The first 15 are in the books, now it’s time for the heavy hitters. In anticipation of this Friday’s premiere of The Ultimate Fighter Live on FX, who are the 15 greatest fighters to ever emerge from the long-running reality series?
15 – Stephan Bonnar
Post TUF record: 8-6
Stephan Bonnar could fight for another 10 years and win multiple titles, yet to most fans, he will always be remembered for the fight he lost to Forrest Griffin at the TUF1 finale in 2005. It was the war that put the UFC on the map and made Bonnar a household name to MMA fans. Since then, “The American Psycho” has had his share of ups and downs, but midway through 2010, he bounced back, and with three consecutive wins over Krzysztof Soszynski, Igor Pokrajac, and Kyle Kingsbury, it will be interesting to see what Bonnar can do at 205 pounds this year.
DEFINING FIGHT – L3 Forrest Griffin I
TUF TALK –“I knew it (Griffin I) was a good fight when the final bell rang and the crowd was going nuts and yelling for another round. Just looking into the crowd and at everyone’s face, the energy level was so high, I said, ‘it must have been a good one.’”
14 – Matt Serra
Post TUF record: 3-3
How does Matt Serra, a guy who has a .500 record since winning The Ultimate Fighter get to this point on this list? Well, first, one of those three wins saw him take the UFC welterweight crown with a knockout of Georges St-Pierre, a man many believe will one day be seen as the greatest welterweight of all-time, and two, one of the losses (a close three round decision) came to the man who currently holds the title of greatest welterweight ever – Matt Hughes. Add in Serra’s TUF4 finale win over Chris Lytle (a loss Lytle avenged in 2010), his wins on the show over Shonie Carter and Pete Spratt, his UFC victories over Frank Trigg, Yves Edwards and Jeff Curran, and his memorable battles with Carter, BJ Penn, Din Thomas, and Karo Parisyan, and you’ve got a body of work that certainly warrants his place among the best fighters ever to appear on The Ultimate Fighter.
DEFINING FIGHT – TKO1 Georges St-Pierre
TUF TALK – “I was actually in Manhattan the other day and I got stopped like six times by people wishing me good luck and stuff like that. Then I was in 7-11 and this guy stops me and goes, ‘man, you look just like Matt Serra.’ It’s kinda surreal. But listen, that could be gone tomorrow, so I keep everything grounded. I’m not gonna let anything get to my head. I went in there thinking that if I put on a good performance and get to show some skill, it can really help out my schools. Of course I wanted to win the whole thing, but I knew there would be a bunch of tough guys in there and I didn’t want to get ahead of myself. I just said, ‘man, this could really do wonders for my school.’ This is how I make my living, teaching Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and that’s what I’m sticking to. My school enrollments picked up a lot, it’s been a blessing, and I’m just keeping grounded with that. I’m not going Hollywood.”
13 – Roy Nelson
Post TUF record: 3-3
The most experienced fighter on TUF 10, former IFL heavyweight champion Roy Nelson showed himself to be a cut above his fellow competitors as he defeated Kimbo Slice, Justin Wren, James McSweeney and Brendan Schaub to win the season title. He didn’t skip a beat with an impressive 39 second TKO of Stefan Struve in his proper Octagon debut, and while “Big Country” has since lost decisions to Junior dos Santos, Frank Mir, and Fabricio Werdum, an impressive third round TKO of Mirko Cro Cop in 2011 and a renewed attention to his cardio regimen shows that the iron-jawed Las Vegan is one big win away from being back in the title hunt soon.
DEFINING FIGHT – KO1 Brendan Schaub
TUF TALK – “I’ve never been in jail, but I could imagine jail actually being a little bit easier. And the way I always say it is that I can’t wait to do my Visa commercial – Gloves: $50, Tapout T-shirt: $28, Living in The Ultimate Fighter house: priceless.”
12 – Matt Wiman
Post TUF record: 8-3
With an exciting fight style, eight UFC wins, and an engaging personality, you have to wonder why Matt Wiman isn’t a bona fide star yet. But with his most recent win, a Fight of the Night victory over TUF6 winner Mac Danzig, Wiman should be in everyone’s consciousness. And if he hasn’t, you can be sure that a win over Mark Bocek at UFC 145 in April won’t hurt.
DEFINING FIGHT – W3 Cole Miller
TUF TALK – “I don’t feel comfortable backing up and running around. I don’t feel comfortable if I’m not working hard for something, and if I’m playing it safe, I feel like the other guy is plotting and planning, so I want to put him on the defensive and I want to push the pace and bring the fight to him. I’ve tried fighting other ways and tried to be overly technical, and it just doesn’t work for me. I obviously practice technique and I have good technique, but that isn’t the most significant thing to me – I like going hard and pushing the pace and taking care of business, not in a reckless way, but in a smart way.”
11 – Joe Lauzon
Post TUF record: 7-4
After debuting in the UFC in September of 2006 with a stirring 48 second knockout of Jens Pulver, Joe Lauzon didn’t need The Ultimate Fighter as a springboard into the organization, but he took the opportunity to compete with one of the series’ most talent-rich casts anyway. And though he didn’t take the season five title, his post TUF stint in the UFC has been quite impressive in its own right as he’s won three of his last five bouts (all by submission), with his only losses in that stretch coming to Anthony Pettis and George Sotiropoulos. And let’s not forget the seven post-fight bonuses he’s picked up since leaving the show, establishing him as one of the sport’s premier action heroes.
DEFINING FIGHT – Wsub1 Melvin Guillard
TUF TALK - “I got to train with such world-class guys like BJ Penn, Regan (Penn), and Tony (DeSouza), and even the other guys on our team. It was a great measuring stick. You think ‘I can do okay against this guy or that guy’, but until you actually get to do it, you really have no idea. I think being put up against the best was awesome for me because I know where I am and where I have to get and how I measure up against other people. It’s weird because when you train with ‘your’ guys, you really don’t have as much of a measuring stick to other people. When you get to go up against the best, it’s a much more accurate read.”
10 - George Sotiropoulos
Post TUF record: 7-2
In MMA or any sport for that matter, it’s the squeaky wheel that gets oiled, and soft-spoken George Sotiropoulos is anything but a squeaky wheel. But when you win your first seven UFC fights after competing on season six of The Ultimate Fighter, it’s hard to be ignored, and in 2010, Sotiropoulos had a stellar year that saw him emerge as a true 155-pound contender as he defeated Joe Stevenson, Kurt Pellegrino, and Joe Lauzon in succession. 2011 was a rocky one, as he lost bouts to Dennis Siver and Rafael dos Anjos, but odds are that we will see the Aussie standout back in contention in 2012.
DEFINING FIGHT – W3 Joe Stevenson
TUF TALK –“Seeing different types of people and different traditions and different walks of life, I got to have a very open mind. I’ve seen what life’s about, I’ve seen good and bad in other things, and I’m grounded. For example, the kids in Thailand, in a lot of cases when they train over there it’s not really sport; they’re forced to do it because their families can’t afford to keep them. They send them to training camps and in a way it’s something they gamble on. So being in the (Ultimate Fighter) house was easy because it was my choice to be there and I wanted to be there because I love it so much. A lot of the guys were so miserable in there and they don’t know how lucky they were.”
9 – Matt Hamill
Post TUF record: 9-4
The raw talent of Matt Hamill was evident on season three of The Ultimate Fighter, but it wasn’t until he bounced back from a TKO loss to Rich Franklin two years after his Octagon debut that he began fulfilling his promise. After the Franklin fight, Hamill won five in a row, with only his DQ victory over Jon Jones being a less than stellar performance. And when Mark Munoz, Tito Ortiz, and Keith Jardine are the guys you’re beating, you’re a legit contender. In 2011, Hamill retired after defeats to “Rampage” Jackson and Alexander Gustafsson, but it’s safe to say that “The Hammer” won’t be forgotten by fight fans anytime soon.
DEFINING FIGHT – W3 Tito Ortiz
TUF TALK –“In wrestling, success came easy. It came so naturally, and the mat was my home. Joining this sport has been a challenge. I learn new things every day and others can knock me down, which they never could in wrestling. But I'm getting better and I’m still striving to be at the top in MMA also.”
8 - Nate Diaz
Post TUF record: 10-5
With the attitude of a true fighter and good bloodlines (brother Nick is a UFC vet), Nate Diaz was going to make it to the UFC with or without The Ultimate Fighter. But the reality series jump-started the Stockton, California native’s career, and he defeated Rob Emerson, Corey Hill, Gray Maynard, and Manny Gamburyan to win the season five title. He’s continued his run of success with 10 Octagon victories, including ultra-impressive wins over Takanori Gomi and Donald Cerrone in his return to 155 pounds after a brief stint at welterweight.
DEFINING FIGHT – Wsub1 Takanori Gomi
TUF TALK - “I talked to my brother and my manager, Cesar, and they were telling me that it would probably be the best thing for me. I was definitely not too excited about going. I wanted to, but at the same time I didn’t. I didn’t feel like I was too good on camera, and I’m not great at interviews, but I’m glad I did it the way it turned out. I thought I was gonna be one of the least experienced guys in the house fightwise, to be honest with you. “Once I was there, I realized there were people there with less fights than me, but there wasn’t any pressure. I thought I had a good chance, that’s for sure.”
7 - Diego Sanchez
Post TUF record: 12-5
It’s been a crazy career thus far for season one TUF winner Diego Sanchez. From his early days at welterweight, where he went 4-0 before back-to-back losses to Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck, to a brief stint at lightweight where he challenged then-champion BJ Penn for the UFC crown, and then to his recent resurrection at 170, the man formerly known as “Nightmare” and now dubbed “The Dream” has always been exciting in the Octagon and nearly as compelling outside the cage. Needless to say, win or lose, odds are that we’ll be talking about him for a long time.
DEFINING FIGHT – W3 Karo Parisyan
TUF TALK – “In my mind all the TUF guys are gonna lose and I’m gonna be the only undefeated fighter and I’m still gonna be the only guy that went through the show, finished everybody, and I’m gonna be ‘The Ultimate Fighter.’ They’re gonna say, ‘that guy Diego Sanchez, he was ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ through all the seasons.’ They’re gonna say that he was the only guy that dominated it, came out after it, stayed undefeated, won the belt, and got out of his contract undefeated.” (Before his bout with Karo Parisyan)
6 – Josh Koscheck
Post TUF record: 15-5
A no-nonsense competitor whose ‘tell it like it is’ attitude has made him a polarizing figure from the time he was on the first season of TUF, Josh Koscheck has basically grown up in the UFC, with 20 of his 24 pro fights taking place in the Octagon. Along the way, ‘Kos’ has battled the best in the game, from Georges St-Pierre and Diego Sanchez, to Thiago Alves and Matt Hughes, all the while adding new wrinkles to his world-class wrestling attack. Most potent of his new weapons is a devastating right hand, one he’s used to great effect over the last couple years, and as he continues to grow as a fighter, Koscheck will certainly remain entrenched among the best 170-pounders in the world.
DEFINING FIGHT – W3 Diego Sanchez
TUF TALK - “I get thousands and thousands of e-mails every day and it’s amazing what it’s done for my life. Most of the time, if you’re calling my phone in the last six months, it’s been ‘voice mail filled’. So it was overwhelming at one point. Now things are starting to slow down a little bit, but you really don’t picture yourself in that position - because I grew up in a blue collar, hard working family - getting to the point to where ‘okay, now you’re on a reality show.’ So I get on TV, and after the show it’s like ‘Oh my God, it’s crazy.’ I go into the UFC and they have to move my seat because fans are coming down to get autographs and pictures. So it is a bit overwhelming, but in another sense it’s good. It’s good for our sport and the fighters.”
5 - Kenny Florian
Post TUF record: 12-5
A fighter who actually caught the eye of UFC President Dana White in a losing effort against Drew Fickett in 2004, Kenny Florian entered the TUF1 house with little fanfare, but he defeated Chris Leben to make it to the middleweight final against Diego Sanchez. Sanchez pounded out a decisive victory over Florian in the finals, and many wondered where KenFlo fit in the great scheme of things. We found out soon enough as he dropped to welterweight and then lightweight, where, after a title fight loss to Sean Sherk in 2006, Florian put together a six fight winning streak with victories over Din Thomas, Joe Lauzon, Roger Huerta, and Joe Stevenson that earned him a second title shot. And though Florian was submitted in the fourth round by Penn and lost a 2010 bout to Gray Maynard, the New Englander earned a title shot at 145 pounds with a win over Diego Nunes in June of 2011. That title shot against Jose Aldo ended in a decision defeat, and currently, Florian is contemplating his fighting future while doing excellent work as a studio and Octagonside analyst for UFC telecasts on Fuel TV and FX.
DEFINING FIGHT – Wsub3 Takanori Gomi
TUF TALK – “After experiencing the last Ultimate Fighter finale, I feel like I can really go through anything now. Just experiencing the craziness of everything that happens backstage prior to the fight, the interviews leading up to the fight, I’ve matured in a way that I’m gonna stay focused on the fight itself. Having gone through that before, I feel like I’ve definitely grown.”
4 - Michael Bisping
Post TUF record: 12-4
The man who put MMA on the map in the UK, Michael Bisping had little difficulty winning on the British circuit, and he continued his winning ways on TUF3 as he took out Ross Pointon, Kristian Rothaermel, and Josh Haynes to win the season’s light heavyweight title. His good fortunes continued in finishes of Eric Schafer and Elvis Sinosic, but his rep took a hit after a controversial decision win over Matt Hamill at UFC 75. Bisping would lose for the first time in his next bout, a UFC 78 loss to Rashad Evans, but his gutsy performance in the razor-thin decision defeat won back some of the fans he lost after the Hamill bout. Losing to Evans prompted Bisping to drop to 185, and three straight wins (Charles McCarthy, Jason Day, and Chris Leben) followed before a devastating knockout loss to Dan Henderson at UFC 100 in July. Eager to get back in the race, Bisping has won five of his last seven, including Fight of the Night victories over Denis Kang and Yoshihiro Akiyama.
DEFINING FIGHT – TKO2 Denis Kang
TUF TALK - “You’re not gonna see me in any factories for quite some time.” (In the locker room after winning TUF3)
3 - Forrest Griffin
Post TUF record: 9-5
There’s probably no one in the game who would want to avoid the spotlight more than Forrest Griffin, but that became an impossibility when the former police officer won season one of The Ultimate Fighter with a stirring three round win over Stephan Bonnar that kicked off the MMA explosion in 2005. After that, it was a constant stream of interviews, appearances, and photo shoots for Griffin, who still found time to engage in a memorable war with Tito Ortiz, get upset by Keith Jardine, and rebound to shock Mauricio Rua and Quinton Jackson, the latter bout earning him the UFC light heavyweight crown in 2008. Griffin went on to lose the belt to Rashad Evans and get stopped in a single round by Anderson Silva, but consecutive wins over Ortiz and Rich Franklin put the ever-popular Griffin back on track before Rua got even with a first round TKO victory at UFC 134 last August.
DEFINING FIGHT – W3 Stephan Bonnar I
TUF TALK – “I didn’t get here through all that hard work and winning fights nonsense; I got here through a TV game show, and I’m comfortable with that.”
2 - Gray Maynard
Post TUF record: 8-1-1, 1 NC
A three-time All-American wrestler for Michigan State University, Maynard entered The Ultimate Fighter’s fifth season with just a few fights, yet he quickly made his presence known among the talented cast with wins over Wayne Weems and Brandon Melendez. And though he lost his next bout to Nate Diaz, he didn’t miss a beat since the show ended, rapidly rising up the lightweight ranks thanks to big wins over the likes of Frankie Edgar, Rich Clementi, Jim Miller, Roger Huerta, Diaz, and Kenny Florian. In January of 2011, he got his long-awaited shot at the title against previous victim Edgar, and though he was seconds away from finishing the champ in the first round, he had to settle for a five round draw. “The Bully” got another shot at Edgar in October of last year, but after another near knockout win in the first round, he got stopped himself in the fourth, putting his title dreams on hold for the moment.
DEFINING FIGHT – DRAW 5 Frankie Edgar
TUF TALK – “To tell you the truth, I thought I looked like crap on the show. The one fight against Brandon (Melendez), I don’t know what happened there, and I just couldn’t wait to get back in the gym and train. I was back in the gym a couple days after the show ended, and it just felt good to be back training right, and I can’t wait to get back in there and prove that I’m a lot better than I was on the TV show.”
1 - Rashad Evans
Post TUF record: 12-1-1
An undersized heavyweight with little reputation to precede him, former Michigan State wrestler Rashad Evans wasn’t expected to do much with the giants on TUF2, but four wins later (Keith Jardine, Mike Whitehead, Tom Murphy, and Brad Imes), the New York native had won the show’s title. Evans continued to surprise in his post-TUF career, and though he received a reputation for putting on less than compelling fights early on, by the time he was blasting out Jason Lambert and Sean Salmon, that rep changed. Evans would then engage in two close battles with Tito Ortiz and Michael Bisping, decisioning Bisping and fighting to a draw with Ortiz. These fights were preludes to a spectacular knockout of Chuck Liddell and a decisive finish of Forrest Griffin that put the UFC light heavyweight championship belt around his waist. Evans lost the title to Lyoto Machida in his first defense, but rebound wins over Thiago Silva, Rampage Jackson, Ortiz (in a UFC 133 rematch), and Phil Davis have earned him a shot at the title belt held by former teammate Jonny “Bones” Jones in April.
DEFINING FIGHT – KO2 Chuck Liddell
TUF TALK – “I surprised a lot of people, including (UFC President) Dana White. A lot of people thought that I didn’t have any talent at all. See, I always had confidence in myself, but the better I did, people would say ‘wow’ and they just couldn’t believe it. I knew my own potential, but they didn’t know, so it was a big surprise to them.”
The 30 Best TUF Alumni - Part Two
The Ultimate Fighter premieres on FX this Friday night at 9pm. To get ready for all the action, it's time to countdown the greatest fighters in TUF history...
Read part 1 with #s 16-30
Read part 1 with #s 16-30