The Joys of The Ultimate Fighter


(Note from Editor – The Gym Dwellers Chronicles is an MMA editorial by Top MMA NewsBenoit Lelievre. Benoit will take any MMA topic he wishes and put a spin on it in a way that only he can. I believe that you will enjoy Benoit’s columns as much as I do. Here is the first of what I hope are many Gym Dwellers Chronicles.)

The Gym Dwellers Chronicles I – The Joys of The Ultimate Fighter

I don’t like reality television. I know it sounds fake. Everybody decries the decadence of audio-visual entertainment, but everybody participate to the water cooler discussions about Jersey Shore. I don’t. Whenever I am tempted to tune in to MTV and watch culturally challenged young people promoting idiocy as a way of life, I think about Michele and Alessandro. They owned a pizzeria and kept it opened 24/7. They sold the place by now, but last I heard of them, they owned apartment buildings. Each time I zap to Jersey Shore, I think about these two hard-working, sympathetic brothers and I zap away. Not all Italian people are retarded mutant stereotypes.

Being an idiot now qualifies you for being on T.V. Obnoxious people you do not want to be around are now getting television contracts and the necessary money to accomplish their dreams. It is the definition of injustice and yet we all tune in to follow their adventures. Reality television is not a bad idea. It’s easy to relate to your peer and it’s uplifting to see them go through trials, face their demons and transcend their limits. That’s why The Ultimate Fighter is the only show for which I break my no-reality-TV principle. And thanks heavens, the show is back on air for a twelfth season.

The rollercoaster ratings the show has experienced during the last few seasons are symptoms of a rising discontent among the fans. The seasons were not all memorable. Eight, nine and ten were a disaster. They relied on an apathetic heavyweight and nauseating antics, mixing food and body fluids, for spectacle. Despite this, I unconditionally like The Ultimate Fighter. The series transformed mixed martial arts into the ever growing success we know today. There is a reason for that. I watch TUF with great pleasure and yet, I refuse to sit through five minutes of Jersey Shore. It’s not a guilty pleasure, it’s genuine entertainment for me.

The twenty-eight fighters that stepped into the UFC Training Center last week were not deformed steroid abusers that get drunk, tan and trim their eyebrows to cover up for the hollowness of their lives. No, they are all there because they are bound by the same dream. Making it to the UFC. Fans need to understand the reality of MMA better in order to appreciate TUF to its fullest. Most of these guys train full time. You cannot make it if you don’t. They train full time for a thousand dollars pay cheque every two months. In their time off, they sit behind their computers and beg for sponsorships in the social media. When Gabe Ruediger broke down crying after his expulsion on season five, saying: “This is more than a sport, this is my life”, he was right. Everything he built his life around had just crumbled.

Unlike the Anderson Silvas and the GSPs we all see on television, some of the TUF contestants, prior to the show went to bed at night, trying to budget their thin income and rehearsing how they would explain to the bill collectors why they are late in their payments. Season 11’s Cleburn Walker told the camera about his wife and kids sticking with him after having the car repossessed and yet, he lost his elimination fight against Kris McCray. That, for me, is real. I enjoy that 28 men scuffle for the sole right of getting inside the house. No one worries about game plans, there are no title shots at stake, their only goal is to get inside the house. There is less skills involved indeed, but both guys let it all out for the cameras. They have a direct path to the UFC and none of them are preoccupied about winning streaks and rankings. Every fight is the last moment of their lives and that’s what makes it so great.

Last week had a few of those priceless moments of intensity (read Top MMA News‘ recap here). My favorite being Cody McKenzie’s complete sacrifice of game plan in order to display his fearsome Guillotine Choke on Amir Khillah. The Egyptian fell right into the trap and will now be remembered as the guy who fell asleep and snored on TUF. There were other shining moments like Sako Chivitchian’s wrestling match with his lunch, not to forget Nam Pham and Dane Sayers’ come-from-behind victories. You don’t see this intensity in the well controlled environment of a UFC fight card.

What happens on The Ultimate Fighter is real because the fights are real. Your mohawk haircut, your tattoos and your smashing good looks cannot save you from a beating if yo are the inferior fighter, just ask Roy Nelson. There can be as many Junie Brownings as you want, your personality won’t save you from your opponent. If it did, the likes of Efrain Escudero and Mac Danzig would not be Ultimate Fighter winners.

Amir Sadollah won The Ultimate Fighter season 7.

My nicest memory of TUF is without a doubt Season 7. Amir Sadollah, who had no prior professional fight, was given the hardest path to the six-figure contract. He dispatched Steve Byrne, Gerald Harris, Matt Brown and C.B. Dollaway twice, finishing them all, one knock-out and four submissions. All season long, Sadollah struggled with his doubt and his fears, questioning the very legitimacy of his presence on the show. At the end, his skills spoke louder than everything else and he walked away with the crown.

That said, I’m not starting this season with high expectations. I never do. The only thing I want from these guys is heart and guts. They are chroniclers of fighters’ longing for greatness and, therefore, they have an important role to play in the history of the sport. I don’t feel bad when I tune in to The Ultimate Fighter and I encourage you to do so. Not because it puts money in a corporation’s pocket (I can assure you they don’t put anything in mine!), but because it’s sincere. It’s a reality show where no matter how much bullshit is thrown at you, you will always end up having what you tuned in for, reality.

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15 Responses to “ The Joys of The Ultimate Fighter ”

  1. Robin Black says:

    I love your writing sir, but this struck me funny:

    “It is the definition of injustice and yet we all tune in to follow their adventures.”

    The fact that we all tune in and talk about these people proves that, according to a huge segment of society, that these people are, indeed, entertaining and therefore completely justified in being on tv.

    I hate Celine Dion but millions of people disagree with me. Those millions of people justify her place in music.

    We may hate The Jersey Shore (or other reality shows) but millions of people disagree with us, which justifies their existence as “reality stars”, however distasteful we may find it.

    We are not somehow smarter or better than those millions, so we just have to accept that their opinions are valid.

    Therefore the success of The Jersey Shore is justified. Millions of other people say so.

    Anyhoo, I do love your writing. Thanks for sharing it.

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  2. I guess so, I was referring to the Jersey Shore water cooler discussions I hear all the time at my office. Almost none of them are positive. When I asked one of my co-workers why he kept tuning in then, he told me: “Come on man, they are so fucking stupid, it’s funny.”

    I agree that dismissing Jersey Shore as stupid is snobbish. And yet, I have hard time with the: “whatever what you’re into, it’s OK”. I like that stuff like this still get under my skin. Somehow, it makes me feel alive. I’m not above reality tv. I watch TUF…and hell…America’s Next Top Model sometimes. Both are heated competitions. But…I like to think I’m above Jersey Shore.

    That’s just me though. I guess I’m a snob after all.

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  3. Robin Black says:

    Ha Ha, I am with you my friend. It does sicken you when you see the lowest of the low celebrated by the masses.

    It’s more a sign of the times than anything.

    Hey, keep doing an awesome job.

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  4. I Will, thanks for commenting. It’s always more encouraging when articles bring discussion.

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  5. Matthew Rubuliak says:

    Your right. However, the production continually focuses on the in house antics and less on the story/fights of the fighters to sell the show.

    It would be my hope that TUF would follow the lines of the original “Contender”, where they brought in the family and each fighter became a character that was fleshed out by the struggles of himself and his family.

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  6. It’s a reality show. I like to see who steps in the cage. If I wasn’t, I would watch straight UFC shows. I want to root for them like characters. So I can take antics. As for the family. Some of them have one, some of them are just kids, striving for successes. So there would be no struggle there. I think D-White is aiming for censory deprivation to create satisfactory depravation :)

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  7. I watch TUF every week and try not to miss it. However, it is getting harder and harder for the UFC to find up and coming talent that will make a difference once the show is over.

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  8. I don’t think it’s necessarily true. The market expands beyond horizon lines and kids are throwing themselves to the gyms. We’re going to see soon in TUF, the kids that threw themselves in gyms after season 1.

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  9. Cody Rempel says:

    I’d love to see a WEC version of The Ultimate Fighter, It would really gain a lot of exposure for WEC, it single handedly brough the UFC to the main stream and could do the same for them! And You rarely see a boring fight at those weights!

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  10. Robin Black says:

    “We’re going to see soon in TUF, the kids that threw themselves in gyms after season 1.”

    So true. There are some scary scary 18 and 20 year olds coming up out there. There’s gonna be no shortage of talent in the next wave of new guys.

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  11. There is more competition now though. Bellator, Strikeforce, and even the UFC skim off the cream of the prospects before TUF gets them. Guys like Eddie Alvarez and Hector Lombard sign elsewhere and Phil Davis, Johny Hendricks, Jon Jones, and many more top prospects never have to fight their way through TUF.

    Love the WEC TUF idea.

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  12. Good point. I heard Brandon Vera refused a spot on TUF because he thought he was good enough to get a UFC fight on his own. Frankie Edgar skipped TUF. Prospect are flooding the gates like the Persians in Thermmopylae.

    I don’t think we have to worry.

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  13. Robin Black says:

    90% of 19 year olds want to be on TV. For every guy who doesn’t go on TUF, there’s 10 more who would love to do it.

    TUF helps you enter your first UFC fight as a star (to some degree) already.

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  14. Dougie says:

    I hate TUF antics.

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  15. Go GSP says:

    I love TUF.

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