A team of editors whittles down hundreds of hours of footage to a few episodes. Fighters tell Beau Dure that the result is not always a good reflection of what happened on the show.
Rich Franklin is not one of the more controversial figures in UFC history. He tended to respond to trash talk with gentle self-deprecating wit. He has given an engaging TED Talk on losing.
The description “company man” often accompanied his name during his long UFC career, in part because he would show up and fill in as needed, including stints on The Ultimate Fighter. He was a coach on TUF 2, a guest coach on TUF 4, a potential coach for TUF 9 (he fought Dan Henderson for the honor of coaching the U.S. fighters), and a substitute coach for the last couple of fights of TUF 11.
Yet even he is wary of what happens when fighters and coaches sign up for The Ultimate Fighter.
“It’s a reality television show, and you have to worry about the Edit Monster,” Franklin said. “They have a six- or seven-week shooting timeframe for 13 weeks worth of episodes. It takes them about 3-4 days to tape an episode, and they have hours upon hours of footage that they can condense down into approximately 25 minutes worth of show once you get rid of the fight and the commercials. So it’s really easy for them to paint any picture that they want.”
Like Franklin, Roxanne Modafferi isn’t likely to do anything to make sports pundits wag fingers. But she also knows what TUF cast members are getting into.
“It’s hard to show everything with limited screen time,” Modafferi said. “Maybe TUF 18 made Ronda (Rousey, the opposing coach that season) seem angry at times, passionate, and opinionated, but that’s the way she is. But she also has a good heart. I think that was evident from how her team talked about her and how good she was to them.”
The Edit Monster isn’t unique to The Ultimate Fighter, of course. Any reality show or documentary has to trim tons of footage down to something that won’t tax the viewers’ attention span. Mockumentaries have found a way to satirize the Edit Monster — everyone from David Brent (The Office) to the members of Spinal Tap have groused about the producers focusing on the sour moments at Wernham Hogg or the one time Derek’s pod failed to open on Rock and Roll Creation.
What you see on The Ultimate Fighter isn’t always chronological. Matt Mitrione said some issues that seemed to be a big deal in his season’s episodes were just brief conversations, and vice versa.
“They can splice any bit of a conversation to any piece,” Mitrione said. “Somebody said something about me, and I got a text that was like, ‘I didn’t say that then — I said it in Week 2.’ They can make anything out of anything. The easiest way really to pay attention to it — try to notice haircuts or beards.”
Nam Phan: “I had heard a lot of stories about fighters saying, ‘I didn’t say that.’ You can’t lie, you said it! But sometimes they might edit this and put it there. Matt Hughes would say, ‘I did say that, but not in that context.’”
Ed Herman doesn’t blame the editors for any negative portrayals on his part. “They made me look like a little bit of a bad guy. But I kind of ran my mouth a little bit and did that to myself, too. I just had fun with it. If you think about all the times I was talking smack, talking about how good-looking I was, I usually had a smile on my face.”
The fighters can build a reputation, good or bad. But coaches have just as much at stake, if not more.
Franklin again: “You have to be careful and kind of guarded with those kinds of things because a bad stint on The Ultimate Fighter showing you as a crappy coach could really ruin your ability to coach people in the future.”
But on occasion, the producers are just showing the end result of things that built over the course of the season. Take Charles McCarthy in TUF 4, which had a house full of veterans who were less likely than most to test behavioral limits in the house, Shonie Carter’s lively antics notwithstanding. McCarthy drew the nickname “Captain Miserable” and got his share of abuse. On the daily shopping list through, which fighters request specific foods and other items, someone wrote “personality.” Patrick Cote, quiet through much of the season, did an impression of McCarthy and drew a neat cartoon of “Captain Miserable” saying, “According to my calculation, life sucks.”
McCarthy’s negativity wasn’t captured in a specific incident. It simply grated on castmates’ nerves over time.
“He wasn’t that bad, but he was very negative,” said castmate Chris Lytle. “It was pretty funny. One of the toilets broke, and he was like, ‘They’re all going to break.’ Who thinks like that? It was more comical than anything.”
Fighters also have to know that some of their shenanigans will be lively reality-show fare.
In six weeks of isolated co-habitation, fighters can get surprisingly creative. In TUF 2, the housemates played one of the world’s biggest hide-and-seek games and plotted an intricate water-balloon ambush.
The TUF 5 cast also showed some impressive teamwork when a couple of women on horseback appeared within shouting range of the backyard. They somehow convinced the women to come around to the driveway. Unfortunately, driveways and horses don’t mix, and one horse slipped. But again, the cast pulled together to help the horse stand on a carpet and walk out of the driveway.
Fighters’ reactions can be unpredictable. TUF 10 heavyweight Marcus Jones, a veteran of several productive pro football seasons, didn’t mind when people teased him for screaming like a horror-movie actor at a giant spider neatly camouflaged on the carpet. But the guys ruined it with a couple of hand-drawn signs that started out funny and lapsed into juvenile unprintable talk. Jones sulked after reminding people that his family will be watching.
Like Jones, other nice guys can snap. TUF 8 featured John Polakowski, whose response to nearly every situation was a nice hug. Polakowski appeared on a prank-heavy season, thanks in part to the best prankster in show history, Krzysztof Soszynski. (Tiki Ghosn, who has appeared multiple times as an assistant coach, is a close second but never actually stayed in the house.) The highlight: Soszynski led his teammates on a quest to wrap up all of Team Nogueira’s underwear in a giant plastic-wrap ball attached to the diving board. All in good fun — until someone took the marshmallows out of Polakowski’s Lucky Charms. Very bad idea. Polakowski no longer felt like hugging.
And TUF 8 featured a couple of infamous moments that surely didn’t surprise fighters when they saw the final edit.
In China, the number 8 is lucky. The opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics started at 8:08 p.m. on August 8, 2008 (8/8/08). In The Ultimate Fighter, episode 8 of season 8 is called “Splushi.” That name is not a harbinger of good fortune.
Team Nogueira, it seems, had been stealing Tom Lawlor’s fruit tray. Lawlor’s confessional on the subject was literally a confession: “I shall pee in my own fruit platter. If someone else eats it, so be it.” Other team members joined in, leaving a considerable puddle of piss all over the platter.
Lawlor, who says this was indeed the first time he had peed directly on food, doesn’t blame the Edit Monster for anything other than perhaps missing some context.
“The entire situation that led to it probably took course over four or five days. I remember that I had enough time to confess on camera that I was going to do so if the other team continually stole my food, and I warned the opposite team members that I was going to retaliate multiple times.”
Before Lawlor’s team even left for practice, Ryan Bader stole the fruit tray, and the team dug in. Dave Kaplan broke the news.
The urine-samplers were astonishingly calm. Kyle Kingsbury pointed out that Lawlor technically just peed in his own fruit rather than defacing anything that actually belonged to Team Nogueira, so they couldn’t really complain.
But then Kingsbury went one step farther. Kaplan, it seems, had been been stealing Phillipe Nover’s sushi. So Kingsbury took Nover’s sushi somewhere relatively private and said he doused it with semen. Fortunately, we have no visual evidence of that, but Kaplan wasn’t amused when he ate the sushi and was told where it had been.
So the food is no respite from housemates’ pranks. Neither is the bathroom. TUF 6 took toilet humor to a new low with the “upper decker” incident — defecation in the top part of the toilet, courtesy of Jon “War Machine” Koppenhaver, who was appropriately punished by having to clean it up.
By TUF 10, fighters took their persecution of stoic housemate Zak Jensen beyond the bathroom door. Wes Sims accused him of masturbating in the shower.
While housemates took bets on when Jensen would finally crack up, James McSweeney pushed him over the edge, wedging the bathroom door closed on the claustrophobic fighter. In McSweeney’s defense, he didn’t know Jensen was claustrophobic, and he managed to subdue the oncoming Jensen with a standing choke. Less defensible — McSweeney, who had a semifinal bout coming up, tried to goad Jensen into continuing the fight. Fortunately for McSweeney’s semifinal hopes, Jensen didn’t take the bait.
Mitrione thinks Jensen, who was eliminated early in the season, was basically cast in the role of victim: “Zak made himself an extremely easy target. Zak was a sheep, and he was put on that show in order to be picked on. The lamb that got led to the slaughter.”
But fighters could also pester successful fighters. In TUF 12, housemates burst in on the cerebral, dignified Nam Phan in the shower, thinking he also was self-stimulating in private.
Phan disagrees: “I didn’t even do anything! All I was doing was taking a shower. These guys bust in … there’s no locks in all the rooms, you cannot lock a door. On purpose. To cause mischief. They open the door, they tell the producers I was doing something inappropriate. Just to make me look bad.”
One big difference between Phan and Jensen: Phan had advanced far into the tournament. “(Jensen) wasn’t winning! They picked on him because they thought he was a pushover. They picked on me because they were hating on me! They can’t talk crap to me. I was still fighting!”
But producers over the years have drawn an unofficial line of sorts. Bodily fluids are OK. Beliefs are not. The Ultimate Fighter never touches politics, and religion is only shown in a positive light.
The TUF 2 house had some respectful but candid religious discussion between devout Christians (Matt Hughes, Marcus Davis) and staunch atheist Seth Petruzelli. Viewers didn’t see it.
“We had a bit of a conversation at the table,” Petruzelli says. “None of that made the air. I’m assuming Spike TV really didn’t want to show any of that stuff. It would’ve been nice to show some diversity.”
But nuances are often lost in rapid-fire reality TV. The Edit Monster tends to reduce fighters to specific roles — house prankster, quiet background person, or outright villain.
In TUF 18, the villain was Julianna Peña. But as with Charles McCarthy in TUF 4, we didn’t see everything that gave her that reputation — or most of the mitigating factors.
“I think the editors didn’t show the scenes where Julianna annoyed people,” Modafferi said. “She would just say things that rubbed people the wrong way. She wasn’t trying to, but over time, people were annoyed and started doing petty things and making comments to make digs at her. I think viewers couldn’t understand why people didn’t like her because of this.”
In the “Mean Girls” episode of that season, Modafferi was seen listening patiently as Peña vented about her unpopularity. Castmate Anthony Gutierrez, though, felt even the ever-positive Modafferi had turned on her.
Gutierrez, in confessional: “Roxanne will socialize with her a little bit. But it’s really sad because Shayna (Baszler) even said that Roxanne was talking crap on Julianna, and if Roxanne is saying something bad about you, then you know you’re failing at life.”
Modafferi clarifies: “I liked her, though, and I think Anthony was referring to me saying if I talked crap about her there must be something wrong. That wasn’t true, actually. I don’t ever remember talking crap about her. I’m always very diplomatic. I probably said something to the complaining people like, ‘Yeah, that wasn’t cool, what she said’ or something. That’s probably why he said that. But I know she has a good heart and near the end of the show, I tried to have her back.”
The Edit Monster also caught Mitrione, leaving out some context on his up-and-down relationship with Scott Junk. Mitrione was seen early in the season passing along Team Rashad info to Team Rampage, which didn’t endear him to his teammates. But there was more to the story.
“I was approached by Scott Junk about starting up a partnership — we’re gonna help each other out, kind of thing,” Mitrione says. “It was his idea. I decided to hold up my end of the bargain — I told him you were going to fight this person. Then I got thrown under the bus. That’s when all my antics and asshole stuff started. It was ridiculous, it was so immature. It’s funny — that house is such a funny environment.”
A quick note on quotes: When quotes are taken from TUF broadcasts, books or other sources, they are attributed as such. Unattributed quotes are taken from first-hand interviews for the book Inside The Ultimate Fighter, which was never published. See the intro to this series to see what happened to that book. (The Modafferi comments are more recent — I checked in with her last month.)
Next week: Noah Inhofer and the show’s selective ax.