With this past Saturday wrapping up what many consider to be the worst season of the Ultimate Fighter in the history of the show, it seems pretty obvious that the show needs to be shaken up a bit. And no, I don’t think bringing Mayhem Miller and Michael Bisping in as coaches constitutes that shake up, no matter how entertaining I’m sure they’ll be. With next season being numero 14 and international versions of TUF about to sprout around the world, it’s time to take a close look at the UFC’s flagship TV program and see what can be done to revitalize it again.
Make it for a million dollars
The ‘six figure UFC contract’ TUF winners earned might have been impressive back in 2006, but it’s pretty weak in a world where fighter pay can jump so quickly off a few impressive performances. The show just isn’t attracting prospects any more because it’s several weeks of hell for the slim chance to win a long term deal of questionable attractiveness. And on the viewership side, TUF fighters often end up in the UFC regardless of whether they win the show or not, making the ultimate prize pretty meaningless to them.
But a million bucks – a nice big number used by many other reality show competitions – could change things around. These guys are prize fighters, so it makes sense to offer a better a prize if you want better fighters. That doesn’t just apply to the winner. Fighters should be paid for the fights they have on TUF. It doesn’t have to be crazy money, but we’re past the day where you can expect a professional fighter to fight several times for nothing. If the price is right, you’d have all the top prospects you could ever want clamoring to get on the show. Surely there must be some money lying around considering the UFC gives away over 100,000 in bonuses after every event.
Open TUF up to fighters who are already in the UFC
TUF exists to turn new fighters into stars. But why shouldn’t guys already in the UFC be allowed a chance to shine too? If the UFC wants to convince people that the contestants on TUF are worthy of being in the UFC, what better way than to mix them in with existing UFC fighters? Sure, you’d need a step up in the quality of contestants you bring in, but that’s kinda the point of all these changes. There’s also nothing saying you have to let the Jon Fitches of the world in – fighter selection would obviously still be at the UFC and Spike’s discretion.
Stop letting the coaches pick the fights
Matchmaking is an extremely important part of mixed martial arts. Not only does the person who picks the fights have a major advantage in knowing who’ll win, but it also determines how entertaining a fight will be. On TUF, winning a fight earns your team control of matchmaking and this has often led to one team holding onto control and picking the other team apart.
It’s also led to a lot of terrible fights where weak fighters survive by facing handpicked opponents who’s holes are exploitable. We’ve seen the result of this season after season: the opening round where coaches get matchmaking control is terrible while things get more interesting in the semis when a consensus on fights needs to be reached. That also ties us into the next point:
Force the coaches to spend more time together
I don’t know if this is the answer to how matchmaking on TUF should be handled, but you could always force the coaches to sit down with Dana and hammer out what matchup should happen in each episode. The obvious advantage to this is that it forces the coaches to deal with each other on a weekly basis in stressful situations where there’s bound to be disagreement. But that’s just one random idea – the important part of all this is forcing more coach interaction.
One of the biggest problems with the current TUF situation is there’s so little mixing between coaches – they may run into each other as one team arrives to train and the other leaves. Past that there’s just weigh-ins, fight announcements, and the fights themselves, where it’s easy enough to stay in your corner and focus on your coaching job. Contrast these situations to the coaching challenge in every season, a fan favorite where coaches have no choice but to deal with each other. Surely some smart television people can sort out more ways to make these guys spar. It’s what the fans want to see.
There’s a bunch of other things the show could do, but if I wrote them out I’d just be rehashing the list I made way way back in 2007. A lot of those ideas still stand true as well, especially getting rid of the losers and giving fighters more rewards. But a lot of those ideas are light cosmetic switch ups. The most important changes that need to be made are the ones that would see the quality of the competition go up, and there’s no better way to accomplish that than by dangling a bigger carrot and opening up TUF to the UFC’s own talent pool.