By Dave Walsh
The numbers are in for the latest episode of The Ultimate Fight: Jones vs. Sonnen and they are not good. Much to the surprise to no one who has been following the UFC for the past ten years or so, the former vehicle for the UFC’s ascension that has steadily sputtered along since the first season has once again failed to bring in big numbers. The Ultimate Fighter was once the show that featured up-and-coming fighters with serious potential, coming in after a strong lead-in from WWE’s Monday Night Raw, while now it is simply another reality television series that is having a difficult time finding a viewership.
Sure, Kimbo Slice might have brought in the numbers when he appeared on the show, but Kimbo Slice was an exception to the rule. Somehow, Kimbo Slice’s YouTube views were able to translate into raw viewers on cable for his TUF appearances and his subsequent UFC fights that followed. The UFC is trying, very hard, to make The Ultimate Fighter work, as they have been for years, but to no avail.
This latest season really was formulated to give as much bang as they could hope to provide, combining one of their top draws, Chael Sonnen, with one of their fastest rising stars and champions, Jon Jones. Instead of providing fireworks and bringing in television ratings, we’ve seen a stagnant show remain stagnant and unable to bring in the viewers that they thought they’d be able to bring in. The truth is, most UFC fans realized a long time ago that any fighter worth paying attention to is probably already fighting in the UFC and that the level of talent featured on most seasons of The Ultimate Fighter have simply not delivered.
The UFC has been so laser-focused on snuffing out competition and signing up anyone of value that it has rendered The Ultimate Fighter as more of a freakshow than anything else. In a way, I’m wondering if this season will hurt the potential buys for Chael Sonnen vs. Jon Jones for the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship, a fight which fans already saw as the UFC bending their own rules to make for a fight that people would purchase.
It comes as no surprise that they are scraping at the very bottom of the barrel when it comes to offering reality television awfulness by introducing a co-ed house for the next season and by putting one of their fastest-rising stars in Ronda Rousey into the mix. The reality is that the UFC is having a difficult time building up new stars. Brock Lesnar has come and gone, taking with him the bubble that he brought. The Ultimate Fighter has proven to be a sterile environment that has produced very little in the way of viable contenders past the first few seasons and usually provides for some low-level fights on television that are “can miss television.”
When you partner up their fledgling reality television offerings with their barely watched Fuel TV programming and their peculiar booking-style with up-and-coming stars, you have a recipe for disaster. Look no further than UFC 158 undercard fighter Rick Story who was at one time a very serious prospect in the Welterweight division who had back-to-back victories over Johny Hendricks and Thiavo Alves and was then thrown into a throwaway fight with Charlie Brenneman which he lost and then completely ruined his potential to be a star in the organization. This happens with a lot of fighters and even in the case of Jon Jones, his rise to the top feels artificial, forced and like it was a panic move by the UFC who are desperate for stars.
Stars are built by smart booking and smart marketing, not through reality television.