The Joys of The Ultimate Fighter
(Note from Editor – The Gym Dwellers Chronicles is an MMA editorial by Top MMA News‘ Benoit 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.
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.