It wasn't too long ago that coaching The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) actually meant something.
Whether it was to build the rematch between Randy Couture vs. Chuck Liddell at UFC 52 (TUF) 1, offer "comeback" fighters (Matt Serra and Travis Lutter) the opportunity to earn unlikely title shots (TUF 4), or settle scores between rivals (B.J. Penn vs. Jens Pulver and Quinton Jackson vs. Rashad Evans, among others), the promotion's mixed martial arts (MMA) reality series leveraged Spike TV to flex its marketing muscle.
Unforeseen injuries, new television deals and an overall apathetic recent reaction to the once fabled franchise, one that was the genesis for the sport's rise to mainstream popularity, have collectively handicapped its intrigue. Or, perhaps, it just jumped the shark along with Kimbo Slice and his inclusion on TUF 10.
Not even the polarizing Michael Bisping and his goofy coaching counterpart, Jason "Mayhem" Miller, can seemingly turn the ship around, in a season that has actually been packed with solid MMA action and quality entertainment. It's certainly not their fault that their "rivalry" will culminate inside the Octagon at TUF 14 Finale one week from today (Dec. 3, 2011) and it has flown relatively under the radar.
It's because the outcome of the fight, seemingly, has no significant impact on the middleweight contender picture, even though it should. At least not immediately. And Chael Sonnen, along with his forked tongue, is to blame. Despite a submission loss to Anderson Silva, a positive post-fight test for banned performance-enhancing substances and admitting to a felony, he is the unquestioned number one 185-pound division contender.
Sure, his performance against "The Spider" was eye-opening and impressive to say the least. And, sure, his convincing submission won over Brian Stann at UFC 136 in his triumphant return to the eight-walled cage was noteworthy. And, naturally, his post-fight "loser retires" challenge to the Brazilian was brilliant.
However, let's not forget about Michael Bisping, who has compiled an impressive record (7-2) since making the drop down from light heavyweight more than three years ago. "The Count" was knocking on the championship door right around the time TUF stopped being meaningful for coaches back in 2009.
That is when, of course, Dan Henderson scored one of the greatest knockouts ever at UFC 100. Had the result been reversed, Bisping undoubtedly would have contended for Silva's middleweight belt rather than toying around with Forrest Griffin in a 205-pound "super" fight. Bisping has climbed his way back to the top of the division since that devastating defeat, winning four of his last five fights.
Another win at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada, will make it five straight and six of his last seven, which should mean something.
"Chael Sonnen had his chance, put on a great performance, but lost," Bisping declared in a recent conference call. "He got tapped out, got finished. And then after that he failed a steroids test. As far as I can see he had his chance and he blew it. I feel I deserve a shot. I have got to beat Miller, he is tough and I am not looking past him. I'm the contender. Vitor Belfort has just been beat, Yushin Okami has just been beat, Sonnen got beat. What are they going to do -- are they all going to keep beating each other up and then having another shot at him? No, I'm the contender."
At the very least, if Bisping silences "Mayhem" he should have the opportunity to do the same against Sonnen in a true number one contender eliminator match to earn the right to fight Silva, who is on the shelf rehabbing injuries until mid-2012. And it should be a five-round, non-title main event-type bout that leaves no question, or debate, as to who truly deserves the honor.
That would mean something.