The 10 Best Fighters in Ultimate Fighter History
The UFC's venerable reality show takes a new turn on Friday night when the first-ever season of The Ultimate Fighter Live debuts on FX.
Fourteen seasons of the show have provided us with plenty of forgettable moments and easily-dismissed fighters. But there have also been plenty of gems to emerge from the show, especially during the early days when the series featured a crop of talented fighters all trying to make it into the UFC.
Those were the good old days. It's been a long time since we discovered a true championship prospect lurking in the Ultimate Fighter house. Season 14's bantamweight and featherweight crop may ultimately produce new contenders at 135, 145 and flyweight, but it's still too early to tell. These days, most of the truly talented fighters find their way into the UFC without having to go through the rigors of the TUF filming process, which means we're often left with mid-level fighters who may never sniff championship gold.
But despite all of that, The Ultimate Fighter still has a role to play. It has produced champions and contenders in the past, and perhaps it'll do so again someday. With that in mind, let's take a look back at the 10 best fighters to ever emerge from the Ultimate Fighter house.
These are the best of the best. They are the men who went into the house with a dream and emerged as long-term superstars and title holders.
10. Chris Leben
Record since leaving The Ultimate Fighter: 12-7
Chris Leben isn't the greatest technical fighter to ever appear on The Ultimate Fighter. And he's an often-troubled individual with two drug test failures and several run-ins with the law.
But Leben is also one of the most popular fighters to come out of the show. His heart and willingness to take 10 punches in order to deliver one of his own has endeared him to fans in a way that few others have.
He'll never be a champion, but you can always count on "The Crippler" to deliver an exciting fight.
9. Nathan Diaz
Record since leaving The Ultimate Fighter: 10-5
Ultimate Fighter Season 5 winner Nathan Diaz is one of the more intriguing characters to ever appear on the show. He's got just enough of that patented Diaz craziness to keep his rabid fanbase happy, and he's a dangerous fighter when he puts everything together in the cage.
Diaz had a failed stint at welterweight in 2011, but he strung together dominant wins over Takanori Gomi and Donald Cerrone upon returning to lightweight. He faces Jim Miller in the main event of UFC on FOX 3 in May, and a win will earn him a title shot.
8. Matt Serra
Record since leaving The Ultimate Fighter: 3-3
Serra's record since leaving The Ultimate Fighter isn't great. It's not even good. But his shocking win over Georges St-Pierre for the UFC welterweight title in 2007 remains the biggest upset in the history of the UFC. For that, Serra deserves a place on this list.
Serra fought in the UFC long before appearing on The Ultimate Fighter Season 4, a season that focused on fighters attempting to make a comeback in the UFC. The winner would earn a title shot at St-Pierre, and Serra capitalized by beating Chris Lytle in the finals.
Serra would lose the belt in his rematch with St-Pierre, but his win over one of the greatest champions in UFC history cements him as an Ultimate Fighter standout.
7. Gray Maynard
Record since leaving The Ultimate Fighter: 8-1-1
Gray Maynard came so very close to capturing the UFC lightweight title in 2011.
At UFC 125, it seemed like Maynard was inches away from beating Frankie Edgar for the lightweight title. Edgar's heart allowed him to persevere and forced a controversial draw in the fight. The pair rematched at UFC 136, and Maynard once again seemed on the cusp of grabbing the title. But once again, Edgar rebounded and finished Maynard in the fourth round.
And so Maynard is outside of title contention, at least for the moment. Edgar's loss to Benson Henderson actually plays in Maynard's favor, as there wasn't much of a chance for another Maynard title shot while Edgar still held the belt.
If he's able to string together a few more wins, "The Bully" will be right back in title contention by the time 2013 rolls around.
6. Diego Sanchez
Record since leaving The Ultimate Fighter: 12-5
I can't imagine a scenario where Diego Sanchez ever becomes a UFC champion.
But I also cannot imagine a scenario where Sanchez is in a boring fight, and it's that trait that has made him one of the most beloved fighters to emerge from the Ultimate Fighter.
Sanchez is all heart—a gritty fighter with an enduring will to win and the ability to absorb massive amounts of punishment. He's taken fighters in two separate weight classes to the limit, all while putting on the kind of fights that Dana White and fans around the world like to see.
5. Michael Bisping
Record since leaving The Ultimate Fighter: 12-4
Michael Bisping may be the most underrated fighter to ever come out of The Ultimate Fighter.
He has never received a title shot during the course of his nearly six-year career in the UFC. But Bisping's four losses came against some very tough fighters: Dan Henderson, Wanderlei Silva, Rashad Evans and Chael Sonnen. He was a decent fighter at light heavyweight, where he won Season 3 of the reality show, but he truly began coming into his own when he made the move to middleweight.
At 33 years old, Bisping still seems to have plenty of career ahead of him. He's one of the most hated fighters in the UFC, which ensures that he'll constantly be placed in featured attractions. His performance in a close losing effort to Chael Sonnen didn't set him back in the slightest, and one or two more wins should finally put him in line for a title shot.
4. Kenny Florian
Record since leaving The Ultimate Fighter: 12-5
If Kenny Florian never fights again, he may be remembered as a fighter who excelled against lesser competition but could not deliver in championship fights.
If that's the case, it's a shame.
Sure, Florian lost in three separate bids for championship gold against Sean Sherk, B.J. Penn and Jose Aldo. But his career record shows that Florian was a very good fighter who simply met his match in title fights.
Any fighter on the UFC roster will tell you that they'd rather lose in a championship fight than never have gotten a shot at all. Florian nearly made it to the mountaintop, and in two different weight classes. That's a feat that may never be replicated.
Injuries may force Florian to end his career prematurely, but he's settling nicely into a role as a UFC broadcaster. If his time is up,"KenFlo" can look back at a career that just about any fighter in the world would be envious of.
3. Josh Koscheck
Record since leaving The Ultimate Fighter: 15-5
Josh Koscheck may never be a champion, but it doesn't matter.
Koscheck went into the Ultimate Fighter house with a fantastic wrestling game and not much else. He didn't really know how to strike. He wasn't a mixed martial artist.
But Koscheck realized one thing early on: It's better to be hated than forgotten. Koscheck turned himself into the ultimate bad guy with his constant bullying of Chris Leben, which in turn led to one of the most anticipated weekly fights in the history of the show. That fight turned The Ultimate Fighter from just another reality show into must-see television.
Koscheck's had a decent UFC career. He transformed himself from a wrestler in a total mixed martial artist with deadly punching power. He fought for the championship and has given fans plenty of memorable moments.
Through it all, "Kos" remains one of the most-hated fighters in the UFC. It's a role he relishes.
2. Forrest Griffin
Record since leaving The Ultimate Fighter: 9-5
Forrest Griffin doesn't have the most stellar record in the UFC, but that doesn't really matter. What matters is Griffin's place as one of the most important fighters in the history of the UFC and his popularity with fans around the world.
Griffin's win over Quinton Jackson made him the first Ultimate Fighter star to capture a UFC championship. Though he lost the title to Rashad Evans in his very next fight, his title win proved that The Ultimate Fighter could produce championship-level fighters.
His time as a top light heavyweight has drawn to a close, and he's openly talked of retirement for the past year. But Griffin remains one of the top stars to ever come out of the reality show. And despite his record, he's a lock for the UFC Hall of Fame.
1. Rashad Evans
Record since leaving The Ultimate Fighter: 12-1-1
Rashad Evans is the single greatest talent The Ultimate Fighter has ever produced. After winning the second season as a heavyweight, Evans dropped to light heavyweight and hasn't looked back.
His most famous career moment was his vicious knockout win over Chuck Liddell, but it was his win over Forrest Griffin that gave him his first UFC championship and cemented Evans as one of the best fighters in the world.
Evans finally gets his chance at a second UFC title next month when he faces Jon Jones at UFC 145. He's a severe underdog going into the fight, and rightly so, but Evans can never be discounted in a fight. He's simply too good to be treated as an afterthought.