The Ultimate Fighter divides opinion among MMA fans. For some it is compulsory MMA viewing, for others it is nothing more than a flailing reality show. Many detractors will point to the show’s waning ability to produce a star. Post-TUF 4 only two winners of the show have fought for a title (Nate Diaz and John Dodson), both losing. Ever since Matt Serra shocked the world and knocked out Georges St-Pierre to become the welterweight champion, TUF has largely produced fighters who occupy mid to low level slots on the roster. Fighters who rarely even break into the top fifteen.
This begs the question. What is the point of The Ultimate Fighter? Is it to find promising talent or is it to make compelling reality TV? Obviously, the answer is both but for the past few years the priority appears to have shifted to the latter.
This season, more than any in recent memory, seems to blur these lines. This is because it will be the first to feature both men and women in the house, a decision that could produce two very different outcomes. On the one hand, this season reinforces the notion that TUF is becoming nothing more than a gimmick. A reality show that only cares about viewing figures. We are all adults here, we know what will likely happen when you put men and women in the same house and throw alcohol into the mix. These people are fighters, they are not school teachers and office workers, they are slightly wilder than the rest of us. The likelihood of drama is going to be pretty high. Because, come on, without TV or internet what else are they supposed to do?
But maybe that is the point. After all, that is what makes a successful reality TV show. The Real World and Big Brother have proven that.
Conversely, some would argue that, because of the inclusion of the women, this season will be the first time in years that TUF will be a legitimate search for talent. In terms of the women, this is basically TUF 1 all over again. The women’s division in the UFC is in its infancy and its roster is shallow. This consequently means there is a lot of unsigned talent out there. So the talent level in the house will be very high, comprising of fighters already at a UFC standard. As was the case in early seasons of TUF.
As yet, there has not been an official cast list for the show. However, Dave Meltzer has released a rumored one (http://www.bloodyelbow.com/2013/5/2/4294226/cast-ultimate-fighter-18-rousey-vs-zingano-baszler-larosa-modafferi) that features a stacked line-up of veterans and up-and-comers. Tara Larosa is arguably the early favorite, she holds wins over current UFC top 10 ranked fighters Alexis Davis and Julie Kedzie. Whilst housemates Shayla Baszler and Tonya Envinger have shared the cage with the likes of Cyborg Santos, Gina Carano and Sara McMann. The first season of the ultimate fighter was such a pivotal moment in MMA, it’s possible that TUF 18 will have a similar effect for the women.
Bearing this in mind, it seems odd that the UFC has decided that the women should share the house with the men. As was briefly discussed, there is enough talent for the women to carry the show by themselves. There is no need to include the men; this could have been a watershed moment in women’s MMA, a season with an all-female cast, coached by two of the best female fighters in the world. Instead, by combining them both, the show comes across as gimmicky. Maybe we should question the UFC’s motives. Are they looking for sex, relationships, drama or serious talent?
The problem is that it feels like they don’t know. The show is confused; it isn’t sure what it wants to be. Right now, it is hard to predict which way it will go. But one thing is for sure, TUF 18 will either be remembered as trailblazing and pioneering or as a transparent attempt to revitalize a dying show.