The front of the box loudly proclaims “The Ultimate Fighter - Uncut, Untamed and Uncensored!” You can just imagine the advert on TV with a brash American narrator emphasising every word with a menacing growl. Which is just as well as, for once, this is just that kind of program. What's more, this is a very good program.
Since I am about as sporty as an oilrig, I will assume everyone else doesn't know what the Ultimate Fighter is all about, either and will explain all before getting to the series: While practitioners of boxing, wrestling (real wrestling, not WWE or whatever it's called now) and the arts martial go up against one another with that skill, Ultimate Fighter seeks to harness all disciplines into one fluid dynamic. So if one person is only partially skilled in wrestling, this weakness will be exploited, no matter the Tae Kwan Do or boxing skills of that individual. To be the best Ultimate Fighter one must possess a high degree of fitness and a terrifying level of skill in all fighting techniques. You then take these techniques into the octagon, which unlike a boxing ring is at least the right shape, and proceed to beat your opponent into bloody submission over three rounds of five minutes. This is not a sport for the faint hearted. At all.
Firstly, Ultimate Fighter S1 is not about the actual event, rather this follows the training of sixteen men who have been chosen to compete for the chance to win a six figure contract with the Ultimate Fighter Championship (UFC). All of these men are pre-eminent in their respective fields but are all journeymen and are not part of a “professional” sporting arena. These men, after sectioned off into two teams, then have to compete in various tasks to win the tactical upper hand in choosing the fighters for a weekly elimination fight. The looser goes home and the winner stays on thus the chaff is weeded out, so to speak, and an ultimate fighter is found for both middleweight and light heavyweight classifications. Simple eh?
Except this is a reality TV show. Therefore certain things are taken away from these folk: no magazines, no TV (how can they be so cruel!) and no contact with the outside world other than the tasks they are set and the training gym. This is all to increase tension in the house and add a little bit of good TV. Now, this may be my fighter naivety but surely putting sixteen of the best fighters, with all the psychoses one needs to be willing to eviscerate someone else, with all those egos and not a single woman in sight - surely these are enough to create an “atmosphere”?
Ever tried knocking down a door? It's quite hard even for those of us, like me, who are larger than most. Yet Chris Leben manages to practically walk through one, so easily was the door beaten. This was after he put a fist through a 10” wide stain glass window. Was there an atmosphere? Oh yes and Chris Leben was more often than not at the centre of it.
Ultimate Fighter is just like any other reality TV show save that any of the participants could tear you limb from limb and actually have something to strive for. Do not mistake this for the turgid dreariness of Big Brother, despite a token blonde airhead acting as host for the first few episodes; Ultimate Fighter is an action packed and often bloody testimony to the courage and determination of a group of men who know what they are and want to be the best in that discipline. These guys are swinging for each other with the gusto of those possessed with a vision of their futures. What makes it even more interesting is if a fight is ended by a knockout, or any other act which means that a decisive victory is declared (one where the judges do not decide the winner), five grand is given to the victor. Other than this, these folk are not paid a penny.
By the time the semi finals swing round we are aware that the actual final is going to be a big event with millions watching on TV and thousands in a live auditorium. It will be the apogee of those fighter's careers should they make it to the finals, and it shows. There is something ineffably noble in one to one combat - they both know why they are there and what is about to happen. Yet after the fight they both shake hands and hold each other with respect. There is grit, a determination, a focus and a nobility that puts other, more pretentious and overly funded sports (I'm thinking premier league, here) into the shade.
I can't write this review without mentioning the Light Heavyweight final. It was, without a doubt, one of the very best sporting spectacles I have ever seen. Recommended, but not for those of a prudish nature.
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