It's hard to believe more than three years have passed since
On Saturday, the Spike TV reality show completes yet another season -- its seventh -- in a world where mixed martial arts has become a fairly regular installment on television.
Of course, roughly three-and-a-half years ago, that wasn't the case. Few realized it, but the gimmicky show on a network no one had ever heard of was MMA's chance -- maybe even its last chance -- to make it big. While mounting debt put Zuffa, the parent company of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, in a perilous spot, co-owners
It wasn't some great discovery. Everyone around the sport rightly believed that exposure in large doses of an underappreciated sport was the only way to get MMA off life support and on the path of progression. The problem resided in getting a deal done. Networks weren't interested in taking a risk on something they hadn't a clue about, especially when the targeted audience was unclear.
The show's concept was new, or at least the MMA spin was unforseen. There wasn't a template, and everyone seemed to be winging it -- from the fighters to the promoters, and even the producers. Whether it was genius casting or a moment of serendipity, the first group of fighters was special. Not only could most of the guys prove themselves in the cage, but they were also boiling over with personality. From the pranks of
Plus, few would have chosen Griffin as an eventual top-five ranked light heavyweight and a major pay-per-view draw for the UFC in 2008. And few could have imagined that seven other fighters from the show's first season would still be among the top names in the UFC? The original premise of the show called for one final star -- the best of the best, the cream of the newcomers who had a genuine shot at MMA glory.
Ironically, the success of the first season made it difficult for future T.U.F. casts to be as deep or interesting. While the second season brought a strong contingent of fighters --
Demand in seeking out top-notch fighters has become so strong from all corners that the lightweight division seems to be the only one capable of consistently churning out quality brawlers. Season five lightweight winner, Nate
Even winners have struggled in ensuing bouts, like middleweight
The past couple of seasons have made it clear that the show has become more about personality than skill. An unfortunate reality because, while T.U.F. is an incredible promotional vehicle for the UFC, it can also be a genuine proving ground of talent.
So, when debating if
In-cage acumen is no longer a priority. No, first, and foremost,