As news broke today that Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen would coach opposite one another on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 17, it was immediately met with an outcry against the match up. It is the widespread opinion that Chael Sonnen has no business cutting the proverbial line in a division he hasn't competed in since 2005, but when you give this some perspective, it isn't all that bad.
This fight is a mismatch, but it is a strong promotional tool. And just to be entirely clear, this match up would be inexcusable if not for its timing.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) light heavyweight picture is anything but a clear-cut image. With fighters in the Top 10 almost entirely coming off losses or less-than-spectacular win streaks, it is difficult to say anyone is truly deserving of sole number one contender status. Sure, Dan Henderson was given the opportunity to fight for the title, and so was Lyoto Machida, but at the same time, the UFC resorted to placing Vitor Belfort into a title fight, a man who nobody would've expected to be in light heavyweight contention.
He certainly didn't deserve it, but he was apparently very vocal in demanding it at a time when others slinked.
Sonnen leapfrogging Machida, Henderson and a few others isn't the end of the world. Neither Machida nor Henderson have that strong of a case for a title shot, even though "Hendo" may have a reasonable one. However, with how Henderson treated his injury prior to UFC 151's cancelation, it is far from a tragedy to see him passed over.
Sonnen may be coming off of a loss, but that loss was in a highly watched pay-per-view (PPV), where he put up a strong challenge to one of the best fighters in the world. He isn't deserving of a title shot right now, much less in a division he hasn't competed in for seven years, but it's not like he was passing in front of a row of hungry contenders. With the skills this man has in promotion, he is a good choice for the business side of the UFC, and that couldn't come at a more crucial time.
The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), the promotion's popular (or perhaps formerly popular) reality show, has seen a steady nosedive in ratings, lifted only by a brief spike last week with a strong fight card as its lead-in. This culminated in the recent news that the show had hit an all-time low in viewership in its most recent episode, which is never a good thing. Perhaps this is because of this season's unspectacular coaches, Roy Nelson and Shane Carwin, but it may be because the show just no longer generates interest.
With this in mind, propping up two very popular fighters to coach the next season may help the cause. That of course, won't cover the failing TUF formula, which currently bases itself on finding the 'characters' in the bunch, whom I tend to refer to as more colorful terms, as opposed to truly talented fighters. If Zuffa favors this approach, as it has time and time again, the show may very well fall for another consecutive season despite the two big names involved.
Doubtful, but possible.
If, and only if, the UFC and FX can assemble a strong cast, the decision to introduce Jones and Sonnen as coaches may pay off. They are all that's needed to provide the personality for the show, not some punk with a mohawk who can barely keep his hands up in a fight. The disinterest in the show seems to be stemming -- at least from my experience with others -- as a result of viewers' inability to watch the fighters from the show rise up in the rankings.
Why is that?
Because most of them just aren't good enough to do so. Few of the fighters from recent seasons have shown any ability to make significant progress afterward, with few exceptions, as in the likes of John Dodson, Michael Johnson and few others. Long gone are the Forrest Griffin's, Stephan Bonnar's, Josh Koscheck's, Kenny Florian's, Michael Bisping's and Rashad Evans' who have gone from TUF onto successful Octagon endeavors, a few of which have even hoisted championship belts.
To get back on track, the UFC needs something big to pique the interest of fans, hoping they give the show that launched the promotion into mainstream consciousness another chance. With Jones and Sonnen, that's exactly what you have. These two are the reason people will tune in and watch, maybe even weekly. They won't be watching for some bad boy off the tough streets of a bad neighborhood, the guy with a quick temper and stupid, recycled pranks. If they wanted that, I could direct them to a trove of other television shows that will now give them the same thing.
The fighters have to actually hold some weight in their division, they have to be someone the fans can see headlining future shows. These fighters should be deserving of the great coaches they are getting.
Besides just screening these people out because they don't have personalities tailored towards "good TV," the UFC has to offer good fighters something they would really want to earn. The current contracts given to fighters coming out of TUF are not all too lustrous, especially considering that prospects can come into the UFC through other routes and possibly make more money in less time.
It's another byproduct of UFC over saturation.
When you look at how poorly TUF is doing right now, with a stale formula that hasn't brought in new viewers for some time, it is easy to see why Jones and Sonnen were placed together as coaches. The verbal warfare between the two is already interesting and intriguing, even if a fight between them is not. That leaves room for a TUF cast made up of fighters who can truly push into the UFC's top tier, who won't be overlooked because they aren't as good on screen.
Of course, this is up to the UFC, but something has to be done. In the words of the great scientist, Albert Einstein, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
The UFC has given itself a second chance with Jones and Sonnen as TUF 17 coaches. The show needs new life, and it isn't getting it from the course it has currently charted. Maybe my fix isn't perfect, but I just hope it doesn't waste the risky opportunity it has gone to great lengths to create.