Now in its tenth season, The Ultimate Fighter has been the launching pad for some of the mixed martial arts world’s brightest stars, as well as three UFC champions. But after nine complete seasons, who are the 20 fighters who have emerged as the cream of the crop from the Spike TV reality series? Today, we start the countdown of the TUF 20.
20 - Kendall Grove – Season Three winner
Post TUF record: 5-3
Heading towards journeyman status when he entered the TUF house for season three, Grove began taking his training and fighting career seriously under the tutelage of coach Tito Ortiz and ran the table en route to the season three middleweight title. What has followed since has been a mix of impressive wins over Alan Belcher, Evan Tanner, and Jason Day, and crushing KO losses to Patrick Cote and Jorge Rivera that have shown Grove to still be a work in progress. But once he gets consistent and starts fighting like he’s 6 foot 6, then we’ll truly see what the Hawaiian can do in the Octagon.
DEFINING FIGHT - W3 Evan Tanner - TUF7 Finale - 6/21/08
TUF TALK - “Before the show I never had anybody come up to me and shake my hand and tell me that I was one of their favorite fighters. But after the show, it started to happen and it was just a mind trip.”
19 - Patrick Cote – Season Four finalist
Post TUF record: 4-2
Thrown to the lions immediately with a UFC debut against Tito Ortiz in October of 2004, Cote struggled in his early UFC bouts, going 0-3 against Ortiz, Joe Doerksen and Chris Leben before getting his shot on The Ultimate Fighter 4. Cote made it to the finals, was submitted in quick fashion by Travis Lutter, but then went on a 5-0 tear (with wins over Scott Smith, Grove, Drew McFedries, and Ricardo Almeida) that culminated in a title fight against Anderson Silva in October of 2008. And though Cote’s shot at the belt was shortened due to injury, Canada’s ‘Predator’ has the power and experience to be a tough out for anyone at 185 pounds.
DEFINING FIGHT - TKO 1 Drew McFedries - UFC Fight Night - 1/23/08
TUF TALK - “The first day I came into the house, I said that I will be the most dangerous guy there because I’m better than my UFC record. It’s 0-3, but everybody knows that I’m better than that. My fight against (Joe) Doerksen was the worst night of my life because it was a very, very bad loss, and my fight against (Chris) Leben, I still think I won it, but I can’t do anything right now. So I just refocused myself and the UFC called me back and wanted me in the show.”
18 - Joe Lauzon – Season Five
Post TUF record: 4-1
After debuting in the UFC in September of 2006 with a stirring 48 second knockout of Jens Pulver, Joe Lauzon didn’t need The Ultimate Fighter as a springboard into the organization, but he took the opportunity to compete with one of the series’ most talent-rich casts anyway. And though he didn’t take the season five title, his post TUF stint in the UFC has been quite impressive in its own right as he’s won four of his five bouts (all by TKO or submission), with the only loss coming in 2008 to Kenny Florian. Currently on the shelf due to a knee injury, expect to see Lauzon back in action in 2010.
DEFINING FIGHT - Wsub2 Jeremy Stephens - UFC Fight Night - 2/7/09
TUF TALK - “I got to train with such world-class guys like BJ Penn, Regan (Penn), and Tony (DeSouza), and even the other guys on our team. It was a great measuring stick. You think ‘I can do okay against this guy or that guy’, but until you actually get to do it, you really have no idea. I think being put up against the best was awesome for me because I know where I am and where I have to get and how I measure up against other people. It’s weird because when you train with ‘your’ guys, you really don’t have as much of a measuring stick to other people. When you get to go up against the best, it’s a much more accurate read.”
17 - Chris Leben – Season One
Post TUF record: 8-5
Whether you loved him or hated him, Chris Leben always provoked strong feelings from MMA fans while being the poster boy for bad behavior on the first season of TUF. His post-TUF career has also matched his persona, thanks to an up and down journey that has always been compelling, regardless of the final result. And though Leben’s 3-5 record in his last eight fights is far from impressive, you can’t forget that he started his UFC career with a 5-0 run that included wins over Patrick Cote, Edwin Dewees, Jorge Rivera and Luigi Fioravanti before he was stopped by a debuting Anderson Silva in 2006. So it may be premature to count ‘The Crippler’ out just yet.
DEFINING FIGHT - KO 3 Terry Martin - UFC Fight Night - 9/19/07
TUF TALK - “I’m one of those guys that always thought they were gonna be famous. I thought I was somebody important before I was somebody important, I guess. In my mind, people should have always been pointing to me and saying, ‘hey, there goes Chris Leben.’”
16 - Tim Credeur – Season Seven
Post TUF record: 3-1
Probably the dark horse of this entire group, Tim Credeur battled it out on the local circuit before getting his big shot on The Ultimate Fighter, but even though he scored three wins on the show over Erik Charles, Matthew Riddle, and Dan Cramer, he was best remembered for his two losses to Jesse Taylor and CB Dollaway and not expected to make much noise in the Octagon once the show was over. Oh, how those folks were wrong. Credeur came flying out of the gate with three finishes of Cale Yarbrough and hot prospects Nate Loughran and Nick Catone before dropping a hard-fought decision to Nate Quarry in a war that will receive strong Fight of The Year consideration. It looks like “Crazy Tim” is here to stay.
DEFINING FIGHT - L3 Nate Quarry - UFC Fight Night - 9/16/09
TUF TALK - “There were a couple things that (TUF7 coach) Forrest (Griffin) said – he had a quote (from Virgil) one time, ‘Fortune favors the brave,’ and another time he quoted Shakespeare ‘To thine own self be true.’ Those are the kind of things I probably took away from The Ultimate Fighter the most, that there are other people out there fighting for their dreams. It’s okay to sacrifice some of your life fighting for these dreams, and it gave me the inspiration to go for it. It’s always been a struggle, but it happened this way for a reason and it’s worth it, because at the end of your life you just want to know you gave it your best shot.”
15 - Efrain Escudero – Season Eight winner
Post TUF record: 2-0
Here based more on potential than accomplishments thus far, season eight winner Efrain Escudero is the type of fighter you can’t help but keep an eye on, mainly because he’s one of those guys who finds a way to win no matter what. An underdog to Phillipe Nover in the TUF8 finale, Escudero found a way to negate Nover’s attack and get the win. And most recently at UFC 103 in September, Escudero – who had been sidelined by injury since the Nover fight – took on a huge task in season five’s Cole Miller, but again, he rose to the occasion when it mattered and he stopped Miller in the first round. Sure, he’s got great wrestling and some pop in his fists, but you should be watching Escudero for the intangibles he brings to the Octagon.
DEFINING FIGHT - TKO 1 Cole Miller - UFC 103 - 9/19/09
TUF TALK - “I love being the underdog and I like proving people wrong. I’m the kind of guy that if you say I can’t run ten miles, I’ll go down trying just because you told me I can’t do it. And I like to surround myself with people who are the same way, that like to go for broke. I think that comes from back in wrestling, when people would say ‘well, you can’t beat this guy. Why do you even try?’ So I would go and try to beat him, and even if I lose, I’m gonna go down trying.”