Kid Nate made the point today that The Ultimate Fighter no longer serves as a fertile breeding ground for the sport's future stars. Whether that is true or not remains to be seen. Less than two years have gone by since the reality television meat-grinder churned out Ryan Bader, a potential future champion, something that seemed unthinkable just months earlier when the show was crowning the likes of Mac Danzig and Amir Sadollah the "ultimate fighter."
Whether the show can create superstars in today's MMA market is debatable. Whether it can create television stars is not. Josh Koscheck intends to use the show, for a second time, to propel himself into the fan's collective consciousness. He won't find himself alone. In five years, The Ultimate Fighter has produced dozens of recognizable fighters to fill the promotion's undercards and populate the main cards on SPIKE TV and PPV. Some have been heroes, men like Forrest Griffin, Randy Couture, and Kimbo Slice. But more interesting, by far, are the villains.
After the jump, we'll run down the show's five greatest villains, the evil geniuses, drunken idiots, and clueless coaches that have made this show so great over the course of eleven memorable seasons.
5. Chris Leben: Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar get all the credit for the success of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. The truth is more complicated. While the two light heavyweights wowed the world with their final fight, it was Leben who drove the show forward and set the tone for hundreds of fighters who would follow him into reality television glory.
Leben started the season by urinating on a teammate's pillow. He then proceeded to drink, taunt, cry, and fight his way into our hearts. Leben was the best kind of villain - the complicated and misunderstood anti-hero. Yes, he was brash, cocky, and quick to fly off the handle. But it became clear early on that this behavior was a mask to cover the hurt he felt inside - Leben was protecting himself from being hurt again. Its was fascinating to watch and the fans ate up his feud with castmates Josh Koscheck and Bobby Southworth.
4. Matt Hughes: Matt Hughes doesn't quite understand how well served he's been by The Ultimate Fighter. He never really embraced the role of villain - it was thrust on him because of his real life personality. Hughes is the stereotypical jock come to life. Full of himself, arrogant, and self righteously religious, Hughes seemed to bring out the worst in almost everyone he came into contact with. From comparing himself with biblical figures to making insensitive comments about Din Thomas's lips, Hughes could do little right. Except, of course, entertaining the viewers. That he did in spades.
The show turned Hughes from the promotion's worst PPV draw into a Hall of Fame legend, still usual years past his prime in drawing fans to his fights. Hughes, more than any other coach, showed those who would follow how powerful this promotional tool could be, not just for the prospects, but for the coaches as well.
3. Rashad Evans: Rashad Evans is one of the UFC's most polarizing fighters. A former champion, Evans is routinely booed out of the building at UFC events. I once followed him as he navigated the crowd at an event. The emotion he elicited was downright scary, amazing for such a nice man.
Evans is one of the most thoughtful fighters in the game. But he's also one of the cockiest - at least that's the perception. It all started with Hughes, the opposing coach when Evans won the second season of TUF. Hughes called Evans out for showboating and the "arrogant" tag has been with the Michigan State wrestler ever since.
There may have been racial overtones, but that hasn't stopped Evans from playing this part of his personality up ever since. With his custom made suits, rapid paced rhetoric, and superlative performances, Rashad is the closest thing the UFC has to Ric Flair or Apollo Creed.
2. Ken Shamrock: Maybe it was a product of clever and cruel editing. Maybe he was really that out of touch. But either way, Shamrock did the seemingly impossible in the third season of the show - he made Tito Ortiz a hero in the fan's eyes. Shamrock seemed like a product of the stone age. His "my way or the highway" approach, his insistence on the applicability of leg locks, his bizarre decision to bring an overweight nutritionist as one of his three coaches turned the Lion's Den founder from elder statesmen to delusional old man overnight.
1. Junie Browning: Like Chris Leben turned up to 11. Only without the depth, intelligence, and sense of regret. Oh, and without the skills in the cage either. No one worked the audience quite like Junie Browning. He was TUF's Puck, irascible, out of control, violent, unlikeable. In the end, Browning was more smoke than fire. He talked a fine game and there's no doubt that if he could back it up in the cage he would be a big time player in today's UFC.
Instead, Browning fell to the unheralded Cole Miller. The resulting flameout was impressive. Browning "attempted to harm himself" and then proceeded to assault and threaten the nurses who tried to help them. It was too much, even for Dana White who had egged the fighter on throughout his UFC tenure. The show's greatest villain couldn't walk the thin line between fiction and reality. And in the end, it cost him his career.
Will Josh Koscheck be the next great villain in The Ultimate Fighter's storied history of evil doers? He's come close. In the first season he lacked only the confidence to allow the world to hate him. He wanted to be loved, even when it was clear that could never happen. Now he's embraced his role. He is the sport's ultimate bad guy, the next generation Tito Ortiz. By next season, unless things go horribly awry, Koscheck will take his place among the immortals, another in a long line of Ultimate Villains.