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Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Mixed Martial Arts--- Ultimate Fighter Editorial: Noah's Letter & Who Should Get a Bye
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published on MMAWeekly

Before delving into the various scenarios that could play out in terms of who will replace Noah Inhofer on The Ultimate Fighter 3 and who (if anyone) should get a bye into the semi-finals, it is necessary to mention first that the "Noah's Letter" episode of TUF 3 raised some serious credibility issues for the series and its producers.

Any sense that the on-the-ground producers of TUF are interested in maintaining a sense of credibility or integrity was pretty much erased by the fact that Noah Inhofer just happened to receive the letter that just happened to deliver several segments' worth of the kind of footage that reality TV show producers crave (or script out word-for-word if you're a writer on Hogan Knows Best).

The issue is not that Noah wasn't allowed to call his girlfriend. That was absolutely the correct decision since nobody's life or health was in danger, and viewers even had the good fortune of being spared the tough guy speech. The problem is that the producers and editors of the show were stressing over and over again to the viewer that the fighters can't have any contact with the outside world, and the sanctity of the competition is so sacred that it can't be compromised... oh, except for a dramatic letter that magically appeared at the training center for Noah to read.

I'm not suggesting that the letter was made up. What I am suggesting is that Noah's girlfriend or whoever wrote the letter may have delivered it to the producers of TUF (or to Zuffa) in an attempt to reach Noah, and one or more people involved in the production could have decided, "It would probably make for some dramatic television if we put this letter in the gym where Noah will see it."

Let's say for a moment that nothing of the sort happened. Even in the far-fetched scenario of the letter being secretly placed in the gym by its author without anyone on the cast, camera crew, or production staff noticing its actual delivery, TUF still took a big integrity hit.

The letter was placed away from where the fighters were training, so that they would discover it when they finished their training session. Are we supposed to believe with a straight face that none of the producers, camera operators, or tech people noticed the letter sitting there at any time during the training session before the fighters came back? They could have and should have removed the letter if they were serious about the "no contact with the outside world" rule.

An additional area of inconsistency with the "no outside contact" rule is the fact that Chris Leben broke the rules during the first season and was not punished for it. As you may recall, Leben told all of the other fighters that he was going to jump the fence on the property where the fighters were living in order to try to find a pay phone to call his girlfriend. Leben was then shown doing exactly that, as he jumped the fence and left the property (though we didn't see what he did from there).

Then we had an episode full of fighters telling the camera that they had been specifically told that anyone who left the property without permission or tried to contact the outside world would be automatically kicked off the show... and then Leben got off with no punishment whatsoever.

What is the message to TUF contestants? It would appear that the message is to not give an ultimatum of, "Let me make a phone call or I quit." Instead, you should simply jump the fence and go make the phone call that you want to make.

Who Will Replace Noah Inhofer?
The the question posed at the end of Episode Six was, "Who walked through the door to replace Noah Inhofer?" The next logical question after that is, "Who is getting a bye into the semi-finals out of the remaining light-heavyweights?" All we know from the commercial teaser for Episode Seven is that the mystery person is a returning fighter (not a reserve fighter appearing on TUF 3 for the first time), and that it's a member of Team Shamrock.

When someone quits the TUF competition or has to leave due to injury, the standard practice has been to replace the departing fighter with another fighter on the same team in the same weight class. That would have also been the ideal answer in this situation, but it was made impossible by the simple fact that Team Ortiz has gone 2-0 in light-heavyweight fights at this point, and had never lost a light-heavyweight before Noah decided to quit.

If a middleweight were to be brought back instead of a light-heavyweight, it would completely screw up the "opening fight, semi-final fight, final fight" format for each weight class, so the returning fighter had to be a light-heavyweight, and he had to be from Team Shamrock since there were no Team Ortiz light-heavyweights in the "loser house."

With that in mind, who are the two Team Shamrock light-heavyweights who have lost this season? Jesse Forbes and Kristian Rothaermel. Kristian had a giant cut on the top of his head that required a lot of stitches, while Jesse lost his fight by submission in the first round and sustained little damage. So, logic dictates that it will be Jesse Forbes returning in Episode Seven. Most people are already assuming that, and this isn't the part that is particularly complicated.

Who Should Noah's Replacement Fight, and Who Should Get a Bye?
The much harder question to answer is, "Who is going to get a bye into the semi-finals?" We already know that Michael Bisping is in the light-heavyweight semi-finals. We also know from the commercial that the Josh Haynes vs. Tait Fletcher light-heavyweight fight will take place as scheduled on Episode Seven, so the winner of the Haynes vs. Fletcher fight will also be in the light-heavyweight semi-finals.

Assuming that Jesse Forbes is the returning fighter, that would mean that the remaining light-heavyweights would be Mike Nickels and Jesse Forbes from Team Shamrock, and Matt Hamill from Team Ortiz.

Three fighters, and two spots in the semi-finals to fill. How do you manage that in a fair way? The producers of TUF 3 were forced to make that decision at some point during the show's filming, and though we don't know what decision they made, there are only three scenarios that seem like possibilities.

As explained in the season premiere, the third season of TUF has a new matchmaking format. Every fighter now has to fight an "opening round fight" before they can get to the semi-finals, which was an excellent decision by the producers. Keep in mind that the whole point of having the modified matchmaking format in the first place was to avoid having anyone make it to the semi-finals without a win, which happened on five different occasions in the first two seasons.

Scenario #1: Jesse Forbes Gets a Bye
The producers could have Mike Nickels fight Matt Hamill, and simply give Jesse Forbes a bye into the semi-finals, even though his record in the competition is 0-1 (just as Chris Leben was given a bye into the semi-finals with a record of 0-1 in the first season). This is probably the least fair scenario because someone with a record of 0-1 on the show would be getting a free ride into the semi-finals, which would go against the whole principle of the modified matchmaking format.

Scenario #2: Matt Hamill or Mike Nickels Gets a Bye
Another alternative that seems much more fair is to have Jesse Forbes face either Mike Nickels or Matt Hamill, and give the other fighter a bye into the semi-finals. This scenario would put either Nickels or Hamill into the semi-finals with a record of 0-0 on the show, but that is much better than advancing someone with a record of 0-1 (Forbes) into the semi-finals.

The only question in this scenario is which fighter (Nickels or Hamill) would get the bye. If you want to say that it should be a Team Ortiz fighter since Noah Inhofer was on Team Ortiz, then Hamill would be the one to get the bye into the semi-finals. If you want to have all of the fighters on both teams vote on which of these two fighters should get the bye, that would likely lead to Nickels getting the bye into the semi-finals.

Scenario #3: Nobody Gets a Bye
The only other scenario that would make some degree of sense would be to have the returning Jesse Forbes actually face the loser of Episode Seven's fight between Josh Haynes and Tait Fletcher. You could have the next middleweight fight as scheduled, and then in the next episode have Forbes go up against the loser of Haynes vs. Fletcher.

What's good about this scenario is that it places two fighters on an equal playing field. Both Forbes and the loser of Haynes vs. Fletcher would have 0-1 records before they fought each other. Yes, you would be advancing someone into the semi-finals who would have a record of 1-1 at that point, but again, that is much better than putting someone in the semi-finals whose record on the show is 0-1.

Scenario #3 is the only scenario which guarantees that all four fighters in the light-heavyweight semi-finals would have a record of either 1-0 or 1-1 going into the semi-finals, as opposed to having a fighter in the semi-finals with a record of 0-0 or 0-1.

I would personally go with Scenario #3, or if the loser of Haynes vs. Fletcher is unable to fight again due to a cut or injury, then I'd go with Scenario #2. You may agree or disagree with me for a variety of reasons, but ultimately it's not up to us. It's up to the producers, and we'll find out on Thursday night what they decided during the filming of TUF 3.

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