Forrest Griffin at the first ever Ultimate Fighter Finale. Photo by Jeff Sherwood for Sherdog.
There's something about The Ultimate Fighter Finale. Even as the show itself has become stale and repetitive, the live finale on Spike has continued to deliver some of the biggest moments of the year. This Saturday, we once again come together for The Ultimate Fighter Finale, and this time, it's not just the end of a season, it's the end of an era. Because this event marks the end of the road for the Ultimate Fighter on Spike. It's a relationship that was instrumental in turning the UFC around, and despite the need for a revamp, it will be odd to watch The Ultimate Fighter on any channel other than Spike in the future.
There's plenty of discussion to be had regarding the business side of this change, but for now, I want to focus on the product itself with a reminder of just what has always made this particular event special.
And really, there's only one place to start this discussion - Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar. The inaugural TUF final, Griffin vs. Bonnar has gone down as the fight that saved the UFC, and one of the most important moments in the history of the sport. These two men felt that their fighting lives were on the line, and they fought their hearts out, pouring everything into those 15 minutes to create a once in a lifetime fight. In all the seasons since, Griffin vs. Bonnar still hasn't been topped.
That's not to say some finalists haven't tried. For the first three seasons, the show culminated in a Fight of the Year candidate, with Joe Stevenson vs. Luke Cummo, Rashad Evans vs. Brad Imes, and Ed Herman vs. Kendall Grove all rising beyond what you might have expected. Since then, none of the final matches have been quite as dramatic, through there have still been amazing moments - Roy Nelson's huge KO of Brendan Schaub, Amir Sadollah submitting an incredulous CB Dollaway in his MMA debut. There have also been great moments from the eliminated Ultimate Fighter contestants. There's the sloppy, yet highly dramatic War Machine Jon Koppenhaver vs. Jared Rolins fight from season 6, and for dramatic moments, it doesn't get much better than Scott Smith's amazing comeback KO on Pete Sell in season 4.
But even if the actual TUF contestant fights have not delivered, the Finale has continued to produce fireworks. Nick Diaz vs. Diego Sanchez, Roger Huerta vs. Clay Guida, Diego Sanchez vs. Clay Guida - each of these fights ranks among the UFC's best, and all took place on the Finale.
Finally, there is history to the event. It's the site of Jon Jones's controversial only loss, the home to the much derided Leonard Garcia vs. Nam Phan robbery. It is also the home of the final fight of the late Evan Tanner. The former UFC Middleweight champion fought for the last time on the season 7 Finale, dying just 3 months later.
So even if you gave up on The Ultimate Fighter a few seasons ago, even if you have not watched a moment of Team Bisping vs. Team Mayhem, even if you don't know names like Dennis Bermudez and T.J. Dillashaw, you should tune in this Saturday. It's place as the final Spike Ultimate Fighter Finale already gives it a historic context. The question is, will it deliver one last all-time classic moment on its way out?