How many times have Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar been told that their rock ‘em, sock ‘em, all out war on The Ultimate Fighter Finale is the main reason that the sport of MMA and the UFC are where they are today because of that fight? If you were to ask each man they would probably say they hear it more than they can remember. The sport was around and had its hardcore fans before The Ultimate Fighter began airing on Spike TV in January of 2005, but the majority of today’s fans will credit the show with showing the world what the rest of us were missing.
The Ultimate Fighter is about to conclude its fifteenth season with UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz as one coach and long time rival Urijah Faber as the other. This year also marks the debut of the first ever international season as TUF Brazil is taking place with heavy-handed Brazilian icon Vitor Belfort and legendary striker Wanderlei Silva serving as the coaches.
The Ultimate Fighter has come a long way over the past seven years. This year also marks the debut of the show on FX and is the first season where the fights air live every week on Friday nights. No matter how high or low the ratings go the show still serves a purpose and has brought in some of the sport’s biggest and brightest names along with helping to add fuel to the fire on many of mixed martial arts top rivalries. Who can forget watching Tito Ortiz needle Ken Shamrock every opportunity he had on TUF 3? Or watching and listening to Josh Koshcheck try to goad Georges St-Pierre into a pissing contest on Season 12?
The show has also had its share of lowlights with few, if any, bigger than during Season 8 when Junie Browning decided to turn into a drunken fool and create controversy throughout the entire offering. Then there was Jeremy Jackson from Season 4 and his decision to hop the wall and leave the house in search of a female lifeguard he had met when the team trained at a local YMCA. Jackson is now serving 25 years in jail for rape. We have seen some of the most disgusting practical jokes that have caused some serious altercations. When Koshcheck and Bobby Southworth decided it would be funny to soak Chris Leben who was sleeping on the front lawn with a water hose, Leben let loose and was out for blood.
Instead of focusing on the negative aspects of the show, I’d rather look back at each season and look at the positive stories. I want to take a look at how the show has helped some fighters become contenders and in some cases champions while also giving many mixed martial artists a long, successful career inside the Octagon. It’s been a long, bumpy ride since Zuffa took a chance and started production on the show. If there is one thing we can all agree on it is the fact that mixed martial arts is much better off because of the show as are the fans.
Season 1 was obviously a memorable one with UFC Hall of Famers Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture serving as coaches, but the list of fighters on this season is incredible. Griffin, Bonnar, Mike Swick, Leben, Diego Sanchez, Koscheck, Kenny Florian, and Nate Quarry not only turned out to be good fighters, they all helped make the season memorable for what went on outside of the cage just as much as it did inside. Griffin is the only one to have won a championship as he defeated Quinton “Rampage” Jackson for the light heavyweight title at UFC 86 in 2008. Florian is a two time lightweight title challenger and also had an opportunity at winning the featherweight title as well. Each time he came up short. Quarry challenged Rich Franklin for the middleweight title and Sanchez lost to BJ Penn in his attempt at wining the lightweight belt. All in all a very successful season capped off by the Griffin-Bonnar was that saw Griffin win the light heavyweight contract and Sanchez beating Florian for the middleweight crown. Bonnar was also awarded a contract based on his performance against Griffin. After it was all said and done Couture and Liddell faced off at UFC 52 in April of 2005 for Couture’s light heavyweight championship.
Season 2 saw Joe Stevenson walk away with the welterweight crown and an undersized Rashad Evans cut Brad Imes down to size for the heavyweight contract. Evans would go on to defeat Griffin at UFC 92 in December of 2008 for the light heavyweight championship and Stevenson would square off against Penn at UFC 80 for the vacant lightweight title. Other notables from this season were Marcus Davis, Melvin Guillard and Keith Jardine. The coaches were UFC Welterweight Champion Matt Hughes and Franklin, the middleweight champ at the time. It may not have been a very eventful season but it still produced some one of the best light heavyweights in Evans.
Season 3 was more memorable for the bickering back and forth between heated rivals Ortiz and Shamrock. Ortiz certainly knew how to push Shamrock’s buttons and it led to many memorable confrontations between the two. Michael Bisping won the light heavyweight contract and Kendall Grove won the middleweight crown. Grove’s opponent Ed Herman was also awarded a six figure contract for his tremendous fight with the Hawaiian native. This season also introduced us to Matt Hamill who was legally deaf. Other than those three fighters no one else had a memorable run with the UFC.
Season 4 was called “The Comeback” as it showcased former UFC fighters who were promised a title shot if they won the tournament. Welterweight Matt Serra made the most of his win as he defeated St-Pierre at UFC 69 for the welterweight title in what many consider the biggest upset in UFC history. Middleweight winner Travis Lutter embarrassed himself and the sport when he weighed in heavy for his middleweight title fight against Anderson Silva. There were no specific coaches, but there were guests and Hughes’ treatment of GSP set forth the rivalry that he and Serra would share until they finally fought at UFC 98 in May of 2009.
Season 5 brought Jens Pulver and Penn together as coaches and the two fought on the show’s finale. Penn gained a measure of revenge against Pulver as he choked him out in the second round. Pulver had defeated Penn at UFC 35 for the lightweight championship. This was the first year where there was only one weight class and Nate Diaz defeated Manny Gamburyan for the contract after Gamburyan dislocated his shoulder on a takedown attempt. Season alums Gray Maynard, Matt Wiman, Joe Lauzon and Cole Miller are still with the UFC today.
Season 6 featured Hughes and Serra as coaches with the two scheduled to face off at UFC 79 for Serra’s welterweight title. The two men clearly did not like each other and Serra took no crap from the welterweight kingpin. Mac Danzig defeated Tommy Speer for the welterweight contract and immediately dropped down to the lightweight division where he had his tenth fight at UFC 145 against TUF 8 lightweight winner Efrain Escudero. The only other fighter on the active roster is George Sotiropoulos. Other notables include Ben Saunders who fights for Bellator and Jon “War Machine” Koppenhaver who is now in jail for the next 12 months.
Season 7 had “Rampage” and Griffin serving as coaches and the two would meet for Jackson’s light heavyweight title after the show’s conclusion. This was the first season where the fighters had to fight to earn a spot in the house. Amir Sadollah would defeat C.B. Dollaway for the second time to secure the contract. Jesse Taylor was to meet Sadollah in the finale, but went on a drunken rampage in one of the Fertitta Brothers casinos and was kicked off the show. Sadollah, Dolloway, Matt Riddle, Tim Credeur and Matt Brown are still on the UFC’s active roster.
Season 8 fans were forced to deal with the childish, drunken antics of the aforementioned Browning, but had two of the best heavyweight fighters of all time in Frank Mir and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira as coaches. Mir would become the first man to finish “Big Nog” at UFC 92 and captured the UFC Interim Heavyweight Championship in the process. Ryan Bader won the 205-pounders’ contract while Escudero defeated Philipe Nover, a man Dana White compared to Anderson Silva during the show in the finale. Bader, Kyle Kingsbury, George Roop and Tom Lawlor remain with the UFC.
That’s it for Seasons 1-8. Check back tomorrow when I recap the other show’s other runs and don’t forget about the Ultimate Fighter 15 Finale this Friday night on FX!
PHOTO CREDIT – UFC