The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) Season 18 will come to a close this week, with Raquel Pennington and Jessica Rakoczy battling it out tonight to decide who will face Juliana Peña in Saturday’s finale. Last week, we learned Chris Holdsworth will fight David Grant in the finale as well. Several more names from the show have been announced to fight Saturday, along with a solid main event in Nate Diaz vs. Gray Maynard.
This season was highlighted by the continued rivalry between coaches Ronda Rousey (pictured above in her UFC 157 victory) and Miesha Tate. Familiar faces like Manny Gamburyan and Dennis Hallman entered the fray as well. It offered a lot of conflict, and thus a lot of memories for MMA fans.
Unless, you’re like me.
Then, despite enjoying some solid fights sprinkled throughout the season, you’re kind of sick of the whole thing. You’re pretty much done seeing strangers locked into a house arguing over leftover asparagus. You just don’t care to see the format continue. You’d like to see UFC move another direction.
The Ultimate Fighter was such a different world when it began its first season. The MMA world was a different place: unfamiliar, and without much history of North American success. ZUFFA, which was said to hemorrhaging money at the time, bought their way onto Cable TV and began a reality show. No one knew what would happen, and maybe the uncertainty of it all played into TUF’s success. It was something new and different.
We all know how it ended. Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin fought a spectacular slug-fest at the finale which earned (relative) ratings glory, and a whole new MMA audience began to emerge.
The show’s success not only turned ZUFFA’s fortune around, it set the course for MMA which we see today.
That, of course, was in 2005.
Today? Fans aren’t tuning in as much as they have in the past. In fact, this season boasts the least watched TUF episodes ever, making and then breaking new records in episodes 8 and 9.
It seems to be withering as we speak. Viewer numbers neared 900,000 earlier in the season, but only about half as many last week.
Some connect the presence of female fighters to the decline, but I’d argue that’s nonsense. The Ronda Rousey-headlined UFC 157 did just fine, and expect her rematch with Tate at 168 to do the same. Besides, the decline began before this season.
Mostly, fans are not tuning in because there’s just no need for TUF anymore. The UFC puts on more shows than anyone can keep track of. If a fighter shows ability, s/he should end up on one of them.
The fabled “six figure contract” that the likes of Griffin and Bonnar battled it out for back in 2005 just doesn’t mean what it once did. With more avenues for MMA success, earning the title of The Ultimate Fighter doesn’t mean what it once meant, either. How many have followed that achievement and eventually rose to a UFC championship? No one since season two.
(I don’t count Matt Serra winning TUF 5: “The Comeback.” That was a show for fighters who had already proven themselves, and it’s unlikely to ever be repeated.)
Yes, Ultimate Fighter Season 18 will hope to finish strong.
Maybe, it’s time to finish for good. Leave the TUF format for developing talent in developing markets like Brazil and China, and let’s move on.