Even with Jones-Sonnen, TUF needs reboot

October, 17, 2012
10/17/12
8:21
PM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
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Chael Sonnen and Jon Jones are already in midseason form.

With two weeks to go before they don their team colors and become rival coaches on season 17 of "The Ultimate Fighter", both the UFC light heavyweight champion and his out-of-the-blue challenger brought their best prepared material to Wednesday's introductory conference call.

Sonnen, who's been acting like MMA's answer to "Classy" Freddie Blassie for going on three years now, called Jones bratty and selfish and needled him over his recent DUI. For his part, Jones called Sonnen classless, said he doesn't have what it takes to win championships and pestered him about the controversial testosterone replacement therapy he's used since 2010.

In other words, it's clear the UFC and FX Network chose wisely when deciding next season's TUF coaches.

Now the question is, will it really matter?

Jones is already a lightning rod for controversy and some fans will tune in to season 17 simply to see if the champ can do something, anything to countermand their view of him as arrogant and out of touch. Meanwhile, Sonnen talks better than anyone we've ever seen in mixed martial arts. Maybe as well as anyone in professional sports, ever. When he sits down with producers for his coaching interviews in the TUF training center (mats and heavy bags framed neatly in the background), television gold will no doubt ensue.

But to what end?

After last week's episode reportedly garnered the series' all-time worst ratings, this show obviously has problems no coaching tandem can fix. Moving to a new night and adding some new wrinkles -- as both Dana White and FX Vice President Chuck Saftler said will happen -- are good starts, but TUF needs a complete overhaul if it means to survive over the long term.

After a seven-year run, it's staggering to think this show has marched on so long without any real significant changes. For its debut on FX in March, producers attempted to give things a boost with a new "live" format, but it played out awkwardly, failed to garner improved ratings and was quickly deemed a disappointment. During its current season 16 -- pitting a hapless seeming Roy Nelson against a decidedly hands off Shane Carwin as coaches -- the show went back to basics and ratings have sagged even lower.

Jones and Sonnen may well provide a bump, but it won't last. During and after this season, we'll still be stuck in the same warehouse, with the same revolving door of indistinguishable contestants (many of whom we'll never see again) pulling the same "hilarious" pranks inside the same suburban Las Vegas McMansion. Each episode will still feel like a retread of something we saw the season before, or the season before that, or the season before that.

And thus we come to the hard truth about TUF in 2012 and beyond: After 17 seasons (a long run for any show) the only thing that might save it is a complete reboot, with new locations, new plot devices and, above all, new ideas.

If, as White said, change does come to "The Ultimate Fighter" this season, let's hope it's sweeping and comprehensive. If not, no amount of DUI jokes and TRT cracks will be enough.

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