When I watched the new episode of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season 18 last night, I realized something: it’s actually not complete garbage. The recycled vomit crust that had enveloped the series has actually been crinkled loose, and its luster has been restored to a status not seen since TUF 1. What other season has featured so many competitors who can be accurately described as pioneers? Hell, I listened to a Sherdog Radio interview with Shayna Baszler in 2008, and I’ve had my Roxanne Modafferi t-shirt (courtesy of Fightlinker) for multiple years as well. Lining up a similar roster of noted fighters (and less noted ones who end up kicking some of their asses) will probably never be possible again for either gender, but especially for women, as female fighters of various weights all seem to try to shoehorn themselves into the single cash cow of the 135-lb women’s division (such as it is).
Further, the portrayal of Ronda Rousey on the show, much ballyhooed as negative beforehand, does not actually seem so unfavorable to her, at least so far. She really just seems kinda intense. In a way, it might even make her even more marketable if she embraces the “cray cray image” she conveys, as her edict of “I will retire undefeated” and hysterics about Meisha Tate’s joy at seeing Baszler lose (to which Tate replied, “Dude, she’s my friend”) were delivered with a conviction that could end up growing on people.
This confluence of factors, combined with the atrociously low ratings the series has gotten, may actually portend doom for the series’ long-term viability. Simply put, the show is firing on every barrel it can, yet ratings are at an all-time low. The Sonnen vs. Shogun card did excellent ratings, so it’s not like people don’t know how to tune to Fox Sports 1; it seems to be a problem with the actual programming. UFC President Dana White launched into a massively analytical breakdown of the situation instead of swearing, meaning he must actually be extremely fearful about it. The obvious answer here is for White to emphasize that in addition to the appeal factors listed above, the fighters might actually fuck. The implication that things could escalate into a full-scale porno practically guarantees my continued viewership.