Tomas Rios at Sherdog points out that a big part of the reason TUF sucks is because TUF losers get locked into a slave contract and TUF winners get locked into a slightly better slave contract. The ‘six figure contract’ is pretty pathetic indeed, especially considering the kind of scratch half decent non-TUF fighters are making after a few wins.
The realization that TUF is basically a trap has led to a show lacking in prospects. Rios comments on this situation:
We’re nearing the point where no one wins. The fighters get by on subpar paydays, while the UFC gets stuck with guys it can’t quickly convert into contenders. Suddenly, TUF no longer lives up to its premise, and the UFC can no longer use the reality series to replenish its ranks.
The solution seems painfully obvious. If the contract keeps the best fighters from signing up for the show, make it more lucrative. A good start would be an incentive-based system that rewards TUF graduates for winning fights, finishing opponents and putting together winning streaks. If you make the incentives package sufficient enough that a fighter can earn a quality paycheck, you’ll see a return to form for the reality series.
Details on the show’s pay structure are still sketchy. You get the feeling that anyone revealing that shit would be banned to Buffalo Bill’s Fight Night events for the remainder of their careers. Fighters on the first season nearly cleared out when they were told they were fighting for free. Is that still the case? Do fighters get paid to be on the show? Do they get paid per fight? Specific seasons had finishing bonuses sponsored by Burger King, but that’s all anyone knows.
The UFC really needs to stop acting like it’s justified in underpaying everyone that comes on TUF because it’s ‘such a great opportunity’. That may be true for some, but how are you supposed to convince anyone with serious talent to show up when you want them to fight through a shit-paying tournament for the right to win a three year salary freeze?