The 14th season of the UFC’s reality show ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ has started to air, and I don’t know about anyone else, but man is this format stale. This is going to be the last season that airs on SPIKE before they move over to the FOX network, where they are hopefully planning some type of infusion of fresh ideas, because frankly it is boring.
From a business perspective for the UFC however, keeping the show going makes perfect sense, aside from the fact that it has gotten very good ratings.
The show makes sense for the UFC because it has the triple effect of developing talent, locking down talent and killing competition.
The development aspect is clear, as they are able to look at a group of fighters, and as they win many will be seen fighting several times. I am a big believer that you do need to see a fighter perform more than once or twice to pass judgement on him. They are also able to see his work ethic up close, day in and day out and that is important as well.
The UFC is using this factor to develop the new bantam and featherweight divisions during season 14, and before year end they will have fresh talent on the roster.
So this is where it starts to get into the other factors. Every fighter signs a contract that gives almost complete control to the UFC. They will govern his image, they will decide if he can fight on other shows and they will retain these type of rights for a prolonged period of time. So even the guys that lose will still be tied to the UFC, even if the company has no intent of using them ever again.
There is another aspect to the UFC juggernaut. They augmented this by doing the fights to open season 14 in Mandalay Bay, and not at the UFC training center. They have the inevitable feel that you have made the big time, and that is a killer for competition.
If your a fighter who has say 10 fights, and you make the UFC reality show, but your first 10 fights are in smoky bars in Indiana, or Rodeo Arenas with dirt floors in Texas or old gymnasiums in Costa Rica, when you wash out after a taste of the UFC, how likely are you to want to go back to the small time?
Even if you lose, you probably walk away from the TUF show with a few thousand bucks, as well as the stars in your eyes. How likely are you as a fighter to be motivated to going back to fight for a local event for $300 to fight $300 more if you win?
Some will have the make up to try it, but does the promoter get a completely motivated fighter? What the UFC has done is it plants the seed, after that experience, the fighter may fight on small shows but it will not be with the motivation and satisfaction of being the star of a smaller promotion. It will be with the motivation of getting back to the UFC. So it has really affected and killed the mid level promotions.
So on the opening episode, 16 guys were eliminated, eight in each of the new weight classes. But they all went home with the UFC bug.
Despite the move to FOX for the 15th season, and the announcement that a revamped format there would lead to live fights, there is not much that can really change in the format of the TUF show. Despite this, we are unlikely to see it go away anytime soon, it just makes too much sense for the UFC to do it.