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Forget Brock Lesnar, “UFC Primetime” is the next big thing

As The Ultimate Fighter’s ratings continue a precipitous decline, now down 36 percent from their Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock fueled heights, Zuffa has quietly been searching for replacement programming to take over as their flagship show on Spike TV.

Despite the success of live fight specials, that couldn’t be the answer long term. The shows are simply too draining on the entire staff, not to mention a fight roster and audience already worn thin by an increasing barrage of MMA on television and pay per view. At a certain point, panic began to set in. “We really don’t know what we’re going to do when The Ultimate Fighter runs its course,” one UFC insider told me backstage at UFC 91. Now they know. Forget Brock Lesnar. UFC: Primetime is the next big thing.

Last night, Dana White and company went a long way towards ensuring their next contract with Spike TV and even further towards making the Georges St. PierreB.J. Penn fight a mega success on pay-per-view. It was a show obviously inspired by HBO’s groundbreaking 24/7 and their seminal NFL training camp show, Hard Knocks. What separates UFC: Primetime from these other excellent programs are the UFC fighters. As always, I’m impressed by the personalities. Both B.J. Penn and St.Pierre came across as great ambassadors for the sport. The audience saw, perhaps for the first time, what makes a fighter tick. And, despite eight seasons of TUF, many saw for the first time just how hard it is to be a professional fighter. These aren’t just born warriors, stepping out of the bar and into the cage. It takes work to be GSP. Maybe a little less to be B.J. Penn, and that was the story of this show, the first of three broadcasts leading up to UFC 94.

The story they are telling here is simple but effective. B.J. Penn is the rich kid, growing up in paradise and fighting because he can. He’s good at it and success comes easily for him. Georges St. Pierre’s is a more typical story, at least for a fighter. He grew up poor and struggled to make it to where he is, even quitting school for a time to work as a garbage man. He’s seen poverty and despair and this drives him, keeps him going back to the gym when others might be taking it easy, terrified to go back to his old life.

Penn’s is a more comfortable lifestyle. He’s on the beach, taking it easy with his boys and laughing about the dumb Canadian plunging through the snow in Quebec. The editing of the show clearly indicates the producers value making Penn appear as if he is not training hard, using footage of a routine break in training to push the idea. But those close to Penn say he is more dedicated than ever to ensuring his legacy in this sport and is training like never before. Even the noted training fanatic Frank Shamrock took a week off during his preparation for the Tito Ortiz fight in 1999 to make sure he was hitting all cylinders in the cage, not in the training room before the fight.

Manufacturing this conflict is understandable. It allows an opportunity for Dana White to make an appearance (always a good thing) and helps the audience decide between two popular fan favorites. Programs like this need some conflict, and while the specifics of this particular issue were contrived, Penn’s dedication to training is always ripe for speculation. One could expect in coming episodes that Penn will be shown making a concerted effort to train like a demon and this will simply be a narrative device to tell the story of his renewed commitment to greatness.

Despite some minor quibbles, like Penn providing stock material for the sport’s critics by threatening to kill GSP and vowing to die in the cage, this was a triumph. This show is masterfully produced, by far the best work we’ve ever seen on a UFC program. I can’t wait to see what comes next and I think many fans will feel the same way.

21 COMMENTS
  • Dave says:

    I haven’t had a chance to catch this yet, but it sounds pretty awesome. Good work!

  • GSP fan says:

    just to give a little insight since im workin on a bachelor degree in training principles and such, what bj penn is doing is called “tapering”. the science behind it, is to prevent over training and burnout. the optimal tapering period is 2 weeks from an event in which u decrease the amount of time u workout in half but maintain the intensity. This allows u to hit your physical peak after the tapering period and in time for the athletic event.

    BJ may be tapering or resting to early, 4 weeks out doesnt get the best results as say 2 weeks would, and u should still work during these tapering periods, just not as frequently, taking a couple days of to relax shouldnt be done. taking 2 weeks off and doing nothing is equal to losing 50% of your cardio related gains that u have made. Studies show that detraining for 2-3 weeks is the equivalent of aging 30 years in terms of where u are when u regain your training. so for BJ to take 2-3 days off he will be losing precious cardio. It only takes minimal workouts to maintain cardio, by simply cutting the amount of time in half while maintaing intensity

  • jj420 says:

    i havent seen the show yet, but it sounds like a glimmer of hope.

    the ufc has seriously needed to revamp or replace the ultimate fighter show. i am a huge fan of mma and i absolutely hate the show and how it portrays fighters.

    thank you jebus!

  • Justin Van Hook says:

    This kind of show has little chance of being the kind of success that TUF has been for the simple reason that there is no competition involved. I don’t know if they are thinking these shows will eventually take the place of TUF but that is certainly how I read it. The only reason I like TUF so much was because there is always an actual fight to watch. This crap is just a well-produced, really long commercial.

    I know I am not the typical mma fan but I don’t really care about the fighter personalities, at least not to the extent that I would watch a whole show about their lifestyle and training habits. I prefer to judge a fighter and whether or not I like him, based on how he fights. But that’s just me. It just seems unlikely that these shows will have anything close to the impact of TUF.

  • Jonathan says:

    I think ideally these shows would be followed up by a one hour fight special.

  • D.Capitated says:

    Haven’t watched it yet, but with a review like this, I’ll make sure to keep a look out.

  • Patrick says:

    I enjoyed the show. I didn’t realize it will have multiple episodes up until the fight. I like the countdown shows, but this will be good to see for the big fights. I hope to see one for Mir vs Lesnar.

  • Guy Gaduois says:

    I don’t about about “tapering”.

    I do know about “stupiding”. The Penn Bros are “stupiding”. Hey, J. Penn: did you notice those cameras following you around? Did you notice that camera filming you as you were lying to Dana White? Did you know that there is a very, very strong likelihood that Dana will at some point watch this program?
    No, you’re right . . . it could be edited out. But seeing how you just popped off and lied on the phone while on camera in real time, I’d think that’s going to be footage that “makes air” as the T.V. people like to say.

    But you’ve inspired me. I think I’ll go urinate on my employer’s desk RIGHT NOW!

    Empowerment means being able to be “stupiding”. Hooray for the Penn’s.

  • Ft. Dub says:

    The program was well done and fairly entertaining. But I disagree that it can replace TUF as primary programming. Fights have to be big and the fighters entertaining for this format to be compelling. That’s why the HBO 24/7 has focused almost exclusively on fights that feature De la Hoya.

    Also, it really annoyed me that BJ Penn was so dramatic with his “I’m coming in that ring to try to kill him. I’m happy to die in the ring” BS. I hate when any fighter says that, it is supposed to show their dedication, but instead it makes the sport sound like a “human cock-fight” instead of a competitive sport of skilled athletes.

  • Dr.Stoppage says:

    I watched it and thought it was great.
    There was a little too much attempt at creating drama,but what are you going to do?
    And careful Jonathan,although I remember BJ and posse chuckling about GSP training in the snow,I don’t remember the part where they refer to him as a “dumb Canadian”.
    Ain’t that something you made up?

  • Brian says:

    Man, BJ’s ears are jacked up.

  • Jonathan Snowden says:

    You’re right that B.J. and friends never referred to GSP as a “dumb Canadian.” I wasn’t quoting them directly and didn’t intent to intimate that they used that verbiage. They did imply that you’d have to be pretty crazy to live somewhere other than Hawaii.

  • goodguy says:

    I am all for BJ hitting the beach. I have seen him kick ass looking like he did all of his training at a waffle house! He will be ready for this fight. No matter how hard he trains, his cardio will never be on GSP’s level.

    The show was so good that my girlfriend watched it in entirety……I don’t mind that she was salivating, and waiting for another screen shot of GSP’s back.

  • Justin Van Hook says:

    I can’t believe every one of you tools lapped this crap up.

  • BigDave says:

    There is absolutly no reason for anyone to think BJ has even a small chance in this fight. Penn shouldnt even be aloud in the same ring as GSP. George beat the crap out of him the first time and he will do the same here. GSP cardio is of the charts his BJJ is the best at 170lbs, as is his wrestling. BJ is out of shape never trains hard and frankly needs to see if WWE will give him a job after GSP destroys him within 2 mins of the 1st round.

  • goodguy says:

    Van Hook,

    If actually being interested in the lives of the guys who are sacrificing so much for my entertainment makes me a tool, call me goodguy the garden rake.

  • KingTcb says:

    Are you kidding me gsp kicked the crap outta bj?? Maybe you should watch the fight again. Plus bj was in horrible shape that fight. If he comes in like he did against Stevenson gsp will get worked and finished no later then the 3rd. No disrespect to gsp I think he is great but bj is so much more of a natural then gsp.with all due respect Gsp need to train like he does just to get on the same level as bj is naturally.

  • Dr.Stoppage says:

    Jonathan,
    Okay,So only you were implying that GSP is a dumb Canadian?
    Thanks for clearing that up.
    ( just kidding)
    As a dumb Canadian myself,I’m a little sensitive to the issue.
    I understand the point you were making.
    The idea of rich kid BJ slacking off in the sun ,joking about GSP ,the former garbage man training hard in the frigid means streets of Montreal.
    Even the idea of someone filming Dana calling BJ to see if he was training was a little over the top,but whatever ,I loved it all.
    So much hyped up drama in the show,but the bottom line is,it’ll be a great fight.

  • Bullylover says:

    While BJ is no doubt one of the best fighters ever he is toooo damn cocky for his own good. I’d thought that after the Matt Hughes fight that he’d change his tune & for a moment it seemed like it worked. Now he seems to be reverting back to his old ways. Also disrespecting Gsp like he has only makes him look like a dick & those who agree with him are equally idiots like he is. That being said I hope Gsp runs through him. If Bj wins i hope Dana reconsiders letting bj move up to 185 So that Anderson Silva Can teach him some respect. Trust me Silva vs Penn would only end up in Silva KTFO BJ. I almost want BJ to win so I can see this. Don’t get me wrong i’m a huge fan of Bj’s fighting talents. To say that he isn’t in the top 5 p4p would be a lie.I’m not however a fan of the man behind the skills.Hopefully Gsp can knock some sense into bj.

  • biggmoney21 says:

    Was it just me or did the UFC advertise this past episode as a one hour episode. Instead, they broadcast the same 1/2 hour episode back-to-back. That constitutes a one hour special? Pretty weak, IMO.

  • Chris says:

    Yeah the show is great, cause the fighters make the show. Dont think we will see this every PPV from now on, only the huge fights, or do you think it will be every show now? I noticed in NJ where I’m at, I got Comcast, but I didnt see the UFC Countdown to 93 show, did they do one? I think those shows are always great, just gives you the hype leading up to the fight. With these shows, its 3 shows and shit, leading up to the fight, it would have to be every month they do this, I dont know if they will. Of course Brock vs Mir will get one, but I dont know about every PPV getting one. Of course HBO’s shit is great, all HBO sports produced shows are the best, but UFC was doing these countdown and even All Access shows before 24/7 started, so UFC actually did it first, the All Access shit, that def was being done before Oscar and Floyd, though it wasnt done every single time, but yeah this is a great thing for the UFC.

    One thing I dont get is the hate for the TUF? Whats wrong with it? It has run its course? WTF? Yeah maybe its not new anymore, and they are doing crazy shit, but I think mostly its the coaches that make the show, Tito and Ken hated each other, that made the show, Nogs and Mir didnt bring hype too it, but I think it was one of the best seasons. I’m sorry, but me as an MMA fan, if your an MMA fan why would you be sick of watching new young talent coming into the UFC? I’m not. With Rashad, Forrest, Diego, Bisping, Kosh, Stevenson, Diaz, Danzig etc all great young stars in the sport, and this past season, Junie, Efrain, Nover, Bader, Vinny, Krystoff , Elliot all have talent and will get chances in the UFC. How is that bad? I think they should always keep doing it, fuck it, and is it true that the next one will be HW? Thats what they need, Brock as a coach, HW, I thought I heard Ishii or whatever his name is might be on it? So having a weekly show that has new young MMA fighters fighting on it, I love it. And I hope the WEC does a show like they are talking about, the lower divs like FW or BW, ones that the UFC doesnt have, so you will get the top talent for those classes. Problem with that is, WEC weaker classes are LW and WW, but the UFC does TUF for those divs, so will the top young fighters go for the WEC or the UFC shows? So FW and BW offer fighters a shot the UFC doesnt offer them, they have to go up to make LW, but the BW and FW divs are the WEC best divisions. And with them offering a 125lbs div, thats gonna be good. I just think doing TUF shows are good for the sport, to produce new young talent and gives fans a chance to see more of who they are. I’ll always watch every season, every episode.

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