The Ultimate Fighter Season 15 first debuted on Friday, March 9, with a new format that included live action and was headlined by rival coaches Urijah Faber and Dominick Cruz. The fact that these coaches disliked each other was no secret and seemed to be a standard that followed most seasons before this one in an effort to build the tension as the episodes continued.
The live aspect added a new pressure that upped the stakes. Time was no longer the middleman as the action went straight from the screen to the viewers, creating an ambiance in the air of amplified emotion and risk. In the first fight of the season, Daron Cruickshank was brutally knocked out by James Vick in the first round, and he had no time to prepare his friends and family for what they had just witnessed as the events occurred in real time.
He was on the show to represent his family’s practice of Taekwondo, but instead he fell to a man with little experience. The fights felt different because they were live, and there was a heightened level of excitement.
Although the live format was a nice addition, the overall shtick is old. It is hard to appreciate the fights when the coaches, the fighters, and the teammates are verbally attacking each other outside of the cage. With such a lack of professionalism, TUF adds to the reality TV show genre the drama of grown men who cannot help but bicker amongst themselves.
For some reason, I found it particularly difficult to empathize with the individuals, starting with the coaches. As such a driving factor for investment, the conflict between Faber and Cruz didn’t feel as intense as the conflicts of previous seasons that included Rashad Evans versus Rampage Jackson and Michael Bisping versus Dan Henderson.
With the lack of healthy controversy also came the standard delivery of a show that appeals to a narrow demographic. Heavy rock music during cut scenes coupled with sleek intervals of cleavage shots added to a seemingly immature, machismo, and youthful fan base. But not all MMA fans are entertained by these methods, and at times these depictions just made it cheesy.
Is it too much to ask that TUF add maturity to its delivery to appeal to its grown-up demographic? Not to mention, the MMA demographic is growing ever increasingly to include women, non-athletes, and fans of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Unfortunately, Cruz suffered a knee injury on the show and was forced to withdraw from the not so anticipated fight between the coaches. However, this led to Dana White delivering breaking news within a fledgling bantamweight division of the UFC: Urijah Faber is now set to fight Renan Barao.
Again, the live aspect of the show came into play as devoted fans of TUF were privileged to information on an immediate basis.
It would be refreshing to see an amendment to the show, where the coaches work together towards a common goal to prepare the fighters for the challenges they will face in the UFC. Competition with a respectful twist could bring a new aspect to TUF, making it less of a seemingly scripted reality TV show and more of a welcoming learning experience for fighters and viewers alike.
TUF should be used as a method to channel information and educate an audience that has already established an investment in the art of MMA.
Within the first few episodes of every season, it is obvious which fighters are present for the drama and exposure and which fighters are present for their individual growth as an athlete. Some tension is good as it adds to the pride that is on the line, but TUF needs to be a show where knowledge is the goal instead of drama. The coaching aspect should be used to deliver the art of fighting so that it speaks to aspiring fighters while assisting MMA followers to better understand and respect the sport as it should be respected.