TUF: Live, the newly revamped FX version of The Ultimate Fighter, may not deserve to be judged on its opening episode, which will differ from episodes to come over the 13-week season, but the show did give a sampling of what viewers could expect from the fighters soon to inhabit the house as well as the production that goes along with it.
As a live sports presentation, it was a bit uneven in its delivery. While TUF fans are used to watching fights without a play-by-play man and color commentator, it felt strange to do so for 2 1/2 hours straight. With the move to FX and in theory, a broader audience, the broadcast might have benefited from announcers to explain what was happening.
There was good and bad to the show, with most of the high spots coming during the in-cage action. Among the standouts? Justin Lawrence, who walked on to the set as a little-known newbie in MMA but walked out as one of the favorites to win it all after steamrolling respected veteran James Krause.
TUF: Live Review
-- When the UFC announced that all 16 elimination fights would be aired on FX, we wondered how that could be possible. The answer was one-round fights. That was a good call, immediately raising the stakes and ratcheting up the intensity level. In addition, $5,000 awards were promised for finishes. Not surprisingly, eight of the first 12 bouts went to a finish. The last four went to decisions, but remember, those fighters had been waiting to compete for over two hours by that time, so they might not have been as fresh and loose as the guys who fought early.
-- Throughout the broadcast, FX imposed an "Ultimate Fighter FX Live" logo on the upper right part of the screen. While those types of placements are relatively standard in TV presentations, on an HD set, it happened to be in a place that often covered fighter's faces as they moved around the cage. In most stick and ball sports, the producer can contain the action in the middle of the screen, and that ad is merely an annoyance, but in MMA, it's blocking a participant, and could cause a viewer to miss the impact of a fight-changing strike. It should be moved or completely removed by next week.
-- UFC president Dana White and coaches Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber filled some of the lulls in fights with their commentary at a cageside desk. Their significance was highlighted during one of the night's last fights, when fighter Jon Tuck suddenly looked down before continuing to fight. At home, it was hard to tell why, but Cruz immediately pointed out Tuck had broken his toe.
Cruz was especially good at analysis and explaining what a fighter was doing right and wrong in a given situation, even though he was doing it in a conversational way while talking to White. The trio also had some humorous moments, like when White told Cruz and Faber that their cornermen sucked for not informing the fighters how much time was left on the clock each round. Cruz pointed out that his corners had timers on their phones but the production staff had taken them phones away, to which White replied, "Real professional. You go in the corner with your phones?"
-- On the other hand, the trio shouldn't have had to carry the information load. It would have made more sense to have a broadcasting team and to occasionally listen in on Cruz and Faber scouting the fights as they went along.
-- Refreshing: A series of 16 fights with no booing. Stale: No crowd. A very small (and quiet) group watched the fights live at the TUF training center. In the past, there was no audience in order to guard the results from leaking out into the public, but there's no real purpose for it now. Unfortunately, the TUF gym isn't big enough to house much of a crowd, so this one's mostly out of their control.
-- Based on the UFC's pledge of $5,000 per finish, they shelled out $40,000 last night. The fastest finisher: Sam Sicilia, who needed only eight seconds to knock out Erin Beach. The slowest: Vinc Pinchel, who took 3:39 to choke out Cody Pfister with a rear naked choke after slicing him open with an elbow from the top.
-- Next week, TUF: Live moves to its "jive-live" format, with pre-taped segments stemming from the contestants' time in the house leading into the first first-round fight. That will feel more like the old TUF with the added element of the live bout. Given White's insistence that the FX network, with its broader demographic reach than Spike, will bring in many first-time viewers, it just seems like it would make sense to have announcers explaining the fights as they happen. At least we can say that the sporting experience is as it should be, live, and for most fans, that is the more important change of the two.
The 16 Contestants
Joe Proctor (7-1)
Cristiano Marcello (12-3)
Sam Sicilia (10-0)
Chris Tickle (7-4)
Andy Ogle (8-1)
Vinc Pinchel (7-0)
John Cofer (7-1)
Chris Saunders (9-2)
James Vick (4-0)
Michael Chiesa (4-0)
Mike Rio (8-1)
Justin Lawrence (3-0)
Darren Cruikshank (10-2)
Jeremy Larsen (8-2)
Al Iaquinta (5-1-1)
Myles Jury (9-0)
Justin Lawrence - 3-0, Team Black House fighter
Cristiano Marcello - 15-year veteran, 11 finishes in 12 pro wins
Mike Rio - 7 finishes in 8 pro fights
Sam Sicilia - Undefeated, 8 first-round finishes in 10 wins