UFC: Rather Than Cancel The Ultimate Fighter, Why Not Revamp It?

UFC President Dana White
Credit: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

Rather than scrap The Ultimate Fighter altogether, why not revamp it? Make it meaningful? Make The Ultimate Fighter great again? Okay, maybe not that last one…

One of the more interesting reveals over the weekend in Liverpool was Dana White admitting that The Ultimate Fighter may be no more after the next edition of the show, which is to feature heavyweights and female featherweights. With plenty of story lines emerging from UFC Liverpool, it was easy to overlook White’s comments. Darren Till edged past Wonderboy, though where a close win and a blown weight cut puts the British welterweight star in terms of the title picture remains to be seen (Till, to his credit, has openly stated he doesn’t deserve a title shot right now). Neil Magny made short work of Craig White, but against a short notice replacement, the win, despite being an impressive finish, doesn’t do much for his stock.

Gillian Robertson deserves some credit, as the flyweight is now 2-0 in the division after being little more than an afterthought on The Ultimate Fighter 26. She made Molly McCann look like a fish out of water on the mat in Liverpool, and choked the English fighter out.

We won’t even get into the judging, which became an issue not only in the main event, but in the fantastic scrap between Jason Knight and Makwan Amirkhani.

Yet the claim that the UFC may now be TUF-less deserves a closer look. And frankly, the show that saved the promotion (if you believe the narrative) deserves better. Bad puns aside, there’s plenty of reason to keep The Ultimate Fighter around, just not necessarily in its current form.

First, lets take a look at what White told MMA Junkie on the subject over the weekend. “We’re coming up on the latest season of The Ultimate Fighter,” the UFC President said. “We don’t know. It might be the last one. Thirteen years, The Ultimate Fighter has gone. It’s incredible.”

Incredible indeed. Champions have been crowned. Some legendary talents, from Diego Sanchez to Rashad Evans, Matt Serra to Michael Bisping have appeared on the reality series. The show chugged along at a steady clip for the first ten seasons or so. The 10th installment of the series gave us the heavyweight season, one of the most popular editions to date. Kimbo Slice, Roy Nelson, Brendan Schaub, and Matt Mitrione all featured prominently in that season. Yet after that, the show began to struggle. Coach’s fights fell apart, like Brock Lesnar vs. Junior dos Santos and Roy Nelson vs. Shane Carwin. The talent pool thinned, with the best names moving directly to the UFC, bypassing the series altogether.

Aside from seasons 20 and 26, which introduced the women’s strawweight and flyweight divisions, respectively, there was little in the way of stakes on the line. Oh, a shot against Mighty Mouse sweetened the deal for the flyweight season, and the Redemption season (the show’s twenty-fifth) brought back some old favorites. But aside from season 17 — the Jones vs. Sonnen season that saw Uriah Hall tearing through the tournament only to be upset at the finale by Kelvin Gastelum — only the women’s seasons have really mattered. Or been watchable.

But that’s not to say it’s time to ditch the show entirely. Though ESPN didn’t pick the series up as part of their deal with the UFC, there’s reason for TUF to stick around a little longer. It’s just in need of a massive overhaul.

First up, two seasons per year? Gone! That’s one too many, and really depletes the talent pool too quickly. International editions of the show? You could keep them around, depending on viewership, but really, how many TUF: Brazil seasons do you need when the talent on the flagship show is waning?

Next, use TUF in ways that matter. Why were seasons 20 and 26 some of the best seasons in the past six or seven years? Because you were introducing a new weight class. Season 28, already announced, is doing the same with women’s featherweights (splitting the show with heavyweights, which is fine). There’s still an atomweight division for the women to consider as well, which could be big. While some might scoff at 105lbs, on the women’s side, it’s a relatively stacked division, and would really fill out the women’s side of the UFC. Five divisions, from 105 to 145lbs. Five champions.

If there’s ever to be a 165lb weight class, you use TUF.

You can expand from there. Want to get really crazy? Put on a celebrity season. Where only the winner ever gets a UFC contract. Yes, you’ll get plenty of C-Listers and amateurs and washed up actors, but you might also get a few wrestlers looking to jump over, who could be the next Lesnar or Lashley (hey, hey stop sharpening your pitch forks already, this is still a business). Or the next Aaron Chalmers, who looks like he could be a win for Bellator.

Make the finals and semi-finals a one-night, four fighter tournament. The UFC has strayed from those, but Bellator did it with their light heavyweights not too long ago. It would draw eyeballs, without question. It would make the finals of TUF a real tournament.

Ditch the drama, focus more on fighter’s backgrounds and personal stories (something the show has been slowly getting back to anyway).

You can fix TUF, and you can make it matter again. After all, Fight Pass still needs reasons for U.S. subscribers to log in. The Ultimate Fighter could be one of those, with just a few tweaks.