After season five of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) saw its ratings gradually decline from previous seasons, there's been talk amongst fans about how the show could be reinvigorated for the sixth season, featuring welterweights Matt Hughes and Matt Serra. After watching the second season of the all-female Muay Thai reality show, Fight Girls, on the Oxygen Network, I think the boys from TUF could learn a few things from the girls.
1. End the house arrest
If I have to hear one more fighter on TUF complain about how bored he is before an eventual food fight breaks out, I'm going put my head through the screen. Fight Girls shows that giving the competitors access to media and phones does not hinder drama and fight performance. In fact, it creates a more casual environment for fighters to relax and I think a relaxed fighter is not only a mentally stronger competitor, but also more likely to open up and talk more. Letting the social dynamics play out naturally and giving them back their freedom would allow the participants to go out and have adventures rather than trapping them and hoping for at least one liquor-induced melee per season.
2. Have the opponents compete against one another before the fight
One of my favorite parts of Fight Girls is after a match-up is made, Master Toddy had the two opponents compete against each other in a physical challenge (push ups, neck raises, etc) before the actual fight. This is great because it immediately builds rivalry, allows the fighters to practice a little gamesmanship and smack-talk, and most importantly, it gives the audience a preview of what kind of competitor that fighter is.
On the second episode of Fight Girls, Dawn gave up after 20 minutes of neck raises to her opponent Janine, who quickly rubbed it in with a verbal jab to Dawn for quitting. Dawn admitted to being intimidated by the aggressive Dawn, but it was interesting to watch her shake it off and defeat Janine in the ring with a tough three-round decision.
If that weren't enough incentive, producers could sweeten the pot (and sponsorship deals) by offering money and/or prizes. Look at how well the ping pong match between BJ Penn and Jens Pulver in season five played out. That was one of the most funny and entertaining highlights of show. The high stakes and impending fight made it that much more compelling.
3. Bring the family and girlfriends
The participants in Fight Girls are allowed to visit their family and loved ones and I think the show is much better for it. Through their interaction with family, we get to see what inspires and motivates them. We understand emotionally exactly for whom and what they are fighting.
UFC President Dana White often says the success of TUF is due to how it humanized the fighters. Throughout every season, we only hear fighters talk about how they miss their family and friends and how much they love their spouses and children. How much better would season three have been had Josh Haynes had been allowed to play with his son, who survived battling cancer in the brain?
We only see glimpses of the finalist's family before the finale. Why not let us get to meet them during the season and tape the fighters with their loved ones. That right there is real drama and it would allow the viewer to make an even deeper connection to that fighter and I guarantee the emotional response from the viewer will be much greater.
I will say that one highlight from the Fight Girls that TUF shouldn't adopt is the girl-on-girl massage that took place between Felice and Brandon Vera's wife, Kerry on episode 3 (look for it at 24:22 fellas).