(This story appears in today’s edition of USA TODAY.)
When he first heard Spike TV’s pitch for a reality show concept involving the Bellator MMA fight promotion, Frank Shamrock didn’t believe it.
“They told me they were going to give me my own dojo and my own guys and let me train them entirely in my own method,” Shamrock, a former UFC and Strikeforce champion who serves as one of four coaches on the show, told USA TODAY Sports and MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). “I thought, ‘No, you’re not going to do that, not really.’ But they really did.”
The premise for Fight Master, Spike TV’s new MMA-themed reality TV show that premieres tonight (10 p.m. ET/PT), is fairly simple. It’s also not so different from how the MMA world works when cameras aren’t rolling.
The show takes a field of 16 fighters, whittled down from an original cast of 32 aspiring cast members, and allows them to choose one of four coaches who they will believe will help them win the ensuing single-elimination tournament.
“That’s more real-life,” said Greg Jackson, a longtime MMA coach who’s worked with numerous UFC champions, and who also runs one of the sport’s most prominent gyms out of Albuquerque. “Nobody has to work with me.”
Along with Jackson and Shamrock are former UFC champion Randy Couture and former Bellator titleholder Joe Warren. The show allows the winners of the first round of fights – imagine an audition, only much more violent – to choose his team based on a brief interview with each coach.
For the fighters, the goal is to choose wisely and win the whole tournament. For the coaches, it’s clearly more about bragging rights.
“The interesting thing about this show is that the athletes have their fates, their destiny in their own hands,” Couture said. “But us coaches are competitive, too. We’re in this to win and to have the best guy.”
As for why Spike TV is in it, that probably has a lot to do with the success it found promoting its previous broadcast partner, the UFC, via “The Ultimate Fighter” reality TV show. Spike TV aired 14 seasons of the show before the UFC fled for a deal with Fox and FX in 2011.
Now Spike TV’s parent company, Viacom, owns a majority stake in the Bellator MMA organization, which kicks off a new season of events tonight prior to Fight Master. It’s no surprise that the media giant would be looking to promote Bellator with the tried and true reality TV show formula. The question is, how do you start a new MMA show without looking like a rip-off of the old one?
According to Warren, it’s by focusing more on the sport and less on typical reality show antics.
“I believe it’s probably the most educated fight show you’ll see,” Warren said. “It focused more on the actual training and not just the personalities. It gets into more of the technical side. Like, how do you actually take someone down? Fight fans will be able to sit on their couch and realize, ‘Oh, so that’s how that works.’”
For more on Bellator’s upcoming schedule, including tonight’s Bellator 96 event, stay tuned to the MMA Rumors section of the site.
(Pictured: Frank Shamrock, Randy Couture, Greg Jackson and Joe Warren)