Last night the 17th season of ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ kicked off in a primetime slot on FX and along with plenty of star power in the coaching department in the shape of Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen there were also some notable departures from the usual TUF format.

Usually the opening episode is devoted almost exclusively to the elimination fights, but on this occasion there was much more of a back story for each fighter before they stepped into the cage and for the first time ever we were also given a chance to see them interacting with their friends and family who had been invited along to support them.

That might not appeal to some hardcore fans who just want to see the fights, but personally I thought it was a definite improvement. It’s important to remember that this is airing in a primetime Tuesday night slot on FX so there’s the potential for a lot of viewers who don’t normally watch MMA to be tuning in and in all honest I’ve always felt the old format was a turn-off for that kind of audience, especially as there’s no commentary for the elimination fights.

By the time each pair of fighters stepped into the cage last night you had enough information at hand to be able to root for either man and there were enough hard luck stories and human interest angles to capture the attention of people who don’t usually follow the sport.

Of course a big focus of this season was supposed to be the two big-name coaches, Jones and Sonnen, but anyone hoping for the two to be butting heads were probably left disappointed.

While he threw in the occasional playful verbal jab at Jones, Sonnen was in fact remarkably cordial with him and from what we’ve seen so far it doesn’t look as if he’s aiming to play the ‘villain’ role.

I’m not sure that’s the best idea from the point of view of drawing TV ratings and big PPV buys for their eventual fight in April, but given that he has one eye on a broadcasting career after he’s finished in the UFC it might not be such a bad idea from his point of view to aim for a more likeable, charismatic persona, and I think he’s certainly capable of pulling that off.

As for Jones, he was very much in Sonnen’s shadow throughout the premiere and from the looks of things he was caught off-guard by how friendly his rival was being towards him. He seemed to me like he was still finding his feet and I doubt he’ll have made a strong impression on the casual viewers tuning in, but we’ll have to see if he warms up a little as the season progresses.

Regarding the fights, they were decent and there were a few nice finishes, while the longer fights were edited down to keep the show progressing at a reasonable pace which I didn’t mind too much.

Overall it wasn’t a home-run, but it was a solid start and it’ll be interesting to see what kind of ratings they pulled. Over a million viewers is an absolute must, but really given the excellent timeslot they’ve been given this season they’ll surely be hoping to push up to around the 1.5+ million mark which is more on a par with what they used to pull on Spike TV, though getting a sizeable portion of the 18-34 and 18-49 year-old demographics will also be an important factor.