(According to the press release, the season will feature 15 talented female MMA prospects, and “one drunken asshole who’s basically like a chick-version of Junie Browning.” / Ronda photo via Getty Images)
By Oliver Chan
When Dana White tweeted that a big announcement will be made at the end of the UFC 158 FX prelims, fans started buzzing with theories ranging from New York MMA legalization to Nick Diaz no-showing the event (although based on his performance, he might as well have). Instead, looking to continue riding the Ronda Rousey Women’s MMA Train, White announced that the two head coaches for the 18th season of The Ultimate Fighter will be Ronda Rousey and the winner of the Meisha Tate/Cat Zingano fight on April 13. TUF 18 will debut sometime this fall, and to add to the intrigue, the season will feature both male and female fighters in the 135 weight class competing for contracts in their respective divisions.
While ratings for this season have seen a slight uptick on FX, the series has failed to match the previous numbers it once enjoyed while on Spike. Now with the rival network preparing to launch two new reality shows featuring a now ousted UFC Hall-of-Famer, the UFC has the added pressure to step up their game in order to keep their MMA/Reality TV market share in point. While to some die-hard MMA fans, this may not seem like a big deal, for the UFC and Bellator, the ratings for their reality TV programs do have a significant impact on how the networks will present their brands to potential television partners in the future.
This current season of TUF has seen a change of direction in terms of how the competition has been portrayed. There is significantly less drunken buffonary, bodily fluid pranks, and even a limited instances of a-holes being a-holes (*Cough*Bubba*Cough*). Hell, even Chael Sonnen has been on his best behavior! (Which I’m kind of disappointed with, but you can’t win them all.) Instead, as Joe Rogan pointed out during last night’s Mike Ricci/Colin Fletcher fight, TUF 17 highlights the challenges faced by contestants being a struggling MMA fighter as well as the added pressure of being on a reality show. Throw in some exciting finishes and we have MMA at its purest with no gimmicks needed. But a fundamental problem remains: Do we really feel that any contestant on this show could have a significant career in the UFC?
The only UFC title holders to come out of the TUF franchise have been Forrest Griffin and Rashad Evans (and no disrespect to Matt Serra, but his season featured current UFC talent). Since then, the majority of TUF alumni have failed to make an impact on the organization. Think about this: Rory MacDonald didn’t go through the TUF ranks. Gunnar Nelson didn’t go through the TUF ranks. Jon Jones didn’t go through the TUF ranks; as he recently claimed, he wanted to be on the show but was too young to apply. Hell, Benson Henderson had his audition tape rejected for TUF. Most of the TUF success stories came from season 1, and those fighters are currently either retired or in gatekeeper hell.
This new season will potentially have a larger impact on the UFC for one reason: It will feature fighters in two divisions that are still (relatively) new to the UFC, both of which are desperate for new talent. What made the first season great was that not only was MMA relatively unknown to mainstream audiences, but the fighters themselves were unknown as well. Season one produced one title holder and a slew of other fighters who at one point fought for the belt during their UFC career. Especially in the case of the women’s bantamweight division, we could see some serious contenders coming out of this season regardless of who wins in the finale.
You can’t ignore the possibility of TUF going back to its old ways. With guys and gals hanging out in the same house with no TV, no internet, but plenty of booze, I’m sure we will see some shall we say, “naughty” shenanigans? Will there be issues with the plumbing? Will the cast be attacked by bears?
Some MMA fans might roll their eyes and wonder if this is the direction they want their beloved sport to be heading towards. However, this season will do to the female bantamweight division what the first season of TUF did for the sport in general — introduce it to a brand new audience.
So for those of you reading this who actually have a girlfriend and fear having to endure another season of The Bachelor, take solace in the opportunity that you could find common ground with that special someone and watch a bunch of crazy broads live in a house and beat each other up. Or if you’re like this guy, watch for other reasons that are, uh…awkward.