The very poorly kept secret is now official: Forrest Griffin and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson will be the two coaches for the next season of The Ultimate Fighter, culminating in a title fight at the end of the show. And you thought the UFC would learn from their mistakes.
After making the announcement Dana White promised there would be big formatting changes to the show, but apparently not to the strategy of taking a major championship belt out of circulation for months in order to hype a fight on reality TV. So when’s the next time we’ll see the 205-pound title on the line? How about the summer of 2008.
Honestly, this has to stop. At this rate we’ll see a title defense in MMA’s most exciting and (arguably) most talent-heavy division about once a year. The same strategy backfired in the Serra-Hughes debacle, and it adds to the UFC’s existing championship title woes. Now that the light heavyweight strap is on the shelf, it joins the welterweight belt (the real one, not the interim one), and the heavyweight one that Randy Couture “retired” with.
So what’s left, you ask? Well, there’s the lightweight belt, which Sean Sherk was just stripped of and which will go to the winner of Penn-Stevenson in January. There’s the middleweight title, which seems to be staying put around Anderson Silva’s waist, especially if Dan Henderson fails to take it from him. And, of course, there’s the interim welterweight title, which is fancy talk for the number one contender belt.
I guess the question is, how, exactly, does the UFC plan to get from now to this summer? If you figure they hold about one pay-per-view a month, and if there are at least six months to go until Jackson-Griffin could happen, that leaves some real holes in the PPV lineups. The lightweight title fight happens in January, then the middleweight title in February. After that, I suppose they can force some kind of bout for the vacant heavyweight title, assuming Couture is still missing in action. But that still leaves three months for them to rinse and repeat.
That could force the interim welterweight title to go on the line again if Serra isn’t well enough to fight by April, or it could result in more pay-per-views that are without a true main event.
My main complaint with this process is that it’s so unnecessary to build up a title fight between Jackson and Griffin. “Rampage” is a walking PR machine, and Griffin was the hero of the first season of TUF, so it’s not as if either of them needs to be introduced to the American TV audience. Not to mention, it really dampens my enthusiasm for the reality show now that I correlate the announcement of the coaches with the announcement of who won’t be fighting for a really long time. Meanwhile, the MMA landscape changes shape and moves on.
Another thing that troubles me about this model is the way it appears to be edging towards the follies of boxing. I have always loved that MMA didn’t put all its hopes into having one good fight for each pay-per-view and a bunch of guys no one really cared about filling out the undercard. But this stinginess with title fights makes me think we’re headed in that direction, as much as I hate to say it.