The announcement today that the fourteenth season of “The Ultimate Fighter” will be coached by Jason “Mayhem” Miller and Michael Bisping puts to bed – for now at least – the burning question of “what next?” on the ailing reality series. And while it may be too late to save the current season from turning into the kind of ratings nightmare that makes SpikeTV executives commit seppuku, you can’t argue that efforts haven’t been made to enliven what has become the stalest TV show imaginable. With the Great Talker Chael Sonnen on ice, Mayhem and Bisping as coaches is the best possible permutation out there. As TUF 13’s Brock Lesnar would say, it’s chicken salad out of… well, you know.
The Ultimate Fighter is dying. The death is long, drawn out, painful – and for fans who’ve watched it since the first episode of the first season to now, the steady decline is enough to invoke the kind of melancholy reserved for terminally ill friends. We’re up to thirteen seasons, which means we’ve pretty much seen it all. We’ve seen competing coaches at each other’s throats, we’ve seen them friendly, we’ve seen them indifferent. The common denominator of success, however, has always been to what degree the episodes are compelling. Without a scripted rivalry fed to him by a writing staff, Lesnar is too bland and easygoing, and Junior dos Santos is too nice to provoke. Prior to that, the Chuck Liddell/Tito Ortiz love affair died on the vine, and when Dan Henderson was at the helm, it really felt like “Hollywood” just didn’t care. What then for a cornerstone of SpikeTV programming? What then for the show that’s brought MMA to millions?
Obviously, with ratings currently bordering on “dismal” and verging on “disastrous”, something had to be done to infuse the show with drama. Thankfully, with Mayhem and Bisping, the Powers That Be may have done it.
Consider this: as a TUF winner and coach opposite Henderson, Brit star Bisping has been around the SpikeTV institution so much, he could probably serve as a tour guide to the various set pieces when his days of combat are over. He knows TUF and audiences know him. Bisping is a recognized quantity, at times likeable and at times douchey, yet always capable of invoking emotion – the true mark of a television commodity.
Miller, an experienced and accomplished fighter and jiu-jitsu black belt, is just as valuable. He was “mischievous persona” before “mischievous persona” was cool, instructing an army of Mayhem Monkeys via the Internet back when Georges St. Pierre was just a contender to Matt Hughes’ belt. And when he wasn’t scrapping in events in Hawaii and Japan and in post-fight brawls on CBS, he was putting forth a Mayhem-style imprint on TV audiences with his antics as host of MTV’s “Bully Beatdown”. Just as with Bisping, you know what you’re going to get when Mayhem steps in front of the camera. There will be trash talk, pranks, jokes, and when all is said and done, a fight that could go either way.
Will the Brit and the American breathe life into the sputtering show? Maybe they will and maybe they won’t, but it will be worth checking out. Of all the potential TUF coaches out there, they’re the best options, for they’re sure to make for interesting television.
I don’t know about you, but Mayhem and Bisping on TUF is a chicken salad I don’t mind taking a bite of.