After Week 2 of Dana White’s Contender Series Season 5, it has become clear that the UFC doesn’t have a one-size fits all definition for what a contender is. Every season Dana surprises us with odd signings and no real method to his decisions.
Over the first couple episodes, we’ve seen more International prospects than ever before; many of which have extremely lengthy records. While those records are rare on the show, there are more seasoned fighters than ever this season. And to top things off Dana has awarded 5 contracts both weeks, even though the first week only had 4 fights on the card. It took 5 seasons for Dana to do the unthinkable and sign the season’s first loser.
If this continues, the roster will continue to inflate in number of prospects on Contender Series contracts. Which are also known as the cheapest contracts you can get entering the UFC…
Like DWCS, The Ultimate Fighter was founded on finding the best fighters in the world. The hungriest ones yearning for a shot in the UFC. The difference is these guys are sacrificing 5+ weeks of their lives to make weight more than once, all for a chance at a 6-figure UFC contract.
Though over time people tuned into TUF for the wrong reasons, the drama seems to be shying away from the more modern seasons. Which people will argue whether or not it’s a good or bad thing.
Some may say it’s too early to tell for Contender Series to have its first champion, but there is a reason the company has not had one yet. The matchmaking doesn’t always consist of the best matchups and the most deserving aren’t always highlighted on the show. Far too often you have DWCS guys who fight 2-3 times before getting cut.
TUF on the other hand has made 11 champions in its 29 seasons. With DWCS fighters only fighting once, if it’s a knockout, then matchmakers only get to see how you do in those few minutes. Now this isn’t a diss to any Contender Series fighters because there are so many fan favorites that have come off the show.
But if a chance is present to take an “easier” route, 9 times out of 10, the fighter will take it.
The Sad Reality
DWCS has become a hub for the UFC to bring in cheap talent and put on low-cost cards all throughout the pandemic. Boasting the 130+ fighters on the roster belonging to the show, most know that the contracts are simply a small step towards being able to quit your job.
If you’re fighting for the biggest MMA organization in the world, and the pay is not enough, then there is a serious problem that is much deeper rooted than most care to admit.
Let’s not talk about how little money is made if you were to go the TUF route… It’s much less than what they would make fighting one night on the Contender Series, I’ll tell you that…
Allowing fighters the choice to fight once, for way more pay instead of three times for less pay will eventually trap the UFC into signing talent who aren’t as hungry as they seem. And maybe some who aren’t even ready quite yet.
Unfortunately, there’s no set criteria on how to make it to the big leagues. With TUF, there’s at least a set way on how to win the competition and outside of setting up the semi-final matchups, leaves less room for biased ways by the UFC brass.
With a few tweaks and massive promotion, TUF can be more than what it was. It could showcase great sportsmanship and feed the hungriest fighters in the world with a shot at their dreams. The ones who drop everything just for a chance, like Dana loves. Most importantly, it could continue to be the most stable product to produce future world champions.
So why does the UFC need The Ultimate Fighter more than it needs the Contender Series?
It’s simple. Over time, it’ll show that there is no stable division due to the high turnover rate the UFC has currently. When you have a roster where the majority are coming out of Contender Series and typically coming from the same agencies, it means you really don’t have the best talent in the world, you just have the best talent from those agencies. If that isn’t already clear today now with how great Bellator and PFL cards have been.
You simply can’t have both continuing to run annually either because fighters will wait for the summer to go on Contender Series, than having to go though the TUF experience. One of the products will eventually suffer from not having enough high-caliber talent fighting on the show. So it will be interesting to see how the UFC evolves both shows in the very near future.
For now, fans can enjoy both shows back-to-back and potentially be introduced to the next big thing while they are at it. But if I were the UFC, I’d be putting more eggs in The Ultimate Fighter basket; investing more in evolving the product to the next level.