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Spike TV's 'The Ultimate Fighter' - Season 3

By Cliff Montgomery,
The Ultimate Fighter TV series should never have been a hit. On paper, the series works with a group of relatively unknown Mixed Martial Art (MMA) fighters, and should appeal to what, even a few years ago, had been a loyal but fairly small segment of the U.S. population. Again on paper, it should only appeal to those who have already been MMA fans for some time.

And yet the exact opposite has happened: the show has been perhaps the best weekly commercial for the MMA tournament series known as the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). The Ultimate Fighter has made fans of many who had known very little of the sport before seeing the show.

It continues to do so today, now in its third hit season. The season finale is scheduled for June 24th, 2006.

For those of you who perhaps have been living under a rock for the last few years, The Ultimate Fighter is a 'reality' television series and MMA competition, originating from the United States, and is a co-production of Spike TV and the UFC. In a format very similar to the CBS TV series Big Brother, a group of professional MMA fighters that have yet to be featured by major MMA events is placed in a single house outside of Las Vegas, and compete against one another for the title of Ultimate Fighter, as well as a six-figure, multi-fight contract with the UFC.

But in truth the winner gets something more than that: he gets instant recognition by both the fans and his peers as someone to be reckoned with, as a man who has earned respect in his craft. And this, I think, is what makes this show different from the slew of other so-called "reality" shows out there. It's not geared to tearing down others, but has both an actual intent and a simplicity most 'reality' TV shows just don't possess.

In the series, the MMA fighters are placed into respective weight classes. They are soon divided into two teams, with each team coached by a contemporary UFC star. The teams then vie against each other in a series of various contests; the winning team now has the right to match one of their own fighters against a comparable opponent from the other side in an MMA fight. The loser is eliminated from the house. At the end of a series, the four remaining fighters of each weight class are placed in a single-elimination tournament, where the title of Ultimate Fighter is awarded to the winner.

The essence of the show? The daily training regimen of each fighter as he prepares for competition, as well as the fighters' day-to-day interactions with one another. These daily events are overseen by UFC president Dana White.

The third Ultimate Fighter series began on April 6th, 2006. It features sixteen fighters (eight light heavyweights and eight middleweights), coached by former champions Ken Shamrock and Tito Ortiz.

The third season of Ultimate Fighterhas seen numerous rule changes from previous ones. First, the team challenges--which always seemed an imposition on the show--are gone. Now all fighters must win a preliminary bout before advancing to the semi-finals--in short, effectively starting the single-elimination tournament at the beginning of the series, rather than near the end.

The preliminary match is decided by one group winning a coin toss; all following matches are determined by the team winning the previous match. Also, each fight is now two rounds instead of the customary three. If there's a draw after two rounds, the bout will go to a final, five-minute tiebreaker round. As a consequence, the judges' final decision on the fight will be based solely on the performances seen in the third round (unless the fight is stopped by the referee before the end of the round).

There's another first on this series of The Ultimate Fighter: it's the first in which fighters living outside of North America have participated, with two English fighters (Michael Bisping, Liverpool; Ross Pointon, Stoke-on-Trent) involved.

There was of course some extra heat generated in this third season because of the particular UFC stars who coached each team. Ken Shamrock and Tito Ortiz are two champions who are nearly as well known for their dislike of each other.

Shamrock and Ortiz are scheduled to have a rematch of their UFC 40 fight at UFC 61.

Finale Undercard

Middleweight Bout: Ross Pointon vs. Rory Singer
Middleweight Bout: Danny Abaddi vs. Kalib Starnes
Middleweight Bout: Luigi Fioravanti vs. Solomon Hutcherson
Light Heavyweight Bout: Jesse Forbes vs. Matt Hamill
Light Heavyweight Bout: Wes Combs vs. Mike Nickels

Main Card

Light Heavyweight Bout: Wilson Gouveia vs. Keith Jardine
Middleweight Final: Kendall Grove vs. Ed Herman
Light Heavyweight Final: Michael Bisping vs. Josh Haynes

Main Event - Lightweight Bout: Kenny Florian vs. Sam Stout

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