Heading in to the fall of 2010, only one winner of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) had been cut from the UFC, the lone victim being season four middleweight winner Travis Lutter. Since then, two TUF winners have been cut from the promotion.
The first to go was season nine lightweight winner Efrain Escudero. Escudero was cut on the heels of a submission loss to Charles Oliveira at UFC Fight Night 22: Marquardt vs. Palhares, in which he came in at 159 pounds, three pounds over the lightweight non-title fight limit. Escudero had won his previous fight over Dan Lauzon, so odds are the UFC cut Escudero for his own benefit—that if he got his act together and strung together some wins in smaller promotions, he might be invited back. (Escudero's efforts to do so were set back after a recent loss to Hermes Franca ended a three-fight win-streak.)
The next to go was season three middleweight winner Kendall 'Da Spyder' Grove. Grove never found consistency in the UFC and held a 7-6 record with the promotion at the time of his release, after consecutive defeats to Demian Maia at The Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale and Tim Boetsch at UFC 130. Like Escudero, if Grove strings together a few wins in other promotions, it's within the realm of possibility he could be invited back as a replacement and start a new run in the UFC.
Clearly, the UFC is intending to send a message that winning The Ultimate Fighter no longer grants one immunity, especially as the organization attempts to trim the fat from a roster that now includes fighters absorbed from the WEC and Strikeforce.
This article will highlight the five winners of the show that may be on the chopping block with another loss.
Update: Joe Stevenson was officially released on August 5th.
Season 4 Welterweight Winner, Former UFC Welterweight Champion
Notable Wins: Georges St-Pierre (for UFC Welterweight Title), Chris Lytle, Frank Trigg
Fight Night Awards: Fight of the Night (vs. Matt Hughes), Knockout of the Night (vs. Trigg)
One of only two men to beat UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, Matt Serra (11-7, 7-7 UFC) is now 37 and has lost three of his last four fights—though the first two were to St-Pierre and Matt Hughes.
Serra's wife, Ann, recently gave birth to the couple's second child in April, and with a growing family and his own Jiu-Jitsu academy, it seems more and more likely Serra will retire before giving the UFC a chance to hand him his walking papers. One of the most charismatic fighters in UFC history, it's likely that even if he did retire, we'd still see plenty of him.
Season 5 Lightweight Winner
Notable wins: Manvel Gamburyan, Kurt Pellegrino, Melvin Guillard, Gray Maynard (technically, an exhibition bout during the show), Marcus Davis
Fight Night Awards: 4x Fight of the Night (vs. Josh Neer, Clay Guida, Joe Stevenson and Davis), 2x Submission of the Night (vs. Pellegrino and Guillard)
Nate Diaz (13-7, 8-5 UFC) has been down on his luck in 2011 after going 2-1 in 2010, including going 2-0 in welterweight bouts. At UFC 125 on New Year's Day, he dropped a decision to Judo black belt Dong Hyun Kim. At UFC 129 in April, Diaz was soundly defeated by Canadian prospect Rory MacDonald in a lopsided decision that saw MacDonald suplex Diaz three times.
Diaz recently announced he will be dropping back down to lightweight for his next fight, against former PRIDE Champion Takanori Gomi at UFC 135. Diaz's brother, Nick, holds a submission win over Gomi (though the fight was later ruled a No Contest), so it's likely that Diaz will come in to the Gomi fight well-prepared.
Season 8 Light Heavyweight Winner
Notable Wins: Vinny Magalhaes, Keith Jardine, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
Fight Night Awards: None
Ryan Bader (12-2, 5-2 UFC), after starting his career with 12 consecutive wins, has now dropped two fights in a row, both via guillotine choke, at the hands of current UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones (at UFC 126), and, most recently, former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz at UFC 132. In the Jones fight, Bader was clearly overmatched, and having a loss to the champion of one's division is never detrimental to a fighter's career. As far as the Ortiz bout is concerned, it's quite possible Bader overlooked Ortiz, who hadn't won since 2007 and hadn't finished anyone not named Ken Shamrock since June 29, 2001, more than 10 years prior to the fight at UFC 132.
I can't say I blame him, since Ortiz and his hardcore fans were more than likely the only people thinking Ortiz had any chance whatsoever of defeating Bader.
As a marketable young fighter with power in his hands, Bader and the UFC would be wise to schedule a favorable opponent for Bader's next fight—either a promotional newcomer or another fighter who may be a loss away from being cut. Tom Blackledge and Steve Cantwell come to mind.
Season 10 Heavyweight Winner
Notable Wins: Brendan Schaub, Stefan Struve
Fight Night Awards: 2x Knockout of the Night (vs. Schaub, Struve)
Roy Nelson (15-6, 2-2 UFC) was easily the most experienced fighter on season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter, defeating Kimbo Slice, Justin Wren (via a controversial two-round decision) and James McSweeney en route to making the finale against Schaub.
He followed his victory over Schaub with a quick knockout win over 6'11 Stefan Struve at Ultimate Fight Night: Florian vs. Gomi. Nelson has gone winless in his two fights since beating Struve, dropping a number one contender fight to Junior dos Santos at UFC 117 in August 2010, and most recently losing to former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir via decision at UFC 130 in May.
What separates Nelson from Bader in terms of ranking on this list is marketability. Nelson's biggest point of marketability—no pun intended—is his belly. His success despite his lack of a Greek god's physique is sure to win him a few fans, but other fans—myself included—have come to be annoyed with the fact that it seems Nelson will attribute his losses to anything except his physique and that cutting to 205 pounds is out of the question.
Finally, it's no secret Nelson butted heads with coach Rashad Evans and UFC president Dana White during the course of the show, so if Nelson were to lose his next fight to an opponent such as, say, Joey Beltran or Sean McCorkle, one wouldn't be surprised if White had Nelson's walking papers ready for him in the locker room.
Season 9 Welterweight Winner
Notable Wins: DaMarques Johnson?
Fight Night Awards: None (though his scrap with Matt Brown at UFC 105 was highly entertaining)
Admit it. You forgot he was an Ultimate Fighter winner. No one would blame you.
While it's respectable that Wilks (7-4, 2-2 UFC) was very business-like on season nine—certainly on the show to win a contract and not just get TV time—his tenure in the UFC has been rather forgettable. In his first fight after defeating Johnson to win season nine, he was TKO'd by Matt Brown in front of a home crowd in Manchester.
Wilks was victorious over the since-cut Peter Sobotta at UFC 115, but was most recently defeated by Claude Patrick at UFC 120, once again falling short on British turf. He was actually scheduled to face Rory MacDonald at UFC 129, but was replaced by Nate Diaz, which was probably in Wilks' best interest given how MacDonald handled Diaz.
Though Wilks is on only a one-fight losing streak, compared to the two-fight losing streaks of Diaz, Bader and Nelson, he has fought lesser competition and simply isn't that marketable. Neither well-liked nor truly disliked by most fans, he has never appeared on the main card of a UFC pay-per-view (UFC 105 aired on Spike TV in the United States), has never had a truly high-profile fight, let alone a high-profile victory.
If Wilks loses his next fight, possibly against someone like Daniel Roberts (if he isn't cut shortly), TJ Grant, or even as a possible bounce-back fight for Rick Story or Dong Hyun Kim, the organization's most forgettable TUF winner could very well be looking for a job outside the UFC.
Season 2 Welterweight Winner
Notable Wins- Melvin Guillard, Kurt Pellegrino, Nate Diaz, Spencer Fisher
Fight Night Bonuses- 3x Fight of the Night (vs. Diaz, Diego Sanchez, and George Sotiropoulos).
Once a title contender, Stevenson (31-14, 8-7 UFC) has now lost four fights in a row. Staying around despite a losing streak of this magnitude are usually reserved for fighters who have lost in controversial fashion (judge or referee error) or Tito Ortiz. At this point in his career, Stevenson is probably best known for his submission losses to BJ Penn and Kenny Florian, both via rear naked choke. In the title fight against Penn, Stevenson was bloodied badly before being submitted in the second round, whereas Florian made quick work of Stevenson, submitting him in the first round,
Stevenson dropped a Unanimous Decision to George Sotiropoulos at UFC 110, and was knocked out by Mac Danzig at UFC 124. Stevenson then lost a decision to Danny Castillo at UFC Live: Sanchez vs. Kampmann. In one last attempt to resurrect his UFC career, Stevenson announced a drop to the UFC's featherweight division. He made his featherweight debut at UFC Live: Kongo vs. Barry, and in a fight in which he looked extremely passive, Stevenson once again dropped a decision.
One really has to wonder why Stevenson might be given another chance. Sure, he's an Ultimate Fighter winner, but as the recent releases of Escudero and Grove have proven, that doesn't necessarily grant a fighter free pass to keep losing. It's not as if any of Stevenson's losses were controversial. Sotiropoulos beat him convincingly, and Danzig knocked him clean out. The Castillo fight was close, but the judges made the right decision. Finally, in the Vasquez fight, when he was clearly behind on the scorecards in the third round, Stevenson seemed content not to push the pace against a clearly gassed Vasquez. Ultimate Fighter winner or not, that's not the type of fighter that belongs in the UFC.
Update: Stevenson was officially released from the UFC on August 5th.
As a reward, here's a picture of former UFC ring girl Logan Stanton.
As usual, I welcome any comments and arguments.