Schedule the ninth season premiere of Spike’s “Ultimate Fighter”
franchise on April 1 -- April Fools’ Day -- and you’ve got me
half-believing someone at that network is pretty self-aware.
Few dates could be more appropriate to unspool another cast of
devolved tough guys with the collective maturity of a fraternity.
Fans like to crow about MMA athletes being more educated than their
boxing counterparts, the latter of whom frequently fight their way
out of lower class or literal imprisonment with minimal book
learnin’. And for the most part, that’s true. But you’d never know
it by watching this series, which resembles a MENSA meeting only if
there’s something enlightening about peeing in someone’s lunch that
escapes my understanding.
I’ll watch, of course. It’s ultimate hypocrisy, and I’ll cop to it.
If nothing else, the show -- which locks 16 men in a house with
minimal distraction, not unlike some kind of sadistic ‘60s
psychology experiment -- has proven itself to be a solid platform
for discovering new talent. (Alums Rashad Evans,
Bisping and Forrest
Griffin overcame early derision at being reality TV bums and
went on to impressive UFC records.) And it’s only gotten tougher
with age, making demands that fighters enter the house with pro
records and/or win a bout before even stepping foot inside.
Unfortunately, that substance is frequently lost in the lurid
conventions of reality exploitation, a genre of entertainment that
has solidified my pessimism in humanity -- a leaning first explored
by the incredible success of Adam Sandler movies. With little to do
between fights and training (no books or television allowed), cast
mates usually turn to alcohol poisoning and throwing lawn furniture
into the pool as a means of unwinding. Vomiting seems to be a
I haven’t seen the newest crop of episodes, but I’m fairly
confident we can look forward to the following:
Fighters will need less than 90 seconds to locate the stash of
alcohol in the house.
Subsequently, fighters will need less than one hour to recreate key
scenes from “Caligula.”
Eighteen seasons of “The Real World” will convince one or more
athletes that the most expedient way to stardom in the sport is to
create an irrational, functionally psychotic persona that
antagonizes both housemates and viewers. (See: Browning,
Someone will urinate on someone else.
Someone will figure what the living room really needs is a hole in
the drywall the size of a head.
Dana White will enter any room he’s in with the understanding he’s
to audition for a Quentin Tarantino film.
I’m not sure what’s more troubling: that the juvenile hall antics
sell the show, or that the show has yet to evolve beyond them. With
several more seasons contracted, “TUF” risks a greater sin by
simply becoming repetitive and stilted. Even the primal humor in
“Jackass” grows stale after a few seasons. (You’ve seen one staple
gun to the testicles, you’ve seen them all.)
Even more unsettling: to think that the real paradigm shift in this
sport’s young history was the conceit of showing fighters one step
from hurling feces at each other like monkeys -- that this
perversion of sportsmanship is what it took for a mass audience to
take notice of an otherwise complex and beautiful thing. MMA was
apparently beyond anyone’s interest until its participants began
peeing on pillows for basic cable.
Was this really the secret saving grace of combat sports? Does our
culture really need actual, literal poo to fertilize a sprouting
athletic event? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t recall any
footage of Muhammad Ali taking a dump in an opponent’s toilet
There was a time when I was puffed with pride at being a spectator
of this sport. Watching “The Ultimate Fighter” is something I
prefer to keep to myself.
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