I was watching “The Ultimate Fighter” and started wondering if the real change the show needs isn’t just tournament brackets. Think about it: March Madness just started, and that’s the single biggest part of watching the tournament. Wouldn’t it be something if all 16 cast members all got paired up? With two studs like Cristiano Marcello and Justin Lawrence set to fight next week, seeding the show might stop the best guys from going home earlier than they should. Plus, that way, when upsets happen, casual viewers could say, “Man, that guy was the 14 seed!” Call it a pipe dream, but this is the TUF I want. -- Brayton from Denver
Jordan Breen, administrative editor: One of MMA’s strangest ironies is that, despite so many people supposedly loving tournaments and championing their value, no one wants to do them in interesting fashion.
So, Brayton, let’s first explore your bracket idea. This is one area that we’re absolutely in concert. Why the hell not have brackets? For something like TUF, I think it’s actually beneficial. First of all, seeding the fighters, even if it is a totally inexact science, helps inject personality into them. Everybody knows there’s a certain kind of aura that goes with being the No. 1 dude, and we know what it would be like to be a No. 15 or No. 16 seed. Furthermore, if a major TUF upset did happen, that “Wow, a 15 beat a two!” dynamic that we saw when Duke and Missouri lost on the hard court on Friday could easily translate and give a greater sense of context to those viewers who might not understand why it is surprising Myles Jury lost his first fight in the house -- or something like that.
And, as you said, it stops us from losing quality talent early. Hell, even the fights to get into the house could benefit. James Krause, Jon Tuck and Dakota Cochrane were all good enough to be part of this year’s house cast but got matched tough in the Round of 32. That doesn’t “ruin” the show, but, ideally, you want the best guys you can get in the house.
Plus, who can deny the psychovisual magic of looking over a fresh bracket, filling it in and imagining various hypothetical scenarios? In MMA, we get excited for the different interplay between styles, so one upset could put an instant spin on any tournament set up in a way that gives fans and media the sort of talking points that could help the new-look TUF an awful lot. If anything, the success of this season’s TUF so far is that it feels more like a sporting event, so why not go even further down that path?
I’m not sure we stop there for TUF, though. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, so why isn’t Bellator Fighting Championships in on this action, too?
After all, Bellator is supposed to be the modern defender of the MMA tournament. Yet, the promotion handcrafts its quarterfinal and semifinal matchups despite CEO Bjorn Rebney’s constant lip service about being a hands-off promoter and letting the “fighters decide.” If you want the fighters to decide, I’ll tell you how you do it: the tournament lottery.
I’ve been harping on this -- and have mentioned it to Rebney on multiple occasions – since the first season. To me, Bellator’s tournaments are perfect for the lottery style that became every hardcore kickboxing fan’s favorite part of the K-1 World Grand Prix. For those not in the know, the final eight fighters draw numbers to determine which order they will place themselves in an open bracket.
The first fighter can’t choose an opponent, but he can choose to be in the first, second, third or fourth bout. The next fighter could choose to fight that first fighter or an open bracket. One-by-one, guys place themselves in the bracket. It’s a perfect amalgam of the luck-of-the-draw and strategy. Does a guy want to fight first and get it over with? What kind of opponent does he want to choose? Does he want to avoid one particular fighter and stay on the other side of the bracket?
You mean to tell me that if Spike TV did a two-hour special every Bellator season, where four tournaments worth of guys set up their own brackets, that fans wouldn’t be into that? You don’t want to see War Machine decide on the spur of the moment who he is facing and when? Or to see which opponent Alexander Shlemenko thinks is easy fodder for a flying knee to the stomach? It’s drama, and it’s real. That’s what we want.
So, Brayton, I’ll co-sign on your TUF idea, but, as I said, let’s not stop there. For a sport where people supposedly love tournaments, no one seems to have much interest in doing them very well. Brackets aren’t “essential,” but they’d go an awfully long way for both the UFC and Bellator in capturing the hearts and minds of casual TV flickers and hardcore fight fans alike. Everybody loves a class in bracketology.
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