If boxing is the sweet science, then the Ultimate Fighting Championship is a radical experiment undertaken by a mad scientist.

It involves two men entering The Octagon (an octagonal cage), and partaking in a mixed martial arts bout that often ends in either submission or knockout. There are judges but the overwhelming majority of fighters prefer to decide the result themselves, as opposed to letting three soft-bellied administrators make the call. It’s bloody, frantic, primal and the list of rules and prohibited actions makes for scant reading.

The Ultimate Fighter is the official reality show. Unlike most reality TV, this is not saccharine, soufflé viewing. The fighters, gruelling training sessions, barneys and pissing contest interplay between the contestants are entertaining and dynamic.

But it’s still reality TV. Any whiff of drama and the producers pounce like a lion pride on a wounded zebra. There are also gratuitous shots of the ring girls’ curves, flagrant advertising and the obligatory introspective pieces to camera.

The current series, 12, begins with 14 lightweight fighters (every season features a different weight class) separated into two teams of seven. Each team is coached by a current UFC superstar. Every week, two opposing fighters must take to The Octagon and slug it out. The loser is sent home and misses out on the big prize: a six-figure UFC contract.

The appeal of TUF is the same as the best reality shows: it’s easy to watch, delivers on its premise and is addictive.

TUF betrays the first two rules of Fight Club and possesses none of the film’s satire. Herein lies the beauty of it. This is not a show with brains — just brawn. It is unashamed of this fact. Everything revolves around violence: the smash cuts, the riff-heavy music, the fighting, obviously.

It doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a celebration of martial artistry, and if that’s your thing, you’ll eat this up like Mike Tyson would an unguarded ear.

The details: Re-runs of TUF screen on Fuel TV. Seasons 1-11 are available on DVD.

Peter Fray

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