File Photo: Fred Haas/Sherdog.com
Eleven seasons in, “The Ultimate Fighter” is still succeeding in being simultaneously the best and worst communications device in mixed martial arts. You’ll get fights -- good fights, bad fights, so-what fights -- but the price paid is in the conventions of reality television. Contestants take on personas of high school cliques (except they’re all jocks): the nerd, the jerk, the joker. This season it’s more green hair, more busted doors, and more hold-me-back melodrama between coaches. Chuck Liddell is monotone; Tito Ortiz invents phrases that Google can’t find. Like virtually a third of all coach fights on the show, they may not even face off at the conclusion thanks to injury or personal strife. It’s a “rivalry” with no payoff.
What we get in the circus is a farm system, and it’s one that’s worked out tremendously well. Several graduates from the show have gone on to championships and competitive careers, and it’s unlikely this season will be any different. Clayton McKinney (the moss-headed fellow) looked impressive splitting a nose into two; Kyle Noke has been kicking around the scene for years; Kris McCray could be a savage. There’s real talent here.
Spike and the UFC could get more ambitious: live Web cameras like CBS’ “Big Brother” house, near-live fights from the house, or switching up genders.