Before what should be one of the biggest cards of the year, PPV wise, Dana White unleashed yet another massive bombshell during the final moments before the FX fights ended and the PPV began: this next season of “The Ultimate Fighter” would feature nothing but bantamweights and be coached by Ronda Rousey and the winner of Cat Zingano vs. Meisha Tate. It’d mark the second time bantamweights have been featured on the show, following the final season on Spike TV, but this one will have a twist: eight women will compete for the right to be named “The Ultimate Fighter” alongside their male counterparts.
That’s right: we’re looking at a group of women living and training in the same house as the men while on the staple of Zuffa programming. Eight women will be split up equally among two teams, coached by one half of the next UFC women’s bantamweight championship fight and step into the Octagon a much bigger name than they were going in.Its equal parts daring and brilliant, mixed with a dash of insanity, as Zuffa is fully embracing the “reality” world instead of the fighting world.
And it’s also a case of Zuffa cashing in on the Ronda Rousey phenomenon in perhaps the least classy way possible.
Rousey is popular, and perhaps another big draw for Zuffa, so getting her out there some more will keep getting her major news stories in places the UFC normally wouldn’t sniff at. Being the first female coach of TUF, with an entire group of women to mentor alongside a bitter rival (Tate) or an intriguing talent (Zingano), is another noteworthy accomplishment on her resume. It’s also something that will intrigue many outlets to cover the show that normally wouldn’t; if you’re going to try and make her a crossover star TUF is as good a vehicle as it gets.
TUF hasn’t been a vehicle to find a world champion in quite some time, though. Considering the last homegrown talent to win a title from TUF was Rashad Evans (of season 2) and that the last TUF winner to compete for a UFC title (John Dodson) was an elite fighter coming into the show it’s reached the point of diminishing returns for some time. TUF is a staple of MMA programming, and has a healthy audience for the most part, but this upcoming season is scraping the barrel as far as I’m concerned.
There’s nothing wrong with an all-women version of TUF despite there not being 16 solid enough prospects to be on it; if there UFC wants to stock up their women’s division the reality show is the absolute best place to do so. And if the UFC wanted to load up bantamweight on the men’s side there are 16 prospects good enough to be in the UFC right now, most likely. But adding in eight of each, and throwing them in the same house and on the same team reeks of pure reality schmaltz and nothing more.
It’s easy to see why eight women and eight men in a house, living and working together for a certain period of time, would appeal to Zuffa. It’s been a staple of every trashy reality show out there and it adds a sexual element to the proceedings. One can imagine a velvet-voiced ‘70s soap opera announcer asking us “Will there be love triangles or hurt feelings alongside broken bones? Tune in to TUF to find out” if only in a mocking way. It adds a soap opera element that other reality shows, like MTV staple The Real World, have as part of their appeal. It’s not just about the end game but also the interpersonal relationships.
And it nearly ruins the show’s basic appeal on its face by making it into every other reality show with a competition element in it.
The one thing that made TUF such a reliable view is that it’s a glimpse into the lives of burgeoning professional athletes trying to catch a break into the big time. There may have been some interesting personalities, and there is never a dull moment when you stick that many people in one place with nothing to occupy their time but work and each other, but trying to make TUF into every other competition show cheapens it to a massive degree.
At this point it’s a slippery slope to FX showcasing a Canadian UFC Champion’s quest to find love among single female fight fans on “For the Love of GSP.”
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