The Ultimate Fighter reality TV series has been a staple of the Ultimate Fighting Championship and the MMA community ever since its inception all the way back in 2005 on Spike TV.
Fast forwards to 2019 and there’s been 27 seasons of the show (not including 10 seasons of various international versions). Winning the show is an amazing feat that can catapult a fighter to stardom faster than if they scratched and clawed their way through the regional scenes, but winning the show doesn’t guarantee sustained success as we have seen with many of the shows winners.
Here I’m going to talk about 5 winners who managed to use this platform successfully and make a lasting impression in the sport.
5: Kamaru Usman
The Nigerian Nightmare won the 21st season of TUF (American Top Team vs Blackzillians) by defeating Hayder Hassan by submission via 2nd rd Arm Triangle in the final. Since then he has rattled off nine wins in a row, including his absolutely dominant championship win over the then champ Tyron Woodley becoming the first ever African born UFC Champion.
He employs an overwhelmingly aggressive style that includes elite level wrestling, crisp striking, and intense pressure that never lets up. His intangibles are very evident as well, he is one of the hardest workers in all of the sport, so much so that he claimed that he has “been fighting on one leg” for years.
You may be asking why I have the current Welterweight Champion and #7 ranked Pound for Pound fighter according to ufc.com listed at number 5, well honestly his story is far from over.
As it sits right now he has taken time to get necessary medical care for injuries he has fought through for years, and will most likely defend his newly won crown against the former interim Welterweight Champion and everyone’s favorite American hero (dont @ me) Colby Covington. Now I don’t know what the future holds, and I believe a fight with Colby will be a tough one for him, out of all the fighters on this list he has the potential to be the biggest star and accomplish the most.
4: Ryan Bader
I know this entry might draw the ire of some readers, but before you jump to conclusions (both fair and unfair) let me explain!
He has an MMA career that has spanned over a decade and includes 15 wins in the UFC and two Bellator World Titles (holding both simultaneously I might add). In those aforementioned fights he has beaten top names in the sport of both past and present, such names as Fedor, Phil Davis, Little Nog, Rashad Evan, and Rampage Jackson.
Currently he is ranked the #9 Heavyweight and the #5 Light Heavyweight according to the sherdog.com official mma rankings.
At 35 years old and with plenty of fights under his belt there’s no telling how much longer he has in the sport, or even how much longer he can successfully implement his wrestle heavy style against high level MMA competition, although considering he currently fights in Bellator (NO USADA) I guess we can assume he may have a bit longer of a shelf life.
Regardless of where Bader’s career goes from here, he has successfully used the platform of winning TUF to carve out a solid MMA career and a pretty solid legacy.
3: Robert Whittaker
The Reaper (or Bobby Knuckles as we prefer) won The Ultimate Fighter The Smashes by defeating Brad Scott via Unanimous Decision.
The Aussie has carved out quite the name for himself as an elite striker with amazing footwork and someone who isn’t fazed by big names and bright lights.
With notable wins over Uriah Hall, Jacare Souza, and the human steroid Yoel Romero twice, he has shown his ability to compete at the highest level of the sport.
The current Middleweight king earned his undisputed crown through a chaotic set of circumstances that saw GSP come out of retirement and flip the entire 185 pound division on it’s head. Although he doesnt have an official title defense (or even undisputed title win) on his resume, he did defeat Yoel Romero via split decision in a fight that was originally scheduled to be an undisputed title fight, until Romero missed weight.
As of late Whittaker has been plagued by injuries and has had to pull out of two different title defenses including one the day of the fight at UFC 234 in which he was scheduled to face Kelvin Gastelum (another TUF winner). Now with the new interim middleweight champion Israel Adesanya on the horizon for Whittaker, he has stated that he is completely healthy and ready to compete.
As someone who helped grow the sport in the land down under, he has done more for the sport than just win fights and provide highlight reel finishes.
2: Michael Bisping
Michael Bisping won season 3 of The Ultimate Fighter by defeating Josh Haynes via 2nd rd TKO
Bisping was the first British Ultimate Fighter winner and became the first British UFC Champion when he KO’d Luke Rockhold at UFC 199 (a fight he took on two weeks notice) to take the crown.
He had a storied career that spanned 13 years and saw him earn a staggering 20 UFC wins, Including 2 title victories, and wins over notable fighters such as, Dan Henderson, Anderson Silva, Luke Rockhold, and Chris Leben.
Until his career defining title win over Rockhold, Bisping was seen as a journeyman of the sport. Since that fateful night in southern California Bisping has transformed his legacy from journeyman to that of a man who was extremely instrumental in popularizing the sport in the UK and becoming the first British UFC champion.
Many peoples opinions of Bisping have changed since his retirement and new career as color commentator (in which he is outstanding by the way). He used the TUF platform to its full advantage and did a lot for the sport that we all love.
1: Forrest Griffin
Forrest Griffin won the very first season of The Ultimate Fighter by defeating Stephan Bonnar via Unanimous Decision in what has been called “The fight that saved the sport” by many
Griffin’s back and forth war of attrition was so consequential to the popularity of the sport that Dana White signed the contract for the second season of The Ultimate Fighter in the parking lot of the Cox Pavilion after the fight, this is after the Fertittas (the then owners of Zuffa and the UFC) had to fund the entire first season themselves as no network was willing to take a chance on the sport.
Griffin didn’t have the most accolade filled career, with a UFC record of 10 wins and 5 losses, but he did capture the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship by defeating Rampage Jackson via Unanimous Decision at UFC 86.
What makes him top the list of Ultimate Fighter winners isn’t just what he did inside the octagon, but also what he did outside of it.
He was always known as someone who would fight anyone, anywhere, and at anytime and when he fought he often brought the fight to his opponent regardless of the consequences.
He was very instrumental in helping push the sport into the mainstream with his go out on your sword fighting style and his abundantly charming and hilarious personality. To this day he remains employed by the UFC and is always mentioned when ever the discussion of what makes the Ultimate Fighter so special comes up.
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Twitter handle @heyitsmma