UFC's new reality show "The Ultimate Fighter" represents a strong attempt by UFC to poach fans of pro wrestling to build their own audience, though not in the way that many are reporting. The show takes sixteen fighters, eight middleweights and eight light-heavies, and divides them into two teams under coaches Randy Couture and Chuck Lidell. Fighters eventually face each other in the UFC "Octagon" ring and the losers are eliminated. The last fighter in each weight class receives a UFC contract.
Fans of the reality genre will quickly recognize cliched techniques as old as "Survivor" or even "The Real World", such as sweeping boom shots of the exterior of "the house" to introduce sequences filmed inside the residence shared by both teams during the show.
This week's episode of "The Ultimate Fighter" began with a recap of the fight from the previous episode and a series of quick clips to establish that the fighters were sick of being cooped up in the house after three weeks with no television or contact with the outside world. Apparently the producer was reading "The Man Without A Country" while planning this series.
Unfortunately those quick clips also suggested that many of the fighters were uncharismatic and inarticulate. In fact several were so bad they could find employment in the modern WWE.
Between the quick clips establishing the plot of the episode, there were some superficial clips of weight training by team Lidell. Those clips added a little UFC flavor to a show that otherwise could have been mistaken for MTV's "Real World" without any females.
Another training clip showed team Couture sparring in the octagon. One of the fighters accidently injured his ankle when two other fighters rolled into his leg from behind, but this was not treated as a significant plot point since there was no discussion of that fighter being dropped from the show.
UFC President Dana White showed up at the house to tell the fighters that he was going to take them out to the Hard Rock Cafe. In an interview clip, White said he was going to take them out and let them have a few drinks. White added, "Hopefully these guys do the right thing and they'll have another opportunity to go out another night."
The show took a disturbing turn as the fighters got ready for their night out. They showed clips of the boys ironing their clothes and grooming each other over a soundtrack from a porn movie. Chris Leben teased one of the other fighters about wearing low cut jeans, even flipping up the back of his shirt.
Chris Leben was the closest thing to a "character" in the early part of the show. He mumbled and has very little charisma beyond dying his hair blood red, but that was enough to stand out in this dull crowd.
Josh Koscheck cut off Chris and ripped him with a couple of insults. Chris had no reply. Koscheck may seem familiar to eighties wrestling fans. He has a blond "fro" like Ken Patera, but his fun loving, indifferent attitude is more reminiscent of "The Magnificent One" Don Muraco.
Many of the fighters were drinking beer prior to leaving the house, so apparently suds are an integral part of UFC training. Maybe the losers will qualify for Spike's next reality series, "The Ultimate Sumo."
Dana White arrived with a tricked out airport shuttle bus to pick up the boys. White observed "they've been training hard, they haven't seen girls, uh, it's getting rough. It's starting to wear on them now. My worry is these guys haven't been out in a long time. I just don't want these guys getting too drunk", which begged the question of whose decision it was to provide them with plenty of alcohol before they went out.
The night out provided a much needed opportunity for two more reality series staples, glamour footage of the locale with shots of the cast walking around and product placement for the place where they ended up eating dinner.
Given Dana White's earlier observation about the paucity of women in the house, one might expect he took the boys to a stripper bar, or at least to a club where there would be actual women, but no, he took them to a private banquet room in a restaurant. I sense sinister forces at work in the staging of this series.
One of the fighters, Diego, came home so drunk that he had to be dragged into the house and put to bed, where he began to have semi-conscious hallucinations. Most of the other fighters continued to drink until they ran out of alcohol in the house, then things started to get ugly.
Bobby Southworth, who could pass for Tiny Lister's son, was trying to discuss Diego's plight while the other fighters relaxed around the pool with their shirts off. Chris Leben said "it doesn't matter to me" which set off a confrontation with Southworth. Bobby called Chris a "fatherless bastard", apparently the worst possible insult in a sport that was popularized by the Gracie family.
Bobby tried to apologize later, but Chris, milking the situation for all the sympathy he could get despite earlier peeing in another fighter's bed, hit himself in the head with a beer bottle, but it didn't break. Toscheck grinned in the background.
Chris, whose father did leave him when he was very young, broke down by the pool. While the insult did hit home, Chris probably wouldn't have reacted so strongly if he hadn't been drunk. Again one had to question the responsibility of Dana White and the producers for providing too much alcohol to a group of younger men.
Nathan Quarry, an older fighter, played camp counselor and tried to comfort Chris. Toscheck told Nathan "give him a hug", which might be considered breaking kayfabe on an episode like this.
Later, when they were alone outside the house, Nathan did give Chris a hug, putting his arm around him from behind and resting his chin on Chris' chest. At that point I began to wonder I wonder if boys without fathers are like girls without fathers, an easy mark for an older man.
Chris didn't want to sleep inside the house, so the boys brought him a sleeping bag and he went to sleep on the front lawn. Southworth and Toscheck couldn't sleep and they got bored with tossing furniture into the pool, so they snuck around to the yard with a camera crew and grabbed a nearby garden hose.
Toscheck watered the grass around Chris, then "got carried away" and ran the hose over the sleeping bag. Chris woke up and angrily stumbled back into the house. In his drunken stupor he punched the glass window in the front door, ripping the skin off one of his knuckles. He then wandered through the house and attacked a bedroom door, punching holes in it and then tearing it down. Luckily the producer planned ahead and rented a house with cheap doors.
Chris squared up with Southworth, but Nathan limped to the rescue and took Chris outside for more consoling. Koscheck and Southworth couldn't keep a straight face, pointing out that the damage was all self-inflicted.
Back in the eighties during the feud between Snuka and Muraco, Snuka complained to Kal Rudman about remarks Muraco had made about his mother. Rudman confronted Muraco, asking "Did you say what Jimmy said you said about his mother?" Muraco, smirking, replied "I don't know? I didn't hear what Jimmy said." That scene sums up Josh Koscheck. He plays dumb with a knowing smirk.
Chris went to the hospital for x-rays. The rest of the fighters debated who was to blame, pointing out that Chris had been an asshole all along as the producer inserted a clip of Chris peeing in another fighter's bed in an earlier episode. Josh, Bobby, and others tried to clean up the blood.
The next day Dana White met with Lidell and Couture at the office and they decided to bring the fighters in to discuss the situation. Nathan Quarry showed up to defend Chris, saying "If Chris is told to go, I'm going to go with him."
No one could remember what had started the altercation. In fact it was when Chris expressed indifference to Diego's situation. Nathan claimed Chris was in the right the entire time. I guess Nathan's camp counselor instincts didn't extend to Diego. Southworth couldn't remember Chris' comment either, explaining "I was drunk" and "it was bad timing."
Dana White bought that explanation. Lidell and Couture again pointed out that Chris had pissed in someone else's bed and said "he can dish it out but he can't take it." Analysts calling this episode a "double turn" apparently missed the point that everyone in management and many of the other fighters painted Chris as someone who couldn't take the stuff that he dished out to others.
Dana White eventually decided to take JDW's advice and watch the videotape of the previous evening. White didn't realize that this is a violation of one of the core tenets of reality television.
Reality shows may still seem like a new genre, but they are patterned after a very old genre, the novel. Viewers have omniscient insight into the motives of the characters. This is only plausible because the characters know that others on the show don't have real time access to these honest insights, the same way characters in a novel wouldn't be expected to run out and buy the novel to learn each other's secrets.
Dana White and the two coaches are characters in the show. They can't exist on camera and also be able to watch what the camera is taping or no one on the show can be honest about them and we lose omniscience. The whole reality model falls apart.
Nevertheless, White and his coaches watched the video. They missed the point that it was Chris' indifference about Diego that set off Bobby. They also didn't mention Chris trying to harm himself with the beer bottle, which was important since the injuries he later suffered were self-inflicted. He basically escalated the violence to make himself appear more wronged.
Dana White pulled out the Kip Allen Frey spot, dragging in UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta to make the decision. Fertitta decided "no alcohol", which seemed like an obvious policy even before the altercation took place since these guys are supposedly in training.
Dana White was dissatisfied, asking "that's it?" He wanted the coaches to come up with something. Eventually they realized they can simply match up Josh and Chris in a elimination fight. "This is a fight show", said White, something many viewers were probably saying at least five minutes earlier.
Couture told Chris the fight was on. "I'm going to get my redemption", said Chris. "I'm going to be able to get Josh back. I'm gonna be able to crush his skull in, and not go to jail for it."
I'd love to see the reaction of UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta to Chrisí last comment, given the difficulties UFC has had trying to convince the government that they are a legitimate sport rather than a form of barbarism.
My overall impression of this show was somewhere between cliche and car wreck. The contestants are dull and colorless. They lucked into a bit of an angle between Chris and Josh, but the result will eliminate one of the show's strongest personalities.
The team captains are being used effectively to promote their own upcoming fight, but otherwise the concept of having teams is not being used effectively, such as contrasting the training methods or the fighting approaches of the two groups. The training segments were superficial music video backgrounds and there was no discussion of fighting tactics.
But the show isn't a complete loss. UFC may have finally found a way to appeal to a segment of the traditional pro wrestling fanbase. Unfortunately after Chris or Josh is eliminated, all they will have left is blue boy shots of young boys sitting around the pool to draw that "men over 40" demographic.