So having just finished watching the very first season of The Ultimate Fighter no less than a few hours ago, my mind was blown at how impressive the experience was. My first TUF experience was with season 17 which I found to be an enjoyable experience, I was drawn to the season for two simple reasons, my desire to see if Jon Jones was really as bad as he seemed, and Chael Sonnen being Chael Sonnen. But I find my experience darkened somewhat by a peek back into the annals of time, at sixteen then unknown men walking into a house for the first time. I watched the story unfold, Bobby Southworth's miserable attempt to cut weight, the drunken antics of a young Chris Leben, the incredibly unqualified Jason Thacker. And it made me realize, unlike watching the Ronda Rousey show last season. I was legitimately invested in the fighters I was watching.
Now let me explain myself, I'm not saying that last season's fighters weren't talented, because they were. But what I am saying is there was no focus on the fighters, the camera was pointed squarely at the antics of the two coaches. Going back to the start was in it's own way like stepping into a time machine. Watching from such an intimate perspective, as if peering into the cutout walls of a dollhouse, these men living and fighting for something. We watched it all, the tears, the injuries, the drunken stupidity, and above all, the growth that each fight brought. We genuinely cared about fatherless and weeping Chris Leben, everybody's brother Nate Quarry, oddball Diego Sanchez, and even the perpetual wallflower Kenny Florian.
For the months they spent in the house, we felt as if we were living there with them, awaiting each fight to come with quiet anxiousness. Wondering who was going home, who would we see make it to the end. And yet, I found with the most recent of offerings, I would pick a few favorites at the beginning of the season. Once they were lost, so was my interest in continuing. I didn't care to watch past only to see more arguing coaches and misguided attempts at hookups brought on by the newly co-op environment. I didn't find any interest in seeing who would go the distance to reach a dream, because it sat under so many layers of drama.
To say Season 1 wasn't dramatic would be a lie. It was entirely dramatic, cheesy, and a bit hard to watch. But my investment in what I was watching drove me to keep watching. Even the fighters who drew my ire had their own special place in my heart, if only for the fact that I looked forward to their eventual comeuppance. That peek back into time was something different, as I watched past the early wild brawls of the UFC's beginnings. It was watching the Wild West becoming tame, when once you crossed the badlands of the Ultimate Fighter house, then the only thing that stood between you and a dream were 15 minutes and the man across from you in the Octagon. Somewhere between then and now it feels like the dream was lost, the focus wasn't there, and everything blurred together in the miasma of ratings and big personalities hogging the screen. But that special moment still remains frozen back in 2005, after two men named Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar used their 15 minutes to put heart, soul, blood and guts on display for all to see, all in pursuit of that dream.