It seems like even Dana White sees that the good ship TUF is sinking. Like with any problem, the first step to fixing it is admitting that the problem exists.
“We’re going to fix it. I read all the [expletive] from people who have no [expletive] clue what they’re talking about. We’re with guys who are the best in the business. We will get this thing dialed in and make it great.”
The people who “have no [expletive] clue what they’re talking about” may in fact be the ones who are no longer watching. The ratings for episode 8 of TUF are in, and it’s not pretty. A paltry 929,000 viewers, the lowest number ever for UFC’s flagship reality show. While it’s a good thing that White acknowledges that the show needs to change and improve, that still leaves us with the question of what exactly is to be done?
1. Change the timeslot
The Ultimate Fighter started out drawing great numbers for Spike TV on Monday nights, following WWF rasslin’ as a lead-in. It also pulled good numbers on Thursdays before record numbers for the network on Wednesdays. FX has decided to park the show on Friday nights, where the target audience of males age 18-34 are usually out enjoying their weekend and chasing 18-34 year old women. A return to a night where their target demographic is more likely to be in front of the TV would be a good start.
2. Change the cast
In 2005 when the show began, the sport was still somewhat underground, and the smaller circuits featured and impressively deep talent pool featuring fighters who would go on to have headlining careers in the UFC such as Forrest Griffin, Josh Koscheck and Chris Leben. Now, it’s 2012 and not only has UFC’s roster ballooned, but other circuits have made a name for themselves. This leaves Zuffa with far less in the way of unsigned prospects in the cupboard.
One way to counteract this would be to feature an all women’s season of TUF. Women’s MMA is in a similar pre-explosion stage that men’s MMA was previous to the original TUF. With Ronda Rousey being the face of the division, and fresh off a guest appearance on TUF, the timing could be right for her to coach a group of women’s prospects against a team coached by arch-rival Miesha Tate or another capable challenger such as Sarah Kaufman. Dana White has continually thrown cold water on this idea, but now may be the perfect time to revisit it.
Another way to freshen up the cast was postulated on this past edition of MMASucka Radio by John Pollock of the LAW radio program. Pollock astutely noted that UFC has many fighters at the bottom of their depth charts who have no real connection with the fans whatsoever (Pollock threw out John Makdessi as an example). A season of TUF featuring lower-tier fighters already under contract fighting for a larger than usual purse and guaranteed spot on the main card of a UFC PPV would serve to kill two birds with one stone, both giving the fighters much-needed exposure and freshening up a stale format.
3. Let the fighters outside
Everyone knows the drill when it comes to TUF by this point. Lock a bunch of fighters in a house, having no contact with the outside world and see what hijinks and “hilarity” ensue. The problem is, after fifteen seasons there are only so many pranks you can see relived over and over. Successful reality shows such as “Real World” and “Jersey Shore” not only show the participants in their own MTV home, but send them out into the world as well. What’s more entertaining, watching these guys go stir crazy or turning them loose on the Las Vegas strip? Sure, you might wind up with a Jesse Taylor incident now and again, but isn’t part of the allure of reality TV the human train wreck element?
One thing is for certain, with falling numbers and a format that the word stale can’t begin to describe, The Ultimate Fighter needs a serious re-tooling. The added wrinkle of live fights simply hasn’t changed anything. With Bellator set to debut their own reality show on Spike TV and working with Emmy Award-winning producer Bertram Van Munster (The Amazing Race), it would be better for UFC to act first instead of being put in a position where they may have to play catch-up.