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McGregor or Not, It’s Time for the UFC to Put ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ on Hiatus

By Chris Huntemann, Columnist

Forrest Griffin. Stephan Bonnar. Rashad Evans. Michael Bisping.

Colton Smith. Eddie Gordon. Corey Anderson. Davey Grant.

Which of these groups doesn’t belong? Well, actually, they both belong. But that’s part of the problem. These fighters are all winners of The Ultimate Fighter. (Except for Bonnar, of course, who did more for the show in his loss to Griffin at the end of the first season than the entire second group combined.)

While the first group of fighters have enjoyed tremendous success in the UFC – winning world titles and in Griffin and Bonnar’s case, becoming Hall of Famers – the second group have barely made a dent in the UFC, and Smith was released outright after three straight losses.

The first season of The Ultimate Fighter saved the UFC from certain demise, and the first few seasons churned out incredible talent like the aforementioned fighters, as well as other stalwarts like Matt Serra, Nate Diaz, Ryan Bader and Roy Nelson. While later incarnations of the show have produced promising fighters like Tony Ferguson and a champion in UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw, by and large the quality of talent has dropped dramatically over the last few seasons.

The talent isn’t the only part of The Ultimate Fighter that’s fallen off, even UFC President Dana White admitted that the show’s 19th season (won by Gordon and Anderson) was “without a doubt, the worst season.” Ever since the show’s 10th season, which featured heavyweight fighters like Nelson, Brendan Schaub, Matt Mitrione and Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson and received some of the highest ratings ever, the show’s recent ratings have fallen to among their lowest points.

Recent attempts to change things up with the show have proven unsuccessful as well. The show’s 20th season featured the introduction of the women’s strawweight division, but the first episode still drew the worst ratings ever for a TUF premiere.

What could be attributing to the decline in quality and ratings? I believe the regional talent pool just isn’t what it used to be. In the glory days of The Ultimate Fighter, the UFC was the only game in town, so it always attracted the best fighters. Today, there are other options out there like Bellator, World Series of Fighting and smaller, regional promotions like Titan FC, Resurrection Fighting Alliance (RFA) and Lion Fight Promotions.

While the rise of these new promotions gives mixed martial arts fans more options, it also thins out the talent pool. Instead of signing the most promising prospects to be on The Ultimate Fighter, fighters may elect to join Bellator or World Series of Fighting, or ply their trade in regional organizations before possibly joining the UFC. Or just outright join the UFC, because TUF contracts are perhaps the most notoriously stingy

But all is not lost for The Ultimate Fighter. The UFC introduced a new format in the most recent season, pitting gym against gym with fighters from American Top Team competing against fighters from the Blackzilians in a point-style competition. While it didn’t really lead to a boost in ratings, I think changing things up is one way to keep the show relevant. And while it remains to be seen what kind of ratings Conor McGregor can churn up while coaching on next season’s USA vs. Europe narrative (how original!) opposite Urijah Faber, you can almost guarantee that the premiere will shatter the abysmal numbers produced by recent seasons.

However, the UFC may ultimately just have to put the show on the shelf until the regional MMA talent pool can replenish itself. It’s not like the UFC is lacking for programming. Just in the last week, there has been one pay-per-view and two Fight Night cards, with two more Fight Night cards airing on July 18.

There was a time when The Ultimate Fighter would introduce you to the next great UFC fighter. But given the forgettable names that have captured the show’s crown recently, the UFC should put the show on hiatus until it can think up the next great idea.

Chris Huntemann writes about mixed martial arts in the state of Maryland. He also shares his thoughts on the UFC, Bellator, and World Series of Fighting. Check out his blog, or follow him on Twitter: @mmamaryland.

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