By the end of the last season of "The Ultimate Fighter," the show was a pale imitation of what it had been. It had terrible ratings, wasn't producing great fighters, and wasn't exactly the springboard to fame and stardom in the UFC. But this season, with new coaches and a new night, a new show emerged. What made it new and improved?
Updated shooting style: When TUF first started airing, it wasn't one of a million other reality shows that featured castmembers talking into a camera in front of a background. Eight years in? It was hard to tell TUF from "Real Housewives" from "The Biggest Loser." Perhaps it was FX's influence, but the updated look to the way the show was filmed gave it more of a documentary feel and gave it a much-needed update.
Committed coaches: When Chael Sonnen and Jon Jones were named the coaches of this season, I worried that we would get all shtick, all the time. Thankfully, I was proven wrong. Both men developed bonds with their teams that translated well to the camera, but it was Sonnen who truly surprised.
He truly relished his role as a coach. His inspirational speeches rivaled the best of Eric Taylor, and he used what he learned in years of wrestling in training his fighters. Even the way Sonnen addressed his future opponent as "Coach Jones" spoke to how committed he was to his role. It was much more enjoyable to watch than two highly ranked fighters talking the same old smack again and again.
More fights, fewer shenanigans: Every part of the show was geared towards getting the fighters ready to fight. Cameos from Ronda Rousey, Mike Tyson and Mickey Rourke added to fight preparation. Though they had field trips to a bowling alley and Hooters, they were about letting off steam so they could be ready to fight. The season wasn't about who could come up with the most elaborate prank. It was about who fought the best, which is pretty important for a show with the words "ultimate" and "fighter" in the title.
Uriah Hall: Before the season aired, UFC president Dana White spoke about a TUF castmember who was sending people to the hospital after every fight and Urijah Hall didn't disappoint. Hall's speed and technique made every one of his fights must-watch. There hasn't been a prospect as exciting as Hall on TUF for years, and his skill helped elevate the entire season.
It's still not a perfect show. A "Countdown" style episode that checks in with the finalists as they prep for this bout would go a long way in building excitement for the finale and building a fanbase for the finalists. But this is a much-improved version of a show that looked like it had run its course last season.