I have a very dysfunctional relationship with the UFC.
I have been a proud fan since the early days of Randy Couture and Pedro Rizzo (back when the organization was struggling to survive and no one had even heard of Mixed Martial Arts). Back then, the organization had to produce quality fights with quality fighters because it had a fan-base smaller than any other sport (with the possible exception of badminton). Every event was a struggle for survival. Fighters came in and laid everything out because they loved the competition, not because they wanted to be rich (there was no money) or famous (there was no publicity).
Since then, the UFC has steadily grown to the point that more people are aware of its fighters than they are of professional boxers (formerly the top combat sport). Most people know the basic rules (and have quit spouting that line from Friends: “There are no rules!”). Former light-heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell was on Dancing With The Stars. Welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre is a Canadian icon. And Quinton Jackson is playing Mr. T’s B. A. Baracus in the upcoming A Team movie.
As such, the UFC gains enormous ratings from its reality TV series The Ultimate Fighter, a show that helped bring the sport into the mainstream with its outstanding Season 1 live finale, an event that had Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar beat the living daylights out of each other for 15 minutes on Spike TV. It created instant stars, vast amounts of hype, and lots of scar tissue.
The show is on season 10 now, as popular as ever, and I still look forward to it every Wednesday night.
There’s just something missing this time around. What is it again? What was it that has been bugging me these last seven episodes? What is the important element no longer there?
Oh yeah, I remember now.
They forgot to cast any athletes.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. They have some big, strong guys here (it’s the first season in a while to have heavyweights on it). There are football players, and wrestlers (college, not professional; this is still real combat, after all), and there are even a few kickboxers in there too. (There’s one pathetically talentless internet star in there too, around whom the entire show has been built, but let’s ignore him for now.)
But the way these guys start passing out after 30 seconds of punching you would think that this show was being filmed on Machu Pichu (elevation: 8200 feet), or that there was a carbon monoxide leak in the Octagon.
And this is the heart of my dysfunctional relationship.
As I mentioned before, this is a “reality TV show,” so 80% of it takes place in their shared house. It’s 16 meat-heads with free booze and no TV, internet, or phone service locked in close quarters. It’s funny, but it’s also painful and somewhat pathetic. I endure it in the hopes of a great fight at the end of the show.
For seven weeks, I have been disappointed.
You would think by now that I would have given up on it. If Grey’s Anatomy pulled this crap, ABC would have dropped it from its schedule faster than you can say “fornicating physicians.” Imagine that each episode ended with ten minutes of the entire cast sitting silently in the break room eating rice pudding and picking their noses. That’s the dramatic equivalent, I assure you.
Last night, the UFC built me up to let me down yet again. Watching two “professional fighters” standing across from each other, hands down, gasping for air, feet planted in place, halfway through the first 5-minute round was a sign that these guys were looking for a quick publicity boost and nothing more. No one that wants to fight for a living would show up that out of shape and that poorly conditioned.
Of course, no one with a modicum of self-respect would be sitting there watching it happen again and again, week after week.