Monday, September 13, 2010

Reality TV for MMA and Boxing

On the eve of the UFC's next fight night card, which features an intriguing main event between middleweight (185 lbs.) contenders Nate Marquardt (29-9-2, 7 KO's 15 subs) and Rousimar Poulhares (11-2, 1 KO 8 subs), the fight is actually secondary. The live fight night card on Spike TV is actually a lead in to the 12th season premiere episode of 'The Ultimate Fighter' reality TV series.

12 seasons is a successful run for any show, but when you consider this show premiered a mere five years ago, that is quite impressive. Originally created as a way for the UFC to bring in and cultivate young talent, it was the springboard that catapulted the UFC from underground phenomenon to mainstream appeal.

While it got a little stagnant in the middle of those first 11 seasons, that is an adjective that I'm willing to bet will not be used this season. The reason lies in the two fighters who will be coaches this season, Georges St. Pierre (20-2, 8 KO's 5 subs) and Josh Koscheck (15-4, 4 KO's 5 subs). St. Pierre is easily the UFC's most popular champion and arguably the sports best fighter, while Koscheck is his antithesis, arch nemesis and one of the sports most consummate heels. A more TV friendly match-up could not be made.

Besides a great fight at the end of the season between a dominant champion and a clear cut number one contender, I am extremely curious to see if Koscheck can get in St. Pierre's head and under his skin. No one has ever been able to rattle the cool, calm Canadian champion, but Koscheck is another animal. One who doesn't mind being the bad guy and actually relishes it.

In his last fight, ironically in Montreal, Quebec, Canada during hockey play-off season, Koscheck grabbed the microphone in his post fight speech and berated the Montreal Canadians who were in the midst of a play-off series against the Boston Bruins. Now I'm not Canadian, or even a hockey fan, but even I know that is sacrilegious in Canada.

Koscheck and St. Pierre have actually fought before, three years ago at UFC 74. At that time St. Pierre dominated Koscheck, surprisingly at his own game, wrestling, winning a three round unanimous decision. However, Koscheck, coming off a three-fight win streak, boasts he's a different fighter now; unfortunately for him, so is St. Pierre. Should be interesting TV the next couple of months, that's for sure.

On the boxing side, right around the same time 'The Ultimate Fighter' reality series launched five years ago, so did boxing's version called 'The Contender'. With a much larger budget, the Mark Burnett successful production team behind it and Sugar Ray Leonard hosting, it aired on a major national network, NBC, versus cable.

While it had its critics, I for one loved it. Truth is, I enjoyed it much better than 'The Ultimate Fighter' and as a long time boxing fan I was excited for boxing and for myself as it was bringing some new talent to the forefront and boxing back into the mainstream.

Unfortunately, the show was not properly handled by the network. That first season, especially the first few weeks, it aired on different days switching from Sunday to Thursday to Saturday, thus the audience could not follow it properly and regularly. Then, the editing of the fights, showing combined live action with slow-motion, cut down to just show highlights and not the fights in their entirety did not sit well with fans.

Ultimately, the show was canceled by NBC after one season. However, it was picked up by ESPN and had a successful second season, which I enjoyed just as much if not more than the first. ESPN didn't see it that way and let it go as well after just one season. After two more lackluster seasons on the Versus network with a much lower budget and Tony Danza hosting versus Sugar Ray, 'The Contender' lost after only four seasons; the TV show that is.

However, there was some talent to come out of the show including super middleweight Jesse Brinkley (35-5, 22 KO's) who will challenge champion Lucian Bute on October 15 for the IBF title; also, Cornelius 'K9' Bundrage (30-4, 18 KO's) who won the IBF light middleweight title last month with a TKO win over Cory Spinks.

However, probably the biggest star to come out of the series was first season champion Sergio 'The Latin Snake' Mora (22-1, 6 KO's). Mora (pictured above), a good looking, bright and articulate young man, was not only the first 'Contender' champion, he was also the first to garner a major world title. He did so two years ago by winning the WBC light middleweight title against former champion, the late great Vernon Forrest.

He would lose the title back to Forrest in an immediate rematch, but Mora is back in the limelight this weekend as he headlines a PPV against 'Sugar' Shane Mosley. A win against Mosley would put Mora back in title contention and continue to legitimize the great dramatic series 'The Contender' actually was.

While I love both sports dearly and have truly enjoyed both TV shows, if I had to choose what "TV show" I would watch first, it would be 'The Contender'. I know I'm probably in the minority on this one and sadly for me it is no longer on TV, but even sadder than that is, it isn't even available on DVD a/o yet. The UFC on the other hand have the first ten seasons available.

With so much money behind it, you would have thought 'The Contender' would have outlasted 'The Ultimate Fighter', but alas it only contended, while 'The Ultimate Fighter' ultimately lived up to it's name. Such is the way it has gone when it comes to reality TV for MMA and Boxing.

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