Category Archives: TV

The Ultimate Fighter Is Starting To Make Me Feel Bad About Myself

I defend The Ultimate Fighter almost every chance I get, and it isn’t easy. But the most recent episode really tested my limits. It really made me take a look at the man in the mirror, if you know what I’m saying. Oddly enough, this dark moment of mine didn’t come as I was sitting on my couch watching grown men argue about dirty dishes and the ethical quandary of killing flies. I only thought that was the low point.

Sure, something felt wrong about that, too, and I was forced to ask myself some difficult questions about what I considered entertainment, what was a valuable use of my free time, and most importantly, what I was willing to sit through in order to see a three-minute fight.

I don’t begrudge reality show producers for making big deals out of nothing at all. It’s kind of their job description. As anyone who’s been involved in actual reality can tell you, things get pretty boring sometimes. But at the same time I have to believe that the producers of TUF know who their audience is and what they want to see, and it isn’t arguments over dishes.

The main focal point of this episode was the brewing conflict between Mac Danzig and Blake Bowman/humanity. Danzig seems like an interesting guy, but a little bit of a misanthrope and a reactionary. Of course, living in a house with all these guys can’t be a lot of fun, so it’s understandable.

You expect a reality show to play up a minor conflict. What you don’t expect is that when Paul Georgieff gets a special phone call so his mother can deliver tragic news about a death in the family, that they will make him have the conversation on speaker phone so the cameras can capture the moment. Seriously, TUF? Was that really necessary?

Now, I realize that maybe they didn’t actually tape the real call. I’ve seen the Vh1 special about the tricks of reality TV. I’m hip. But at the very least they made Georgieff reenact the moment where he learned of his teenage cousin’s death, and that’s not much better.

The hell of it is, that wasn’t even a very interesting scene. He reacted the way people in real life often do: mostly numb and inwardly sad, rather than outwardly hysterical. Of course, they made sure to get plenty of mileage out of him grappling with the decision (pun totally intended) to stay or go.

But as soon as I realized that these producers must have been loving the fact that a cast member’s relative died, solely for the easy human drama it would create, I felt a little sick. Enter my dark moment. That’s when I think I had my small-scale revelation, as I thought about how I was only sitting through this in order to watch a fight at the end.

And, predictably, the fight wasn’t anything special.

First, Georgieff attempted to suck Troy Mandaloniz into a submission grappling match, and when that didn’t yield a victory right off he decided to play Mandaloniz’s game by standing and trading punches (which Matt Hughes insisted was not the game plan). Also predictably, within a few seconds Georgieff paid for that mistake by catching a hard right on the chin that knocked him out cold. Hughes then got upset, which pleased Matt Serra to no end.

There. You happy now? Me neither. I’m going to go see if there are any Law & Order reruns on.

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Filed under MMA, Sports, The Ultimate Fighter, TV, UFC

The Ultimate Fighter Rolls On With Another Mismatch

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.

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Filed under Mac Danzig, MMA, Sports, The Ultimate Fighter, TV, UFC

The True Genius of The Ultimate Fighter

The Ultimate Fighter reality series on Spike TV takes a lot of heat from MMA fans. Some of it is deserved, but most of it isn’t. People say the format is stale, the fights are often mismatches or generally lacking in energy. But I think these people are focusing on the wrong things, and in the process they’re missing everything that’s really great about TUF (yeah, I’m abbreviating now, so deal with it). There is a lot of what is good about reality TV in general in this show, and surprisingly little of what is bad.

For example: my girlfriend loves Top Chef on Bravo. I’m pretty sure it’s the most boring thing I’ve ever seen on TV, including test patterns. This is a source of conflict for us, but we live with it. However, whenever I find myself watching even a few minutes of TC (that’s right), I start wishing that they would end each show with some kind of final showdown, preferrably a fight of some kind where there could be a clear winner.

‘Man,’ I think to myself. ‘Wouldn’t it be great if there were a show like that?’

This is when I remember that TUF gives us what we’ve always wanted from reality TV: conflicts of personality and desire that turn into actual, sanctioned fights. Maybe we’ve started taking it for granted after so many seasons. I don’t know.

I’ve watched every season of TUF. I watched it back when it first came on and I didn’t have cable and had to go to a friend’s house every week, even when he might not have wanted me there, because I didn’t want to miss any of it.

Since then the show has improved dramatically. They got rid of the challenges and the concept of a host (though why is Dana White an official cast member when he seems to only show up every now and then?). But what I’ve really come to love about the show is how much we learn about the veteran fighters who serve as coaches.

Take Matt Hughes. I used to be a huge Matt Hughes fan. He seemed like a great fighter and a great guy. But after two seasons as a coach on TUF, I was forced to reevaluate that stance. Not only does he seem to be a real ball-buster (which I could forgive, though it’s annoying), he also seems incredibly egotistical and a little petty.

Remember when he encouraged one of his fighters to fight injured, which only further injured him? Remember when he seemed happy that this weak link was off his team?

That makes me think that Hughes didn’t understand how the show worked. If you’re a coach on TUF, it’s not about you. It’s about your fighters. Your job is to make them into the best they can be. You don’t get an extra prize if one of your fighters wins. Your guys will probably have to face each other in the tournament at some point. You’re there to help them improve, not to play head games and steal the spotlight.

You’re also not there to lead Bible study and ask your fighters to decide which character in the Book of Esther most closely represents you, because that’s just weird.

Conversely, look at Tito Ortiz. I never really liked Ortiz all that much before his stint on TUF. He always came off as a grandstanding jerk. But on the show he seemed like a natural coach, one committed to doing whatever was necessary to help his guys. He seemed compassionate and sincere and had a really great work ethic.

I’m still not a huge Ortiz fan, but I really respect him and want to see good things happen to him (good things like success and happiness, not good things like Jenna Jameson, who might turn out to be the opposite of a good thing once those test results come back).

And what about Matt Serra?  I was mostly indifferent towards him before his two stints on TUF — first as contestant and now coach — but I’ve really come to like him.  Nothing makes me sympathize with a guy like watching him struggle with Joe Scarola and his inexplicably bad choices.

This is the greatest value of TUF for me. We learn a lot about the contestants, sure, but there are so many of them who we’ll never see again that it’s hard to know who to care about right off. The coaches are already somebody important. How they respond to challenges and successes and failures while they’re not in the cage can tell us a lot about their personalities.

This is why I really keep watching the show. The fights are fun to watch, but they don’t usually get interesting until the semifinals. Seeing guys go stir crazy in the house got old for me in season one. But watching true character revealed never gets old.

So maybe we should ease up on the criticism for TUF. The fact is, it’s still better than similar shows where there are no fights (looking at you, Top Chef, although America’s Next Top Model gets a pass), and it’s also better than most of what’s on TV. I know that’s not exactly a major accomplishment, but it’s enough. At least for now.

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Filed under MMA, Sports, Tito Ortiz, TV, UFC

New Articles, And Not Just About MMA This Time

I have two new articles on Crave Online this week. One of them, naturally, is about MMA (An Uncertain Future for Chuck Liddell). But the other is about my love affair with a certain tasteless reality TV show (Does Liking “Rock of Love” Make Me a Bad Person?).

If you’re reading this blog you’re probably the type who has read/heard/thought enough about Chuck Liddell over the last week, so why not broaden your cultural horizons by, um, reading about TV. Hey, at least it has to be better for you than watching TV. Maybe.

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Filed under Bret Michaels, Chuck Liddell, MMA, Rock of Love, Self-Promotion, TV, UFC, Uncategorized