It's hard to believe more than three years have past since Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar lit up televisions across America during the finale of the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter.
On Saturday, the Spike TV reality show completes yet another season -- its seventh -- in a world where mixed martial arts has become a fairly regular installment on television.
Of course, roughly three-and-a-half years ago, that wasn't the case. Few realized it, but the gimmicky show on a network no one had ever heard of was MMA's chance -- maybe even its last chance -- to make it big. While mounting debt put Zuffa, the parent company of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, in a perilous spot, co-owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta cobbled together $10 million to pay for one season of the show.
It wasn't some great discovery. Everyone around the sport rightly believed that exposure in large doses of an underappreciated sport was the only way to get MMA off life support and on the path of progression. The problem resided in getting a deal done. Networks weren't interested in taking a risk on something they hadn't a clue about, especially when the targeted audience was unclear.
Thanks to The Ultimate Fighter, we now know that young men take to MMA.
The show's concept was new, or at least the MMA spin was unforseen. There wasn't a template, and everyone seemed to be winging it -- from the fighters to the promoters, and even the producers. Whether it was genius casting or a moment of serendipity, the first group of fighters was special. Not only could most of the guys prove themselves in the cage, but they were also boiling over with personality. From the pranks of Chris Leben and Dana White's infamous "Do you want to be a [deleted expletive] fighter?" speech, to, perhaps, the best battle in T.U.F. history between Griffin and Bonnar, no season has yet to compare...Read the Rest