The Ultimate Fighter returned on Tuesday night with a two-hour premier, narrowing the 28 welterweight hopefuls down to the 14 fighters that fought their way into the house.
The essence of the series is primarily the same as past seasons. There are 28 fighters trying to win a spot in The Ultimate Fighter house via a series of elimination bouts in the opening episode. The winner goes in the house; the loser goes home.
The series will see the 14 competitors fight their way through a series of tournament bouts, while shacked up in close quarters for six weeks.
The overall winner at the TUF 17 finale earns an automatic six-figure UFC contract and the title of The Ultimate Fighter.
Where the Team Jones vs. Team Sonnen series immediately sets itself apart from past season – at least if the premier episode is any indicator – is in the production.
Yes, there are some good fights and promising athletes, but the production in the first episode is geared much, much more towards storytelling than past seasons.
We didn’t get to see every second of every fight, much of it being highlights, but with 14 bouts crammed into two hours, it wouldn’t make sense to try and do that. Just take a look back at the TUF Live season where the premier’s elimination bouts left people feeling flat and discombobulated.
TUF 17’s stronger storytelling mix does what it should; it gives the viewer a chance to make some sort of connection with the fighters.
From the single dad trying to make a better life for his kids following an emotional custody battle to the kid raised in a marijuana grow house or the kid who was always misunderstood and picked on that found martial arts as his way out to the struggling fighter trying for the fourth time to make it onto the show.
Without the background behind the fighters, you just have a bunch of fighters that you don’t know going at it in the cage. For hardcore fans, that might be enough, but to succeed on television, The Ultimate Fighter needs a bigger audience than the hardcore fans provide.
A strong aspect of the storytelling that set TUF 17’s premier episode apart from seasons past was the inclusion of family and friends. Each of the fighters was allowed to bring some of their family or friends to watch the elimination bouts, cheering them on.
That small adjustment alone allowed for more intricate storytelling and livened up the atmosphere around the Octagon when the competitors fought.
In the end, the fights, regardless of how heartbreaking a fighter’s story was, are what determined who made it into the house, and when all was said and done, we had 14 hopefuls.
-Adam Cella def. Jake Heun by Submission (Armbar)
-Zak Cummings def. Nik Fekete by TKO (Strikes)
-Kevin Casey def. Eldon Sproat Submission (Rear Naked Choke)
-Tor Troeng def. Scott Rosa by Submission (Rear Naked Choke)
-Clint Hester def. Fraser Opie by Decision
-Bubba McDaniel def. Ryan Bigler by TKO (Strikes)
-Josh Samman def. Leo Bercier by TKO (Strikes)
-Kelvin Gastelum def. Kito Andrews by Decision
-Jimmy Quinlan def. Mike Persons by TKO (Strikes)
-Uriah Hall def. Andy Enz by Decision
-Gilbert Smith def. Eric Wahlin by Submission (Arm Triangle)
-Luke Barnatt def. Nicholas Kohring by Decision
-Dylan Andrews def. Tim Williams by Decision
-Collin Hart def. Michael Jasper by Submission (Rear Naked Choke)
He let the fighters know that with seven fighters per team, this season would see the return of a Wildcard bout. Of the fighters eliminated in the opening bouts of the tournament, White, Jones, and Sonnen will select the two they feel most deserving to come back and fight a wildcard bout. The winner of the wildcard bout earns new life in the tournament and moves on to the next round.
Knockout and submission bonuses are once again in effect, so any fighter that wins via a finish scores a $5,000 bonus.
There will also be Knockout, Submission, and Fight of the Season bonuses, with the winners of each category awarded $25,000 at the end of the season.
Coach Sonnen won a coin toss and opted to select the first fighter, leaving Coach Jones to set up the first fight.
Following the picks, the coaches deliberated with their teams and assistant coaches before Jones matched-up the first fight.
“The team came with me with a list (of who they wanted to fight and when),” said Jones. “I saw Gilbert wanted to fight Chael’s number one pick. I thought it would be a huge morale boost for our team if we could take Luke out in the very first fight.”
With that reasoning, the first tournament fight will be Team Jones’ Gilbert Smith going up against Team Sonnen’s Luke Barnatt… and Sonnen appeared to like the pairing as much or more so than Jones.
“Luke vs. Gilbert is about as good of a match-up as we could ask for,” declared Sonnen as the show came to a close. “Luke is gonna win this fight and we’re gonna take control of the competition.
“And when I take control, I don’t give it back.”