If you’re a regular reader of MiddleEasy then I’ll go ahead and assume you either like to know a lot about obscure fighters or you think we’re the TMZ of MMA and also bookmark World Star Hip Hop. Both and everything in between is perfectly fine with us. If you love it, we’ll keep doing it. I have to admit that the change to the site which opened us up to cover more cool stuff was music to my ears as I love the site and the readers but I’ve become more and more disenfranchised with UFC over the last 12 months or so. Not MMA, UFC.
Every card is a mix of completely unknown (to me) fighters and top tier fighters who I have seen fight multiple times and have been hyped so much and in exactly the same style that it just doesn’t excite me any more. I’ve watched The Ultimate Fighter religiously since season 5 but I completely missed the last season through apathy. So I asked myself, why should I care about the next season? The Ultimate Fighter: Australia vs Canada doesn’t immediately stand out to me as something I need to watch. I eventually decided that it is something we should all watch. Why?
Firstly, my favourite thing about TUF was that we would see fighters most of us never heard of, unless you happen to be Liverkick’s Rian Scalia and watch every single fight, anywhere in the world. That was taken away when the top American (or Brazilian) gyms started to flood TUF with their own fighters who had a lot of exposure to top-level training alongside current UFC fighters. Bubba Jenkins, for example, was the main sparring partner for Jon Jones before he appeared on TUF. I know the talent level is increasing and young fighters with UFC aspirations are more likely to head to a big-name gym where there are UFC fighters training, but how can I root for the underdog when they are all bona fide killers? How can I get excited about a previously undiscovered talent if he’s already been discovered?
I put to you that with Australia vs Canada, we will meet a large host of fighters who are entirely new to us. And there’s a good chance a number of them will be killers. Look at Robert Whittaker for example. Grade A stud. Never heard of him before TUF. One of the things which spoiled more recent seasons of the show has gone, at least for this one. I wish I’d realised this before TUF 18 because my enjoyment of the finale would have been greater had I formed any sort of opinion or connection with the fighters through watching the show. And that’s important, not just because it leads nicely to my second point.
Just like for you, I’ve always started watching UFC events as soon as the Facebook prelims start. I take great pleasure in knowing who each fighter is and at least having an opinion on who is likely to win, and why. Until one day I didn’t recognise most of the fighters on the undercard and my enjoyment and involvement was dulled. As much as we watch MMA for the violence, or the technique or the sport, we also watch it through a narrative lens. Without TUF or any prior exposure to the fighters, I simply didn’t care, which isn’t fair on the fighters or myself because really, I’m only cheating myself out of enjoyment in the end.
By tuning into TUF: Australia vs Canada, I’ll be forming a connection with the fighters and developing my own personal narrative (driven by TV editing of course) which stays with me throughout a fighter’s career. Think about how people hate Josh Koscheck purely because of his portrayal (true or not) on The Ultimate Fighter. Having looked at the line-up, which you can see below, I’m immediately intrigued by a few of the contestants. The Australians have two 19-year-olds, one of whom is 10-0 while the Canadians have a 36-year-old (one last roll of the dice?) and a guy at 19-10-1. Is he any good or has he been padding his record and taken a defeat every time he’s taken a step up in competition? While you look at the list of fighters below, I’ll be busy trying to find that out.
With the UFC planning more events in 2014 than any previous year, I don’t think that looking at TUF with new eyes will stave off the problems that come with the over-saturation caused by an abundance of events but I do think it will go at least some way to bring me back to looking forward to UFC events where my personal favourites are not fighting.
CANADA Coached by Patrick Côté
Olivier Aubin-Mercier, 4-0, 24, Montreal
Matthew Desroches, 4-0, 21, Fredericton
Kajan Johnson, 19-10-1, 29, Montreal
Chad Laprise, 7-0, 27, London, Ont.
Middleweights Luke Harris, 10-2, 36, St. Albert, Alb.
Nordine Taleb, 8-2, 32, Montreal
Elias Theodorou, 8-0, 25, Toronto
Sheldon Westcott, 8-1, 29, St. Albert, Alb.
AUSTRALIA Coached by Kyle Noke
Chris Indich, 6-1, 26, Perth, WA
Jake Matthews, 6-0, 19, Melbourne
Brendan O’Reilly, 5-0, 26, Brisbane, QLD
Richard Walsh, 7-1, 24, Sydney
Middleweights Vik Grujic, 6-2, 36, Melbourne
Daniel Kelly, 6-0, 36, Melbourne
Tyler Manawaroa, 10-0, 19, Brisbane, QLD
Zein Saliba, 4-0, 25, Sydney
Big thanks to MMAWeekly for this list.