The fourteenth season of “The Ultimate Fighter” kicks off on Wednesday night. That’s right, there’s been fourteen seasons of them, which translates into about ten thousand episodes and countless instances of people urinating on pillows and defiling food, all caught on camera for the world to watch and wonder about for eternity. But the long-running reality show has given us some good things. I’m not talking about the exposure – for sure TUF has been successful in saving the sport and bringing it to the masses. No, I’m actually talking about fighters. Some won the competition, some didn’t even come close, but they’ve all taken the spotlight shown upon them and shined in their own ways. Here, then, is a list of the greatest TUF contributions of all time, in no particular order. Just remember: let he who is without reality TV sin cast the first stone.
-Forrest Griffin – Good old Griffin took top honors in the inaugural season, blazing a trail through the forest of celebrity to be spoon-fed easy opponents, climb the rankings, defeat tougher guys, coach TUF, earn a title shot, take the belt, lose the belt, and not care at all about fighting anymore. That’s one heck of a career! Thanks to Griffin, we know now to what heights a TUF winner can rise to. Also, we know how much they weep when Keith Jardine knocks them out.
-Diego Sanchez – This TUF 1 winner made an impact partly because of his ability to scrap and partly because of his ability to be crazy. Luckily for Sanchez, the gutsy wars he’s fought in the cage – against Karo Parisyan, Joe Stevenson and Clay Guida, among others – overshadows his propensity for standing in the rain trying to harness lightning.
-Chris Leben – He did not win TUF, and he may never challenge for the middleweight belt, but you cannot say Leben doesn’t like to stand and bang. And while he may not always win (remember how badly Anderson Silva mauled him?), the dude leaves it all the Octagon just about every time – which means he can be a viable main eventer or simply someone who will plug up holes in a card. That’s versatility.
-Josh Koscheck – Another TUF 1 washout, Koscheck has proven to have the kind of promotional longevity many aspire to and few achieve. He’s won some, he’s lost some, he’s coached TUF and he’s challenged Georges St. Pierre for the belt. That’s a pretty respectable resume.
-Rashad Evans – The winner of TUF 2 has firmly established himself as a top guy in the light-heavyweight division, and he even wore the crown briefly after dethroning fellow TUF star Griffin. Like Leben, Evans has got versatility, but his is more about being both a good guy and a bad guy, and that goes a long way toward bringing eyeballs to fights.
-Michael Bisping – Bisping, who emerged victorious from TUF 3, has made a decent living being “that guy”. You know, the one who runs his mouth, and when Dan Henderson knocks him out everyone jumps for joy. The Brit’s skills are legit and his record isn’t bad at all (his only losses have been to Henderson, Evans and Wanderlei Silva), and this coming season of TUF will mark his second stint as a coach. Pretty cool for a person people love to hate.
-Matt Serra – Serra was far from a contender when TUF 4 rolled around, but with a title shot at stake for the competition’s top dog, the jiu-jitsu black belt made the most of the opportunity by winner the whole shebang. Then, in what many consider one of the biggest upsets of all time, he TKO’d champ St. Pierre. Since then Serra’s coached a season of TUF, won some fights and lost some, and eased into a leisure lifestyle of taking only big fights while eating pasta in the meantime.
-Kimbo Slice – If anything, Slice’s tenure on TUF let the world see how the Bearded One truly stacks up against legitimate competition. Because remember: prior to that, the average Joe only knew him from YouTube and CBS, where Slice came across of the best thing since sliced bread (yes, all sorts of puns intended). For SpikeTV, the upside was monstrous ratings; true fans of the sport benefitted by the dispelling of one of MMA’s last, most enduring myths. You want to be a f***ing fighter? No? Okay, then get out of here.