If you have something better to do with your life than watch so-called reality television -- and who doesn't? -- you've not been missing much if you've chosen to skip The Ultimate Fighter. The Spike TV show did put the UFC on the map six years ago, but it's never evolved beyond a tiresome formula of a few minutes of fervent, if ham-fisted fighting wrapped around hours of sometimes drunken, always childish stupidity. In other words, typical reality TV fare.
Season 14 concludes this week, and you could have gleaned the gist of the whole thing if you happened to be watching a 30-second sequence during the sixth episode. As is often the case with TUF, the key moment came not during a fight but in the aftermath of one. An aggressive, young Brazilian named Diego Brandao had just bulldozed through fellow featherweight Steven Siler, and as Siler's coach, Jason "Mayhem" Miller, was tending to the fallen fighter, the show's other coach, Michael Bisping, began stomping around the octagon like his team had just won Olympic gold ... except you never see the Austrian luge team taunt the Russians like this. It was a breathlessly classless display, and Miller, whose fighters had won the season's first four bouts, took a moment away from Siler so he could look over at Bisping and sourly ask if he could be any more of a jerk.
Miller might be considered an expert on such behavior. As host of the MTV show Bully Beatdown, he's been in the midst of more than his share of antisocial characters. And he's always gotten the last laugh, as his show's premise is to put bullies in the cage with trained mixed martial artists, with predictably (and crowd-pleasingly) brutal results. Now Mayhem is hoping to get the last laugh once again, as he and Bisping will square off in the main event of The Ultimate Fighter 14 Finale on Saturday night in Las Vegas (9 p.m. ET, Spike TV).
Mayhem (24-7, 1 NC) can be a polarizing figure, too, with his in-your-face clownishness and the maniacal laugh that goes with it. Just ask Jake Shields, Nick and Nate Diaz and the rest of the Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu crew, who famously assaulted Miller on live network TV after he showed up in the cage following Shields' 2010 Strikeforce win over Dan Henderson and, while the winner was being interviewed on CBS, stole the moment by getting in Jake's face to ask for a rematch of their bout from a few months earlier. This incited a brawl that resulted in a big black eye -- not on any of the fighters but on the sport as a whole.
But that brief skirmish aside, Mayhem does not engender anywhere near the animosity that's aimed at Bisping (21-3). No one does. There's not a fighter in the UFC who has made more enemies than the Brit -- among fans and the other fighters. It's a little mysterious, because Bisping is not the only guy in MMA who carries himself with an air of arrogance, and he's shown a sense of humor and other traits one might call likeable. But he's simply not liked. Has there ever been a knockout more celebrated than Henderson's howitzer right hand that dropped "The Count" at UFC 100?
Last we saw Bisping in the octagon, back in February, he recorded a second-round TKO over Jorge Rivera that would be impressive if not for a couple of scene-stealing sidelights: He softened Rivera for the kill with an illegal kick to the head of his downed opponent, and after the finish he spat at Jorge's cornermen. That's Bisping in a nutshell: A night that should be remembered for an explosive victory instead is remembered for boorishness.
Bisping does have his supporters, but something tells me that Mayhem, though a newcomer to the UFC, will have a lot of fans behind him in Vegas this weekend.
14: Submissions among his 24 career victories.
1: Previous UFC fight (unanimous decision loss in 2005 to some guy named Georges St-Pierre)
1: Loss by knockout.
13: Knockouts among his 21 career victories.
1: Previous fight against an opposing TUF coach (TKO loss in 2009 to Dan Henderson, with whom he coached in Season 9).
0: Losses by submission.
What we should expect: It's hard to predict what will happen, since these guys have been fighting in different organizations and have no common opponents by which to gauge strengths and weaknesses. Here's what we know: Bisping wants a standup fight, and Miller wants to roll on the mat. How each is able to play the other's game, and thus remain in his comfort zone, will determine who has the edge. Bisping, a former light heavyweight, would seem to have the strength edge. But Miller is no runt. So we'll see.
Why we should care: This is a tough one. There's no title on the line, obviously, and no legitimate claim to a title shot at stake, either. (Then again, the UFC does seem to view Bisping as an important marketing tool for its growth in the United Kingdom, so you never know.) But maybe an interesting contrast of fighting styles -- or a like/dislike for one of the fighters -- will get you to tune in.
"Before the show I hated him. During the show I hated him. After the show I hated him. Now I look forward to kicking his ass."-- Michael Bisping, during a recent UFC conference call with media members, speaking of you know who.
"As the season wore on, I hated his guts. Then I didn't care. Now I hate his guts again."-- Jason Miller, during the same conference call, speaking of the guy who was speaking of him above.
"This was always a big opportunity for Jason. He went from fighting on the undercard to fighting on a main event with me."-- Bisping
"I can't speak for Mike, because I can't do that stupid accent."-- Miller
"Jason is just an idiot and comes up with stupid s--- constantly."-- Bisping
"Bisping is a complex character. An individual you could write many tomes of knowledge on."-- Miller
"I'm a complex character? Jesus [expletive] Christ. You have like 15 personalities."-- Bisping
X vs. X: Usually the buildup to UFC fights involves weeks of hype. We've had that with Miller vs. Bisping, who've turned TUF 14 into a 10-week infomercial for this weekend's showdowns. But the reality show also featured fighters in two weight classes, and the survivors will face off Saturday night as well. We know Dennis Bermudez is one of the featherweight finalists and T.J. Dillishaw one of the bantamweights, but their opponents won't be revealed until Wednesday night's episode. The suspense isn't killing anyone, though, as once again the reality of the show has revealed itself: It's more about the coaches than the young fighters.
Last year's model: Also on the undercard is a bout featuring last season's TUF winner, combustible welterweight Tony Ferguson. He'll take on Yves Edwards, a veteran of 59 pro fights (41-17-1). At 35, Edwards isn't slowing down, as this will be his fourth fight of 2011. And he's won three of four fights in his latest UFC stint. He could provide a challenge to his 27-year-old opponent -- if he can stand up to Ferguson's buzzsaw attack.