'TUF' in need of a face-lift

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The bout between Forrest Griffin, right, and Stephan

The bout between Forrest Griffin, right, and Stephan Bonnar in the Season 1 finale of "The Ultimate Fighter" is considered the greatest UFC fight ever. It was a three-round slugfest and is credited with launching the UFC into the mainstream. (April 9, 2005) Photo Credit: Zuffa LLC

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Mark La Monica Mark La Monica

Mark La Monica is the deputy sports editor for cross media at Newsday and writes about mixed martial

The wild-card entry was a nice touch last season, but "The Ultimate Fighter" needs a major revamping for next season.

No one can deny the reality competition series on Spike helped the UFC gain mainstream acceptance and a wider fan base than all its previous pay-per-view events combined. But, as with all long-running shows meant to follow a certain structure, even slight tweaks to that format aren't enough.

Twelve seasons into "TUF," it's time for a makeover as soon as Saturday's Ultimate Finale concludes inside The Pearl at the Palms in Las Vegas. The lure of the "six-figure UFC contract" for the winner still exists for the fighters, but television viewers need something different now. Even if that's just for one season. Something to garner interest amid the competitive landscape of programming.

It's been five years and six months since Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar punched and kicked their way into a new generation of television sets across America. That fight, the finale of Season 1 of "The Ultimate Fighter," has been credited with launching the UFC into the hearts and minds of sports' most coveted demographic: males ages 18-34.

Serving as a type of minor league development program for UFC, "TUF" has produced quite a few stars. Three champions, too - Serra, Griffin and Rashad Evans.

But how many more times can we watch high-strung, ego-driven, testosterone-fueled tough guys get up in each others' grills and talk trash in their house? How many more dumb pranks can we see? Do we really care when two guys battle each other verbally and flex their gums instead of their guns? This isn't compelling television anymore.

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"TUF" needs to get tough and put the focus back on the fights and the fighting. When the coaches become more compelling than the kids they're coaching, there's a problem. It's an understandable business premise to use "The Ultimate Fighter" platform as a vehicle to drive interest for a future pay-per-view fight. That's been the model for the past few seasons, most recently with coaches Georges St-Pierre and Josh Koscheck, who fight for the welterweight championship at UFC 124 on Dec. 11.

It's time to switch things around. Fans are going to be interested in that fight whether they go along on the four-month journey with the coaches.

How about mixing up the coaches based on personalities and styles rather than future fight matchups? Or shooting it more like a documentary series such as "UFC Primetime"?

Maybe it's time for another "comeback season" like Season 4 which featured current UFC fighters who never won a championship. The winners got a title shot, and with that title shot, Matt Serra became the only man in the world to knockout Georges St-Pierre.

The appeal of such a season? Let us connect with established fighters whose names we know but not much else. This would give fans an immediate interest in the entire season, and a quicker turnaround to invest money in pay-per-views rather than waiting for a less-experienced fighter to develop over time. How many people cared when Season 11 champion Court McGee made his UFC debut last month at UFC 121? Exactly. And he has a great back story - a former heroin addict who once was pronounced dead.

Season 10 in September 2009 debuted to 4.1 million viewers, nearly twice the previous record of 2.8 million for the Season 3 finale. Why? Everyone wanted to see what Kimbo Slice, the street fighter popularized on YouTube, would do. Season 12 has averaged 1.74 million viewers through its first 10 episodes.

"TUF" has made several changes over the years, most notably when fighters had to fight their way into the house the first week of filming rather than starting with the 16 guys already on the show. Time for another reboot in 2011.

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