It’s been five years, 12 seasons, 18 champions, and one spoiled batch of sushi since the UFC and the gutsy executives at Spike TV first gave us The Ultimate Fighter—a show where nearly two dozen testosterone fueled, wannabe Ultimate Fighters are thrust into a mansion in the desert of Las Vegas with the hope of coming out unscathed and signing a coveted UFC contract.
With the 12th installment of The Ultimate Fighter signed, sealed, and delivered, and Season 13 getting fired up, it’s time to look back at the cream of the crop of the last five years. Never mind the coach’s challenges, the urine-drenched beds, or the alcohol-induced tirades, the weekly one-hour time slot delivered a bevy of Octagon professionals. However, when it’s all said and done, here are the mixed martial artists that have proved they wanted to be f**cking fighters.
Season 5: Semifinals
With four seasons of TUF devoted to 155 pounders and several fighters in the welterweight and middleweight divisions making the drop, lightweight is the toughest weight class to win first-team honors. Maynard was able to rise above all others on the back of an undefeated record against the best in the division, including Jim Miller, Roger Huerta, Nate Diaz, Kenny Florian, and Frankie Edgar. He ditched his “boring” ground-n pound style in December with a slugfest draw against Lightweight Champion Edgar, and he will get an immediate rematch to try and lay claim to lightweight gold.
Season 1: Semifinals
A member of the talent-rich first season of TUF, Koscheck made the drop to welterweight after the show and has been a regular top 10 fighter ever since. Working with the incredible coaching staff at American Kickboxing Academy and fellow welterweight standouts Mike Swick and Jon Fitch has turned this wrestler into a well rounded fighter. Wins over Diego Sanchez, Frank Trigg, Anthony Johnson, and Paul Daley help cement his legacy, even if he can’t beat GSP.
Season 3: Champion
The only non-Yankee to make the All-TUF Team, Bisping has been a cornerstone of the UFC’s expansion project across the pond. Although Bisping won Season 3 as a light heavyweight, he made the drop to middleweight after losing to Rashad Evans at UFC 78, and he has gone 6-2 to date, losing only to MMA legends Wanderlei Silva and Dan Henderson. However, the brash Brit is undefeated when it comes to winning the trash-talking battle.
Season 2: Champion
Evans is arguably the best fighter to ever come out of TUF. The former Light Heavyweight Champion is 15-1-1 and awaiting another shot at UFC gold in March. The Michigan State wrestling alum has used his quickness and power to hone his boxing skills, allowing himto defeat fan-favorites Michael Bisping, Chuck Liddell, Forrest Griffin, and Quinton Jackson. His only slip up was against then-champion Lyoto Machida.
Season 1: Runner Up
It’s a tough pick between Florian and George Sotiropoulos, who has reeled off six consecutive UFC wins. However, Florian’s collective body of work gives him the slight edge. In the five years since his TUF debut, “KenFlo” has amassed 11 Octagon wins, including victories over Joe Lauzon, Joe Stevenson, Roger Huerta, Clay Guida, and Takanori Gomi. Not bad for a guy who played soccer in college.
Season 1: Champion
With all due respect to Forrest Griffin, Sanchez was the original Ultimate Fighter, but he won in the finals without bleeding profusely. His career has been a roller coaster ever since, bouncing between weight classes, fight camps, and sometimes sanity. However, racking up wins against Nick Diaz, Karo Parisyan, Clay Guida, and Paulo Thiago make us almost forget he used to think he could harness the power of the lightning. Almost.
Season 1: Semifinals
In a fight career nearly as rocky as his life, Leben has bounced back from DUI convictions and failed drug tests as well as from losses to Anderson Silva and Jake Rosholt. The heavy-handed slugger had quite a 2010, scoring a win over Jay Silva followed by a TKO over Aaron Simpson and then a submission of Yoshihiro Akiyama just two weeks later. The Oregon native loves a good comeback and always seems to fight better after he has taken two and a half rounds of punishment,clearly using Rocky Balboa’s strategy a little too literally. But hey, nobody’s perfect.
Season 10: Champion
“Big Country” has been a BIG hit, riding the popularity that comes from defeating Kimbo Slice on national television. The pot-bellied badass is heavy handed, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, and, despite the boiler, has pretty good cardio, which is a wicked combination for a heavyweight. Nelson was able to harness his powerful mullet into victories over Brendan Schaub and Stefan Struve, and he put forth a valiant effort in a decision loss to Junior dos Santos.
Season 1: Champion
Few people thought Griffin would end up being the poster child for post TUF success. He won the TUF tournament when no one thought he could, won the UFC title when few thought he should even challenge for it, and wrote two best-selling books when few thought he could even read. Despite his “awe shucks” personality, Griffin has proven time and time again how capable he is against the best fighters in the world, defeating Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, and Tito Ortiz.
Season 10: Runner Up
In a TUF class known mostly for who did not win the show, Schaub and Roy Nelson have shown fight fans why fawning over Kimbo Slice is a waste of time. After losing emphatically to Nelson at the TUF finale, Schaub has quietly racked up three wins in a row over Chase Gormley, Chris Tuchscherer, and Gabriel Gonzaga, pushing himself into the upper tier of the heavyweight division. He will get his sternest test to date when he faces Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic in March.
George Sotiropoulos, Chris Lytle, Nate Diaz, Mike Swick, Matt Serra, Matt Hamill, Ryan Bader
Season 11: Champion
Who would have thought a former heroin addict who was picked third to last and lost his first fight would eventually win the show? No one except McGee. One of the best feel-good stories of The Ultimate Fighter, the unassuming Utah local lost his first fight in the house to number-one picked Nick Ring in a fight both Dana White and Chuck Liddell emphatically stated should have seen a third round. It was all success stories for McGee after that, winning the show and giving TUF fans a guy they can actually cheer for.
With his disappearing act at the end of The Ultimate Fighter 11 aside, few coaches have endeared themselves to the fans and the fighters they have coached more than “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” did during Season 3. It was a mission made much easier by having to coach against Ken Shamrock, who routinely seemed disinterested in his team and thought that a good technique practice was heading to a driving range to watch his team shank Titleists.
Season 8: Semifinals
Ironically, this may have been the most difficu
lt “honor” to take on the list. When War Machine, Jamie Yager, and Jeremy May are just not abrasive enough, you know you’ve made a mark. From the moment Browning entered the TUF house, he was looking for trouble. He picked fights with teammates, got so drunk he started bawling, and threw glass shards at people…and that’s just what he did in the house. Since leaving, he has been arrested, assaulted a group of nurses at a hospital, and took a near-lethal dose of pain medication. So, you want to be a f**cking prison fighter?