Inside the 'TUF' House: Reality Show or Experiment Gone Wrong?

Going too Far

Dec 20, 2008
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"It gets to a point where
it's almost degrading to the
work we've done for
the sport," said Nate Quarry.
Going too far?

A frustrated Gurgel cites the presence of alcohol at the house as his main grievance with the show’s format. He’s angered by those who are not dedicated and end up on the show for any reason other than becoming UFC fighters.

“I think it degrades the sport of mixed martial arts,” he said.

Quarry, who only caught a few episodes of season eight, happened upon the episodes that involved the infamous consumption of bodily fluids.

“It gets to a point where it’s almost degrading to the work we’ve done for the sport,” Quarry said. “We tried so hard to show that we’re not these mindless guys that just go in and beat the s--t out of each other. We’re actual athletes who train hard and have struggled to get where we’re at. Now, you’ve got these guys who are really moving backwards and taking away what we spent so much time trying to build up.“

Season four winner and season six coach Matt Serra thinks the series has been driven too far into the gutter.

“I’ll tell you right now, I couldn’t survive in a house with some of those morons that were there this season,” the former UFC welterweight champion said. “I was lucky enough to be in there with veterans; the worst I had to deal with was Shonie Carter walking around in his Speedo. You have guys throwing s--t at you and stuff? I mean, it’s game on. You gotta be kidding me. Someone trying to assault me man … f—k, it’s over like that; you’re off the show.”

Danzig blames the outrageous antics on of an ill-conceived formula that attracts more personalities than high-level fighters.

“The formula for the show is [to] just get a bunch of guys that have completely different outlooks on life and put them all in a house and give them no other recourse but to communicate with each other,” he said. “I know it’s hard to get 16 completely competent fighters and still have a good show.”

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Mac Danzig believes delving into
the past might better convey
an MMA fighter's experiences.
Ulterior motives

Danzig, Ruediger, Serra and Quarry all offer solutions for making the show more fighter and fan friendly.

Danzig believes delving into the past might better convey an MMA fighter’s experiences. Buying footage from smaller promotions and allowing participants to narrate said footage could illustrate the sacrifices made to get to “The Ultimate Fighter.” Danzig recalls a 2004 experience in Tijuana, Mexico, in which he fought for $50 to show and $50 to win. Afterward, he had to track down the promoter in a nightclub hallway in order to get paid. The promoter attempted to pay Danzig in pesos before finally compensating the former King of the Cage champion.

Ruediger, meanwhile, wants to see day trips for the fighters. Serra thinks more emphasis should be placed on the intricacies of training. Quarry suggests half-hour addendums that observe the fighters training in their hometowns. And Gurgel calls for a real representation of MMA.

Despite Gurgel’s objections to the show, the prominent instructor would recommend that his students jump at the opportunity if it were to be afforded to them.

“You’ll never see my guys not represent mixed martial arts well,” Gurgel said. “I’ll put my word on it. There’s never gonna be a guy from my gym that’s gonna be getting drunk, spray painting houses, [breaking] toilets. If I send a guy to ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ a guy from me, they’re going there to get the job done, try to win the show, to represent my sport of martial arts the best way possible.”

Quarry remembers leaving on season one’s final day, uncertain as to whether or not the footage shot would ever air. He believes that slice of humility’s missing from today’s crop of hopefuls.

“A big part of it was everybody that showed up for that first season of ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ … we didn’t do it to get famous and to get seen; we did it for a love of the sport,” Quarry said. “None of us were really looking at, ‘OK, what’s this long-term payday gonna be?’ We showed up.

“We had no clue what was gonna happen, what was gonna be going on,” Quarry added. “A lot of the guys didn’t even think we were gonna fight while we were there. They thought it’d be at the end. So going in, we were just so much more pure with just going in with a love of the sport and just wanting to see where we could go.”

Still, all the fighters, with the exception of Gurgel, fear altering a successful show could be a dangerous proposition. They understand there has to be an audience for both serious fight fans and casual viewers. Ruediger points to VH1’s “train wreck TV”-style that has been so successful pulling in strong ratings.

“No matter what you say about the show, it’s still my favorite show,” Serra said. “I still watch it. I can’t really complain too much, man. I do like it.”

“The fact that they have to get people in there for drama reasons takes away from the skilled fighters and the dedicated fighters, so it’s a paradox,” Danzig said. “But, in the end, I guess it works.”

Pursuing virtue or notoriety?

Zimbardo’s findings led him to ponder, “The question now is how to change our institutions so that they promote human values rather than destroy them.”

Since “The Ultimate Fighter” has entrenched itself as an institution, producers must decide what course it takes. Is it a factory for future champions like Griffin, or is it a haven for the kind drunken, juvenile behavior Browning exhibited? Is the UFC promoting the values of MMA or destroying them?

Former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir, Browning’s reluctant and oftentimes frustrated coach on season eight, articulated what MMA represents to him in a recent interview with

“I want my children to live this way of life,” Mir said. “It makes you a cleaner person. It makes you a strong person. You have a reason for why you don’t want to get screwed up and drunk, why you don’t do drugs, why you try to eat a certain way. I’m a martial artist. That’s who I am. That’s my identity.’”

Whether or not “The Ultimate Fighter” falls in line with the virtue to which Mir holds remains up for debate. For now, the best and worst part of the reality series continues to be, as Ruediger pointed out, “the notoriety.”
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