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May 8, 2017

Reality MMA: The Ultimate Fighter

Sachi Ainge

Reality MMA: The Ultimate Fighter

About The Ultimate Fighter Season 25

The 25th season of The Ultimate Fighter is currently airing on Fox Sports, Wednesdays at 7:00 PM MDT. In it, UFC Bantamweight fighter TJ Dillashaw heads up a coaching staff full of faces that are well known at Easton Training Center: Eliot Marshall, Duane Ludwig, Leister Bowling, and Matt Brown. For those unfamiliar with the show, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) places a group of MMA fighters in a house, Big Brother style, for the duration of filming.

The group is split into two teams, and the show runs in a single-elimination tournament format. Twice every week, representatives of the teams go head-to-head in the cage. In Season 25, TJ Dillashaw leads one team, and UFC Bantamweight champ Cody Garbrandt leads the other. Dillashaw and Garbrandt were once teammates under Urijah Faber on Team Alpha Male. But they’ve have had a terse relationship since Dillashaw’s departure from the team in 2015.

In past seasons of TUF, when the show concluded, the winner and runners up were called up to the big leagues, getting a chance to fight in the UFC. However, this season is about redemption. Almost all of the fighters are veterans of previous seasons of the show. These welterweights either didn’t come out on top in their first run, or had brief, unsuccessful UFC careers after TUF. So for these men, this show is a chance to win back an opportunity that they once let slip away. In addition to another shot at the big time, each fighter is paid $10,000 per fight. The winner of Season 25 will receive an additional $250,000 payout. With a lot on the line, it’s no surprise that tensions run high from the very first episode.

Eliot Marshall’s Coaching Experience

I sat down with Eliot Marshall last week to discuss the show and his insights. Eliot is himself a veteran of The Ultimate Fighter. He appeared in Season 8 as a contestant, and finished as a semi-finalist, leading to his own career in the UFC. He has also previously returned to the show as a coach in Season 16. This year, the show filmed in Las Vegas from January to March, and Eliot traveled back and forth from Denver to run grappling practices for Team Dillashaw. He says Season 25 was a uniquely excellent coaching experience, with a good team, great attitudes, and a coaching staff full of his friends–fighters and coaches from Elevation Fight Team.

Comparing the experience to his role as head coach for Elevation Fight Team, he says training contestants in The Ultimate Fighter is more about conditioning and support than it is about teaching. It’s about keeping the fighters positive and happy, and pushing them through grueling four-hour training sessions. The winner of this show will fight three times in six weeks, so staying healthy and uninjured is more important than learning a slew of new techniques. Isolated from the world for the duration of filming, the fighters are free from distractions. However, they’re also subject to the unique stressors of the close-quartered life of a reality show.

Settling Scores

Unlike your average reality show, Eliot says, “All the drama is real.” There’s no need for scripting or manufacturing conflict. Between Dillashaw and Garbrandt, a palpable distaste festers, then boils. While the show’s competitors are able to diffuse tensions and settle scores in the cage, the head coaches find other ways to battle it out. For these seasoned UFC fighters, coaching must now take center stage.

Of Dillashaw, Eliot says, “TJ is one of the best coach-fighters that I’ve seen. He understands how to break things down, and get people to learn them.” While many great fighters can execute techniques flawlessly, training others is another skillset unto itself. In TUF, Dillashaw proves to have the chops for both.

The show will continue to air until the July 7th finale. Don’t miss the drama and the action Wednesdays on Fox Sports, 7:00 PM MDT. If you’ve got some catching up to do, you can also find episodes on Hulu and iTunes!



The Ultimate Fighter cage


MMA training at MusclePharm headquarters

Eliot Marshall and TJ Dillashaw

Eliot and TJ



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