Probably more so than the fights and the training, the success of The Ultimate Fighter largely relies on the personalities of the coaches.
Look no further than the fact that Dana White just announced Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen—two big personalities who absolutely will not get along during filming—as coaches for the next instalment.
However some guys have a knack for actually coaching, either on their own or as part of a team that they’ll bring in, and they give these up and coming kids the fullest experience they can offer.
With so much talk about Jones, Sonnen and TUF 17 happening this week, here’s a list of the best coaches who have come before them.
While he was mostly there for the face time and to throw out some quips at his nemesis Matt Hughes, the author of the biggest upset in UFC history was also a decent coach. He knew the game from his time as a contestant, and he knew how to develop fighters from his years of doing so with his own fight team.
He put together a solid team of fighters and a respectable coaching staff, but didn’t produce many guys who went on to impact the UFC in any notable way. George Sotiropoulos is the only member of his team that season who’s still around.
Still, he drove the notoriously unlikeable Hughes mad for a few weeks, and that counts for something too.
Mir gets plenty of hate for his attitude and the way he carries himself, and his time on TUF wasn’t really any different. Still, he’s a great mixed martial artist with a big time fight IQ, and he put together a great team of assistants to help his selected fighters improve.
Names like Robert Drysdale, Demian Maia and Dan Henderson all showed up to help out along the way, and while he didn’t have a champion in either bracket for the show, he did show a keen eye for talent, as all eight of his guys fought on a UFC card other than the season finale at some point in time.
He also won the coach vs. coach fight at season’s end.
Nogueira faced off against Mir in Season 8, and showed his capacity for molding young fighters, while also proving to be the genuinely good guy that most fans had heard so much about.
Three of the four finalists that year came from his team, and he produced both winners.
He went on to lose the season-ending fight with Mir at UFC 92, but got results from the guys in the house and showed he could improve them in short stretch of time while also building a sense of team—not surprising given how respected he is as a coach outside of TUF.
While his TUF 9 stint is probably best remembered for ending with a near-decapitation KO loss to Dan Henderson, for the time he had his run of Team UK that season, Michael Bisping was an excellent coach.
He developed his fighters nicely, put in the work to bring them together as a team and genuinely seemed to enjoy the experience. Sure, he got on Henderson’s nerves, but Bisping isn’t exactly known for being an affable, lovable guy, and he got what he earned when the two were in the cage.
He was much worse in his second stint as a coach during TUF 14, but his first go produced winners in both weight classes and a total of four guys who fought in the UFC. Not a bad go of things.
The original coaches of TUF, Couture and Liddell squared off in the first season of the show that changed MMA forever. It’s impossible to credit one over the other, as they almost worked in tandem to make sure the fighters under their tutelage got something out of the experience.
It’s hard to get a true feel for how good of a job they did given that there was a lot of time wasted on guys pulling logs through the desert and Chris Leben sleeping on the lawn, but both are legendary fighters and figureheads in the sport and their presence gave things some weight.
It helped that they were competitive rivals only, and actually got along pretty well as they forged new ground for the UFC. While they had teams and were technically adversaries, it felt like the competition was so much bigger than just the two of them.
Most people will forever remember TUF 13 for being uneventful, showing that Brock Lesnar was basically a pretty quiet, normal guy when not intentionally putting on a show in an arena and popularizing the phrase “you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken s---.”
But the guy pegged to coach against Lesnar, now-heavyweight champion Junior Dos Santos, was actually a great coach.
He was concerned about his guys, did everything in his power to make them better, provided great assistant coaches and went through a rigorous regimen to learn English going into his coaching stint in hopes of maximizing communication with his team (after which he still brought a translator, just in case).
He worked out with his team, taught them everything he could and when he ran out of stuff, he looked to men like Anderson Silva and Big Nog to supplement him.
Really the only downside was his insufferable wrestling coach Lew Polley, whom Dos Santos politely settled down as well.
Lesnar’s guy won the show, but Dos Santos was a better coach.
You don’t have to like him, but the guy can coach. And fight. And ham it up for TV.
Rashad Evans was legitimately one of the best coaches in the history of the show, and while some of that was due to the fact he looked good in comparison to his foe Rampage Jackson, more of it has to do with just how good Evans is at all things MMA.
He brought in great trainers to serve as assistant coaches, had plenty of insight himself and never once backed down from Jackson’s schoolyard silliness.
The end result? An all-Team Evans finale and a bunch of guys who got some UFC time after the show.
St-Pierre was a great coach not necessarily because he could coach, but rather because he knew how not to coach.
Another guy who showed that his nice guy image was well-earned, the welterweight kingpin proved to be the ultimate martial artist by essentially using his coaching stint as a fight camp and participating in it alongside his team while more qualified coaches taught them. Oh, and he used it to build up enough hate for Josh Koscheck that he almost blinded him by the time they fought.
Most of his team stuck around the UFC, and three of the final four were Team GSP representatives. It’s pretty clear that his system worked.
In any sport, there’s a certain level of guy that proves to be a better coach than competitor. Yes, they probably got to the highest levels, but they were never impact guys when they did and they eventually settle into the niche of early retirement and a life as a surprisingly good coach.
It’s more of a team sport phenomenon considering how young MMA is, but Jason “Mayhem” Miller is definitely the poster child if TUF is to be used as an example. He ended up coaching first then retiring, but it doesn’t really matter considering how good he was.
He provided plenty of hands-on training, some good guidance and served to be the best corner man in the history of the show by far. Maybe in the history of MMA.
A Team Miller guy, John Dodson, won the bantamweight division and will now fight for the flyweight title in the near future. Mayhem also put seven of his eight guys through to the UFC in fights beyond the season finale, which is a remarkable number.
Going into 2006, if hating Tito Ortiz was cool you could have considered me Miles Davis.
He was on a two-fight win streak when the show premiered and would win three fights that calendar year before taking on Chuck Liddell in the biggest UFC event to that point in history on December 30.
But his incessant yapping and constant need for attention was just too much.
That is, until he debuted as a TUF coach.
It was a side no one knew of Ortiz—the hard working fighter, the gifted teacher and perhaps above all else, the sympathetic human being.
He genuinely cared about his team, from christening the group Team Punishment instead of Team Ortiz, to actively seeking out ways to better communicate with the hearing impaired Matt Hamill.
Tito did everything right that season, picking two winners and blitzing Ken Shamrock twice in the cage after a season of never giving the overly-entitled legend an inch. He conditioned his guys well, taught them how to be better in the cage and lived every second of every outcome right in the trenches with the rest of his team.
While he was forgettable in his second stint as a coach during TUF 11, he was the ultimate blueprint for how a guy should handle himself and his team when he coached the first time. The best the show has ever seen, by far.