“The Ultimate Fighter” reality series will return in March with the 29th season of the long-running reality show, which debuted back in 2005. After a more than two-year hiatus, the UFC officially announced over the weekend that “TUF” will back on ESPN+ next year.
Aside from revealing that the season will consist of middleweight and bantamweight fighters, no additional details were offered. It’s unknown if there will be any adjustments to the format, but all signs point to it remaining largely in tone with previous seasons, meaning two coaches will be at the helm of opposing teams.
So, who should be the coaches for the “TUF” reboot? Mike Bohn, Nolan King and John Morgan answer in the latest edition of Triple Take.
Mike Bohn: Settle a longstanding grudge
Unless the UFC does something dramatically different with “The Ultimate Fighter,” I can sit here honestly and say I’m not particularly excited for it to come back. I wrote weekly recaps of the series on MMA Junkie for 10 seasons before it came off air, and at this point there’s no stone unturned when it comes to that show. Not to say it doesn’t have its purpose, but nearly everything outside of the fights themselves became a chore to watch.
With that in mind, if “TUF 29” is going to be along the lines of what we’ve got before – except with an even more diminished talent pool because of all the prospects being signed directly to UFC, Dana White’s Contender Series and Bellator – they should not take up any champion’s time by having them serve as a coach.
Too many title fights have been held up by “TUF” over the years, and there was even a solid streak where the reward of a coaches fight didn’t happen due to injuries or other circumstances. The talk of Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor doing the show when the lightweight title is so infrequently defended was maddening, and I sincerely hope they stray away from that.
It’s fully understandable the UFC wants a pair of marquee names to coach the first “TUF” season of the ESPN partnership, but it can still achieve the goal of getting high profile fighters that will bring drama, without holding up a title.
There’s no doubt Dillashaw wouldn’t like the idea of coaching “TUF” right now after a two-year layoff due to a doping suspension. But with his suspension up in January, perhaps the UFC could sneak him in a fight before taping of the show would begin. It would satisfy his craving to compete, then set up a big showdown with his former mentor, coach and training partner Faber.
We don’t need to delve into the history between Dillashaw and Faber. If you’re reading this, you’re likely privy to the history of them going from best buds at Team Alpha Male to sworn enemies. If the UFC is ever going to put this fight together, now would be the time.
Faber is 41, and he’s made it clear his fighting interests are limited. This is absolutely one that applies to his guidelines.
Would the athletes in the house be resentful to Dillashaw so shortly after him coming off a suspension for PEDs? Or would they see the upside in working with someone who is a “TUF” finalist? Faber has an abundance of knowledge to share and has coached the show against McGregor before, so he’s familiar with the process, too.
This idea seems to have all the elements to make for good television, and better yet, it’s not creating a backlog with a belt.
Nolan King: Lightweight tandem perfection
The UFC has no shortage of options when it comes to “The Ultimate Fighter” coaching choices, but there’s one lightweight pairing in particular that seems to be perfect.
Ferguson is aggravated with the UFC and the lack of fight options available. He’s let it be known. Throwing him on “TUF” gives him the extra promotion, extra cash, and a guaranteed top contender fight against Chandler. Imagine all of the Tony Ferguson-isms that would go down if he were to coach! The entertainment value is there.
On the flip side, what better way to introduce Chandler to the broader-than-Bellator global UFC audience? For every die-hard MMA fan that is well versed in Chandler’s career, there are a ton of UFC-exclusive MMA casuals who are likely unfamiliar with him. Through the reality series, they could learn more about Chandler as a person and a leader.
More than anything else, the coach’s fight at the end would be meaningful – a pivotal contest at 155 pounds. Who wouldn’t want to see that?
John Morgan: So you’re looking to make some good TV?
Truth be told, I really do like the idea of Michael Chandler getting introduced to the UFC audience through a stint on “TUF,” but since Nolan took that angle, I’ll go in another: Let’s bring a little “Chaos” to the dance.
Look, I don’t need to explain to you why these two coaches would be non-stop entertainment from start to finish. The former friends turned bitter rivals would bring a level of tension to the show rarely seen before. The UFC might need to hire a few more security personnel during the filming, but I imagine the budget will allow it.
Afterward, the fight between these two would not only be fantastic from an entertainment perspective, but it would also prove incredibly relevant at 170 pounds, with the winner in the driver’s seat for a rematch with UFC welterweight champ Kamaru Usman or a showdown with Gilbert Burns, should he claim the title when he finally gets his shot.
I know a lot of people say “The Ultimate Fighter” doesn’t deserve a return to air. I disagree, but I understand those who believe it’s a tired concept. But if Covington and Masvidal are part of the show each week, I can’t imagine that even the most ardent “TUF” haters wouldn’t feel inclined to give it a watch.