The UFC’s flagship reality show, The Ultimate Fighter on Spike TV, has come and gone in conclusion with its 11th season. The final chapter was closed on the middleweight saga at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas with a story book ending—the rocky road that led to the TUF Finale, on the other hand, was not paved in gold.
The most notable development—the catalyst for Liddell vs. Franklin at UFC 115—was the dishonorable discharge of Tito Ortiz’ services on the show due to yet another spinal injury requiring surgery.
In two consecutive seasons of The Ultimate Fighter, the two headlining rival coaches were unable to conclude their “drama” in the octagon at a finale show in a timely fashion. Rampage Jackson and Rashad Evans’ escalated issues on the show failed to be resolved until UFC 114, five months after the winner of season ten was crowned.
Even without a third fight between Ortiz and Liddell, season 11 produced a very riveting story of redemption. Utah native Court McGee, the newly crowned Ultimate Fighter, is a former heroin addict who was clinically pronounced dead before being resuscitated after an overdose in 2005—a horrific prequel to his current mixed martial arts success story.
After turning his life around by finding salvation and direction in MMA, McGee constructed an 8-1 professional record before entering the home of the Ultimate Fighter. Despite showcasing his potential, McGee lost a controversial fight to the show’s No. 1 pick, Nick Ring.
But, once Rich Attonito broke his hand and forfeited his quarterfinal spot, Dana White picked McGee as a replacement due to his belief that McGee's “loss” was unfair without a sudden death third round—the rest is history.
Clearly, McGee’s destiny has been tarred with life altering obstacles and rewards, but in the end, it will go down as one of the UFC’s most memorable underdog success stories.
Dennis Siver, 31, (16-7) – one fight win-streak
After a slow start in round one, finding himself on the wrong end of numerous leg kicks and punches, Siver came back strong in the remaining rounds, stealing a unanimous decision over veteran gatekeeper 34- year-old Spencer Fisher.
Siver, who is the human equivalent of a German Panzer tank, ripped and bulky for a lightweight, possesses redeeming qualities. His fighting style only presents minimal shortcomings. He competes with a gritty, robotic flair where he comes forward to push the pressure on opponents. Plus, who doesn’t love watching a stocky and powerful striker who land effective spinning back kicks in the octagon?
Siver is far from being the Machida-esque karate kid of the 155lbs division, but with a few more impressive wins, he can find himself in the mix down the road. He has successes in the octagon he can build off: two Knock-out of the Night and one Fight of the Night awards. Let’s give him Efrain Escudero.
Chris Leben, 29, (20-6) – two fight win-streak
The Crippler is an anomaly in the UFC, being an alumnus of the golden first class of untouchable ultimate fighters from season one, an exclusive immunity enjoyed by a handful of competitors, some with questionable performances in the organization.
He is among the likes of Stephan Bonnar, Forrest Griffin, Mike Swick, Josh Koscheck, Diego Sanchez, Nate Quarry, and Kenny Florian as active fighters on the UFC roster that seem to be allotted extra love from Dana White—a nine lives complex.
Now half of the above fighters have more than pulled their own weight since the show, while the other half have really taken advantage of Dana’s kindness—Leden, even with this recent win over Aaron Simpson, still qualifies as one of those fighters.
What people do admire about a fighter like Leben, despite his hiccups inside and outside the octagon, is his willingness to entertain fans, win or lose. Whether he is rocking corn-rows or striking that infamous pose, he remains in favorable eyes with the fans.
Unfortunately, not much as evolved in Leben’s game since his stay in the Ultimate Fighter house. He finished Simpson with a predictable left, remained standing for most of the fight, and had less than impressive cardio.
Leben fulfills the entertainment portion of the sport, but without expanding his game in order to keep pace with MMA’s evolution, he’ll never get that title shot he claims he wants. Let’s give him Patrick Cote.
Matt Hamill, 33, (9-2) – four fight win-streak
Like McGee, Hamill’s MMA journey is another inspirational story that has been well documented—hence the upcoming documentary. The most recent chapter of his story, another testament to his perseverance, was defeating Greg Jackson’s Keith Jardine while battling a case of staph infection—noticeable on his lower back—and a broken hand.
The flip side of the coin: Jardine, who was once considered a contender in the 205lbs division after beating top names like Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin, got defeated by a fighter with staph and a broken hand.
Considering what Hamill was working with during the fight—a diminished cardiovascular output, due to the infection, and problems utilizing his grappling and wrestling due to his broken hand—he still managed to out perform Jardine for three rounds.
Four consecutive loses—five in his last six UFC appearances—fails to justify even Jardine’s gatekeeper status. There are dark days ahead for the “Dean of Mean’s” future in the octagon.
Hamill’s four consecutive victories are a bit misleading after getting man-handled by Jon Jones, who later disqualified himself by landing illegal elbows. With that said, he is still keeping himself in the mix. It will be interesting to see if Hamill will finally reach his full potential by the end of the year. Let’s give him undefeated Ryan Bader.
Court McGee, 25, (10-1) – four fight win-streak
Not only is Court McGee a hero in his own story of vindication, he showcased real talent against Kris McCray. His footwork was good and his ground game was obviously superior to what McCray could offer up.
The future is bright for the Ultimate Fighter winner.
There are few sports far and between that possess such respectable, humble, and disciplined competitors like those in MMA; McGee is the most recent example proving that people can be rehabilitated by the rich character building elements of the sport.
What seems to set mixed martial arts apart from the rest of mainstream sports is what also makes the athletes respectable people—the martial art’s spirit and discipline. In other sports, athletes can have a rap sheet as big as their egos and still be a good at what they do.
With MMA, part of being a great fighter is respecting the spirit in each discipline, in return making most competitors better people—or at least more equip to overcome life’s obstacles.
Congratulations to this season’s Ultimate Fighter winner Court McGee.
A lot of can be exposed after an Ultimate Fighter winner’s first official bout in the octagon. McGee did well against a fellow cast member, but how will he handle the pressuring demands on the big stage? Let’s give him Tim Credeur.