After perhaps the worst season in “The Ultimate Fighter” history, Season 17 being mediocre would’ve been a drastic step up from the depths of Season 16. When fighters have to be told that they aren’t guaranteed anything on the show and the most pronounced response is “I’m not risking getting hurt on a TV show” immediately afterwards you know something’s wrong. All the sins of “TUF” came to a head as Team Nelson fought Team Carwin: borderline UFC caliber fighters, even by the modern standard, engaged in boring fights without any sort of urgency.
If there was a time to cancel the show and find something else to reach the modern audience it would’ve been then.
But one has to give the UFC and FX credit; they reinvented the show by doing more than just giving it a paint job and high profile coaches. They took everything that had worked (A fight every week, a fight to get into the house, a wild card fight) and gutted the show’s presentation entirely. The format had been a leftover from the Spike TV version of the show and a makeover was needed. Thusly the best season of the show in a long time has come and gone and now we’re bracing for the impact of eight men and eight women in a house with nothing to do but train and one another, apparently, for Season 18.
So what do we make of the past season, now that Kelvin Gastelum has earned the glass trophy and contract that comes with winning “The Ultimate Fighter” and such? This is what we learned.
The TUF Hype Machine Still Works When The Talent Is There – Who wasn’t excited to see Uriah Hall compete for the TUF crown? No one, that’s who. After a season of thumping guys in scary ways the Jamaican-born kickboxer was THE guy to talk about on the TUF card. Even a potential fight of the year between Urijah Faber and Scott Jorgensen seemed to be forgettable in the face of Hall-Gastelum; after three insane knockouts people were expecting Hall to merck the barely able to drink alcohol Gastelum and move on to someone like Alan Belcher after the show. It was hard to hype up either Mike Ricci or Colton Smith because neither guy looked that exceptional on the show but not Uriah Hall, though. Hall had that “it” factor on top of three of the most brutal knockouts in recent TUF history.
Uriah Hall Losing May Have Been the Best Thing for Him … Bubba McDaniel Too – This was the final I was expecting when the cast list was announced, honestly. Hall was a northeast prospect who was mysteriously absent from the UFC when guys in a similar spot from Ring of Combat (Chris Weidman and Costa Phillipou) had gotten late notice call-ups. McDaniel had a lengthy record and was Jon Jones’s training partner; that still means something if arguably the best fighter in the world needs you to spar. The fact that both didn’t win is actually beneficial; we get to see them brought up slowly. Hall would’ve been tossed into deep waters immediately instead of needing some time to develop as a talent. McDaniel as well, considering his pedigree at Jackson’s MMA.
Having Top Prospects On The Show Helps … But Motivating Them Works Better – I’ve always liked the “wild card” factor looming in. On the one hand it limits your total amount of fighters, allowing you to be a bit more selective when it comes to the final guys you invite to the fight-in. On the other it causes fighters to be more aggressive when they’re down after a round; if you’re losing, and losing badly, many fighters tend to pack it in and try not to get finished and satisfied with a loss. Fighters who want it more will fight to the end, at a minimum looking to try and get the wild card, instead of packing it in and waiting for the finale.
There are about four to six fighters who should be on the UFC roster in 2014 From This Season – Between Hall, McDaniel and Gastelum you have three fighters who should make a somewhat lengthy run in the UFC. Gastelum is just scratching the surface at how good he could be, as well. In a normal season of TUF three fighters who make an impact, even if it’s only a brief one, is quite good. Throw in Luke Barnett, Dylan Andrews and Josh Samman alongside Clint Hester and you have a pretty stacked group of fighters coming from TUF onto the bloated UFC roster. Middleweight isn’t especially deep, of course, so new talent is never a bad thing.
TUF 17 Is Symbolized By One Word: Urgency – The one thing that was missing from the past couple seasons, and evident in this one, is that everyone fought like this was their only chance to get in the UFC.