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The Ultimate Fighter may sit in the “reality show” genre, but it’s influence on the business of MMA cannot be underestimated. Ever since the first season in 2005, when millions tuned in to see Forrest Griffin defeat Stephan Bonnar, marking the first time that a UFC contest had been broadcast in the U.S. for free, the show has been a staple for fight fans. So, with season 29 set to premiere on June 1, M&F takes a look at the concept, coaches, and fighters behind this successful show.
The Ultimate Fighter has been credited for helping UFC and MMA in general to go mainstream, pulling in casual television viewers and getting them hooked on the sport.
These days, many of UFC’s most successful fighters can say that they started out on the show including the aforementioned Griffin, who went on to beat Quinton “Rampage” Jackson for the light heavyweight title at UFC 86. Rashad Evans, who competed in season 2, later defeated Griffin for the same title. In season 10, Kimbo Slice vs. Roy Nelson became one of the most watched bouts in MMA history with 6.1 million viewers. Season 22 also helped to raise the profile of Conor McGregor, who was cast to coach international fighters against Urijah Faber’s American team.
Pencil June 1st in the calendar.
— UFC (@ufc) April 18, 2021
The title of The Ultimate Fighter is one of immense prestige, but on top of the notoriety is a six-figure UFC contract for the winners. There have also been occasions in which participants that impressed during the season are offered contacts too, but for less money.
The number of challengers varies depending on the season, but the participants fight in an elimination tournament held in their weight class, with the losers leaving the competition. The competitors live together in a house in Las Vegas, allowing camera’s to follow the drama both inside and outside of the octagon.
While MMA has concrete rules, TUF is changeable and governed by UFC president Dana White. Challengers were originally removed from the house following a loss, but this is no longer the case, allowing them to step in if active competitors are injured or thrown out by a head coach. The Wild Card bout has also been introduced so that two losing fighters do battle for re-entry into the competition. Vying for the prize of The Ultimate Fighter in Season 29 will be 16 male mixed martial artists, eight bantamweights and eight middleweights. One winner will be crowned from each division.
Australia’s Alexander Volkanovski, who is the current UFC featherweight champion will act as head coach on one team, while the highly ranked Brian Ortega will lead the opposing team. They will also be joined by an impressive list of additional coaches:
Team Volkanovski: Alexander Volkanovski, Head Coach Joe Lopez, Assistant Coach Craig Jones, Jiu-jitsu Coach Frank Hickman, Wrestling Coach Colby Thicknesse, Striking Coach Andrew Wood, Strength and Conditioning Coach
Team Ortega: Brian Ortega, Head Coach Tiki Ghosn, Assistant Coach Paulo Herrera, Assistant Coach Rener Gracie, Jiu-jitsu Coach Jason Park, Strength and Conditioning Coach
Who are the participants? Season 29 applicants required a minimum of three professional MMA victories in order to apply for the show and had to be aged between 21 and 34 years. Due to COVID-19, the usual physical try-out phase was replaced by remote casting. The successful candidates were:
Season 29 is titled The Return of the Ultimate Fighter: Team Volkanovski vs. Team Ortega. The premiere is set for Tuesday, June 1 on the new home of UFC: ESPN+. The show will run weekly until the season finale, which is unconfirmed, but expected to culminate later this summer.
Fights are sanctioned by the Nevada Athletic Commission. Due to the need to keep the results hidden from television viewers until the matches air, each bout on The Ultimate Fighter is called an “exhibition” so that it does not appear on a fighter’s overall MMA record. However, the season finales are shown live and these results are indeed added to the fighters professional record.
Following the season finale of The Ultimate Fighter, the coaches are expected to face off. Volkanovski, the current UFC Featherweight Champion, was due to defend against Ortega at UFC 260 back in March, but was forced to pull out after he tested positive for coronavirus. The history between the two warriors will promise to make this season all the more tense.