Before the Cody, Ronda and Conor super fans chop my head off, hear me out.
This is just something I’ve noticed over the last couple seasons of the Ultimate Fighting Championship reality show, The Ultimate Fighter. While there are exceptions (ex: the Pettis vs. Melendez inaugural strawweight season), most, especially recently tend to struggle.
The way TUF works is those chosen for the show are already professional fighters. They’re part of their own fight teams at home and have a minimum of three professional fights on their record. I get that they aren’t coming on the show to learn how to fight, but as a stepping stone to be part of the biggest MMA promotion in the world. When you remove a fighter from their home base though, they need that supplemental support system. The Champions seem to have the hardest time providing that.
TUF Season 18: Ronda Rousey vs. Miesha Tate
Okay, I can’t lie on this one. Prior to this season, I was a total newbie to the TUF seasons (since then I’ve binge watched every season. Thank you, Fight Pass). I had heard of them and watched them here and there, but this was the first season I watched religiously. This was also the season that I became a major fan of Tate as a person and a coach, not a fighter.
Rousey has the persona in the fight game as being super tough and cold. In addition, her real life beef with Tate got fueled after finding out the day of filming that she would be the opposing coach for Tate, not Cat Zingano. But it was just extra during this season. She has never been the poster woman for good sportsmanship and this season showed no different. During the coaches challenge, she flipped off Tate after winning. Refused to shake Team Tate’s hand after her first-pick lost early in the competition. None of that was really shocking, it was more how you saw her interact with her team of contestants.
Team Tate cleaned up house early. This resulted in Team Tate having control of the match ups. The one match up that really sticks out in my mind was when Jessica Rakoczy was set to face Roxanne Modafferi. At this point Team Tate had won the first three female elimination rounds, this was Team Rousey’s last chance to have a presence for the female bracket in the semi-finals.
In the clips leading up to the fight, you saw Team Tate working with Modafferi on her strategy against Rakoczy, figuring out their game plan, showing team moral, etc. What did you see Team Rousey doing with Rakoczy? Much like what we see Rousey doing in her fight camps. Jab. *move around* Jab cross. *move around* Double jab. And tell her that she’s “a killer” and she’s “got this”.
To note though, Rakoczy did win the elimination round. She even made it to the finale to face Team Tate’s Juliana Pena, where she lost first round TKO. Team Tate cleaned up house that season in the finale. Both the male and female winner were from Tate’s team, Juliana Pena and Chris Holdsworth. Overall though, you could tell Rousey wanted nothing to do with coaching. And knowing her coaching staff now? I’ll just move on to my next point.
TUF Season 22: Team McGregor vs. Team Faber
I can’t fight my case here based off of team wins because Team McGregor (aka Team Europe) did well during the tournament. If it wasn’t for the visa issue with Team Europe’s Saul Rogers, it would have been a Team Europe vs. Team Europe finale. Instead we got the most boring TUF finale in history. #SorryRyanHallLoveYou. Moving on…
Seeing Conor McGregor as a coach on TUF was something I knew from the jump was going to be weird. This was when his career was really taking off, so it only made sense to make this happen somehow. On that note, imagine this season never happened?! We would have never known that T.J. Dillashaw was a snake and we wouldn’t have Season 25 right now! I’m getting ahead of myself but STILL. Thanks McGregor! Anyways, back to my point…
I believe this is the first time we actually saw a coach remove himself from the actual coaching of their team. He made no attempt at hiding it either. He told the team and the viewers that he would show up here and there to train but his coaching staff would do the rest. Can’t really say I’m surprised, and maybe it was for the best. One thing I will say though, those sun glass-breaking, vein-popping flip outs when someone on his team would lose a fight aren’t really justified if you weren’t in there putting the work in with them. Justttt saying.
This is probably the best example I can use of a Champion-mentality. But at least he didn’t try to fake it. If anything, he used his newly crowned Championship status as a visual for what the contestants should be aiming for.
TUF Season 25: Team Garbrandt vs. Team Dillashaw
Now this season is an interesting one to use for this since T.J. Dillashaw is the former bantamweight champion.
Current UFC bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt blazed through the 135-pound division. Like, I’m talking Sonic the Hedgehog getting all the rings in a loop, blazed through. What makes this season unique is that Garbrandt and Dillashaw are former teammates at Urijah Faber’s Team Alpha-Male. But then as I mentioned earlier, “Mystic Mac” exposed us all to T.J’s snake-like behavior during TUF 22 when he left to train at Team Elevate with coach Duane Ludwig (formerly of TAM) and well, here we are.
This is also an interesting season because all of the constants are former TUF contestants or champions. With that factoring in a bit, it’s been pretty interesting to see the first round of eliminations progress. So far we have seen four fights take place, all ending in favor of Team Dillashaw.
The one factor though that I find the most fascinating is that Dillashaw trains his team with the commodore that Faber formed TAM with. The way he talks to them, the way he trains with them, reflects his days at the Sacramento-based camp. Garbrandt, who is still at TAM, isn’t as interactive and doesn’t seem to connect with his team like Dillashaw. Could just be their personalities. Could be the Champion mindset.
Am I saying that champions hold themselves to a higher standard and don’t want to be bothered with helping develop future UFC fighters? Maybe.
Am I saying that unwritten rule that the underdog always shines in the end is true? Maybe. It’s natural for us to sway more towards rooting for the underdog and want to see them redeem themselves.
Could it also be the FS1 reality-show editing to make us think certain ways? Absolutely. Rousey for one was very open about how she felt that the producers made her out to be a villain and only showed the negative footage. As someone who met Rousey very early in her UFC career, I experienced a very appreciative and warm fighter. We know now though how the world and spotlight can burn you and change how you are to the public.
There are probably more seasons that could back up my case. And there are definitely seasons that fight against it. But this is just some food for thought as you watch the rest of season 25, and the future seasons to come.
The Ultimate Fighter Season 25: Redemption continues tonight on FOX Sports 1 at 10pm EST.