The Ultimate Fighter has never been 100 percent embraced by MMA fans. You can't downplay its importance, of course, because The Ultimate Fighter Season 1 and the bout between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar was the turning point for the sport in America.
But how good were any of the fighters, really?
How can it be pitched as a starting place for future champions when...well...no champions have come from it since Season 2? When Rashad Evans is the last guy to have won a belt? When Jon Jones, Frankie Edgar, Johny Hendricks, Chris Weidman, on and on, never came from The Ultimate Fighter?
How can it be billed as sports when there is all of this nonsense? Shouting "let me bang, bro" and peeing on beds...these are the guys that the UFC puts forward as faces of the sport?
How can it be pitched as a legitimate source of talent when even its winners, guys such as Efrain Escudero and Kendall Grove, wash out of the promotion?
Well, times have changed, ladies and gentlemen. While you wouldn't expect it to come from one single event, The Ultimate Fighter has been re-legitimized as a source of talent.
TUF 18 winner Chris Holdsworth was the first season winner to kick the night off. The lanky bantamweight utterly dominated Chico Camus with his crafty groundwork, taking a handy 30-27 unanimous-decision win. The win arguably vaults him right into the bantamweight top 10, and at the very least, it makes him somebody to watch in the division.
TUF 13 winner Tony Ferguson followed that up with an even more impressive win. Against wild Japanese striker Katsunori Kikuno, he adjusted to his Wushu stance and started freely landing hard punches. Like Holdsworth, he suddenly finds himself as a major player in the upper half of the lightweight division.
TUF 15 winner Michael Chiesa? No big deal...just a dominant win over Francisco Trinaldo that advances his UFC record to 4-1.
Last but not least? It wasn't a TUF winner who took top prize...but TUF 14 bantamweight runner-up TJ Dillashaw.
The Team Alpha Male product absolutely dominated Renan Barao, making the fighter who was comically labeled as the top pound-for-pound fighter in MMA look downright amateurish as he delivered unanswered strikes for, essentially, the entire fight.
Naturally, that is causing many to take a second look at the recent seasons of The Ultimate Fighter. While Seasons 6 through 11 provided the UFC with just a handful of middling fighters (the toast of those years would likely be heavyweight gatekeeper Roy Nelson), more recent seasons are providing many legitimately interesting talents.
Following UFC 173, it's hard not to be reminded that ranked fighters such as John Dodson, Myles Jury and Michael Johnson all came in from TUF. It's also hard not to suddenly be very bullish on the future outlook for fighters such as Julianna Pena, Dennis Bermudez and Luke Barnatt.
It's a fast but very welcome change that has me thinking "Hey...maybe I actually should start watching The Ultimate Fighter again..."