The future of The Ultimate Fighter franchise has been uncertain ever since word of a UFC sale began to leak in the first half of 2016. What was once a revolutionary product that arguably saved the company by bridging the gap between mainstream fans and fringe fanatics has become stale and boring.
Fox Sports and the UFC have turned to gimmicks to keep fans interested, crowning a strawweight champion at the end of season 20, and organizing a tournament to a find a challenger for Demetrious Johnson in season 24.
But what has always made the show compelling is a good rivalry between coaches, culminating in a fight. In The Ultimate Fighter: Redemption, the show might have rediscovered what made it worth watching in the first place. It has brought back former contestants and former UFC fighters, including one current roster member, to compete for a $250,000 grand prize and a contract.
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But what’s selling the show is the hatred between bantamweight champion Cody “No Love” Garbrandt and former champion T.J. Dillashaw.
Typically, the show involves some conflict occurring toward the end of the season, after weeks of palpable tension. Two fighters, in close quarters over several weeks, finally boiling over.
The season preview showed Garbrandt snatch Dillashaw by the neck, like an eagle would a snake, according to Garbrandt. That happened in the season premiere. In the second episode, Dillashaw and Urijah Faber, former mentor and Team Garbrandt coach, had to be separated by cast members.
It’s raw, it’s real and it’s compelling. But is it translating?
The viewership numbers don’t match up against the inaugural season, but that’s the case for most long-running franchises in this new, cord-cutting era. However, excluding live sporting events, The Ultimate Fighter’s DVR numbers (Live 3) are among the best of all primetime shows on Fox Sports.
The first few episodes of season 25 have now aired, and T.J. Dillashaw has been active on the interview circuit calling into question Garbrandt’s temper and mindset.
“The beef with Cody is just comical because it shouldn’t concern him at all,” Dillashaw told Fox Sports’ Damon Martin. “Just because it involves Urijah, he wants to get all riled up and puff out his feathers and act like a tough guy. I expected this from Cody. He’s a hothead and just for him to not really be able to express himself mentally but just get all worked up.”
There’s some truth to that; Garbrandt isn’t known as a wordsmith or a poet of insults like Conor McGregor or Chael Sonnen. McGregor spent months thinking about the words he’d use after beating Nate Diaz at UFC 202, eventually settling on, “Surprise, surprise, the king is back.”
But that isn’t how Garbrandt functions. It’s not his mindset.
Garbrandt doesn’t dwell on words. He’s a man of action, an attitude that stems from his blue collar roots in Ohio. “No Love” didn’t come up in a big martial arts academy, with famous names in MMA leading training sessions. He learned to box from his uncle in a gym with no heat, using flip flops as pads.
Garbrandt isn’t a hothead, but sees himself as a defender of those who can’t defend themselves, someone who will stand up to bullies, no matter what’s on the line.
The Ultimate Fighter is a nationally televised program that could elevate the image and marketability of Garbrandt, a valuable opportunity. Yet the possibility of getting kicked off the show would never cross his mind if it’s the price of standing up to a bully.
As a freshman in high school, in the week leading up to the state finals in wrestling, Garbrandt risked it all to defend a kid named Isaac who was being bullied. Some kid found an easy target, tripped him in front of the entire student body at lunch and was swiftly thrown onto a table by Garbrandt.
“I didn’t care,” Garbrandt told SI. “It was an important time in my life. I was about to wrestle for a state title the next week and I remember that kid tripping him. I still didn’t care, I always liked Isaac and that is one of the stories I’ll always remember.”
Garbrandt went on to win the state title as a freshman.
Before his fight at UFC 202 against Takeya Mizugaki, Garbrandt was already having run-ins with Dominick Cruz. Cruz had defeated Garbrandt’s then-teammate Dillashaw for the bantamweight title and Garbrandt’s mentor Urijah Faber, and was taking shots at Team Alpha Male in the media whenever he could.
Cruz was the bully and Garbrandt was stepping in once again. At UFC 207, Garbrandt put on an enthralling performance, knocking Cruz down four times in a single round and dancing in the cage.
Garbrandt won the bantamweight title, dethroning a man who had never lost at 135 pounds.
In season 22 of The Ultimate Fighter, when Conor McGregor coached against Faber, the Irishman somewhat fortuitously called Dillashaw a snake. While Faber and Dillashaw continued to try to outwit the brash-talker, Garbrandt stood up and stepped forward to defend his teammates with his physical presence.
Now Dillashaw has become the enemy, as McGregor predicted. In the wake of the televised drama, Dillashaw has thrown out the same verbal jabs about Garbrandt’s broken home in the media that Cruz used. The bullying has begun.
Garbrandt faces Dillashaw for the title at UFC 213, another chance for him to stand up to a bully.
UFC 212 is month away and Anderson Silva still has no opponent. He was originally slated to fight Kelvin Gastelum, a former welterweight emerging as a contender at middleweight, with a potential title shot on the line. In early April, Gastelum failed a United States Anti-Doping Agency-administered drug test for having traces of marijuana in his sample and the fight was called off.
But the UFC wanted to keep the Brazilian star on the Rio de Janeiro card, and a month out from the fight Silva is still sitting in the wings waiting for an opponent. The whole landscape of the division is as confusing to Silva as it is to the fans. The champion, Michael Bisping, is slated to fight returning former welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre.
Silva has a legitimate claim to a rematch with Bisping, believing he won a tight contest between the two in February of 2016. Silva was also under the impression he would get a superfight with St-Pierre when he returned, but that failed to come to fruition.
“When I signed my last contract, Dana White and Lorenzo say ‘OK, when Georges St-Pierre is back, you go and fight superfight, you and Georges St-Pierre,’” Silva said on the MMA Hour. “I don’t know what happened. Nothing happened. Georges St-Pierre is back to fight and back to fight for the belt. It’s terrible. It don’t make sense. I know it’s a f****** business, but I’m working hard for a long time.”
Now, Silva, a man who currently shares the record for most successful title defenses in the UFC, is on the outside looking in and mulling retirement.
Silva hasn’t been the same since losing to Chris Weidman at UFC 167. Since that fight, he has one official win on his resume, a controversial decision against Derek Brunson at UFC 208. A win over Nick Diaz was overturned because of a drug test, and Silva was arguably on the wrong end of a decision to Bisping, but he hasn’t been the Silva of old and is now saying he’ll retire if he doesn’t get an interim title shot against Yoel Romero.
Silva has had an incredible run, but he looks overmatched against Romero, an Olympic wrestler on an eight-fight win streak in the UFC, six of which were KOs/TKOs.
Silva has nothing to prove, and no reason to put himself in a position to continually take damage and risk his future health. The sunset might be the better option.
Speculation about an opponent for Tyron Woodley’s next title defense is rampant, and Woodley added fuel to the fire by confirming on Fox Sports’ Procast he would be fighting in July. He said there was an opponent, but he couldn’t be revealed yet.
Nick Diaz, who has not fought since January 2015 at UFC 183, is among the names to have been thrown around.
I think there’s a plan in place for Woodley, and a reason it hasn’t been announced. Demian Maia and Jorge Masvidal, arguably the two top contenders for a title shot, square off at UFC 211 in a little over a week’s time. Woodley could be facing the winner of that fight, assuming he escapes with little damage.
But the UFC likely has a contingency plan and name in mind in case that doesn’t work out. Either way, an announcement is probably two weeks away.
Coming off her second straight loss, Ronda Rousey’s future in MMA is more in doubt than ever. Other potential careers lie in front of her, like acting and wrestling, and according to her coach Justin Flores, MMA might be in her past.
“I would support her, but personally I don’t think it’s in the cards,” Flores told Submission Radio. “I don’t think that’s what she wants in this time of her life. I mean, I’m not discounting anything. Maybe later. But I just don’t see that being something she wants to jump into and focus full force to be the best. Because if she’s gonna do anything, from what I know about her, she’s gonna do it to be the best.
“And not that I don’t think that she can be the best, it’s just, I just don’t know if her body and her mind at this stage in her life, if that’s what’s right for her. She’s competed her whole life. Her whole life has been about being the best, and I just think personally, the best thing is for her to kind of be okay with herself not as a fighter. So I love her to death, dude. I just know the pain she’s gone through physically, doing this forever, multiple surgeries, concussions, broken bones, weight cutting. All those things add up and take its toll, and it’s accumulative. So being 30 years old now and doing this since you were eight years old non-stop, I mean, the mileage you’ve put on your body and that she’s put on her body, I just don’t think if she wants to, you know, live a long happy life and raise kids with Travis (Browne, her fiancé), which I know that’s the future, I just don’t think that’s something I feel like would be in her best interests.”
Tyron Woodley on Demian Maia taking a fight against Jorge Masvidal (via UFC Unfiltered podcast)
“Unfortunately for Maia, he accepted the fight the week of me and [Stephen Thompson]’s fight. In my personal opinion, bad move. Wait and see how the fight went. If nobody came out of the fight hurt, a clear winner, not another draw, you’re already in a position to fight for a world title. Why would you put yourself up against the worst possible matchup outside of a title fight? Why would you put yourself in that position?
“I don’t want to call him stupid but damn that was stupid.”
Dominick Cruz on Urijah Faber and T.J. Dillashaw drama (via the MMA Hour)
“If Faber really cared about TJ, he would've let TJ go and train with [Duane] Ludwig. But It hurt his ego that Ludwig was better.”
Light heavyweight title contender Daniel Cormier on Jon Jones’ return and a potential tune-up fight (via UFC Tonight on Fox Sports)
“Take the fight with me, Jon Jones. There are no tune-up fights in the UFC. Try to get your title back. Come meet your boy ‘DC,’ come get this money. Let’s get money together and give the people in Anaheim a show. No tune-up for Jon Jones, he gets to come and get beat by me this time. We’re fighting right now or he doesn’t get to fight me. It’s my rules, I’m the champ now.”
Michael Bisping on the double standard toward him (via Believe You Me Podcast)
“Whatever I do, I get s*** off everybody. Conor McGregor can do no wrong, he is Jesus reincarnated. He can walk on water, he can do whatever the f*** he wants.
“He can leave the sport of UFC and go chase a boxing match and that's still the best thing ever, holding up two divisions whilst he's at it. But me, Jesus Christ, all I tried to do is get a big payday and I'm the scum of the earth, I'm the devil.”
Will Michael Bisping-Georges St-Pierre happen? And when?
The fight will happen but it's just a matter of timing. There's no clear reason why Georges St-Pierre is taking quite so long to get ready for this fight considering he's been training for a comeback for over a year. That being said, his hint about possibly fighting at Madison Square Garden leads me to believe that could be the perfect landing spot. St-Pierre has long standing ties to New York and a showdown with Bisping headlining the second card at MSG in October or November would be huge
Tyron Woodley is teasing a fight in July, is it winner of Masvidal-Maia? Is it an outlier like Diaz?
Right now all signs are pointing toward the winner of Demian Maia vs. Jorge Masvidal in July. It appeared that Nick Diaz could have been the dark horse contender to get the shot but it certainly doesn't seem like that fight is on the table any longer. Given that Maia and Masvidal are fighting on May 13, you'd have to imagine the winner getting Woodley would likely get pushed back to the UFC 214 card on July 29.
Will Anderson Silva really retire if his demands aren’t met? Should he fight Yoel Romero for the interim title?
I don't buy Anderson Silva's retirement, but I do hope the UFC calls his bluff. Silva is a legend, one of the greatest fighters of all time, but his most recent demands are absolutely baffling. He's 1-4 with one no contest in his past six fights and he turned down a fight with Luke Rockhold at UFC 212 already. It's unclear why he suddenly wants these concessions made for him, but he's just not in a good spot to make these demands right now.
Is it wise for Cris Cyborg to go toe-to-toe with the UFC so publicly? Will she get that UFC 214 title fight, against either de Randamie or Megan Anderson?
Well it's not always Cris Cyborg sending out the messages on her Twitter but we have to assume she's approving everything that's being said. Is it a good idea to go after the UFC so publicly? Perhaps when you're trying to get a point across but there's also a point when people turn against you when complaints are suddenly perceived as whining. Hopefully, Cyborg will fight at UFC 214, it makes perfect sense for her and the UFC could certainly use her popularity in a big title fight. It's just not certain that de Randamie will be ready for July 29 or even has interest in fighting on that date right now.
Has the Garbrandt-Dillashaw feud revived The Ultimate Fighter?
A real coaching rivalry combined with a compelling story with fighters returning from past seasons of the show help The Ultimate Fighter tremendously. There's absolutely nothing fake or manufactured about the disdain shared by Garbrandt and Dillashaw, which viewers can see when watching them go after each other week after week. Between this season and the new season introducing the women's flyweight division, it certainly feels like The Ultimate Fighter is back.
The UFC booked a title fight between Georges St-Pierre and middleweight champion Michael Bisping without actually scheduling it. People initially assumed it would be on one of the two July pay-per-view cards. When the Edmonton pay-per-view in September was announced, fans assumed it would be on that card, given St-Pierre’s Canadian roots.
Now, St-Pierre is adding more fuel to the fire, teasing a fight at Madison Square Garden in “a few months.” Currently, the UFC doesn’t have a return date to Madison Square Garden scheduled, but there are holes in the pay-per-view schedule in August, October and November.
Cris Cyborg feels slighted that the UFC went ahead and scheduled an inaugural women’s featherweight title fight without her, and she’s still clamoring for a title. Cyborg wants a fight with champion Germaine de Randamie, but injuries are preventing that fight from occurring in the near future, and Cyborg has campaigned for an interim title fight with Invicta FC featherweight champion Megan Anderson, and she is game.
CNN provided a behind-the-scenes look at the newly unveiled UFC headquarters. It sits on 15 acres and houses everything, from a kitchen with healthy eating options, facilities for athletes to use and even a media center.
The UFC could be forced to give up the Fight Pass-exclusive cards, a selling tool for its streaming service and library. It’s also been a major initiative; the UFC has ruffled feathers booking marquee fights on Fight Pass instead of Fox Sports. The UFC could look to simulcast the Fox Sports cards, as Thursday Night Football did, as well.
Either way, making the product readily accessible isn’t a bad move. Trying a week night instead of a Saturday night, is worth exploring. The UFC used to hone in on Friday nights before wrestling Saturdays away from boxing. Thursday nights could get more fans watching who don’t want to sacrifice weekend nights.
Bellator and Monster Energy have teamed up for the aptly named Monster Energy Bellator MMA Fight Series. The goal is to put on small cards at NASCAR events, where the main sponsor is none other than Monster Energy.
On May 20, at Charlotte Motor Speedway, a four-fight card will take place before the racing begins. It’s void of notable names, focusing on regional up-and-coming talent. The winner of the main event will get a Bellator contract.
Not only is it a way to entertain waiting fans, but an innovative way to introduce people to your product. All in all, a smart, low-risk move.
When then-Texas A&M engineering student Sage Northcutt made his debut at UFC 192 in Houston, his patented overly friendly and polite nature endeared him to fans. As time has gone on, it’s become less endearing and somehow managed to rub fans the wrong way.
Much like professional wrestling, fans were thrilled to see Northcutt’s trash-talking side come out against Mickey Gall. In a new project with Champions, Northcutt starred in a video titled “Good Cop, Good(er) Cop,” and embraced the public perception in hilarious fashion.
The UFC has landed another big name, this time the 12-1 ACB featherweight champion Zabit Magomedsharipov. He currently trains with former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar and new UFC signee Marlon Moraes.
Could Jose “Shorty” Torres be next? Torres is currently undefeated, the Titan FC flyweight champion and challenging for the bantamweight title in mid-May.