Mark La Monica is the deputy sports editor for cross media at Newsday and writes about mixed martial
Watching the UFC on three new networks will take little more than updating the DVR to get used to when the world's top mixed martial arts promotion debuts on Fox in November.
But what you'll be watching the following spring will require a recalibrated mindset. During last week's announcement that the UFC and Fox agreed on a seven-year deal, the principals involved revealed quite a few changes to its flagship series, "The Ultimate Fighter."
To borrow the catchphrase of UFC octagon announcer Bruce Buffer, "We are live!"
Gone are the six weeks of shooting the season and the subsequent weeks of editing. Gone is having the season "in the can," to use industryspeak. And gone are the groans of those who understand and acknowledge that after 13 seasons, the format on Spike had grown more stale than a bag of hot dogs buns left on top of the refrigerator for three months.
"We had been kicking this idea of going live for a while, and when we started talking to Fox and FX, we pitched them on that concept," UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta told Newsday. "They loved it. They bit on it right away, thought it was some groundbreaking ideas. Definitely a way to breathe new life into a reality series that's going into its 14th cycle now. It's time to change things up."
The 14th season, which was shot in June and early July, premieres Sept. 21 on Spike in the same format at the previous 13. Yawn.
Fertitta said all the details have not been worked out yet, but the plan is to film and edit the reality portion of the show in the days leading up to the fight, then air the fight live Friday night on FX.
"The public likes to see things unfold in front of their eyes," Fertitta said. "So taking what we know is a successful reality format, condensing that with a time frame of when it happens so it's more real-time, almost like an 'HBO 24/7' or what they're doing on Showtime with the San Francisco Giants ['The Season'], and then leading into a live fight. We think it's kind of a groundbreaking idea. It definitely has its challenges, though."
As the Internet evolved, programmers learned to deliver information such as stock quotes and sports scores and breaking news in real time. This is that evolution for UFC. It's a way to inject interest into a reality fighting show where the winner gets a UFC contract . . . and half the other contestants wind up fighting in the UFC shortly thereafter.
The suspense was gone. Ratings dropped to franchise lows in Season 13, and averaged around 1.2 million an episode. The "Eh" factor set in among fans of the sport in regards to the show where MMA prospects all live in the same house, talk trash to each other, get mad at each other, attempt dumb pranks they think are original, and oh yeah, train in one of two teams coached by a UFC fighter who will then fight the other coach on a pay-per-view card at season's end. It was as formulaic as a chemistry textbook.
It became more interesting and exciting to learn who would coach the next season of "The Ultimate Fighter" rather than who would fight on next week's episode.
Well, Fertitta and the UFC fixed that, too.
Fans will have an opportunity to vote on which fighters they want to see the following week. It has not been decided yet, Fertitta said, exactly how the American people's votes will be counted.
"We also like the dynamics with the coaches and the strategies behind what they're trying to do," Fertitta said.
The Season 15 coaches, whoever they may be, will face a strategy unlike anyone before them. As they're coaching fighters through a 13-week series, they'll have to worry about their own fight against the opposing coach in Week 14 (or some time close to it). No more shooting in advance, then having plenty of time to do your own thing.
"The cool thing is when you're actually filming the show, the tension really increases over time," Fertitta said. "So I think the tension and the stress and all the things that get under their skin are going to be happening right then. They're not going to have four months to go home and chill out."