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Redefining Success For The Ultimate Fighter

(They’ve given you everything they had, and still you’d rather watch Top Chef.)

Adam Swift over at has an interesting look at the ratings history of The Ultimate Fighter. What he discovered — ratings for the show are getting steadily worse — should come as no surprise, but it is worthwhile to look at what it means for the show and for the UFC. First off, the cold hard numbers.

The show is currently averaging a 1.07 rating in its seventh season. That’s down from 1.12 last season, 1.18 in season five, and so on all the way back to season three’s peak of 1.69 (slightly better than season one’s 1.6). Among men aged 18-34 the show is doing a 1.6, up from 1.5 last season and on par with the 1.6 in season five. The ratings among that demographic group also peaked in season three with a 2.9, up from 2.2 in the first season and 2.5 in the second.

You don’t have to be an expert on TV or math to see that overall, TUF is on a steady ratings decline. While the show has been holding fairly strong among 18-34 year-old men during the last three seasons, it’s still clear that the initial luster of this series has worn off for the general public. The question is, what does it mean?

One thing we have to remember is that some of this is due to the nature of reality TV. So much of the genre is built on novelty, which is ironic when you consider that almost all reality TV programming follows the same predictable path in terms of format and structure.

When TUF debuted it was unlike any other show on television. Instead of hoping for a fight between reality show contestants, we were promised one. It was tremendously successful in getting the UFC brand into the public sphere. It exposed a lot of new viewers to something they hadn’t seen before, and that usually equals great success right off the bat (just look at the initial success of Fox’s Moment of Truth, which turned out to be a cultural disaster).

But after a few seasons the TUF format inevitably became stale. Ratings peaked in season three with the Tito Ortiz-Ken Shamrock rivalry, and then hit a new low in season 4, with the numbers dropping in each successive season.

The point is, if you’re a TV watcher in America you’ve probably made up your mind about the show by now. And if you like MMA you have far more options these days than you did when the show premiered. Of course, part of the reason you have those options is because of the success of TUF, but television is and always will be a ‘what-have-you-done-for-me-lately’ type of business.

For all the criticism the show receives from hardcore fans, the encouraging thing is that the UFC and Spike have been taking steps to try and give people what they want. We complain about too much manufactured drama and not enough fights, they respond by giving us more fights per episode and cutting back on footage of guys wandering aimlessly through the TUF house. Will that appease the show’s fickle demographic?

Probably not. But that’s the way it is, particularly with a reality TV show on a cable network without much in the way of original programming. The show seems to be holding steady among 18-34 year-old men, but don’t expect that number to be markedly improved when Frank Mir and Big Nog take over as coaches next season.

At the same time, Spike TV seems to be happy with the ratings, and why wouldn’t they be? It’s one of their most popular offerings. It may be that TUF has to readjust its barometer for success. It’s a show about up-and-coming fighters, many of whom are simply not good enough to be worthy of fighting on TV for people’s entertainment. Some of them are a few years away from that point, others are light years from it. But considering what the show offers and where it is in its evolution, the UFC shouldn’t be surprised or even disheartened at these ratings.

Maybe it just proves that reality TV, at its core, just kind of sucks. The fact that even when it sucks it’s still better than According to Jim, that might have to be enough consolation for now.


Cagepotato Comments

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Rob- May 21, 2008 at 10:37 am
its easy to understand why ratings are dropping.

the biggest star in the ufc (Liddell) is 1-2. not too mention even espn covered the fact that captain america was being jerked out of money by the ufc
bump- May 19, 2008 at 6:19 pm
They should do a season with nothing but pro wrestlers if they want ratings. I hate my idea, but it would work.
C-Bus Allstar- May 19, 2008 at 5:48 pm
LOL @ Smoking weed after developing a crack habit

I think Sarah's got the right of it. I, myself, have bought a PPV, (I really only got it to see Serra get stomped by GSP), and now I watch the show and I'm just like, man, these guys are so afraid of getting kicked off the show that they don't do anything interesting anymore. I remember the Upper Decker, I remember Jared Rollins kicking in the door after War Machine did the Upper Decker.. But I don't remember any of the regular season fights.

I think they should give the guys a little more freedom to destroy shit, that's good TV right there.
Aryan- May 19, 2008 at 1:44 pm
They need to get creative. Through some hot chicks in there. The winners get the chicks
sarah- May 19, 2008 at 1:04 pm
i think ronnie dobbs is on to something...

many of the former TUF watchers have "graduated" from watching the show to enjoying PPVs and fight nights instead. now that they're more familiar with the sport, they recognize the talent better and have moved past watching beginners. it's like an intro class on MMA.

in this way, then, TUF is sort of a gateway drug for MMA. people not familiar with the sport like it for the reality show gimmick, but then get drawn into the sport and start dropping $40 on the PPVs, $80 for a t-shirt, $200 for tickets. after that, TUF seems a bit slow for their tastes, like smoking weed after you've established a crack habit.

it's smart.
alan- May 19, 2008 at 9:23 am
lol m not even gonna watch s8
seamus- May 19, 2008 at 6:59 am
What does it matter if Forrest has a personality or not? (which he has) the show is about the fighters not the coaches, I think they train so much in the weeks in the house they have nothing left when it comes to fight! Look at warmachine and Jarred last year, they did nothing during the show due to being wrecked all the time and after they had a couple of months rest after the show their fight was one of the best I have seen to date! All in all the talent in the house is pretty much non existant, Mac Danzig has been the best talent in a long time!!!
luke- May 19, 2008 at 6:48 am
I still look forward to TUF every week but this year while they seem to have reduced the rehashing of the last fight and what happened on last week's show during the first 10 mins of the show this season, which is great, they seem to have concentrated more on just the fights.

This leaves less time for training and house airtime, which is when you get to know the fighters, and actually start to care about them, and this season I feel like I dont really know or care about any of the fighters.

I'll still watch this season and tune in for next season, but I hope they find a better balance of fighting, training and house time.
pfid- May 19, 2008 at 6:17 am
Disliking the show because of a lack of start talent or the lack of big personalities misses the whole point of the show. If you are a true MMA fan (and/or an MMA practitioner), you would focus your attention on their training and the fights (good or bad). The only drama you should care about is the difficult time they have in doing what they are doing, and how well they deal with the pressure. Rather than watch coaches with big personalities bicker, and knuckle heads smash up a house, I like the show for more subtle reasons, such as watching a young fighter that thinks he's a bad ass realize he's not (or is). Seeing how the person deals with a set back (or success) and what happens to them in the future is interesting and should be for any true fan. The new format (i.e. fighting to get into the house) has improved things exponentially in my opinion and while that might not be enough to attract a more general audience, who cares? Hopefully that will just mean less generic reality show bullshit to appease the masses and more catering to the serious MMA fans.
Ronnie Dobbs- May 19, 2008 at 12:09 am
Maybe the crowd that TUF drew a couple years ago ordered a few PPVs over the years and now see the difference between world-class and good local-level fighters. I'll keep watching, but it's run its course.
Pantera Mojo- May 18, 2008 at 11:35 pm
It's the best show on Wednesday night. If you want to complain about it, then don't watch. Go watch American Idol you fags.
cutthroat- May 18, 2008 at 11:03 pm
It's a shame as I would like to watch the show myself but it is on way to early (7pm PST) and I dont get home till around 10pm. I coulda sworn previous seasons were on later at night....ooh well.

Also I have no DVR to record it :(
out- May 18, 2008 at 10:43 pm
Are you serious? Keyboard has more personality than Forrest?

CP, do you guys have a T-Shirt contest for dumbest posts?
.- May 18, 2008 at 9:50 pm
all there is to it is that ramage and forrest arent the stars that chuck or randy are. the average person doesnt know/care about anyone but the "top" few. so unless they bring someone back with that kind of 'star power'

hell if kimbo was the coach the show would do better.
godzillad- May 18, 2008 at 9:40 pm
The reason TUF is failing has nothing to do with the format, just the quality of talent. They're tapped dry.

You had seasons one and two with guys who were already known in the MMA community, seasons three, six, and seven were one or two prospects/featured fighters surrounded by guys at .500.

They need to scrap the show, period.
knightrida- May 18, 2008 at 9:27 pm
What do expect when you have forrest griffin as a coach? My keyboard has more personality. Season 8 will be that much worse.