There isn’t any question that the Ultimate Fighting Championship is the promotion that all sports fans point to as the pinnacle of professional mixed martial arts. Attracting millions of fans from around the world, Dana White has earned the UFC’s standing by drawing in the most skilful, brutal, and charismatic fighters. So perhaps it’ll come as a surprise that the catalyst for the promotion’s tremendous success was a genre of television that’s hardly associated with any of those aspects. Reality TV is a fundamental reason why the UFC is what it is today, and why the promotion can afford the extravagant costs MMA Junkie reports to make Fight Island. Here’s how The Ultimate Fighter not only surged UFC into the mainstream but also keeps it on top.
A struggling sport that broke out through reality TV
When Dana White and the Fertitta brothers purchased the UFC for $2 million in 2001, the company was close to bankruptcy. Slowly, it began to grow under the new owners, but after the breakthrough UFC 40 event, they were close to $35 million in the hole. Now, White claims that the promotion is worth about $7 billion, per Sports Casting, following Fertitta brothers’ sale to ESPN for $4 billion.
This valuation came in 2018, 16 years after UFC 40, and yet it wasn’t on the UFC’s pay-per-view schedule that the surge in valuation was founded: that came through the launch of The Ultimate Fighter on Spike TV in 2005. The impact of TUF was immediate, as highlighted in the detailed analysis by Betway. Before the first season of TUF, the UFC struggled to sell PPVs, with UFC 40, 50, and 51 attracting a mere 225,000 PPVs between them; one week after the TUF 1 finale, UFC 52 reeled in a record 300,000 PPV buys alone. Since then, the UFC has only grown in popularity, with the long-running reality TV show also contributing to the live events.
Developing talents to promote the PPV events further
The Ultimate Fighter is as true as reality shows come: it pits talented mixed martial artists who seek glory in the professional ranks together, finding a champion among them. It’s not scripted or ‘soft scripted’ like so many other shows that claim to be reality TV, with those who find success and popularity often moving into the UFC stable.
One of the most recent success stories has been Season 21 winner Kamaru Usman, whose net worth now exceeds $2.5 million on top of his 17-1 record. While many of the biggest earners of the UFC have come from elsewhere, such as Conor McGregor, Alistair Overeem, Anderson Silva, and Khabib Nurmagomedov, the fifth-highest-paid fighter in UFC history won the reality show’s third season, Michael Bisping, who has pulled in $7.1 million from the promotion. Prior to his loss to Henry Cejudo at UFC Fight Night 143 in 2019, TJ Dillashaw was mentioned as one of the most successful products of TUF. He lost in the TUF 14 finale to John Dodson, but then he put together a 12-2 record in the UFC, which featured eight wins by knockout and four title defences.
The Ultimate Fighter is much more than a reality television show; TUF is a core reason as to why the UFC is such a massive sports promotion today, both in terms of its burst into the mainstream and roster of stars.
Keep up with the latest UFC news and tips with The Insider.