Friday night’s UFC 141 event marked the end of the UFC’s 2011 schedule, but it also marked the end to something much bigger and more important in the history of the UFC.  It marked the end of the relationship between the UFC and Spike TV.  While in the past year the relationship has been marred by bitter fighting and power struggles, it remained the key partnership that advanced MMA to where it is today and propelled the UFC into the most dominant organization in the sport.

Back in 2005, the UFC was struggling.  Zuffa had lost a reported $44 million on holding UFC events in just five years.  New events were not drawing in the audience needed to turn the organization around.  Dana White and the Fertitta brothers were contemplating selling the UFC and exiting the MMA business.

In one last attempt to make a go of the fight business, they decided to pitch a reality show that would focus on bringing the best young fighters together to live in a house and the winners would receive a “six-figure contract” with the UFC.  They could not find anyone interested in producing the show, but a new cable station, called Spike, looking for new programs for men said it would air the shows if someone else paid for production.  Zuffa agreed.

The Ultimate Fighter was born.  The first season immediately followed WWE Raw and gave them a built-in demographic.  Although the show did reasonably well, Spike did not commit to bringing it back.  As legend goes, it wasn’t until the battle between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar did Spike executives step to the plate and agree to not only produce new seasons of The Ultimate Fighter, but to air live events throughout the year.

It was a win-win relationship for years.  The UFC received free access to new fans and Spike TV received some of their highest ratings on UFC programming.

The impact is impossible to deny.  The first event after airing the first season of TUF set a new pay-per-view record for a Zuffa-owned UFC.  It didn’t just set a new record; it shattered it by nearly doubling the buys of the old record.  This wasn’t just a short-term increase either.  The previous 15 PPV events prior to TUF airing averaged under 73,000 buys, but the next 15 events after TUF aired averaged 407,000 buys.  In return, the UFC supplied the young network with original programming and some of its highest-rated shows.

While the UFC’s move to Fox ended the partnership, I wanted to take a quick look back at some of the greatest moments the UFC had on Spike.

UFC’s 20 Greatest Moments on Spike:

20 – Drama Outside the Cage

I am not one for the drama on TUF, but the confrontation between Chris Leben, Josh Koscheck and Bobby Southworth on the first season of TUF was one of the highlights of the show.  Leben had been a bully most of the season, but when Southworth called him a “fatherless bastard” Chris broke down.  It was raw and real.  And like any good drama, just when it looked to be over it got taken up a notch.  Southworth apologized and Leben went outside to be away from everyone.  As Leben lay in a sleeping bag, Koscheck and Southworth decided to spray him with a hose that started a whole new rampage that end with Koscheck and Leben facing off in the cage.

19 – Doing the Twist

After a wild fight at WEC 48, Chan Sung Jung and Leonard Garcia squared off in a rematch at Ultimate Fight Night 24.  And while the second fight did not live up to the first encounter, its finish certainly did.  Sung Jung won by using the rarely seen Twister submission with just 1 second left in the second round.

18 – Moving on Up

The UFC was locked in a bitter rivalry with Affliction and decided to throw together an event at the last minute to counter-program Affliction’s PPV.  Spike was happy to help and the UFC came up with an intriguing main event.  Anderson Silva, the UFC middleweight champion, would move up a weight class for the first time to fight a light heavyweight striker by the name of James Irvin at UFC Fight Night 14.  It turned out the weight-class change had little effect on Silva, who dominated the fight, but fans were intrigued by the idea.

17 – Meet the New Guy

Carlos Condit was the former WEC champion and a top-10 fighter.  He was booked to face Jake Ellenberger, a journeyman, at UFC Fight Night 19.  It looked like an easy fight on paper, booked with the idea of building up Condit, but it turned into a back-and-forth war.  Condit eventually took home the controversial victory with a split decision and both fighters have climbed the welterweight rankings ever since.

16 – Sometimes It Is Just a Good Fight

Barboza (L) battles Njokuani at UFC 128 (Al Bello/Zuffa LLC)

Sometimes a moment you remember is just a great fight and Spike aired many of those.  One that stands out in my mind is the battle that happened on the preliminary card for UFC 128.  Edson Barboza faced off with fellow striker Anthony Njokuani and the result was an amazing fight.  Both competitors went toe-to-toe in a battle that ended with Barboza winning a decision.

15 – Machine Steals the Show

During the sixth season of TUF, a late replacement named Jon “War Machine” Koppenhaver and Jared Rollins were both eliminated in the first round, so little was expected of them when the finale came around.  Instead, they were the surprise of the night as Koppenhaver and Rollins tore the house down in a back-and-forth war.  It is one of those fights that is easy to miss when looking back at all the great ones on Spike, but it is one that fans won’t forget.

14 – The Moans that Shocked the World

Season seven of TUF was the first to require participants to win a fight to get into the house.  It was under these conditions that an inexperienced Matt Riddle was matched with a grappling ace in Dan Simmler.  At the beginning of the second round, Riddle smashed Simmler in the greatest KO in TUF history.  I may never get the moans of Simmler out of my mind!

13 – Welcome to the UFC

Josh Koscheck was one of the stars of the first season of TUF and had used his wrestling to notch a couple of wins in the UFC.  It was expected he would do the same to Drew Fickett at UFC Fight Night 2.  Fickett had other plans though and choked out the star in the third round.  The upset so early on in UFC’s history on free television reinforced the idea that anything can happen in the Octagon.

12 – Taste My Shin

Rashad Evans had won the second season of TUF as an underdog and had gone on to win a few fights in the UFC, two by decision and one via knockout.  When he faced off with Sean Salmon at UFC Fight Night 8, most thought he would show off more of his wrestling.  Evans instead showed off some new-found striking and added a highlight reel head kick KO to his record.  It was one of Evans’ most replayed highlight moments for years.

11 – The Birds Come Out

Nate Diaz won the fifth season of TUF, but was better known as Nick’s little brother.  It was thought he would really be tested by BJJ ace Kurt Pelligrino at UFC Fight Night 13.  Diaz proved he was up for the challenge.  Who can forget the look of joy on Diaz’s face as he slapped a triangle on Pelligrino, leaned back screaming at the sky, and extending both middle fingers to the camera?

10 – Surprise, Surprise, Surprise

Josh Koscheck was a star in the UFC by the time UFC 95 rolled around.  He was a top-five welterweight and was scheduled to meet a UFC newcomer in Paulo Thiago.  It is the type of fight that tends to fill UK cards; a UFC star meets a newcomer in what is expected to be a squash match.  However, this time the formula didn’t work.  Thiago landed a stiff shot that dropped Koscheck, the fight was stopped, and one of the biggest upsets in UFC history went into the record books.

9 – When is a Loss a Win?

Jon “Bones” Jones was slowly climbing the ladder in UFC light heavyweight division with his combination of size, athleticism, speed and ever improving skill, but it wasn’t until he faced off with Matt Hamill at the TUF 10 Finale that he faced someone fans considered a real test.  “Bones” was dominating Hamill with his wrestling and ground-and-pound, but the referee disqualified him for landing a 12-to-6 elbow strike.  While Jones officially lost the fight, he left as the winner in the fans’ eyes and an even bigger star than when he entered.

8 – Big Time for Free

Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock had a long-running feud.  It was supposed to be settled after the two coached the third season of TUF.  However, many, including Shamrock and Dana White, felt their fight was stopped prematurely, so a third fight was set up.  Dubbed “Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock: The Final Chapter,” this was the first time a PPV-quality fight was delivered for free and fans tuned in by the millions.  The fight itself ended quickly with a total domination from Ortiz, but there was no controversy this time around.

7 – The Real Coaches Challenge

The TUF 5 Finale marked the first time in TUF history the coaches of the show met on the finale.  Jens Pulver was the UFC’s first-ever lightweight champion.  When he left the promotion, the UFC essentially folded the entire division.  B.J. Penn was currently one of the top-ranked lightweights.  While the fight was completely one-sided, it was exciting to see the build-up of the fight on TUF and then the actual battle on the finale.

6 – A Star is Born

Ken Shamrock was still one of the biggest stars in the UFC by the time the first season of TUF rolled around.  Rich Franklin was a solid fighter, but far from someone considered a star.  When the two squared off at the TUF 1 Finale, Franklin took the fight to Shamrock.  By the end of the night, he had the biggest win of his career and became popular enough to headline future events.

5 – Belt for Belt

Quinton “Rampage” Jackson was the reigning UFC light heavyweight champion.  Dan Henderson was the last reigning Pride FC champion.  At UFC 75, the two would face off to unify the titles and it aired free on Spike TV in the US.  While the fight was largely a wrestling match that saw Jackson claim victory, the situation around the fight makes it stand out as one of my best memories of the Spike/UFC relationship.

4 – “Do You Want to be a F’ing Fighter?”

In the first season of The Ultimate Fighter, Dana White heard some rumblings that the cast was not happy.  White decided to head over and nip the complaining in the bud and delivered the now infamous motivating speech.

3 – The Itsy-Bitsy Spider Comes Down to the Octagon

Anderson “The Spider” Silva was welcomed to the UFC by Chris Leben at UFC Fight Night 5.  Leben had conducted plenty of trash talk leading into the fight about how fighters from Japan couldn’t compete with UFC fighters.  All of his talking made the 49-second trashing of “The Crippler” even more satisfying and started the legacy of Silva as perhaps the greatest fighter of all-time.

Bonnar (L) and Griffin battle at the TUF 1 Finale (UFC/Zuffa LLC)

2 – The Brawl that Started It All

Forrest Griffin met Stephen Bonnar at the TUF 1 Finale.  This fight could be referred to as the fight that saved the UFC.  It really showed the heart and determination of two men.  Both Griffin and Bonnar wanted the contract so badly and they would try everything and leave it all in the Octagon to get it.  It is one of the most iconic fights in UFC history.  I know some will complain this isn’t number one, but it is not the moment that stands out in my memory the most.

1 – The Kick Heard Around the World

Mirko Cro Cop had walked through the Pride FC Open Weight Grand Prix and was expected to do the same to the UFC heavyweight division.  He was placed in a No. 1 contender’s match with Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC 70, where it all went wrong for the Croatian.  Not only did Cro Cop lose, he was hit with his own style of a devastating high kick that left him out cold and folded in an awkward position.

As the UFC moves on to Fox, FX, and Fuel, I just want to thank Spike for all the memories. Without their involvement, the UFC would not exist today.

Top Photo: Gonzaga finishes Cro Cop in a stunning upset at UFC 70 (UFC/Zuffa LLC)

  • Federico D Quinto III

    Mr. Wilcoxon, you wrote an excellent and well-written article except for one thing: Jones was disqualified for throwing a “12-to-6″ vertical elbow strike to a grounded Hamill.

  • Alan

    No. Nothing tops Griffin-Bonnar. The UFC wouldn’t be where it is without that fight. Not having that at #1 is bullshit.