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The Ultimate Fighter season 15

Faber vs Cruz: take 3. Photo courtesy UFC.com

The UFC’s The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season 15 begins March 9, at 9 p.m., and stars as coaches bantamweight champion Dominick 'The Dominator' Cruz (19-1) and  rival #1 contender Urijah Faber (26-5). The reality show will last 13 weeks and will feature both welterweight and lightweight fighters. The past 14 seasons were taped, season 15 will be live.

UFC president Dana White credits TUF with saving the UFC  in its inaugural run back in 2005. Refering to season 1's  Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar fight in the finale, Dana White said, “If it weren't for what these guys did, I don't know if there would even be a UFC. I'll never forget these guys.”

TUF was Dana’s last ditch effort to springboard mixed martial arts into mainstream. Till then, he'd had an uphill battle aginst skeptical state athlletic commissions and cable companies that wouldn't run his events. That stellar fight featured two unpolished but courageous fighters  who fought tooth and nail for three rounds. Viewer numbers rose exponentially not only during the entire telecast, but during that final fight. Intrest in the sport exploded along with the fighter's noses.

TUF has been an excellent proving ground for up-and-comers, and has launched the careers of many fighters, including light heavyweights Bonnar and Griffin, as well as season 1 middleweight winner Diego Sanchez and runner up Kenny Florian. Rashad Evans, Matt Sera, Michael Bisping, Chris Leban, Josh Koscheck and Roy Nelson are just some of the UFC regular standouts to come from the show.

A knock against TUF is that it is geared toward a younger, more aggressive crowd, and like most reality shows, it encourages controversy through cast selection and editing. It doesn't help matters when you have sixteen testosterone-laden fighters living in one house, with no contact with family or friends, and  a bar full of free booze. Tick...tick...tick...Kaboom!

In the beginning TUF was somewhat crude, and like other reality shows relied on gimmicks. Lately, it’s focused more on the fighting---fight fans just need  good fights. The show has actually improved with age. Now that MMA  has become the fastest growing sport in the world, a lot more people are trying it, and naturals are coming out of the woodwork.

TUF coach Dominick Cruz’s  only loss  was  via guillotine choke way back in 2007, to then World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) 145 pound featherweight champ Urijah Faber. Cruz later won the WEC 135 pound  bantamweight belt, which was recognized by the UFC in 2011 after their purchase and merger of the WEC, and after Cruz’s  defeat of challenger Scott Jorgenson in December, 2010.

TUF coach Faber lost his WEC belt to Mike Brown in 2008, and was brutalized with leg kicks in his title fight against UFC 145 pound kingpin Jose Aldo, precipitating a hasty move down to 135 and a showdown with Cruz. Cruz avenged the 2007 defeat last July, with a 5 round unanimous decision over Faber, his footwork and timing too much for Team Alpha Male's alpha male. Take 3.

Cruz and Faber genuinely dislike each other, which should make for fireworks. Despite contrived editing, the show does display character traits that would otherwise be unknown, which is good for fans. After the smoke has cleared from TUF 15, Cruz and Faber will scrap again for the belt.

On Friday, March 9, FX  introduces the 32 hopefuls and 16 fights, where each victor wins a spot in the coveted  TUF house.

Let's get ready to rumble.

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