The Ultimate Fighter: Jones vs. Sonnen

The Ultimate Fighter was a great idea for a contest reality show and it really propelled the UFC into mass market success but I’d be lying if I didn’t say the last few seasons were degrading the brand. After trying to push hype for Kimbo Slice and seeing that repeatedly fall flat in their face, follow-up seasons have generally failed to impress.

There were interesting characters a couple years back (the Alaskan with the unorthodox guillotine choke comes to mind) but in general the show had fallen into a paint-by-numbers routine. Coach A hates Coach B and talks smack. Coach B overreacts. Team A plays practical joke on Team B. Team B overreacts. Rinse, repeat, another season in the books.

Rock bottom really hit when even the main billing of the two coaches fighting each other didn’t even happen for two seasons in a row. At that point it seemed like everyone was phoning it in. The coaches were just there to be on tv but didn’t want to put work in. The players just wanted to advance as safely as possible and got in overly boring drawn out fights, each one calling for a judges decision. No one won the best knockout award last season because there wasn’t a single knock out! On top of that, the judges have been blind for several seasons, causing me to yell out loud from my couch and even drawing complaints from the head of the UFC, Dana White.

Well, Season 17 of The Ultimate Fighter fixes ALL of these problems. The premiere started differently by showing the families of the contestants as they fought to win their way onto the show. The direction and interviews felt like they were out of a Nike commercial and the opening credits removed the names of the fighters, choosing for a minimalist yet inspiring approach instead of the in-your-face rock attitude. The two coaches, Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen, amazingly, don’t waste my time insulting each other every episode, and by all accounts are surprised that they like each other. And the fighters… wow. Knock out after knock out this season. The fights are usually unpredictable- aside from a couple of favorites there have been surprises (case in point is the semi-finals consisting of the two top seeds and the two bottom seeds). But the fighters generally aren’t waiting to hear the judges scores and there are some exciting moments involving come-backs, quick rounds, and amazing forces of will.

This season is the penultimate fight show and the finale is yet to air, so take note.