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Thursday, December 04, 2008
Sleazeball Promoters and Trash TV: What The Ultimate Fighter Has Become
by Ivan Trembow
After two weeks of commercials on Spike TV that prominently advertised Junie Browning's fourth meltdown on this season of The Ultimate Fighter, I wrote the following late Tuesday night about what I expected to happen on Wednesday night's show:
"I think it's likely that after Browning's fourth major incident, viewers are going to be subjected to a sanctimonious speech from Dana White about how the UFC won't stand for that kind of behavior, and then he'll finally kick Browning off the show, oblivious or apathetic to the fact that keeping Browning on the show after the previous three incidents has already made a mockery of the show's credibility."
Clearly, the mistake that I made was overestimating UFC president Dana White's professional integrity.
The three previous incidents that each could have and should have resulted in Browning being kicked off the show were throwing a glass at Kyle Kingsbury, getting into a poolside scuffle with Ryan Bader, and jumping over the Octagon fence in an aggressive, looking-for-a-fight manner after another contestant's official MMA match had just ended.
In the 12th and final pre-taped episode of the season, Browning threw a glass at fellow contestant Shane Primm's head and proceeded to throw two punches at Primm. Either of those actions would have warranted kicking Browning off the show, so at this point there were five different actions that should have resulted in Browning being kicked off the show.
Due to the previous three incidents, the hit to the show's credibility and to UFC president Dana White's own credibility would have been bad enough if he had come into the house at that point and given the usual sanctimonious speech about how they don't tolerate that kind of behavior.
Instead, based on his subsequent words and actions, White came into the house appearing to already have the storyline worked out in his mind to justify the unjustifiable and keep Browning on the show (and in the UFC).
White framed the issue as if the only way for "justice to be served" (as he put it) was for Browning to stay on the show so that he could fight in the semi-finals and possibly lose in the semi-finals to Efrain Escudero, as opposed to being kicked off the show without losing a fight during the process.
White set up the false premise that the other fighters in the house would be the one to determine Browning's fate, then quickly negated any chance of the fighters saying that Browning should be kicked off the show by essentially making it a question of the fighters' manhood.
While talking about whether he should kick Browning off the show or not, White asked Browning's scheduled opponent, Escudero, "You wanna f--king beat his ass, right?"
Well, when the issue is framed in that context, what do you think Escudero is going to say? "No, I don't want to beat his ass"? Of course not. Instead, the answer was exactly what White counted on it to be: "Yes, I do."
At no point during this process did White mention on the show that the decision on whether to kick Browning off the show or not is also the difference between Browning being released from the UFC like many other TUF contestants before him, or Browning continuing to be in the UFC whether he wins in the semi-finals or loses in the semi-finals.
Despite the tagline of, "8 Fighters, 1 Contract" or "16 Fighters, 1 Contract," the opposite has always been the case with TUF. All of the fighters are already under long-term UFC contracts unless the UFC releases them. If you can just make it through the show without getting kicked off of it for behavioral reasons, you are almost guaranteed a fight on the live season finale line-up, even though it won't be in the tournament finals.
Heck, the fighter who gets tapped out in the semi-finals of TUF (like C.B. Dollaway) could very well be the same fighter who is on the main card of a major PPV event later that same year, while the #5-ranked middleweight in the world (Yushin Okami) languishes on the untelevised preliminary card.
Ultimate Fighter contestants who don't actually win the TUF tournaments are afforded far more of those kinds of opportunities in the UFC than non-TUF-contestants; the Dollaway-Okami debacle is merely the latest and most sickening example.
Of course, the issue wasn't framed on the show in the context of Browning being kicked out of the UFC or Browning not being kicked out of the UFC and actually continuing to fight in the UFC whether he wins or loses in the semi-finals. No, it was presented to the other fighters as, "You wanna f--king beat his ass, right?" and it was presented to viewers at home as, "You wanna f--king see him get his ass beat, right?"
White also presented the ridiculous argument on the show that Browning would have been able to tell people in his hometown that he was kicked off of TUF for being so much of a bad-ass, as if that factor is equal in its importance to the show's remaining credibility being destroyed.
Keeping Junie Browning in the UFC after five separate actions that would have individually warranted kicking him off the show and out of the UFC is not "justice being served," as White said. It's White acting like a sleazeball promoter. That's what it is.
One must also keep in mind the message that this sends to future TUF contestants. When the UFC actually does want to send a message about something to other fighters, they do that by making examples out of people. (Ask Jon Fitch about that for verification.)
In Browning's case, instead of sending a message of that kind of behavior not being tolerated, the exact opposite message has been sent.
"Act like an idiot, do things that could and should get you kicked off the show, and we'll build an entire season around you and keep you in the UFC instead of kicking you out of TUF and outside of the UFC."
That's the message that has been sent to the contestants on the next four seasons of TUF. After letting Browning get away with five different actions that should have gotten him kicked off the show, one can only imagine what the contestants are going to do on future seasons of TUF, and perhaps that was the point of the UFC making the decisions that they made. In fact, it would be naive to think that such a message being sent so blatantly was completely unintentional ("You're actually a great reality TV star," White told Browning).
Just this week, UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta was quoted in The Atlantic as saying that The Ultimate Fighter was meant to "let people see kind of how these guys are, that they’re not thugs."
Really? Because I'm pretty sure that this season of the show would have accomplished the opposite to new and old fans alike.
A new viewer of mixed martial arts would have watched this season of TUF and would have been disgusted to see that mentally unstable drunkards are seemingly among the top up-and-coming fighters in the sport, that their behavior is tolerated and even rewarded with endless amounts of camera time, and that the show that is supposedly the breeding ground for the next big stars in the sport of MMA is actually just another Trash TV reality series.
A long-time viewer with a greater understanding of what they're watching would share the same thoughts and would also be disgusted to see just how much Dana White is willing to prostitute the show and the sport for an extra 0.3 of a ratings point.
Update: Wow, this takes shameless to a new level. Not only is Junie Browning still in the UFC and still fighting on the season finale card as I speculated earlier, but according to the UFC's web site, he's actually on the main card that will be airing on Spike TV.
Browning's opponent in that main card bout is none other than the second-biggest drunkard of the season, Dave Kaplan, who taught us all that concussions are to be treated as a funny thing when he got filthy-drunk and begged light heavyweight Tom Lawlor to knock him unconscious (which he did).
Meanwhile, fighters who did not frequently get piss-drink and make fools of themselves (such as Krzysztof Soszynski, Eliot Marshall, John Polakowski, George Roop, Shane Primm, Jules Bruchez, and Roli Delgado) have been relegated to the untelevised prelims on the same night.
Now, when the UFC says that they don't "encourage" drunken idiocy on TUF, they won't be "kind of lying," they'll be flat-out lying.
If it wasn't already made crystal-clear by Dana White's decision to not kick Browning off the show, despite five separate actions that warranted being kicked off the show, the message has been made all the more clear to future TUF contestants on how they should behave if they want to get a prominent push from the UFC.