For the most part, I’m not much of a fan of reality TV. Survivor is essentially an hour of television which showcases how pathetic and soft most people are in western civilization. American Idol is fun, I guess, but without Simon Cowell consuming souls, it's lost it's edge. As for the Bachelor/Bachelorette, I know very few people who still watch these productions, and I’m willing to bet that none of their viewership is reading this article, because they are busy playing with their collection of cats, which is fine.
One reality TV show that I can completely get behind however, is The Ultimate Fighter. I am a fan of this program for many reasons. First off, I think that Dana White and the UFC have really done something brilliant in concocting this show. They have successfully bred together two guilty pleasures of many North Americans. These are of course; gratuitous violence and reality TV. Since the show’s beginning in 2005, people have no longer had to look in two separate places to see people brutally assaulting each other and people looking into a camera spouting some self-obsessed, poorly prepared soliloquy. Actually based on that description, it sounds a bit like an episode of COPS, but I digress.
The other thing that the UFC has done, is that it has created another revenue stream for its league and sister leagues. The men and women brought in to The Ultimate Fighter competitions are generally found from the ranks of local and regional MMA circles across the globe, much like how fighters are recruited to fight in leagues. The difference is, on The Ultimate Fighter, we get to see notably more of the fighters’ backgrounds and life stories. This in turn makes us yearn to see more of the young scrapper who grew up in, insert rough neighborhood here, and dealt with adversity in his/her youth. Fights aside; it’s a brilliant way to turn a casual MMA fan into a hardcore fanatic.
It’s good TV, not fueled by the sappy, whiney, touchy-feely demeanor of the Bachelor/ette, and not involving the constant and relentless backstabbing (as much) of Survivor. This show is essentially about the motivation and drive of young fighters, who have dedicated their lives to their practice. It’s passion and devotion is what makes for awesome TV. With regard to its benefits for the UFC, not only is it a feeder program, providing a regular supply of new bodies into the octagon, but it also acts as a venue through which to broadcast cheaply produced fights and keep the MMA audience satiated between big events.
With this show in mind, I have compiled a list of the ten most successful The Ultimate Fighter winners. Obviously, by its very nature this is a bit subjective, so feel free to call me out on any choice with which you disagree. I based each fighter’s success not only on money earned, but I will also consider record within the UFC/MMA in general, their future in the sport and of course championship fights and belts held.
7 John Dodson: MMA Record – 15-6-0 – Net Worth: Total Unavailable, Career Fight Earnings: $270,000
I was hesitant to put John Dodson on this list, due to the fact that he is still a relative newcomer to the UFC. However, looking at his record and the way he has performed inside the ring, in just over two years, is impressive. I firmly believe that he will continue to compete at, and possibly above, his current level for at least five more years. He currently sits at 4-1 in the UFC and was nearly crowned Flyweight Champion. If the second and third rounds had gone a bit differently in that title fight, I don’t think Demetrius Johnson would have taken the win. Possibly most impressive is the fact that his bonuses thus far in his career are well over $100,000. In his first five UFC bouts, he has earned two "Knockout of the Night" honors and one for "Fight of the Night." Finally, he was the first TUF winner to fight for a championship since Nate Diaz, who we will see soon. I look forward to continuing to watch Dodson’s career, as he is fast, has plenty of knockout power and can remain relevant for a long time.
6 Roy Nelson: MMA Record – 19-9-0 – Net Worth: Total Unavailable, Career Fight Earnings: $550,000
I was hesitant to put Roy Nelson on this list, but he has had a good career with the UFC and I genuinely think he belongs here. Big Country is a brilliant striker and has consistently surprised critics by knocking out opponents considered to be his superior. Known for his beard and belly combination as much as his pure, unchecked knockout power, Nelson is often criticized for a lack of stamina and nobody can deny that fights lasting longer than one round are not his forte. He’s still a competitor and can still trade with the best in his division, but has stumbled into some tough times recently, as he's on a losing streak of two fights. He is set to face Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira in April and that should be am entertaining fight as they are two veteran fighters who never fail to put on a good show. If Nelson can’t pull off a win though, his future with the UFC may be in jeopardy.
5 Ross Pearson: MMA Record – 15-6-0 – New Worth: Total Unavailable, Career Fight Earnings: $400,000
England’s Ross Pearson, who won The Ultimate Fighter: United States VS The United Kingdom back in 2009, has looked solid so far, demonstrating that he is a capable striker, decent grappler and more than capable of submitting an opponent. He won his first two fights after winning TUF but then went 2-3 from September 2010 to June 2012. Recently however, he is on a two fight win streak. He has fought at both Lightweight and Featherweight and has earned two "Fight of the Night" awards. Overall, he stands at 7-3 so far in UFC and at 29, he is still young enough to compete at a high level in the UFC. His last fight ended in a no contest after an illegal knee, back in October 2013, but if he wins his next, we could see him in a title eliminator.
4 Ryan Bader: MMA Record – 16-4-0 – Net Worth: Total Unavailable, Career Fight Earnings: $690,000
The light heavyweight season 8 winner, Ryan Bader, went 12-0 in his first 12 professional MMA fights, including his first five fights in the UFC. In 2011 however, he was dealt his first two losses in MMA by Jon Jones and Tito Ortiz. Since those two losses, he has looked steady, going 4-2. He’s a good fighter, and one can’t really say he has a particularly weak part of his game. He can trade punches, he’s a former NCAA div I wrestler and can hold his own in the ground game, although his submission defense looked a bit shaky a few years ago, with his first two losses coming from the guillotine choke.
3 Matt Serra – MMA Record: 11-7-0 – Net Worth: Total Unavailable, Career Fight Earnings $550,000
People might think that my placement of Matt Serra is too low, but I’ll defend it. The end of his career was disappointing if not dreadful. He had a couple of great years, with some amazing fights and a brief stint as a champion, so nobody can deny that he was elite during his prime. It was after his prime, however that he started to look sluggish in the ring and racked up some nasty losses in the UFC. He won TUF season 4: The Comeback, where, instead of fighters trying to break into the UFC, there were fighters who had competed but had yet to win a championship belt. He won that title, earning a fight against GSP, and won. He lost the belt, however, during the rematch.
He’s an interesting case in this topic as he is the only fighter to participate in TUF, but not as a method of entering the UFC, but rather as a method of advancing his career. His career overall has been fantastic but as I said before, he is definitely not number one on this list because although one of the fights won him the Welterweight Championship, he was 3-4 in his last seven fights and his overall UFC record is just 7-7. His career as a coach is going well, I might add, and he is one of Chris Weidman’s current trainers.
2 Nate Diaz: MMA Record – 17-9-0 – Net Worth: Total Unavailable, Career Fight Earnings $700,000
The winner of season 5 has had a very solid career in MMA and is still one of the premier Lightweights in the UFC. Entering the UFC in 2007, Diaz went undefeated in his first five fights, but was not given a Lightweight Championship shot. He finally got his title shot in December 2012 but lost a tough one to Benson Henderson. He has also had a fantastic career in terms of honors and is always an entertaining fighter to watch, with one "Knockout of the Night", four "Fight of the Night" awards along with winning five "Submission of the Night" bonuses. I wish I could have put Nate Diaz higher on this list but he has been slightly lackluster in his last few fights, losing 4 of his last 7. His time isn’t over however, and given his dedication and toughness, I think Nate Diaz could stay in the UFC for another 5 years, as he’s still a very solid competitor and is only 28 years old.
1 Diego Sanchez: MMA Record – 24-6-0 – Net Worth: Total Unavailable, Career Fight Earnings $1,400,000
Diego Sanchez, the other reason I think season one of TUF is the most successful so far, in terms of generating great fighters, is on my list for a few reasons: longevity, competitiveness, versatility, overall toughness and aggression. He has consistently fought in the UFC since 2005 and is arguably one of the most entertaining Lightweights out there. People simply love to watch this guy because of the raw energy he brings into the ring. Have you ever seen a Diego Sanchez fight and not been entertained? It can be argued that the viciousness and aggressiveness of his fighting style sometimes leads to careless mistakes but that is part of what makes him so fun to watch. Finally, his versatility and toughness are what have enabled him to compete at three different weight classes. He has been awarded six "Fight of the Night" honors, and has a 13-6 record in UFC competition.
3. Michael Bisping: MMA Record – 24-5-0 – Net Worth: $3.8 Million, Career Fight Earnings: $3,835,000
When it comes to offensive, in-your-face, smack-talking bad guys in the UFC, few are better than The Count. Bisping can chirp with the best and more than has the game to back it up. To compare him to another trash-talker Josh Koscheck, Koschek sounds like a 3rd grader who just learned how to swear and thinks he’s funny. On the other hand, Michael Bisping is as witty and quick thinking as he is vulgar.
Considering his performance in the octagon, he is consistently among the top of the UFC’s Middleweight division but simply keeps getting beaten in title eliminator fights. Bisping is 14-5 as a UFC fighter and is a consistent threat to opponents mainly due to having some of the best stamina and striking ability in his weight class. He is 34 years old, however, and I am skeptical as to whether he will be able to put together the string of wins necessary to compete for the belt anytime soon.
2. Forrest Griffin – MMA Record: 19-7-0 – Net Worth: $7 Million, Career Fight Earnings: $1,907,000
I think it is undeniable that the first season of TUF has produced the most success of all the seasons in which two weight classes fielded fighters. These two fighters were Forrest Griffin at Light Heavyweight and Diego Sanchez at whatever weight class he feels like. Griffin had a fantastic career with the UFC and still works for them to this day. Apart from his likeable personality, he was also a fantastic fighter, butting heads with Stephan Bonnar a couple of times and briefly holding the Light Heavyweight belt. He went 11-6 in his UFC career and is iconic among Light Heavyweights, as a fighter who beat hall-of-fame inductee Tito Ortiz twice; Stephan Bonnar twice and also had victories over Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Rich Franklin. He held the Light Heavyweight belt briefly but lost it to number one on this list, Rashad "Suga" Evans.
1. Rashad Evans – MMA Record: 21-3-1 – Net worth: $10 Million, Career Fight Earnings: $3,778,000
34 year old “Suga” has had an amazing MMA career that is currently in its 11th year. His record in the UFC is 14-3-1 and the one draw was with Tito Ortiz who was deducted a point during the contest. He holds two black belts and is a former NCAA wrestler. He is arguably one of the more well-rounded fighters at 205 lbs. After his victory over Forrest Griffin, he held the belt very shortly, before Lyoto Machida dealt him his first loss and took his belt via a knockout after a picturesque 30 second flurry of punches. In 2012, he got the chance to take the belt back from Jon Jones but was beaten via unanimous decision. His last two fights looked somewhat better with great wins over Dan Henderson and Chael Sonnen. He is getting up there in years, but still probably has a few fights left in him. I highly doubt he will get another chance at the title, let alone be the man to take the belt back from Jon “Bones” Jones, but I would not be adverse to an upset.