|ESPN.com: MMA||[Print without images]|
|Let the good times roll: Roy Nelson should have no problem eating up the TUF competition.|
Since MTV's "The Real World" premiered in 1992 and throughout its 21 subsequent seasons, viewers have been exposed to a wide array of personal politics, belief systems and cultural dynamics. Cast members are locked in a living space and forced to confront their prejudices while offering exaggerated versions of themselves for cameras.
The dominant audience reaction: Will someone please punch some of these people in the face?
The genius of "The Ultimate Fighter" is that someone can.
TUF, which debuted in the spring of 2005, might have been the single most influential paradigm shift in the sport's history. (Basic cable television is a powerful drug.) The UFC found a venue for creating and promoting new talent, pushing existing stars as coaches and allowing curious viewers a free sample of the violence.
Season 10's premiere (Spike, 10 p.m. ET or later after the UFC Fight Night overspill) will attempt to defy the series' advancing age by pushing the participation of Kimbo Slice, noted Miami street brawler and former CBS network attraction. And if you could never predict that sentence, you now understand the bizarre randomness of television programming.
Free fights should be reason enough to watch for the next 12 weeks, but in case you need them, here are 10 more:
10. Breakable contracting. There's no context for this scene, but Quinton Jackson is probably using the door as a metaphor for his feelings toward opposing coach Rashad Evans. It is obviously a flimsy, hollow-core piece of garbage hung in the hopes a fighter would assault it, but it doesn't matter. Property destruction never fails to entertain.
9. Matt Mitrione. A six-year NFL veteran, Mitrione is this season's Amir Sadollah: a perfect 0-0 record in professional competition. Steamrolled or an unlikely survivor, the man clearly has a pair.
8. Kimbo Slice. Just getting it out of the way.
7. A singular cast. Most seasons of TUF have fractured production -- and viewer attention -- on two weight classes at a time. It's not that complicated, but it does dilute some of the appeal and straightforward narrative of focusing on a single division.
6. Mike Rowe. "Next time on 'The Ultimate Fighter.'" Narrator Mike Rowe can make anything sound important. He's the Orson Welles of bloodletting.
5. Roy Nelson. The most accomplished in the series' mix of rookies and veterans, most figure that the season is Nelson's to lose: His grappling was enough to stifle Frank Mir during a submission tournament in 2002, and his striking earned him a split-decision loss against Ben Rothwell in 2007. He's also fat and genial, and it's nice to see the sport having less of an inferiority complex to allow for inferior physique admission. (Babe Ruth: great ballplayer, but a bit of a slob. No one much cared.)
4. Fueling the heavyweight division. Once a laughable mess, the UFC's group of tailored suits already is looking better than it has in years: With 16 potential bodies, it's a safe bet that a handful will stick around to create more depth.
3. The vacuum. The very smart, slightly alarming-looking journalist Josh Gross often advises that fights are best reviewed with the sound off: Commentary tends to creep into your opinion uninvited. There is only ambient noise during "Ultimate Fighter" fights: teammates shouting advice and the dull thud of bodies. It works.
2. The Jackson-Evans dynamic. Most "rivalries" in the sport are born out of exaggerated emotions with the knowledge that bad blood flows right into piles of money. But so what? If Quinton Jackson and Rashad Evans are faking it, both deserve Oscars.
1. Wes Sims. A 6-foot-10, unpolished wrestler-brawler weaned on Mark Coleman's Hammer House philosophy of smash first and think later, Sims reminds some fans of Ric Flair -- if Flair suffered a head injury, was afflicted with ADD and could brag of an appearance on "Blind Date." Locking him in a house with 15 other athletes should happen every season.