When things heat up between Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber on this season of The Ultimate Fighter, it won’t be “Made for TV” tension.
UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz and number one contender Urijah Faber have a long history together—a rivalry that stretches back five years—and it won’t be resolved until the two fighters meet for a third time this summer. Even then, there are no guarantees that Cruz and Faber will be able to put their feud to bed. Legitimate tension between the two coaches isn’t the only reason to be excited about this season of TUF.
Seven years and 14 seasons after becoming the unlikely catalyst for the growth and development of the UFC, the hour-long reality television staple is ready to emerge from an extreme makeover. This year, the UFC’s flagship series transforms from a taped reality competition into a live sporting event.
Rebranded as The Ultimate Fighter Live, the inaugural season kicks off with a two-hour premiere on March 9 on FX, featuring 32 lightweight fighters trying to win their way onto the show. Over the 12 Fridays that follow, the cast of 155-pound competitors will battle it out in the hope of fighting on the June 1 finale.
Unlike previous seasons—where everything was pre-recorded months in advance—the shift to Friday nights on FX and the new live format will result in the events of each episode being taped the week they air. Best of all, every episode will conclude with a bout that will air live in the Eastern and Central time zones (Mountain and Pacific will be on tape delay).
While they don’t agree on much, both Faber and Cruz admit they are looking forward to the opportunity to coach on the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter Live on FX.
“I wanted to do this in the past, but I didn’t get the opportunity to because they needed me and Faber to fight,” says Cruz, who is riding a 10-fight win streak. “Now we’ve been given this opportunity on an even bigger stage, and I think it works better for the UFC. They can show the lighter weights on regular TV, and it gives me and Faber a better push. It’s going to be a huge opportunity for all the dudes who are on the show.”
In addition to being a great opportunity for the fighters who will eventually make up Team Cruz and Team Faber in the hopes of earning themselves a six-figure UFC contract, the show will offer fans an inside look at the dynamic between the two bantamweight rivals as they prepare to face-off for a third time.
“I think we’ve got a great storyline,” says Faber. “We’ve got a split record—1-1 in the fights that we’ve had with each other—and it’s going to be interesting to have us face-to-face, getting on each other’s nerves, checking out each other’s training regimens, and just being in close contact before a fight. It’s going to be a unique experience. I really don’t know what to expect, and I think that’s why everyone is going to tune in.”
Unlike many previous seasons where the heat between the coaches was either nonexistent or amplified in the attempt to make entertaining television, The Ultimate Fighter Live is sure to highlight the palpable acrimony between the two bantamweights.
“I’m absolutely positive that there will be some more tension when we’re training in the same facility together, but it’s a competitive tension,” says Faber. “He has something that I want, and I’m the guy that’s going to be there waiting to beat him up. You don’t want to get too close to the guy you’re going to have to destroy, especially when there is already animosity. There’s some mutual respect there, but we’re definitely not best friends.”
Part of what has caused the tension to linger for Cruz is the constant presence of Faber at the top of the marquee—and front and center in the marketing and promotion of the lighter weight classes. Despite the fact that Cruz avenged his 2007 loss to Faber with a unanimous decision win in July 2011, the champ continues to be in the shadow of “The California Kid.”
“I think he’s definitely been gifted in a lot of situations. How can you not say that?” says Cruz. “He’s built a lot of accolades through his career, but let’s keep it real—the guy’s had four title shots in two years. I’ve had four title shots in two years, and I’m the champ. He gets pushed and pushed and pushed into these top-notch positions because of his way of selling tickets and his way of speaking—not necessarily his fighting abilities.
Before the two dynamic bantamweights do battle in the cage for a third time, they will put their coaching skills to the test. Not surprisingly, the soon-to-be leaders of Team Cruz and Team Faber will be taking different approaches when it comes to trying to guide their respective charges to victory this season on The Ultimate Fighter Live.
“First and foremost, I’m going to be motivating these guys,” says Faber. “I’m aware of the fact that everybody is different, and I’m going to be trying to help guys fill in their weaknesses and keep their strengths strong. I’m going to be more of a mentor. I’m not a dictator by any means. A lot of these guys are going to be accomplished fighters, so I just want to be able to help where I can. I’m going to have all my Alpha Male guys helping coach. We’ll probably have quite a
few guest coaches too. I’m hoping to get some of the top stand-up guys like Phil Nurse and Mark DellaGrotte, and I’d like to get Duke Roufus. I think we’re going to have a lot of people coming out.”
Cruz will fill out his coaching staff from the team at Alliance MMA in San Diego where he trains, and he promises a much different approach to coaching than you’ll see from his counterpart.
“Right now, I have Eric Del Fierro. I’m going to switch out wrestling coaches between Phil Davis and Adam Lynch—also from Penn State—who I brought in to get me ready for my past few camps. I’ll also have Adrian Melendez to help with boxing and Lloyd Irvin to help with BJJ. Those are pretty much the main guys that you’re going to see. As for me, you can expect a very hands-on approach—very straight, narrow, to the point. If I feel like people aren’t doing things right, I’ll call them out on it. I don’t beat around the bush. If you’re not shooting a double-leg correctly, I’m going to tell you that it sucks and that you need to redo it. I’m not there to play games. I’m there to work.”
After they’re finished with their coaching duties, the two rivals will once again stand opposite each other inside the Octagon, with the victor leaving with the UFC Bantamweight Title and—perhaps even more importantly—a 2-1 edge over his rival.
While Cruz believes that a victory over Faber this summer will provide a conclusive ending to the final chapter of their five-year feud, Faber isn’t opposed to another fight in the future.
“Our first fight was a very long time ago— we’re both different fighters,” says Faber. “When I beat him this second time, I won’t have any trouble giving him another shot, but there’s going to be some other guys in line as well. We’ll see how that goes. We’ll see how the fight plays out.”
If the move to Friday nights on FX and the new live format isn’t enough to entice you to watch The Ultimate Fighter Live, the first legitimate coaching rivalry in a long time should. With Cruz and Faber being asked to coexist and compete with one another for the next several weeks, this season should keep viewers glued to their chairs for the time being.
“I’m excited,” says Faber. “Not only is it going to be cool to help mold some of these future UFC studs, but also to get a lot of exposure for myself, my guys, and my team. There’s going to be a lot of perks to this thing.”
The Ultimate Fighter Brazil began filming the first international season of TUF in February, with MMA legends Vitor Belfort and Wanderlei Silva serving as opposing coaches. Fuel TV is currently in negotiations to air the 12-episode season in the United States.