.
Let us fast-forward almost 15 years later. Here we are, 21 seasons strong and still growing. Well, at least the number of seasons is still growing. What about the quality of product? Though it would be hard to match the names and talent that came out of the first few seasons — especially season one — the show has done very little over the past couple of years to get fans excited for what’s on deck.
With the UFC pumping out as many shows as it does now, it is only logical that the quality of fighters we see inside the eight-sided cage will not be the same as it has been in years past. That is more evident as ever when it comes to the TUF competitors over the last handful of seasons. It is no secret that since the heavyweight season (season 10), the show has struggled with viewership. It has experienced almost a constant decline with each passing season, with some exceptions, of course. We just haven’t seen the future title contenders we grew accustomed to seeing while watching the early years of The Ultimate Fighter.
When people tuned in to watch the show, they did so because they were looking for the next big star who was going to challenge the champion in their respective division or who has the potential to be one of the greats. Over the years, though, it has become very apparent that is no longer the case. The quality of TUF contestants has fallen off when compared to former TUF alums like Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans, Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez. People generally tuned in to Spike TV, the former home of the UFC, to see high-level mixed martial artists put it all on the line to live out their dream of fighting for the UFC. With today’s standards, not only is the quality of fighters not up to par, but basically everyone in the house had the opportunity to fight at least once for the UFC. This has changed with the some of the more recent seasons, but the trend undoubtedly took away from the drama of who would win the contract.
All these falling blocks over the years have landed us here where we are today. But, to the UFC’s credit, the company has tried to revamp the TUF format and bring new life to the show, albeit with mixed results. It tried to go with the live format in season 15, airing each bout inside the house live and on free television. The UFC also brought in a whole new division and crowned a new champion during the last season of TUF, where the promotion introduced its women’s strawweight division. This new season went a completely different direction than the prior 20 shows by pitting two local gyms against each other. And it’s not just any two gyms, but two gyms — the Blackzilians and American Top Team — separated by just a few miles, who genuinely seem to dislike each other and are arguably two of the top five MMA gyms in the world.
Yet, still, this season has not received much hype, if any. And it has drawn little attentions from MMA fans and media alike. The first episode aired on Wednesday, and I did what I always do when any UFC show is on: I went on Twitter. Social media is a great indication of how many people are watching and how a show is being received. I cannot remember another UFC event that had so little buzz on the web. Most people who interact or post anything MMA related are generally considered the hardcore fans of the sport. If they aren’t watching, then who is?
If the lack of hype for this new season of TUF proves anything, it is the fact that the show should be on its last mile and quickly running out of gas. But don’t tell that to the UFC, which doesn’t seem ready to stop producing what was once a staple of the promotion anytime soon, even if conventional wisdom tells them otherwise.
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