Flashback | During a classic “Ultimate Fighter” reality show episode, former NFL players turned MMA fighters, Marcus Jones and Matt Mitrione get into it after a training session in the Gym. The two later fight on the season finale.
The Ultimate Fighter is an American reality television series and mixed martial arts (MMA) competition produced by Fox Sports 1 and the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). It previously aired for fourteen seasons on Spike TV. The show features professional MMA fighters living together in Las Vegas, Nevada, and follows them as they train and compete against each other for a prized contract with the UFC. The series debuted on January 17, 2005, with its first episode, “The Quest Begins”. To date, there have been twenty six seasons of the show, two per calendar year. Each season features either one or two weight classes in the tournament.
The historic Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar fight in the first season drew millions of viewers to the show and launched the sport into the mainstream. Because of this success, The Ultimate Fighter was regarded as instrumental to the survival and expansion of the UFC and mixed martial arts into the mainstream. Many current and past UFC fighters are alumni of the show, with some competitors going on to become coaches in future seasons. The show has undergone multiple format changes since its inception, including the introduction of the wildcard bout. Many winners have gone on to compete for UFC championships with some becoming UFC champions. The Ultimate Fighter was originally an experimental series financed by the former owners of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta III. The series was aired on Spike TV as a last resort measure to gain mainstream exposure for mixed martial arts (MMA).
During the early days of Spike TV, the channel wanted sports programming, but had no budget for sports licensing fees. Spike TV founder Albie Hecht began a search to find programming with broad appeal that the network could afford. In the end, Spike narrowed its choices down to the UFC and K-1. Hecht flew to Japan to meet with the head of K-1, but insulted his geisha, so the meeting did not go well. Weeks later, Hecht met with Lorenzo Fertitta in Las Vegas. Hecht was impressed by the UFC’s celebrity following, its plan to acquire and consolidate smaller promotions into the UFC, and with Dana White’s ability to be a “Vince McMahon”-like personality.
Hecht saw K-1 as a safer bet, given it had more international notoriety. He was also not a fan of the grappling aspects of MMA, but the UFC rebuffed his suggestion to change the rules of the sport to accommodate striking. Hecht credits Kevin Kay and his editorial collaboration with the UFC for highlighting the show’s story lines, which he believes helped drive its ratings success. Airing after World Wrestling Entertainment’s flagship show WWE Raw, The Ultimate Fighter’s debut episode was able to garner a 57% retention rate in viewers from Raw, which was double the usual rate for Spike TV. It is believed by some[who?] that WWE’s Vince McMahon had to approve The Ultimate Fighter following Raw, but this is incorrect. According to Hecht, McMahon did not have the final say, but given his stature and Raw’s’ importance to Spike TV at the time, the network wanted McMahon to “be on board” with the program lineup. At the time, Hecht believes the WWE did not see the UFC as a challenge.