'TUF' Luck

By Jake Rossen Jun 15, 2009
When “The Ultimate Fighter” premiered on Spike television in the spring of 2005, UFC organizers hoped it would serve as a portal for fans who hadn’t yet been informed of the sport’s appeal; the network was probably hoping for something as ribald and cheerfully lowbrow as its “Joe Schmo Show.” Or “Slamball.”

Everyone walked away happy. The UFC backhanded critics by fostering fresh new talent and indoctrinating a key demographic on an evolved form of boxing -- all while providing the channel with plenty of inappropriate urination. This is synergy, folks.

Saturday, the promotion will host the live finale to its ninth “TUF” season in five years, and at least five more are planned. It’s possible a new contender will be crowned, and equally possible they’ll flame out. This is the appeal of the series: As frequently as it introduces a Forrest Griffin, it will foist upon an unsuspecting public the inconceivable presence of a Jason Thacker.

Five highlights -- and lowlights -- of the series to date, fights excluded. If you encounter trouble distinguishing one from the other, well, hey: welcome to reality television.

Eli Joslin: Camera Shy (Season Two, 2005)

I cannot imagine the sensation of my every move being recorded by a team of cameraman and boom mike operators. We just assume people on television get used to it. As it turns out, some don’t.

Heavyweight Eli Joslin was barely in the house for a day before he realized the reality of being sequestered with key grips for several weeks. He opted to leave: Some speculate he was intimidated by the potential opposition. Could be, but it’s equally likely a bunch of strangers bearing down on you with extension cords is as unsettling as it sounds.

James Meinhardt/Sherdog.com

Leben pulled viewers in.
Tito and Ken: Together Again (Season Three, 2006)

Trotting out rapidly aging pioneer Ken Shamrock to have another crack at Tito Ortiz was ratings voltage. Unfortunately, it led to one of the most orchestrated and manufactured moments of the series when the two had to be “pulled apart” during a gym confrontation. If no cameras are present, does that scene still happen?

Feel free to insult my intelligence, fellas -- just don’t let me see the strings.

Cutting Weight (Season Five, 2007)

Having included important food groups like cake in his pre-fight diet, lightweight Gabe Ruediger very nearly dehydrated himself into an early death in an attempt to shed weight. Other less drastic examples of weight cutting have been depicted in the series, and I always find it to be strangely compelling: as if the fight itself isn’t bad enough.

Concrete Title (Season Five, 2007)

I have no recollection of what Marlon Sims and Noah Thomas were arguing over: All I remember is the ensuing fight on grass and a concrete porch, which resembled the world’s most professional-looking YouTube street fight video filmed to date. (Sorry, Kimbo.) Sims eventually dropped Thomas on his head during an armbar attempt, and both were expelled from the premises. While the behavior isn’t endorsable, are we going to pretend it wasn’t entertaining as hell?

Leben Smash (Season One, 2005)

Topping the list purely because it’s the best and worst of “The Ultimate Fighter” rolled into one, Chris Leben’s inebriated slumdog routine was probably responsible for more people being turned on to the show than the fight themselves. Dismissive of contestant Jason Thacker, he pees on his bed; angry that Josh Koscheck squirted him with a garden hose, he smashes down doors in pursuit and attempts to fight anyone getting in his way.

“I was sleeping and thought I heard the voice of God,” Forrest Griffin recounted. “Turns out it was Chris Leben.”

Promotion and network have benefited greatly from this kind of property destruction, but people tend to forget who really reaps the financial awards: the house contractor.

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