Their fight for a UFC contract is being debated as the greatest fight in MMA history, let alone just the UFC. And it couldn’t have come at a more crucial time for the sport.
On Saturday night, the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s reality TV series, “The Ultimate Fighter,” made history by being the first MMA event broadcast live on cable television. Up until then, the UFC could only be viewed live via pay-per-view or through satellite feed. While the exact viewership numbers have yet to be released, could easily have been witnessed by millions upon millions of viewers — numbers that could eclipse regular UFC PPV events tenfold.
Hardcore fans were going to tune in and eventually scoop up the succeeding UFC events regardless, but the key to TUF’s finale on Spike TV this past weekend was to lure in new fans to our beloved sport.
If the Diego Sanchez- Kenny Florian fight didn’t do much to satiate their thirst for some new form of fistic or extreme — corporate America’s new favorite marketing buzz word — action and if the Ken Shamrock- Rich Franklin fight appeared to be a little bogus (more on that later), Griffin-Bonnar sealed the deal without question.
If new fans were to be turned on by whatever UFC product Zuffa was luring them in with, then Lorenzo, Frank, Dana and Co. reeled in a trophy marlin.
If Griffin-Bonnar didn’t perform the duty of creating new fans by competing in a back-and-forth war, then MMA in America is doomed. If that didn’t work, nothing will; it’s as simple as that.
As members of the MMA community we know what we saw on Saturday night was arguably the greatest example of fistic bravery and drama probably ever inside the Octagon — and hopefully those new fans from the “free TV” world who tuned in were mesmerized by what they saw. Hopefully they are transformed into lifelong UFC fans.
The tricky part is figuring about exactly how much of an impact TUF’s finale made on the mainstream market. Selling out the MGM Grand Garden Arena this coming Saturday for UFC 52 won’t be a feasible gauge to see how well of a job Spike’s show did. It’ll sellout regardless. If the PPV numbers for 52 are relatively the same or even slightly better, then it just means that it will take a few more cable shows like the TUF finale in order to get things rolling.
A few million viewers have tuned in to watch the reality show every week. Current sales numbers for the latest series of UFC PPV events are very low by comparison. The PPV telecasts have yet to come close to eclipsing the million-purchase mark, so this Saturday will be the initial telltale factor in how successful TUF was.
Put it this way, if UFC sells out the MGM, which is expected, great. If the PPV telecast even comes close to selling to a million households, than TUF was an even better catalyst than expected. Nobody expects the UFC to become some overnight mainstream sensation like American Idol, but after watching the televised portion of the TUF finale, Zuffa can thank their lucky stars that both Griffin and Bonnar were able to survive the many weeks of filming the reality show.
If it was Griffin or Bonnar versus anybody else, it’s doubtful we would have been treated to such a thrilling toe-to-toe affair. It’s that sort of action that casual American fans want to see and they couldn’t have asked for a better fight than that.
To Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar: I personally want to thank you for doing what you did on Saturday night. While I thank every fighter for putting his or her life on the line every time he or she climbs into the ring or cage, specific thanks goes to those two 205-pound studs. The TUF finale was crucial and had to be exciting for the casual fans. A fight almost cannot be more exciting, more enthralling, more exhilarating, more dramatic or more satisfying than Griffin-Bonnar.
It’s almost impossible.
Looking ahead many years, I can guarantee to everybody who is a part of MMA in some form or another that the war between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar will be viewed as the most important fight in American MMA history.
It was as exciting as any battle in boxing history. Legendary bouts like Hagler-Hearns, Barrera-Morales, Ali-Frazier, Tyson-Holyfield, Robinson-LaMotta, Louis-Schmelling and countless others are revered as memorable, important bouts. Griffin-Bonnar will be judged the same. That bout alone will be what puts MMA on the map as far as the American mainstream is concerned and it couldn’t have come at a more critical point.
I don’t know who is solely responsible for the creation and foundation of “The Ultimate Fighter,” but since Dana White is the president of Zuffa and is regarded as the one guy who masterminds everything UFC, he has to be the one to receive the most credit for what just happened back on April 9.
White has been the brunt of criticism almost since Day One in terms of Zuffa-era UFC. He has been accused of being a mobster wannabe, a tough guy gangsta who cares about nothing but money and a downright criminal who takes advantage of his fighters. He has been bombarded with hateful jabs at how he is solely responsible for bringing down MMA and chasing the almighty dollar instead of trying to force MMA into the limelight. In essence, he is revered as the MMA Don King, except worse.
But sorry, I fail to concur.
While I am guilty of openly criticizing Mr. White and some of the moves he has made throughout his tenure with Zuffa, props must be given when they are due. Since Dana is the one to receive the flack when anything goes awry, it is my duty to commend him for pulling off such a memorable event such as TUF’s finale. If that show was his brainchild, then he has a goldmine on his hands. There will be at least a second season of TUF and even if the show isn’t on Thursday nights right before ER, the TUF finale should have been more than synergistic into creating the UFC into a mainstream sport.
I was outright critical of the show from its inception (read any of my old articles to find out) and was far too leery of how well it would shed light on the sport of MMA. I figured it to be a cheesy rip-off of the absolutely appalling “reality” series based on boxing, last year’s critically ashamed “The Next Great Champion.” That show was nothing more than a heaping pile of buffalo manure and I expected TUF to follow suit.
No reality show is perfect. I follow The Contender religiously because it is well done. (It would be perfect if they would actually show the bloody fights instead of random clips. Just show the f___ing fight already!) But out of all the reality shows, especially ones based on sports like TNGC, The Contender, WWF’s Tough Enough, etc., The Ultimate Fighter was as close to perfect as one could get. And the finale was better than perfect, an event that couldn’t have come at a better time.
To Dana White and the rest of my boys at Zuffa, I congratulate you on a superb show from start to finish and awarding “loser” Stephan Bonnar with a contract at the fight’s conclusion was admirable.
I know in my heart that MMA is the best sport on the face of the earth and you guys are doing your best to make it mainstream. We just have to have patience and a good attitude in order to make it and we’ll be here to support you all the way. And if the TUF finale is as popular as I hope it is, it’ll be no time before UFC pay-per-view events easily start selling to at least 500,000 different homes (a million is such a large number for now … De La Hoya- and Tyson-type numbers).
My opinions on the rest of the event will come in a separate article. I just wanted to vent my appreciation of The Ultimate Fighter before I started getting into how key of a fighter Diego Sanchez is and how Ken Shamrock is now the victim of mass accusations. But stay tuned for my thoughts on those topics and enjoy what was The Ultimate Fighter’s finale.