When The Ultimate Fighter first premiered in 2005, the UFC was in dire straights. The promotion had not gained the traction that Dana White and the Fertitta brothers had hoped for and the show was practically a last effort to get some traction for the sport.
Boy did that pay off.
The show has been a massive hit, with 23 seasons and international spinoffs bringing in a new crop of potential UFC fighters. The show has crowned 48 winners and has produced six UFC Champions. With hundreds of fighters throughout TUF's history, there have been some real stars.
Here are some of the best fighters to have ever competed on TUF.
Honorable Mention: Matt Serra
Serra may be the most unlikely champion in UFC history. After winning Season 4 of the show, he earned a title shot against reigning Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre. Among the greatest upsets in UFC history, Serra knocked out GSP to earn the belt. The only thing keeping Serra off this list is his performance following the first GSP fight, going 1-3 in the Octagon.
Honorable Mention: Matt Hamill
Hamill could have had a tremendous career, but always seemed to lose in the big fights. He lost five times in the UFC, all to top competitors in the sport, including Michael Bisping, Rich Franklin and Rampage Jackson. But what really earns Hamill this mention is that he is the only person to have ever beaten Jon Jones — even if it was on a technicality.
Honorable Mention: Diego Sanchez
Sanchez was the one of the winners from Season 1 of TUF. He has had a long and turbulent career, but at one point strung together enough wins to compete for the lightweight belt. Sanchez earns his HM by being the only person from Season 1 who is still competing in the sport. He last fought in March and at 34, he could still have some more years in him.
Appearing back in Season 1, K-Flo has long been beloved by UFC fans. He is one of only two fighters (the other being Sanchez) to have competed in four weight divisions and has competed in three title fights. He was only finished once while finishing 10 of his opponents in the UFC and earned five post-fight awards. He embodied the competitive spirit and is one of the reasons that fans fell in love with the sport after TUF 1.
One of the men credited with saving the sport, Griffin took part in the greatest fight in UFC history when he defeated Stephan Bonnar in the Season 1 finale of TUF. But his success in MMA did not end with the show. Griffin went 10-5 in the UFC and had an exciting fight nearly every time he entered the Octagon. He earned five Fight of the Night awards and even earned three Fight of the Year awards. Griffin was even a short lived UFC Light Heavyweight Champion. Griffin may be the most important fighter that has ever come out of TUF.
"Suga" was an underdog in his season. He was the ninth overall pick in the draft, but won all his bouts by decision to be the TUF champ. Following that belt, Evans went out and earned the UFC light heavyweight title by defeating Griffin at UFC 92. Evans was undefeated up until that point, going 13-0-1 in his first 14 professional fights. Suga is still fighting and one of the UFC's most popular fighters.
"The Count" is someone who you can always count on for an exciting fight. Becoming the first international winner of TUF when he won Season 3, Bisping would continue to gain fans throughout his long and storied career. He has fought 26 times inside the Octagon and compiled a 19-7 record. In that time, he has landed the most significant strikes in UFC history with 1,414 and is 41 strikes behind Frankie Edgar for most total strikes landed with 1,749. Bisping has recently added to his Hall of Fame resume by defeating Luke Rockhold to earn the middleweight championship. The Count is looking to reign for a long time inside the Octagon.
Maynard had a tremendous run to start his professional MMA career. After starting his UFC career with an exciting double knockout, Maynard did not lose in his first 10 UFC fights. His first loss came in a title fight against Frankie Edgar to settle the definitive trilogy bout. Though he lost his last four fights in the Octagon, his three Fight of the Night awards and multiple chances at the belt have earned him a spot on this list.
Dillashaw could have had a negative reaction to losing in the TUF finale to John Dodson, but he took it in stride. Following the finale, Dillashaw has gone 8-2 inside the Octagon. His efforts earned him a shot against Renan Barao for the bantamweight belt, and he seized that opportunity. Dillashaw beat Barao with a fifth-round knockout and then became the first TUF alum to defend his belt when he beat John Soto. Though he no longer has the title, he is still among the best in the 135-pound division and is likely going to be facing Dominick Cruz again sometime soon.
Bader competed on the eighth season of TUF and was dominant throughout, picking up two knockouts and a submission in his four fights on the show. Bader has been impressive since his stint on the show as well. He is 13-5 in the UFC and those five losses are nothing to laugh at, considering his opponents were Jon Jones, Tito Ortiz, Lyoto Machida, Glover Teixeira and Anthony Johnson. He is still a top five fighter and could soon be contending for the belt at 205.
Ferguson may be one of the most under appreciated TUF alums still fighting in the UFC. While on the show for Season 13, he steamrolled through his competition by knocking out the four fighters he faced to win the show. He has since gone 9-1 in the UFC since the show, including an active win streak of seven. He is currently ranked third in the lightweight division and may be the next challenger after RDA and Eddie Alvarez square off later this week.
Having only competed on Season 16 of TUF, Magny has not had a lot of time to fight in the UFC, but he has definitely made the most of his time in the sport. He has fought in 14 fights in just over three years. Not only is that an impressive feat, but he has gone 11-3 in that stretch, including five wins in 2014. A fan favorite, he is due for his breakout fight soon.
Diaz and his brother Nick have long been among the most exciting personalities in the UFC. But they of course had to get their start somewhere. Nate competed on Season 5 of The Ultimate Fighter and proved he was ready to brawl by winning the show. After winning TUF, Diaz went on a tear in the lightweight division. Though he has had his ups and downs, he soon found himself competing for the belt at 155. Diaz has recently been in the news for his high-profile fights against Conor McGregor, famously breaking his 15-fight win streak. Diaz will next be fighting at UFC 202 as the headliner, once again trying to prove Mystic Mac wrong.
(Images via MMAWeekly.com)