posted on May 09, 2012 23:00
When I texted my brother the news of Dominick Cruz’s ACL injury (effectively pulling him from his much-anticipated July bantamweight title rematch with Urijah Faber), his response was, “Of course.”
He wasn’t stunned, surprised, disappointed, or even frustrated. It was almost as if it were to be expected.
Unfortunately, grudge match/huge bout buildups becoming big letdowns is now commonplace on The Ultimate Fighter. Let’s take a look:
Season 6: Matt Hughes vs. Matt Serra. After Serra’s upset welterweight title victory over Georges St-Pierre in 2007, he was pitted against Hughes as coaches on the show, culminating with a title fight. Their rivalry began during season 4 of the show, when Serra was a contestant and Hughes a coach. Serra took exception with the way Hughes criticized other contestants on the show, and felt that Hughes was extremely disrespectful with his comments about St-Pierre. Sparks flew on the show, with both fighters displaying a legitimate dislike for the other. However, Serra suffered a herniated disc in his lower back and had to pull out of the fight. Though the matchup would eventually take place (two years later, with neither fighter holding the belt at the time), the buildup was virtually sizzle-free.
Season 10: Quinton Jackson vs. Rashad Evans. These two brawlers absolutely hated each other. After Jackson defeated Evans’ teammate Keith Jardine at UFC 96, a post-fight, profanity-laced staredown occurred. This was preceded by Evans’ negative broadcast commentary about Jackson, as well as Jackson’s long-time perception of Evans as a “cocky bastard.” The season was ratings gold, and the big fight was scheduled for UFC 107. But Hollywood has other plans for Jackson, who backed out of the fight to accept the role of BA Barracus in The A-Team. Jackson and Evans would eventually lock up six months later, but the golden moment had passed.
Season 11: Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz. The third Liddell/Ortiz bout was set to be the culmination of season 11. Their feud went all the way back to when Ortiz was the light heavyweight title holder, and gave a litany of excuses for denying Liddell a shot at the belt. Fans were pumped to see the two legends square off one last time. However, Ortiz suffered a back injury and was replaced by Rich Franklin. Franklin ended Liddell’s career with a first round KO, and the 16 week buildup was all for naught.
Season 13: Brock Lesnar vs. Junior Dos Santos. Although not a grudge match, the return of Lesnar to the Octagon proved to be a huge selling point for season 13. The winner would receive a title shot at then-champion Cain Velasquez. However, Lesnar’s diverticulitis resurfaced towards the end of the show, causing him to pull out of the fight. Lesnar was replaced by an overmatched, underprepared Shane Carwin, who was steamrolled by Dos Santos.
The UFC had hoped that the new ‘live’ format of The Ultimate Fighter (mixed with the genuine dislike Cruz and Faber have for one another) would improve ratings that have consistently declined over the last several seasons, but this is not the case. Yet another season of big fight buildup will be wasted. Will more fans eventually tune out and become disenfranchised if this pattern continues? “Of course.”