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Volume 24 No. 112
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UFC Execs Discuss Impact Of "The Ultimate Fighter" As Show Gets Ready For 25th Season

"The Ultimate Fighter" returns for its 25th season tonight, and to celebrate the silver anniversary, UFC is bringing back 14 welterweights from past seasons for a second chance. The winner will receive the biggest prize in the show's history -- $250,000, plus a fight contract. This season, dubbed "Redemption," will also feature two coaches set to face off in the co-main event at UFC 213 on July 8 -- current bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt and TJ Dillashaw. FS1 tonight also has created a special block of UFC programming around the Season 25 premiere. The cable net will broadcast five-and-a-half hours of dedicated UFC programming beginning at 7:00pm ET with "UFC Tonight." After that, there is a two-hour special that looks back at the best moments from the first 24 seasons of "TUF." The Season 25 premiere then airs at 10:00pm, followed by its late-night companion show, "TUF Talk," at midnight. "TUF" remains FS1's most-viewed original series. The net picked up the show in '13 for Season 18. FX had Seasons 15-17, while Spike had Seasons 1-14.

WHAT TO EXPECT: UFC fans can expect some familiar faces to appear on the show this season, but the outfit is being tight-lipped on which fighters will make cameos. UFC Exec VP/Operations & Productions Craig Borsari said, "I can’t remember a season where we’ve had more top-level fighters come and visit the facility. I think that's due in part to the established fighters on this season that are a part of the MMA community and network where in the past we’ve looked for up and comers who are trying to make a name for themselves."

FIGHT CLUB: Over the years, the show has produced six fighters who have gone on to hold UFC belts. Season 1, which aired in '05, saw Forrest Griffin crowned the winner. Griffin, who is now UFC VP/Athlete Development, described the show as the ultimate boot camp. Griffin: "I’ve always thought the show was great for somebody to start their career. ... It really is just an intense experience." Griffin added that the show offers a unique chance for viewers to build a relationship with the fighters. Griffin: "You have a vested interest. You saw that kid, he’s a nice guy, has a similar background to you and you want to watch him fight. You want him to do well. Hopefully at some point in your life that translates to you paying money to watch him fight."

TOUGH REALITY: "TUF" Exec Producer Craig Piligian, whose Pilgrim Films & Television outfit makes the show, said of what makes it so special, "The best thing about this show is that it’s totally real. We don’t manipulate it, we don’t edit the fights. We obviously don’t tell the guys what to do or else half the stupid f****** s*** they do, we wouldn’t let them. They destroy the house and do crazy stuff. We just let it play out." Getting the show to where it is now was no easy task. Piligian, who has been with show since its beginning, noted MMA was not at the forefront of sports when the program launched. Piligian: "You didn’t have a lot of guys actually doing it. Everybody thought it was a blood sport. It was difficult to cast people in the beginning. We were begging people to come on the show that first season." Flash forward 12 years and "TUF" produces some of UFC's top talent. Piligian: "This is such a different show because we're actually taking a sport and wrapping it up into an unscripted reality show. It's a competition show, it's a sport, it's a docudrama." Piligian said he is personally fond of the show because "it’s complicated yet simple." He added, "It’s involved and it’s honest. There’s a lot going on but it’s totally authentic. It’s a brilliant show that for the last 12 years has been the most violent show on TV."