Chael Sonnen’s master plan went into motion about two months ago. Following his second defeat at the hands of Anderson Silva, Sonnen announced his intent to head to the light-heavyweight division. Though he quickly agreed to a December 29th bout against fellow contender Forrest Griffin, Sonnen threw all of his malice toward 205 pound kingpin Jon Jones. Jones was set to face Sonnen’s training partner, and friend, Dan Henderson at UFC 151. When Henderson pulled out with a last-minute knee injury, Sonnen stepped up to face Jones for the title, on eight days notice. Jones, however, turned down the fight, saying that he wanted more time to prepare for the title defense.

This series of events must have seemed like Christmas morning to Sonnen. Sonnen looks like a hero, for his willingness to do everything he can to save an event (without having to actually do any work), while Jones looks like a coward. Sonnen continued to push Jones’ buttons, and Jones continued to express his reluctance to defend his title (and legacy) against a fighter who has talked their way in a championship matchup. However, the UFC is driven by fan interest, demand, and feedback, and not necessarily (like boxing) a numeric list of contenders

It was announced on Tuesday that Sonnen and Jones will headline the next season of The Ultimate Fighter as coaches on the ratings-troubled reality show. Taping begins in two weeks, with the season set to premier in January. The Sonnen-Jones title match is scheduled for April 27th.

While fans (and Sonnen) seem to be pleased with getting the matchup they want, it remains to be seen if the beef between Sonnen and Jones will be enough to save the struggling reality show. Viewership has steadily decreased over the last several years, due to many factors.

One, being the show’s mundane execution. Currently in its 16th incarnation, the program has not really ventured far from the original setup. Last season’s attempt at presenting live, weekly elimination bouts was met with lukewarm response, and it seemed that the viewing public actually wanted to see more of the ‘reality’ portion of the fighters’ experience, something that was difficult to edit properly on a weekly basis. Though the show received occasional ratings upticks by featuring such characters as Kimbo Slice (competitor) and Brock Lesnar (coach) over the years, the numbers have continued to progressively decline.

Next, the talent pool each season seems to dwindle as the years go on. The first several seasons of the show produced Forrest Griffin, Stephan Bonnar, Diego Sanchez, Kenny Florian, Josh Koscheck, Chris Leben, Rashad Evans, Michael Bisping, Nate Diaz, and Gray Maynard. The last few have produced not-yet-ready-for-prime-time-players such as Michael Chiesa, Tony Ferguson, Court McGee, and Jonathan Brookins. Are we really seeing the next Octagon ‘star’ when we watch an Ultimate Fighter Finale, or are we seeing the next Amir Sadollah?

Finally, the most intriguing Ultimate Fighter seasons have been those where a legitimate beef existed between the two coaches: Ken Shamrock/Tito Ortiz, Matt Hughes/Matt Serra, Rashad Evans/Quinton Jackson. While the Sonnen/Jones season will definitely fit that bill, many viewers are almost expecting an injury to derail the culminating coaches’ bout. Five of the last seven coaches battles have failed to take place because of illness or injury, and it seems inevitable that a season of buildup will end in disappointment.

Can Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen right the Ultimate Fighter ship, and pull the show off of life support? Time will tell.

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