There are plenty of reasons to feel optimistic about season 14 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” which debuts on SpikeTV next Wednesday amid an unusually fierce media buildup.
As the first installment of the UFC’s popular reality show set to feature featherweights and bantamweights, it’s basically a given that this season will boast one of the most talented and experienced TUF casts in recent memory. The fights will undoubtedly also be great, as nearly any random assortment of 135 and 145-pound fighters can usually be counted on to bring it. Perhaps most importantly, season 14 marks “The Ultimate Fighter’s” swan song on Spike and UFC officials are promising sweeping changes for future seasons which -- if they work out -- could breathe new life into a product that desperately needs retooling.
Of all the reasons for hope however, I’m not sure this budding feud between coaches Michael Bisping and Jason “Mayhem” Miller is one of them.
Make no mistake, both Bisping and Miller are great fighters, are among the sport’s most intriguing personalities and a bout between the two has the potential to be outstanding, if for no other reason than as a compelling pairing of styles. They’re also sure to make adequate coaches, with their combined 56 fights and 17 years experience.
It’s just that, it rang a little hollow this week when Miller and Bisping showed on Wednesday’s media conference call for the express purpose of bickering with each other. Granted, it was entertaining, but the bad blood they’re going so far out of their way to establish simply lacks substance because (just like the rest of TUF) it’s so obviously a product of television.
Unlike previous rival coaches like season 2’s Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock, season 10’s Rashad Evans and Quinton Jackson or season 12’s Georges St. Pierre and Josh Koscheck, Miller and Bisping have no preexisting beef. They admit they barely knew each other before reporting for duty on the “Ultimate Fighter” set and since they’ve never even been signed to the same promotion at the same time before, whatever friction sprang up between them while making this TV show is just that: Made for TV.
It’s not that their dislike feels staged or scripted. I’m sure after spending several weeks together during production, the animosity is real and there’s frankly no need to script anything when you’re dealing with two guys who talk as well as Miller and Bisping do. At this point though, they don’t really come off as enemies so much as two guys who know exactly what we all expect from them as opposing coaches on a reality show that’s already been on the air for 13 seasons and six years.
Remember, Bisping and Miller netted these jobs simply because we knew they wouldn’t like each other; because we knew Bisping can come off as cocky and abrasive and because we knew that the prankster in Miller wouldn’t be able to resist antagonizing him. We knew that with TV cameras filming and TUF’s contrived team format pitting them against each other and more than a dozen seasons setting precedent, there was no other possible outcome.
Miller essentially admitted as much this week.
“I noticed after the first week [of filming] that I was a bit bored, so I immediately started cranking it up so that there would be some interaction between me and Mike,” he said during Wednesday’s call. “At the end of the day, we're doing television and we need to make something happen so that the audience is engaged.”
Therein lies the rub of reality television. Is it the reality that makes the TV, or the TV that makes the reality? For that matter, is there anything wrong with sending two guys into a situation where all parties involved implicitly understand they’re supposed to come out as adversaries? Maybe not, but it’s certainly a lot less interesting that way.
At this point, I can’t help but wonder if it might have been more fascinating and unexpected if Miller and Bisping had spent all that time filming TUF and come out with nothing but nice things to say about each other.