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If You Don’t Start Watching The Ultimate Fighter, I Will Have no Choice But to Side Mount Choke You Into Submission

September 17, 2009

I’m going to mention something, and there’s a strong chance you’ll stop listening to me right here and now. But you really shouldn’t. And here it is:

Spike’s reality show/competition The Ultimate Fighter, whether you’re into to mixed martial arts fighting or not, is a television show you should be watching.

In fact, if you’re watching any reality show currently, from Survivor to The Real World to Top Chef, you should also be supplementing with The Ultimate Fighter. Because while you watch Big Brother 11 hoping that one night, finally, two people will have a fight that escalates into something interesting, on the Ultimate Fighter you can be perfectly positive that the end of any episode will end with two people bloodily pummeling each other bareknuckled until one wins.

Wait, wait, wait. Don’t walk away. Did I mention that The Ultimate Fighter also features some very funny moments, an actual, genuine prize on the line and some of the most psychologically fascinating characters in prime time? It’s true. There’s a definite stigma involved with UFC and mixed martial arts fighting as a sport currently; sure, it can be brutal, ugly and overly macho — but it also features athletes who train unbelievably hard and are forced to strategize at a moment’s notice, that moment being the one where a fist or knee is flying directly at his face.

Let’s forget, however, about the sporting aspect of The Ultimate Fighter. This isn’t a sports blog. It’s a pop culture blog. And the UFC, whether you consider it a valid sport or not, is worming its way more each day into the pop culture universe. Its pay-per-view events net millions. The clothing lines launched by its stars have become huge in male couture. And its infectious personalities are becoming stars outside the octagon in their own rights.

That said, the tenth season of Spike’s Ultimate Fighter began last night (though it can still be caught over the weekend), and this incarnation promises fireworks both inside and outside the cage. The basic strategy of the program is simple: sixteen martial arts fighters and boxers are divided into two teams, each led by an established UFC fighter. Each week, two of the fighters showdown in the ring, and the last man standing wins a contract with the UFC, which all but guarantees a career for the young man. To top it off, the two coaches are generally fighters at odds with one another, and the season builds to an ultimate score-settling between them as well.

Why should I care? you may be asking. I have no interest in watching two people fight each other. It’s barbaric, it’s like wrestling. That’s a fine opinion to hold. It’s understandable. But you should know that mixed martial arts fighting, as a sport, has more in common with the organized world of professional boxing than the fake storylines of professional wrestling. And the truth is, what you’re missing is some truly riveting competition. Sure, you could watch Jeremy and Jesse almost fight each week on The Real World vs. Road Rules, but they’re not nearly going to kick up the dust and leave a winner like these guys. Say what you will, but with the Ultimate Fighter there’s a clear-cut winner every week. He’s usually the guy not covered in blood.

Outside the fighting, howevever, there’s quite an interesting personality dynamic at work with The Ultimate Fighter as well. How can sixteen men whose testosterone flows like a tap at all times, and who have everything to prove to all other men, and who prove such by pounding them into submission, actually live civilly with one another in a house where fighting is prohibited at all costs and means instant ejection from the competition?

Add into the mix the fact that this year’s coaches are colorful personalities “Suga” Rashad Evans and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, and that they’re dying to fight one another, constantly and verbally chipping away at the other’s visage in the endless attempt to make the other psychologically flinch. Both are humorous, likable and endearing — even when training human killing machines. And as an added bonus this season, one of said human killing machines is contestant Kimbo Slice, a YouTube sensation, pop culture phenomenon, and noted “guy with something to prove” to the UFC, which has long trashed him.

Enough drama for you? What you also may not realize is that The Ultimate Fighter guarantees more fireworks than the Melrose Place redux, more facial rearranging than The Real Housewives of Atlanta, and more character development than Santa Barbara. Trust me, it’s not all about fighting. Well, that’s not true. It’s pretty much all about fighting. But you won’t be able to anticipate how intriguing the show can be on so many other levels.

So do me a solid. Forget any notions you may have about what it means to be a fan of the UFC — I know some of you have them. Try to get over the fact that each episode will end in a skilled, facecrunching throwdown, if that’s not your thing. And open your mind to a piece of truly interesting, entertaining reality programming fare which goes inside the minds of some of the sporting world’s most dedicated — perhaps insanely so — wannabes. You might just be surprised.

Don’t make me come over there and put you in a flying scissor heel hook.

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