Season three of The Ultimate Fighter reality series premiered tonight. Dana White, the president of the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC) is one smart guy. Tweaking the series with feuding coaches Ken Shamrock and Tito Ortiz may have been the smartest move to spice up the third season after a lackluster season two.
Don’t get me wrong! Season two ended on a strong note, but it was too little, too late. The season two DVD’s low sales figures certainly proved this. In the past two seasons, the opposing coaches had been very cordial towards each other. Ken vs. Tito was a legendary rivalry that promised to translate itself onto the television screen again. Like a worrisome parent, Dana made sure to sit both coaches down and appealed to them to leave their personal grudges for an upcoming July pay-per-view event. But it could all be for naught, since the first segment ends with a Shamrock-Ortiz face-to-face stare-down with so much tension in the air, that a knife (or a commercial) could have cut it!
The New Blood
The new fighters appeared very skilled, and more importantly, in shape, during the coaches’ separate evaluations. The evaluations were held jointly in the past, but Ken and Tito could not stand to be in each other’s presence. Tito and Ken evaluated the fighters over the first two days to help them determine who would be drafted on to their teams.
On this first look, this season’s contestants seemed like a bunch of level-headed, fun-loving fighters. The UFC had done a better job of scouting and filtering who got picked to come on the show and there was an increase in international flavor. But in the end, it doesn’t matter. As Ken Shamrock declared, “…[the show] IS about me and Tito.” The new narrow personality focus should do wonders for the show’s ratings. The audience got to see the sides of Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock that are usually reserved for the people who trained with them. Tito did the better job of winning me over on this episode.
Tito won the coin-flip to pick his team first. After the obligatory verbal stab at beating Ken Shamrock yet again (for the coin-flip), Tito made a surprising first pick with inexperienced deaf fighter, Matt Hamill. The draft then went back and forth with Ken strategically picking fighters he felt would defeat Tito’s choices.
The training camp officially started with Tito’s team, Team Punishment, going through strenuous conditioning and sparring to prepare them for their would-be professional careers. Tito displayed a hands-on attitude, boxing and sparring with his fighters. Ken Shamrock was the polar opposite as he brought his “Lion’s Den” philosophy where the strongest survive. Ken’s coaching style was to oversee the contestants’ development. The contrast in coaching styles gained Tito more points in my book.
The New Competition Format
Dana White proceeded to drop the atom bomb on this season’s competition format. Gone were the silly physical challenges to determine which team would decide which pair of fighters would compete. This decision would rest simply in the fate of a coin toss. The team that won the fight would retain control of the next fight. The contest also adopts a tournament format to ensure all fighters fought at least one bout before advancing in the competition. The fights had also been shortened to two rounds and one overtime round instead of the previous three rounds. This modification would inspire fighters to go all out and not leave anything to chance.
I wonder whether fans of the show will react positively to these changes. I know that many Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fans have written in forums and online bulletin boards and these changes had been the result of the UFC listening to its fans. My opinion is that it’s about time that Dana and the UFC made it right!
The Opening Fight
Back to what this show was based on, the season-opening bout pitted Canadian Kalib Starnes against Mike Stine. Kalib took control right away in the opening minute, scoring a slam, and a full mount. Mike Stine tried rolling Kalib to reverse the bad situation, but Kalib proved too much of a veteran for such a move. With a gentle arm hook under the legs, Kalib leveraged the roll’s momentum and carried himself back on top. Mike could do nothing but duck and wince as Kalib launched punch after punch at Mike’s head. Team Punishment suffered the first setback and would look to wrestle the fight control back in the next episode
Will You Submit?
It’s finally started again! I really enjoyed blogging about the past two seasons of The Ultimate Fighter. The reality series was quite unique in its genre because, like The Amazing Race, the contestants were in full control of whether or not they got eliminated. There were no votes, no judges, and alliances made little sense. You fought to stay off elimination. It was as simple as that! I hope you will join me as the season progresses and also share your thoughts about each episode.