It’s that time of the year when the UFC airs another season of their hit show “The Ultimate Fighter” (TUF), a program where hungry young MMA fighters compete for a six-figure UFC contract.
This Friday, FX will air the premier of season 16 of the show where TUF: Heavyweights winner Roy Nelson will coach against former UFC Interim Heavyweight champion Shane Carwin with 32 welterweight prospects hope to get into the TUF house.
Airing in 2005, TUF features young fighters in one or two weight classes, on two teams in a single elimination tournament. The final two fighters will face off in the finale where the winner will get the contract and other prizes the UFC offers.
In addition, the coaches of the two teams, who have been feuding throughout the season, will face each other in a coach vs. coach match; either on the finale or some point after the show is over.
After 16 seasons, as well two international shows, one featuring a team of fighters from the United Kingdom coached by Ross Pearson going up against a team of Australian fighters coached by George Sotiropoulos that premiers five days after TUF 16’s premier, fans and critics have been saying that the UFC should put the show to rest.
Although fans would say the show is not as interesting as it was in the early days when Chris Leben punched Forrest Griffin’s door in half, the show helped bring UFC into the mainstream and continues to be important not only to the UFC, but also fighters across the United States.
Before TUF, younger fighters would have to wait years before entering into the UFC. TUF has helped bring new stars into the octagon, including former champions like Griffin, Rashad Evans and Matt Serra.
Winners like Diego Sanchez, Michael Bisping and Nate Diaz, who will fight Benson Henderson for the UFC Lightweight title in December, continue to be staples of the UFC.
Throughout the 17 seasons of TUF, there have been a plethora of fighters who have fought in the octagon. Several of the fighters who did not win the six-figure contract, such as: Gray Maynard, Sam Sicilia and Josh Koscheck , were given the opportunity to fight on the finale and impressed the UFC enough to be given contracts.
Although not all of them have stayed in the UFC, they have gotten their chance to fight.
With the success of TUF: Brazil, the premier of TUF: U.K. vs. Australia and the announcement of a TUF show in India, international fighters who want to fight in the UFC now have a chance to take their career to the next level.
Season 16 features Nelson, whose iron chin and personality have made him a fan favorite, could probably draw in rating with having the Diaz Brothers as assistant coaches while Carwin fans will tune in to see the former interim champion in a new light as a coach.
However, like every long running show on television, TUF may have declined in some areas to which the UFC had responded by trying new ways to get viewers in.
The most recent concept was airing live fights during the season of TUF 15, or “TUF: Live.” Unfortunately this did not lead to the high rating the UFC wanted and TUF will switch back to having the whole sow being recorded.
A more recent concept that has had some success was introduced in season 14 that has seemed to work are the season bonuses offered to fighters. Fans who watch the show can vote on the different categories and the fighters who have the most votes will receive the bonus at the end of the season.
One option that the UFC might want to try is moving TUF from the Friday night time slot to another night of the week.
Another idea would be to increase fan interactivity. One suggestion fans have had is to have another “TUF: The Comeback” season where former UFC fighters get a chance to fight a UFC title.
Whether or not TUF 16 is a success, there have already been tryouts for the next season. UFC President Dana White even wants to have a TUF World Cup-type competition.
Whether it is in the United States, Brazil or India, young fighters will have a chance to make their dreams come true as long as TUF is around.