The UFC’s production values aren’t great because everything they touch magically turns to gold. They’re great because they stick to a formula and polish it until it sparkles like a diamond. But that diamond wasn’t always a diamond. On Friday night we got to see an ugly chunk of rock. The first 30 minutes were an amusing mess that looked so rough even Strikeforce’s D-level producer was probably snickering a little bit. Everything settled down by halfway through the show and by the end it was pretty fluid, but this was not the standard seamless quality we’re used to with the UFC.

According to Wikipedia, every episode of The Ultimate Fighter has an official title. May I recommend one for S15E01? “Awkward Silence.” TUF fights have always felt a little odd to watch because the gym is nearly whisper quiet, and extending this vibe from 15 minutes to 2.5 hours just made it even weirder. Just like a strip club needs an MC babbling and music like Warrant’s ‘Cherry Pie’ to keep the sound of desperate loneliness at bay, MMA needs more than just occasional golf-whisper commentary from the coaches and Jon Anik yelling us through commercial breaks. The whole thing would have been much cooler if they’d ditched the mausoleum vibe and held the eliminator in the Pearl or something.

Past the uneven production, the event was still enjoyable. The first dozen fights were fast paced and exciting. It seemed to me like the refs were stopping fights on a hair trigger, but unless some of these guys were closet Frankie Edgars I don’t think they would have managed to come back anyways. Most fighters would rather taking the extra blow or three, though. Not to be all Just Bleed or anything.

The unthinkable happened: both Gay Pornstar and Mustache Dude were eliminated, along with several other contestants I really wanted to see in the house: Neck Tattoo Guy, Cross-Eyed Belfast Lad, and Wily Veteran James Krause. It also seemed criminal to let Jeremy Larsen into the house after he ghost tapped his way out of a kneebar from Jeff Smith. There’s still a few guys worth keeping your eyes on though: Black House prospect Justin Lawrence karate kicked his way into my heart and scramblers like Vinc Pichel are always welcome on my war wagon.

All in all a fun night of fights and an interesting experience watching the UFC dive headfirst into live reality television territory. Compared to this event, the ‘live-jive’ shows with 45 minutes of pre-taped house footage and 15 minute fights should be a breeze.