Things didn’t exactly start with an epic bang during Wednesday night’s premiere of “The Ultimate Fighter” season 13. No, the latest installment of the UFC’s popular reality show — which slides heavyweights Brock Lesnar and Junior dos Santos into its well-worn coaching slots while somehow scrounging up 14 as-yet unknown welterweights to compete for the standard “six figure” UFC contract – was far too awkward for that.
It was considered something of a coup when the UFC convinced Lesnar to appear on the show. As one of its biggest pay-per-view draws, the announcement came amid speculation that the recently deposed heavyweight champion was considering a return to professional wrestling, if only for a one-off, big money Wrestlemania match with apparent real-life nemesis “The Undertaker.” Even if those rumors weren’t true – both the UFC and Lesnar deny them – you have to figure the fight company must’ve unloaded a garbage truck full of money in his driveway to get the notoriously media-shy fighter to agree to do “TUF.”
Several uninterrupted weeks in Las Vegas, being shadowed by reality show cameras is not exactly Lesnar’s idea of a good time. He’s fully willing to admit he’d rather be home in Alexandria, Minn., going “dark” (as he likes to call it) between high profile appearances in the Octagon. Instead, the UFC forced him into close quarters with a couple dozen total strangers (including the guy he’s about to fight) for more than a month, then sent him out on a highly publicized media blitz that included a bundle of one-on-one interview and a stop on late night network TV.
Lesnar performed admirably – at times appearing surprisingly charming, to tell the truth — through all of that and his inclusion on “TUF” is expected to rival the high mark for ratings set by Kimbo Slice during season 10, at least in the early-going. Yet as things kicked off this week, Lesnar’s looked ill-at-ease during his “TUF” turn. Couple that with the fact that dos Santos isn’t a native English speaker and you start to get the idea people might have been aiming a little high with their lofty ratings expectations.
Despite spending the bulk of his adult life in the spotlight, Lesnar has never really made peace with the idea of sharing himself with the public. During Wednesday night’s episode, his interactions with the prospective UFC fighters vying to be part of his “team” were wooden and one scene where he was forced to console a kid who was being asked to leave the show due to injury felt forced.
In fact, the first impression was that maybe Lesnar’s at-all-costs avoidance of the media isn’t exactly the worst policy. You wonder if 10+ episodes of reality television might do more to unravel the mystery that surrounds him, rather than build more interest in his fight career, which has already gone in fits and starts.
Given the odd way reality TV seems to function, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if Lesnar’s star power can’t match the ratings put up by Slice, despite the fact he’s obviously a far, far more legitimate MMA fighter. Even if last night’s episode did draw a huge number of eyeballs, it also remains to be seen if Lesnar’s somewhat stagnant performance will be able to keep them there.
Chad Dundas writes about MMA for CraveOnline, Versus.com and CagePotato.com. He lives in Missoula, MT.