By Elias Cepeda
You never know with this MMA reality competition show stuff. Sometimes it hits gold (many *cough*mostly early*cough* seasons of The Ultimate Fighter, for example) and sometimes you get The Iron Ring. Major media companies getting behind these reality-show endeavors is never a guarantee of compelling and convincing fight television content and neither is past success – as evidenced by several dud seasons of TUF (Ed note: *makes “watching you” gesture toward TUF 16*.)
That said, we were kind of interested to see what Spike TV was doing with their second go at MMA reality television, especially after the cast was announced. Fight Master is the network’s first foray into post-UFC MMA reality programming and features Randy Couture, Frank Shamrock, Joe Warren, and Greg Jackson coaching aspiring Bellator fighters. The show debuts next week on Spike, but we got a sneak peak at the first episode Wednesday afternoon. After the jump, we’ve provided a little bit more info about the show’s structure, as well as the good and not-so-good aspects of the production, thus far.
The show begins with thirty two welterweight hopefuls; half of them will make it to New Orleans and onto the rest of the show, half of them will also make it to New Orleans but will be immediately hogtied and tossed into a swamp full o’ gators. Supposedly, the winner will receive $100,000 and a spot in a Bellator season tournament.
Each of the four coaches will have teams of four fighters. There’s more background info on the preliminary fighters from application videos and interviews than one might expect, resulting in a more heightened interest level in the guys trying to get into the house than I have, for the most part, experienced with their TUF counterparts on the first episodes of seasons past. Because of this additional footage, however, the elimination round is going to take more than a single episode.
Fight Master offers more twists on the TUF formats we’ve seen over the years in addition to some similarities. Here are a few of our favorites and some that we didn’t dig.
The Fighters: To put it lightly, the initial average talent level of Fight Master appeared to be levels above some seasons of TUF. Sure, some were better than others and everyone had weaknesses, but for the most part, everyone looked pretty composed, coordinated, and skilled. At the heart of a good show are good fighters, and Fight Master seems like it could be a clear success in this regard. Think TUF seasons 1 and 5.
Coach Emotion: The four coaches watched the elimination rounds like creeps, sitting in easy chairs and with spot lights on them. But, they wouldn’t stop talking – providing an interesting snap shot of how they watch and analyze fights. What’s more, they really got into the fights. Randy Couture and Joe Warren, especially, seemed to get rowdy in calling out instructions to fighters, celebrating, etc. They seemed genuinely into it, which personally helped me get into it as a viewer.
Camera Work: At times during the fights, the screen was split into threes, allowing us to see both the coaches and multiple simultaneous angles of the match itself. There’s A LOT of cameras along the cage, is what we’re saying. It’s about time a promotion started maximizing their potential in this aspect, if only so we can see the action from multiple angles at once.
Fighter Control – Outside of BJ Penn sticking it to Jens Pulver on TUF 5 and telling fighters to raise their hands if they wanted nothing to do with Jens, we haven’t seen fighters get too much choice on these types of shows. On Fight Master, the winning elimination round fighters interview the coaches and decide whose team they want to be on. In this aspect, Fight Master is kind of like The Voice, if contestants on The Voice spent less time finding their harmonies with one another and more time trying to crush each other’s windpipes. Why the latter hasn’t happened to Adam Levine yet is beyond me.
Fights Cut Short: I don’t care if it makes things move along or if it is during elimination rounds; I simply hate trimming fights down to mere highlights. Fights that went more than a few moments in episode one were cut and pasted into highlights. They’d better not get into The Contender type slow motion crap in future episodes.
Adjusted Rules: Making the fights two rounds with a third in the event of a draw is understandable. Taking out elbows isn’t, really. Hopefully that doesn’t continue after the elimination rounds. MMA is watered down enough already. (Ed note: *lights corncob pipe and sits back in rocking chair*)
Fight Master‘s first episode accomplishes this: We now want to watch episode two. Check it out next week and decide for yourself.