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Retrospective: The Ultimate Fighter, season one

TUF Season 1

In April, the 23rd season of The Ultimate Fighter will kick off, coached by women's strawweight champion Joanna “Champion” Jedrzejczyk and top contender Claudia Gadelha. While I love "Joanna Champion", this match-up is a far cry from coaches Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell on season one.

If you are still watching the show at this point, you’re a bigger fan than me. I watched the first four seasons with a religious fervor, but then, it got boring, repetitive, and started to lack star power. So, I gave up my religiosity and focused on just the fights. I figured they were the only thing that mattered anyway and since there was no UFC show every weekend, I could easily keep up with one fight a week. Then years went by and nothing ever changed. The fights got more boring, the fighters became beyond boring, and it was continuously the same old, same old, in spite of Dana White’s pleading to the contrary. And with a full fight card every weekend, usually free, I eventually stopped even watching the fights. Sorry Dana, but your show jumped the shark ten years ago. 

For this past season (Conor McGregor vs. Urijah Faber), I was tasked with writing show reviews for another site and I routinely reported that it sucked. It got so bad that even the antics of McGregor couldn’t save it most weeks. Sure, he was the best part, but that’s not saying much.

The worst part, and I mean the absolute WORST part of the show and of Dana’s concept of fighting, is that wins and losses don’t really matter to him. He wants exciting fights. So do I, but winning and losing should be the MOST important aspect. That was the initial idea, but he’s altered that philosophy so many times it’s like he’s booking Big Show heel turns.

“Don’t leave it in the hands of the judges!”, he says, but that's easier said than done. Unfortunately, there is a guy standing across the cage that is trying to maim you so it’s not always an option. Dana has axed guys that won and advanced losers plenty times which killed the competition concept for me. This was evidenced by this last season where both Artem Lobov and Ryan Hall were LOSERS but somehow made it to the finals. On the show, wins and losses now officially mean nothing.

McGregor vs. Faber

To be honest, I really can’t believe the show is still in existence. It’s the same show that it was in season one, but now the fighters have to wear boring trunks, and the skill differential between fighters is minimal. It’s become just another look at training camp. At least in season one, the potential for a gigantic mismatch was there. Today, each cast member must have had three professional fights and a winning record, so the days of a 0-0 guy being led to the slaughter are basically over.

The show has run its course. With over 500 fighters on the roster, I can’t imagine that there is much undiscovered talent left. Also, it’s not like the 200,000 people still watching TUF are going to skip a PPV. These are the hardest of the hardcores so they’re watching everything. I know UFC has to provide content for FS1, but the show seems like a lot more trouble than it’s worth, especially since they haven’t made a bonafide star in five years; Ronda Rousey and McGregor made themselves.

This got me thinking about season one. I can still remember the confrontation between Bobby Southworth and Chris Leben when Leben decided to drunkenly sleep on the lawn which led to Southworth sprayed him with the hose. That was good stuff. Compare those shenanigans to what we see today. This last season, Team USA poured NOS energy drinks on each other in one of the lamest celebrations of all time. If I ever meet Gritz or one of the other clowns from Team USA, I won’t think of them as stars. Rather, I’ll only be able to think of that scene. (In contrast, I can still remember marking out when I met Josh Rafferty at a 311 concert in Tampa because he was on season one because that season was fun!)

Season one aired in 2005 and came on immediately after RAW. How many cast members can you remember? The weight classes? The winners? My guess is you can answer some of these questions. Ok now, answer those same questions for season 16. Exactly, right? Here is a cool graphic of some of the best fighters from TUF.

The Ultimate Fighter – Season One

Airdate: Spike TV, January 17, 2005 – April 9, 2005

Weight Classes: Light heavyweight and Middleweight

Coaches: Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell (blue), Randy "The Natural" Couture (green)

Team Liddell: Bobby Southworth (LH), Sam Hoger (LH), Forrest Griffin (LH), Alex Schoenauer (LH), Josh Koshcheck (M), Diego Sanchez (M), Kenny Florian (M), Josh Rafferty (M)

Team Couture: Stephan Bonnar (LH), Mike Swick (LH), Lodune Sincaid (LH), Jason Thacker (LH), Nathan Quarry (M), Chris Leben (M), Alex Karalexis (M), Chris Sandford)

The Winners: Forest Griffin (LH), and Diego Sanchez (M)

Griffin vs. Bonnar

What this season was really known for was the finale show featuring the Stephen Bonnar vs. Forrest Griffin match that saved the company. One of the best fights of all time occurred on free TV between two no-names on a random Saturday night, and it did monsterous ratings. That fight did so well and gained the UFC so much popularity that it instantly made the UFC a valuable PPV commodity. Off the heels of that fight, they were able to turn around PPV in a big way, and eventually, Fox came calling.

My advice to the UFC is is simply this: no more TUF. 

The competition reality show genre has come and gone. It had a good run, and sure, lame-o shows like The Bachelor still exist, but the UFC has evolved past this trite concept. Create a new show. Run with the "Looking For A Fight" concept or just something different. The UFC hardcores are already with the company, but they risk eventually burning them out if they keep pounding them with more of the same.