Pamper Your Inner Caveman...,
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This review is from: UFC Ultimate Fighting Championship - The Ultimate Fighter - Series 1 [DVD] (DVD)
In 2005, the Ultimate Fighting Championship was in a sorry state. Sold off by SEG due to collapsing pay-per-view revenues, the new owners Zuffa [fronted by controversial president Dana White] were struggling, and ended up fronting ten million of their own money to produce this show for US Cable channel, Spike TV. The rest, as they say, is history, and [aided by a monster of a fight between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar towards the end of the show], turned MMA into the fastest growing sport since NASCAR.
So this is the show that saved mainstream MMA, and it really is car-crash television of the finest vintage, a sort of cross between Big Brother and Fight Club, with contestants alternating between alpha-male scenery chewing, trash-talking, whinging, crying, and fighting in the octagon. Into the house enter a variety of fighters of varying proficiency and stamina, and stand-out characters include the requisite nutters [yoga-practicing borderline-psychotic Diego Sanchez; emotional wreck and general stirrer Chris Leben; the smug Josh Koscheck; the charming but loopy Forrest Griffin, a man who goes the entire season sporting a nasty compound fracture in his forearm that juts out under his skin], through the most laid-back cage fighter of all time [Stephan Bonnar], a few whingers [mainly Bobby Southworth: a moan and a bully] and on to the cannon fodder who look like deer in headlights [most predominantly Jason Thacker, a man who permanently looks like he's about to have his lunch money stolen from him, and is solely famous for having his bed urinated on by another contestant].
The format of the show isn't perfect- weirdly, a recurrent theme is dividing up the fighters into two teams, presumably to encourage tribal loyalty [and therefore conflict for the cameras], but one that doesn't make a lot of sense when one team loses a lot of fighters over successive weeks, and so is given fighters from the other team. In addition, it's a few episodes before anyone actually fights, as the first few eliminations are via team challenges [in retrospect, the weaker individuals who are punted would have been pummelled by their peers in the octagon, and so perhaps there was an element of logic to this approach]. I'm also a little suspicious of the editing, as [like MTV's 'The Real World'], it's heavily tweaked to construct a narrative, and I'm still in two minds as to whether or not one contestant was the thief that the show made him out to be [I would say probably, but I still have my nagging doubts]. Finally, given the substantial injury rate of this sport, there is a high turn-over of individuals who are put out the show but then return when other contestants are injured.
These points are quibbles: this is a show that gets its hooks in, and due to the unpredictable nature of the bouts [a stray hook, knee, or elbow can end a fight that had been going heavily in favour of the other contestant], doesn't let go. It has a soap opera cast, some blistering fights, and is 'high stakes' for all the players involved. Engrossing stuff.