Readers of this blog will already know that I like The Ultimate Fighter. I never miss it if I can help it, which puts it up there with Hardball with Chris Matthews as the only TV shows I make it a point to watch. But last night’s episode drove home a point that’s been bothering me for several seasons, and it has to do with casting.
Last night’s episode featured a match between Team Serra’s Richie Hightower and Team Hughes’ Blake Bowman. If you didn’t see it I’m going to spoil the ending for you by telling you that Hightower won easily in the first round. But then, just a little research into these two competitors might also spoil it for you , because that’s when you’d discover that while Hightower is a respectable 7-1 as a pro, Bowman is 0-0. As in he’s never had a professional match. As in what the hell is he doing on a show that purports to match rising MMA stars against one another to determine the “ultimate fighter”?
No matter how they might try to spin it, that’s a credibility problem. That tells us that Bowman was cast because he’s a funny, likable guy. And he is that. He seems like someone you might like to hang out and joke with. But he doesn’t seem like a fighter. In the words of Mac Danzig, “what is he doing here?”
The sad thing is that, as Danzig implied, Bowman is in someone else’s spot. Somewhere in America there is a capable guy who auditioned for TUF who’s sitting at home, watching Bowman yuck it up en route to an ugly performance in the Octagon, and he’s mad as hell. He knows that he could have at least had a chance on the show, while Bowman was finished before he even started.
I have to believe that no one — not the producers, not Dana White, not whoever Bowman’s trainer is — expected him to have a legitimate chance at winning the TUF competition. Which means the entire show is, to some extent, a set-up.
Let’s say Mac Danzig wins, which seems very possible. He’s a great fighter who’s been doing this for years and has racked up an impressive record against quality opponents. If he wins TUF, that becomes his identity, the way it did for Diego Sanchez and Forrest Griffin and Michael Bisping and so on. He gets a six-figure contract and a fast-track to UFC success.
But what does winning TUF mean if the field is made of guys like Bowman? Of course they’re not all like that — some are serious threats — but if the producers are willing to put a mark like Bowman in the place of someone who might have had a chance just because he’s more entertaining on camera, the accomplishment means a little less.
Danzig, to his credit, seems to have figured that out. He also seems pissed off about it. Not only does he hate Richie Hightower just for being himself, the previews for next week show him turning on Bowman. I’m sure the producers are going to edit that into a major face-heel turn by Danzig, but it might be the most rational response possible. He’s realizing that this TV show is not an entirely serious competition. It’s more like a, I don’t know, TV show.
This doesn’t mean I’m going to stop watching TUF. But I can’t understand why they don’t realize it’s to their benefit to fill the roster with credible fighters. So far this season, all the fights have been quick, unsatisfying affairs. That’s because they’ve got a huge gap in talent between the guys they picked for competition and the guys they picked because they needed someone for those other guys to beat up on.
I don’t know if they think a one-sided beating is something MMA fans want to see, but it’s not. At least, not me. I’d rather see a real match between two real competitors. I guess I’ll have to wait for the end of the season.