Spike TV’s reality series, “The Ultimate Fighter,” is credited with saving UFC and, to a lesser degree, MMA itself. By 2004, the sport was dead. With events virtually banned from pay-per-view television, Zuffa was hemorrhaging money badly. Zuffa even wanted out at one point and tried to sell the UFC to any takers. They needed something to market the sport, create stars and interest in their product.
The “Ultimate Fighter” was perfect for them and start-up TV channel Spike. The fights were good, the characters hated each other, and it was entertaining. TUF was compelling television that was interesting to watch. Moreover, it had the reality show cliffhanger beat, “Who will be the Ultimate Fighter?”, that kept you coming back each week.
Can Brazilian Jiu Jitsu do the same thing? Could there be a reality show based only on grappling that viewers would want to see week after week? I’m not so sure. BJJ is more esoteric and not as violent. Not as many people can understand it as readily.
It’s still weird and uninteresting to the uninitiated.
What got me thinking about this subject was seeing this 2007 video, titled simply “Jiu Jitsu,” about a Virginia university student preparing to compete in a grappling tournament. While there have been numerous TV programs and documentaries about MMA and Vale Tudo, few have been made about submission grappling only. I’m not sure if this program can be described as reality show or “Pumping Iron” type documentary, but it’s somewhat interesting to watch. Obviously produced by amateurs, this video is nonetheless one of the few long form documentaries about sport BJJ that I can recall. It was definitely ahead of its time. As the sport grows, maybe we’ll see more pieces like this one. Kudos to the filmmakers at VCU for devoting their time and energy to our favorite pursuit.