The Ultimate Fighter's influence in the history of the UFC and MMA at large is indisputable: we'd not be where we are today without the boost to viewing figures that came with that legendary clash between Bonnar and Griffin, or the record ratings brought by a season coached by Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock. But has its importance faded? Has it ever produced any great fighters? Does it still convert new fans? This post doesn't answer those questions, it just lists 10 fighters who stand out to me as the best the show has given us. Because lists are what the internet is for in 2013.
10. Ryan Bader (Season 8) - 9-4 in the UFC
Bader came in with a 7-0 record on the regional scene after a collegiate wrestling career at Arizona State where he was a 2 time All-American at 197lbs. He was 1 of the favourites that season and didn't disappoint; winning the Light Heavyweight tournament after beating Vinny Magalhães in round 1. He followed that with 4 straight victories, including a win over Lil' Nog, at UFC 119.
His win streak ended in his next fight, a clash between LHW prospects that saw Jon Jones get the win with a guillotine choke. We saw this finish again in Bader's upset loss to veteran Tito Ortiz. Since that defeat Ryan has picked up wins over Jason Brilz, Rampage Jackson, Vladimir Matyushenko and Anthony Perosh while losing to Lyoto Machida and Glover Teixiera. A solid Light Heavyweight, firmly established in the top 15.
9. Matt Serra (Season 4) - 7-7 in the UFC (3-3 after TUF appearance)
It seems odd to rank 1 of the 3 TUF contestants to win a UFC title so low, but despite that huge upset victory over Georges Saint-Pierre, Matt Serra's record isn't exactly stellar. Before winning the title he beat Chris Lytle in the final, and then after that he lost the rematch with GSP, he lost to Matt Hughes, beat Frank Trigg and then went into retirement after Lytle avenged his loss.
A big character whose rivalry on the show with Matt Hughes was memorable, with Serra defending the honour of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, he ended up as a coach on a later season against Hughes, and has established himself as a good coach at Longo-Serra. Plus there is always what really is the biggest upset in UFC history which guarantees his place in the sports history books. Oh, and that knock-out he suffered at the hands of Shonie Carter is also 1 of the stand-out KO's in the sports short history.
8. Kenny Florian (Season 1) - 12-5 in the UFC
A newcomer to the sport in season 1, just 3 fights under his belt as he went into the house for the inaugural season. Kenny ultimately went all the way to the final where he lost to Diego Sanchez. His next 2 appearances came on other TUF finale shows, before being thrown in at the deep-end in only his 8th MMA fight. He faced the veteran Sean Sherk in the first Lightweight title fight in over 3 years. He was controlled by the Minnesotan in that fight but bounced back with 6 wins over solid competition, earning himself another shot at the title. This time against BJ Penn.
He came up short once again, this time being subbed by the Hawaiian. Following on from that Florian managed to get quality wins over Clay Guida and former Pride stand-out Takanori Gomi. Gray Maynard beat Kenny in a title eliminator in 2010 which lead to Florian cutting down to Featherweight to take on Jose Aldo after a win over Diego Nunes. He ended up the bridesmaid once again and decided to call an end to a career. He certainly had chances to win a championship, but it wasn't to be. I don't think that detracts from a more than solid career though.
7. Gray Maynard (Season 5) - 9-3-1-1 in the UFC
A 3-time All-American at Michigan State, Gray came into the season with just 2 pro fights to his name. He ended up losing to season winner Nate Diaz in the semi-finals. His appearance on the Season 5 finale show ended in bizarre fashion: Maynard slammed Rob Emerson down, causing him to tap out. However Gray managed to knock himself out at the same time, leaving Steve Mazzagatti with no choice but to call the fight a no contest. After that Gray had an 8 fight winning streak, beating guys like Dennis Siver, Frankie Edgar, Jim Miller, Kenny Florian, and avenging his TUF 5 loss with a win over Nate Diaz.
This elevated Maynard to a title shot against new champ Frankie Edgar. It was a thrilling encounter that ended up a draw. They re-matched and although it looked like being another incredibly tight decision, Edgar finished Gray in round 4. Since then Gray has only fought 3 times in 2 years, with a win over Clay Guida followed by defeats to TJ Grant in a title eliminator and then Nate Diaz. A strong career, with the past 4 years spent at the top of 1 of the toughest divisions in the sport.
6. Josh Koscheck (Season 1) - 15-8 in the UFC
Another collegiate wrestler, Josh Koscheck actually won the NCAA tournament in 2001 at 174lbs as a representative of Edinboro University, with just 2 pro fights to his name. He was most notable on the show for his rivalry with Chris Leben, the first in a long line of jock alpha-male bullshit that has plagued the series. Yeah, you remember, no need to repeat it here. Anyway, the pair fought on the show, Kos won, but in the end he lost in the semi-finals to Diego Sanchez. In his first 8 fights Josh went 7-1, including wins over former Middleweight champ Dave Menne, and a decision victory over Diego Sanchez.
He then had the misfortune of being the first man to face GSP after his title defeat, losing convincingly in the end. Over the next 2 years he went 6-3, proving to be a reliable name willing to fill in on short-notice. After wins over Rumble Johnson and Paul Daley he found himself in line for a re-match with Georges Saint-Pierre, (after a dumb season of TUF) a match I'm sure he'd rather forget, with the champ jabbing him in the face for 5 rounds, doing long-term damage to Josh's eye. He's on a 3 fight losing streak at the moment and while his losses are against good opponents it's maybe time he considers hanging up the gloves after a strong career.
5. Diego Sanchez (Season 1) - 13-6 in the UFC
The Season1 Middleweight winner, Diego was undefeated in his 1st 4 bouts in he UFC, with wins over Nick Diaz and the once heavily touted Karo Paryisan standing out. He then dropped consecutive fights to training partners Koscheck and Jon Fitch. Diego moved down to Lightweight soon afterwards, beating Joe Stevenson and Clay Guida before being fed (almost literally considering BJ's infamous licking of the bloody glove) to the seemingly unstoppable BJ Penn, losing by doctors stoppage thanks to a big cut above his eye.
After that Diego was back at Welterweight with wins over Paulo Thiago and Martin Kampmann, and loses to John Hathaway and Jake Ellenberger. Since dropping back to 155 in 2013 he's beaten Gomi and had an absolute war with Gil Melendez. Gil won but Diego was still elevated in defeat. The most remarkable thing in Diego's career is just how consistently exciting he is, netting 7 Fight of the Night bonus, the 2006 Fight of the Year and a strong contender in 2013 with Gil. A very tough competitor.
4. Michael Bisping (Season 3) - 14-5 in the UFC
"The Count" was 1 of the 1st Brits to appear on the show, along with long-forgotten Ross Pointon, and was 10-0 on the UK circuit going into the show, ultimately beating Josh Haynes for the Light Heavyweight tournament. (Talking of season 3, how shit was Ken Shamrock as a coach? Oh boy!) He had 4 more fights as a LHW, 3 wins including a controversial decision over Matt Hamill, and then a loss to Rashad Evans.
Bisping dropped to Middleweight after this, a wise decision considering the lack of depth at the time. In his 10 MW wins, the stand-outs are probably over Chris Leben and Sexiyama. However his losses have all been when it mattered most, in title eliminator contests with Dan Henderson, Chael Sonnen (although I personally scored that fight in favour of Bisping) and Vitor Belfort. As well as getting badly beaten by an over-the-hill Wanderlei Silva. Despite favourable booking he's probably never going to earn a title shot and there are plenty of accusations that he is a dirty fighter. At the end of the day, he's been near the top of MW for 5 years now and acts as a solid top-level gatekeeper. Far from shabby.
3. John Dodson (Season 14) - 4-1 in the UFC
Yeah, he's only had 5 fights in the UFC, so maybe you think top 3 is over-rating Dodson. But I have a real soft spot for Flyweight. He won his season by beating TJ Dillashaw at Bantamweight, but as soon as the new division was introduced Dodson was there, winning over Tim Elliot and former Tachi Palace champ Jussier da Silva to earn a shot at Demetrious Johnson.
Johnson was too much for him, but I'd absolutely love to see them re-match down the line. In October this year he got back to winning ways with a KO over another TPF Flyweight champion in Darrell Montague, and was due to face Ian McCall this weekend, but sadly first Uncle Creepy got hurt and then Dodson had to pull out of a really interesting fight with Scott Jorgenson. He's probably the #3 guy in a division that admittedly isn't very deep, but has some top fighters at the top of it, and he's in the prime of his career.
2. Forrest Griffin (Season 1) - 10-5 in the UFC
The winner of the 1st season's HW tournament after that legendary brawl with Stephan Bonnar, it's what happened after that that's so impressive. He improved considerably after moving to Vegas in order to train full-time, he won his 1st 3 in the Octagon before succumbing to Tito Ortiz in a split decision, in the 2006 Fight of the Year. Another win over Stephan Bonnar (showing how much further Griffin had grown) was followed by a surprising defeat to Keith Jardine.
After that was a 3 fight winning streak that included the stunning win over Shogun Rua making his UFC début, and then becoming the second TUF fighter to win a championship belt, winning a decision against another Pride veteran, Rampage Jackson. He didn't hold it for very long, dropping it to the guy who is #1 in these rankings, and then lost to P4P all-time great Anderson Silva. Forrest ended his career with 2 wins over Tito, 1 over Rich Franklin and a loss to Shogun. But upsetting both Shogun and Rampage in 2007 and 2008? You can't really overstate how big a deal that is.
1. Rashad Evans (Season 2) - 14-3-1 in the UFC
With that record to his name, I think Rashad is the clear #1 here. He's lost just 3 times since his 1st ever fight in Iowa back in 2004, and the names he has been defeated by stand as some of the best Light Heavyweights we have seen in the sport so far. He started with a 5 fight streak, with decision wins over Brad Imes, Sam Hoger and Stephan Bonnar and then KO's against Jason Lambert and Sean Salmon. That earned him a chance at Tito Ortiz, which ended in a draw thanks to Tito losing a point for fence grabbing.
Thus followed wins over Bisping, Liddell and then defeating Forrest Griffin for the LHW title. Evans suffered his 1stdefeat in his 1st title defence against Lyoto Machida at a time when the belt was passed around like a hot-cake. He then came back with victories over Thiago Silva, Rampage, Tito and Phil Davis, earning a shot at former team-mate Jon Jones. Jones won and a friendship ended. After losing to Lil' Nog he has bounced back with wins over Dan Henderson and Chael Sonnen, and has a tough bout with his TV colleague Daniel Cormier on the cards at UFC 170. If he beats the Olympian then surely another chance at Jones title can't be far away. Can he be the first ever 2-time champion from the show? If anyone can be it'll be Rashad Evans.
Disagree? Agree? Think I'm a fucking moron for leaving out someone? See a glaring error despite the fact I proof-read this son of a bitch 4 times? Think it's too bloody long and I am hopeless at being concise (you'd be right)? Let me know.