MMA: FX Netowork

Cruz, Faber exactly right for TUF Live

December, 7, 2011
12/07/11
2:39
PM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
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Dominick Cruz and Urijah FaberMarc Sanchez/Icon SMIDominick Cruz and Urijah Faber have the right kind of bad blood to infuse new life into the TUF series.
Just a couple of hours after throttling Brian Bowles at UFC 139, Urijah Faber had already turned his attention back to the real prize.

His win over Bowles had earned him another opportunity to become UFC bantamweight champion and the chance to settle a longstanding grudge with Dominick Cruz, but the most marketable and business savvy fighter in the company’s lightest weight class was thinking bigger.

“Let me and Dom coach ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’” Faber told Dana White at the postfight news conference, after the UFC president had finished answering a question about the significance of the reality show’s next season. “We need some fans.”

White -- who’d already been forced to reveal more than he probably planned while deflecting questions about the company’s future intentions for Anderson Silva, upcoming shows on Fox and various other fight bookings -- could only turn and give the gathered crowd of reporters a sort of exasperated, but knowing shrug.

“There you go,” White said. It wasn't quite a wink and a nudge, but it was good enough.

Truth is, this decision had probably been made long before Faber publicly put his boss on the spot. The former WEC featherweight champ’s coaching spot on TUF 15 was likely solidified the moment he wrapped his arms around the neck of the already battered and defeated Bowles early in the second round of their fight. It’d already been decided because, frankly, having Cruz and Faber coach the biggest and arguably most important season of “The Ultimate Fighter” is a no-brainer.

What you have here is synergy of the highest order. Two of the sport’s most compelling personalities involved in the 135-pound class’ first real blood feud just as TUF attempts to reshape and revitalize itself for a vastly increased audience on the FX Network? That decision makes itself.
[+] EnlargeUrijah Faber
Rod Mar for ESPN.comSubmitting Brian Bowles, bottom, is paying dividends for Urijah Faber.

“This is for the UFC title, but it’s a personal vendetta,” Faber said. “We’re 1-1 now; it’s a trilogy and it’s to find out who is the man for the rest of our lives. That’s important to me.”

There can be little doubt that Faber and Cruz are the two best fighters in the bantamweight division right now. Cruz has already defeated much of the top 10 and Faber erased any lingering questions about his fitness as a repeat challenger with the way he handled Bowles at 139. Faber has also proven totally incapable of making peace with his razor-thin decision loss to Cruz at UFC 132 and the two have real, organic beef that dates back to the salad days of the WEC.

Not to mention, Faber is absolutely right. These two do need some fans.

For years, featherweights and bantamweights have been the most consistently exciting fighters in the sport, but have yet to really make an impression on casual MMA viewers. If the company is looking for a duo to give armchair fans a crash course in what the lighter-weight classes are all about, you couldn’t ask for better than Faber and Cruz. You also couldn't ask for a better format than having them coach TUF.

Honestly, this is a decision that should have been made sooner, but now we should all be glad it wasn’t.

The two were rumored to be on the short list to coach the show last season, before the UFC went outside the box and tabbed Strikeforce’s Jason Miller to appear opposite Michael Bisping. Caught at the tail end of the fight company’s relationship with SpikeTV, the season didn’t get much promotion to speak of and netted decent ratings only because both Bisping and Miller came in a known commodities. Unfortunately, their fight -- which peaked at 3.4 million viewers -- was a flop after Miller gassed out midway through the second round.

Cruz and Faber won’t have that problem, nor will they likely have to worry about drawing a crowd as White himself estimated that each episode of TUF on FX could draw around three million viewers. If he’s right, that means great things for the resulting battle between the coaches and great exposure for the bantamweight class as a whole.

There is no telling how much TUF will benefit from its new “live” format, but from where I’m sitting, this kind of reboot could be exactly what the flagging franchise needs.

Now, it’ll also profit from having exactly the right coaches at exactly the right time.

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