The Ultimate Fighter Live is producing one of my favorite seasons in UFC history, yet it is also producing the lowest ratings in TUF history. Since everyone else under the sun has blogged about how they would fix the show, I figured I would give my two-cents as someone who watches weekly.
I want to say upfront that I am a big fan of this season’s TUF. I love the coaches, I love the dynamic, I think the fighters are arguably more skilled as a whole than almost any other season past the first few, I love the live aspect, and I just think the show is great. Maybe it is because the last couple of seasons were some of the least interesting in show history but the bottom line here is that I think this is a great show.
Add Commentary – This is a no brainer and is something that has been suggested in just about every article or blog I have written about improving TUF. The idea of two fighters you don’t know fighting in a gym is not very appealing to the casual eye. Adding some commentary would give the fight some more perspective, educate the audience to the moves and sequences, and help create some much needed drama in those lagging situations. The Contender had commentary and I think it made a big difference in creating drama during that great first season of the boxing reality show. Jon Anik is already there, give him a microphone, a partner, and let’s get some announcers into the mix.
Produce another Comeback season – One of my favorite seasons of The Ultimate Fighter was the Comeback. The comeback brought together a bunch of struggling UFC fighters that fans already knew and gave them one last opportunity to hold on to their coveted UFC job. I tend tune out quickly during most TUF seasons because quite frankly I have little interest in watching amateur fighters with little technique fight in a gym with 30 people.
The reason I loved the Comeback season was because every fight had technique and was just as good as a fight you would see on pay per view. There is also something different about watching a fighter who finally achieved his dream struggle with losing it as opposed to a young fighter that improved quickly and didn’t work for it nearly as hard. There are a lot of fighters in the UFC under contract that are either one fight away from being cut or on the verge of being cut immediately so they would have no shortage of talent available. Let’s bring it back!
Stick to light heavyweights and heavyweights – I know this one is going to draw the ire of hardcore MMA fans but the fact of the matter is that casual fans want to see big guys throwing down as opposed to smaller, faster fighters. Hey listen, I think this may be the best season in TUF history when it comes to fights. But I am also the hardcore MMA fan that is going to watch the show no matter what. The reason a heavyweight title fight does so well on pay per view is because fans think they are going to see knockouts. Casual fans don’t understand that they have just as good a chance of seeing a knockout with the lighter weight classes. If you want to bring in some new eyes they need to see fighters that are bigger than they are slugging it out and looking for a knockout.
Open up the gym to fans – There are already too many UFC shows as it is so I would never endorse adding another live event, especially weekly. However, there are a couple of different ways the UFC can add a live audience and more excitement to the fights. The best way to do this would be to open up the UFC Gym to a limited number of live fans. The UFC could even scrutinize the list and only invite Fight Club members, making sure you are getting a rabid fan in the building as opposed to a casual fan off the street.
Having a full house of fans in the gym going nuts for a fight could not only add a whole new dimension of excitement to the show, it could make future stars. A viewer sitting at home watching an audience chanting the name of a fighter because he had an exciting fight may see that fighter as someone different than just an inexperienced amateur fighter. Another way to add an audience would be to bring the fights to a sound stage somewhere and give away free tickets like TNA Wrestling does, although I think opening up the gym is a much better way to accomplish the same thing.
Eliminate preliminary fights – I know Dana White loves the preliminary fights but I absolutely detest them. There is nothing more boring to me than watching a two hour show of back to back to back to back amateur fights with little technique or excitement. Remember, these are all fighters who can’t get into the UFC. So now you are doubling the amount of amateur fighters which means you are really getting some bottom barrel fights in there. Outside of the fights they sit the coaches there and eliminate any kind of tension the two may have by putting them together as commentators.
While this season did have some killer preliminary fights, I still tuned out. The whole point of a reality show is to provide some color and entertainment outside of just fights. In addition, you are taking away time from getting to know the winners by shuffling them in and out for more fights. If people wanted to watch two hours of amateur fights that badly, local arenas would be turning crowds away. The problem here is that you bore casual viewers out of TUF early and rarely do they come back.
Bring back fighter challenges – The early days of The Ultimate Fighter had challenges where fighters had to compete in different games like obstacle courses, etc. in order to win fight advantages. I don’t think you need to go back to putting fight advantages on the line but I think you can bring back the challenges for monetary gain, some hard green cash. As much as I love MMA some of these episodes of The Ultimate Fighter can get boring when it is just training and fighting. I know you are putting your athletes at higher risk for injury but they face those same risks by training and fighting. I think the training could provide a different element and allow fighter personalities to shine.