Tuesday night saw the premiere of the newest season of The Ultimate Fighter and, if you’re wondering if you missed anything important or significant, you already know the answer is no. Of course you didn’t.

Don’t worry, Mick. I’ll try not to be too mean.

I should start by saying that, while I was aware of the UFC prior to the first season of TUF, I didn’t really begin following the sport until that season aired in 2005. The live finale that came after was an awe-inspiring moment that featured the fight Dana White still considers to be the most important fight in UFC history.

As far as the show itself goes, the first season was a lot of fun. It tried to balance the fights with the wackiness of reality television and, while your mileage will vary as far as how good of a job they did, it’s hard to deny that the show wasn’t successful, launching a franchise that is still going strong 18 years later and being the match that lit the UFC aflame and sent the promotion through the stratosphere.

Subsequent seasons of the show tried to maintain that same balance. Over time, they would bust out themes (redemption featuring former UFC fighters, rivalries between nations and gyms, Kimbo Slice) or play with changes to the format, such as fights to get into the house or that whole live season.

Remember the live season? When the show was as long and as painful to get through for the fighters as it was for the viewer? At least we got Michael Chiesa, Al Iaquinta, and Daron Cruickshank out of it.

Oh, and James Krause was there briefly too. Wonder whatever happened to him…

The more things change, the more they something something

When the show moved over from Spike TV to FX with the aforementioned live season, the look of the series began changing to move away from the reality show feel of earlier season and into what is more of a cinematic, sport-oriented presentation that put a bigger spotlight on the fighters’ lives outside the show.

Yes, there were still opportunities to allow bros to bang but the focus was placed on the contestants training for their fights, as well as the fights themselves, which have always been the main draw of the show.

There have been some gimmicks introduced into more recent seasons, like the one that crowned a new women’s champion, or the one that crowned another new women’s champion, or the one where everyone had a padded record, or the one where Demetrious Johnson was elevated from being one of the best fighters on the planet to being a game show grand prize, but the overall feel has remained the same.

Honestly, if I had to define TUF 31 in a single word, it would be “same” due to the fact that, despite the move from FX to ESPN and despite the fact the show appears to only be a once a year tradition now instead of the twice a year rotation TUF was on before the ESPN deal began, pretty much nothing has changed about how the show looks or feels.

If I had to define TUF 31 in two words, it would be “Kurt Holobaugh?” I may have glanced over the roster reveal and forgotten that the show was to feature a couple former UFC fighters.

The concept of a “veterans vs. prospects” season is not a bad one. It just would have been nice if UFC chose to promote that aspect of the show more instead of just being all “OMG IT’S CONOR MCGREGOR!”

It’s not like there was anything that happened between coaches McGregor and Michael Chandler on the show that we didn’t already see in the previews and trailers. Conor’s just doing the same schtick he always does. This isn’t even the first time he’s done it on TUF.

Mystic Mac can surely predict what a slog this season of TUF will be

The interactions between the coaches ring a little hollow right now anyway since we don’t know when (or if) the coaches are going to fight. Hopefully Dana is right that they’ll be able to get it nailed down before the show and/or year and/or universe is over.

And, hopefully, getting that squared away won’t involve any “exceptional circumstances.”

The focus of the show shouldn’t be on all that peripheral stuff anyway. The focus should be on the fights, and the fight on the premiere episode, between Roosevelt Roberts and Nate Jennerman? Well, it wasn’t much of a fight.

Seriously, Roberts knocked Jennerman out in seconds. Maybe this will be the start of a monster run for the former Dana White’s Contender Series winner, like Uriah Hall had on TUF 18. He’ll just need to avoid another disastrous career turn after the show ends, like Uriah Hall had after TUF 18.

I could go on about the little things on the show, like how the producers made sure to have one of the fighters mention that the house is stocked with Proper 12 whiskey (maybe they should send some bottles to the fighters Conor got kicked off the show), but the bottom line is this: if you’ve enjoyed watching TUF the last few seasons, you’ll probably enjoy this season as well because it so far resembles all the others.

However, if you feel the show has grown beyond stale, that the same tired format no longer entertains the way it once did, that the show no longer serves a purpose when UFC is constantly flooding the roster with new talent to fill the 40+ fight cards they do every year, when winning a contract after a months-long tournament no longer feels special when Dana hands out 4-5 contracts a week on DWCS (even sadder considering that some of the veterans on TUF 31 are former DWCS contract winners), then it doesn’t look like this new season is planning on doing anything to change your mind.

Well, at least the doors should be safe. Can’t imagine Conor trying to tear one to pieces wearing those fancy suits.

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About the author
Evan Zivin
Evan Zivin

Evan Zivin is a writer, having joined Bloody Elbow in 2023. He's been providing his unique takes on the sport of MMA since 2013, previously working as a featured columnist for 411Mania. Evan has followed MMA and professional wrestling for most of his life. His joy is in finding the stories and characters within all combat sports and presenting them in a serious yet light-hearted way.

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