In battle of bad image vs. ratings, the numbers always win

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If former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir had his way, Junie Allen Browning's antics during the eighth season of The Ultimate Fighter would have earned the 23-year-old Kentuckian a one-way ticket back to the Bluegrass state. But, instead of emerging as the loud-mouthed kid that was tossed from the latest manic season of reality television's most popular mixed martial arts program, Browning finds himself enjoying the trappings of a known fighter in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Why? For better or worse, Browning elicited a reaction from anyone who chose to watch him, and that alone appears to be reason enough for the ratings-hungry Spike TV producers and UFC executives to have put up with just about anything he dished out.

On a show that established its drunken house-smashing roots from nearly the opening episode of the first season almost four years ago, the feelings Browning engendered among his coaches, fellow cast members and many regular T.U.F. viewers bordered somewhere between concern over his mental health to sheer contempt. The point being, few people, including Mir, could be around Browning, or watch him on TV, without wondering why others were forced off the show for lesser transgressions, and he was still around.

The message "as long as they act like a moron, an idiot, that they get to have [television] time and face time equals money," didn't get lost on Mir.

"They don't need to put time into fighting," said the heavyweight, who picked Browning, a lightweight, to represent his team, but pulled no punches in wishing he hadn't. "I hear more people talking about Junie Browning than Phillipe Nover and Efrain Escudero," the two lightweights in the hunt for the UFC contract. "That's an insult to those two fighters."

Nover, who UFC President Dana White believes could be the next Georges St. Pierre, and Escudero, an undefeated prospect out of Arizona, join light heavyweights Ryan Bader and Vinicius "Vinny" Magalhaes in the race for the reality show's prize (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, Spike TV).

Their talents, however, haven't tempered discussion of Browning's alcohol-fueled actions -- starting fights with nearly everyone in the house; throwing a cup that shattered and cut another fighter; having to be restrained by Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (Mir's counterpart this season) after jumping the Octagon fence following a fight he didn't have a hand in; and continually disrespecting anyone within earshot with language that would make White blush -- or the decision by producers to make him a focal point of the show.

"I think it sent a bad message," Mir said. "I hope it gets interpreted the right way. Fighters aren't allowed to act this way."

Well, most fighters. Mir felt so strongly that Browning was the antithesis of "mixed martial artist" that he prevented his 16-year-old son from watching the season's final two episodes.

"This is not what you want to be," Mir, pointing to Browning, said to his boy. "This is the exact opposite of what you want to strive for and be as a man."

Following a terrible motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a career featuring a UFC heavyweight championship victory in 2004, Mir has little patience these days for frivolity, especially those that place personal motives ahead of life as a martial artist. This is where Mir finds himself most at odds with Browning and the other fighters on T.U.F. 8 who stood out more for their antics outside the cage than anything they accomplished inside it.

"I realize that Spike has to sell TV time, and I understand that's part of the whole game, but as far as me as a martial artist I find it an insult," said Mir, who fights Nogueira on Dec. 27 for the UFC interim heavyweight title and a chance to meet Brock Lesnar in 2009.

Like many hardcore followers of mixed martial arts, Mir hopes to see producers shift from a program featuring mind-numbing pranks -- including some that might not make the cut for an NC-17 flick -- towards one that showcases fighters for what they do in the cage, and how they prepare for battle. As a ratings grabber, it might not do the trick, which Mir is quick to admit.

"I guess those things aren't interesting for television to other people," he said. "But seeing a bunch of guys do crazy things back and forth is interesting, and I knew that. This is more than just a fight, it's also about television ratings."

For fighters like Nover, Escudero, Bader and Magalhaes -- who compete with an eye toward the accomplishments of Forrest Griffin or Rashad Evans and not the name recognition earned by the likes of original T.U.F. bad boy Chris Leben or Jesse Taylor (a T.U.F. 7 finalist who was sent packing after kicking out a limousine window) -- their TV time will come the way it usually does for athletes: winning.

"The sad part is he is talented as a fighter," Mir said of Browning. "He's a good athlete, I guess you could say. And now he gets a main-card [fight], too. Obviously I don't own a business that makes millions of dollars, which is why I don't make those decisions."