It doesn’t happen during every season of The Ultimate Fighter, but every so often a fighter makes it into the house that seems a step or two above their competition.

The most obvious example of this came in season 10, where Kimbo Slice was the main attraction, yet most knowledgeable MMA fans penciled in Roy “Big Country” Nelson to win the tournament the moment the field was announced. A few years later, John Dodson joined the 14th season of the reality show, bringing a reputation as a future star and as one of the top flyweights in the sport with him. Despite the fact that Dodson was competing 10 pounds above his natural weight, he seemed like a lock to at least make the finals of his bracket. When Dodson knocked out a talented, yet somewhat inexperienced T.J. Dillashaw in the finals to earn the title as the first-ever bantamweight Ultimate Fighter winner, it was almost expected.

This season of The Ultimate Fighter featured a handful of well-known fighters in women’s MMA, with veterans like Shayna Baszler and Roxanne Modafferi earning most of the spotlight heading into the season, but the men’s side of the bracket was far less star-studded. Some may have recognized Cody Bollinger from his stint in a Bellator tournament, but the field was low on names, at least to the casual fan. So when an undefeated Team Alpha Male prospect in Chris Holdsworth was named to the cast, he became a fighter to keep an eye on.

Although Holdsworth wasn’t as heralded as Nelson or Dodson were when they entered the TUF house, he was certainly one of the favorites before the fighters had a chance to step into the cage. Even though the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt only sported a 4-0 record, his four quick submission wins seemed to suggest his skills went far beyond that point. Add in the fact that he was training out of one of the premier gyms for fighters under 155 pounds, and it’s not surprising that Holdsworth emerged as an early pick to win the competition. How easily he did it may have come as a shock, however.

Once he was able to show off his skills inside of the cage, Holdsworth quickly went from one of the favorites to the favorite to take home the TUF 18 title. After scoring a first-round submission over Louis Fisette to get into the house, Holdsworth went directly after the first overall pick for Team Rousey, Chris Beal, to kick off the men’s bracket. Beal didn’t make it out of the first round. Next up came Michael Wootten, who was completely outgunned by the Team Alpha Male fighter and was also forced to submit in the first round. It felt like Holdsworth was barely able to work up a sweat in his two fights in the house, and he was already on his way to the finals.

Anyone hoping to see Holdsworth tested in his first official UFC fight must have been sorely disappointed after “Holds it Down” was able to get past Davey Grant in impressive fashion. Much like everyone else in the tournament, Holdsworth was just too much for Grant to handle, and although the Brit was able to survive better than his Team Rousey counterparts and last until the second round, he still ended up on the wrong end of a rear-naked choke.

After running through his competition on TUF, Holdsworth appears more than ready to hold his own in the UFC’s bantamweight division, but the UFC has to decide just how quickly it’s willing to throw Holdsworth into the fire. “Holds it Down” showed a tremendous amount of promise during his time in the TUF house, but it’s always difficult to tell how well a fighter will perform when thrown into the cage with proven UFC competition. As solid as Holdsworth looked inside the house, the UFC may be better off letting him grow as a fighter and letting him continue to fight guys relatively new to the Zuffa roster.

Oddly enough, the UFC’s solution on how to build up Holdsworth as a contender is staring the promotion right in the face via Holdsworth’s teammate and fellow TUF veteran, T.J. Dillashaw. After a runner-up finish on the 14th season of TUF, Dillashaw was talked about in the exact same way as Holdsworth is now. With a 4-1 record and buckets of potential, Dillashaw was regarded as a future contender in the bantamweight division, but UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby did the right thing and let Dillashaw get the experience he needed before throwing him in the cage with top-ranked competition. After working his way up the bantamweight ladder, Dillashaw now finds himself sitting in the lower half of the bantamweight top 10 less than two years into his Octagon career. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise if Holdsworth were in a similar situation just a few years into his Octagon tenure, but the level of competition he faces will play a huge factor.

The UFC usually does a decent job of attempting to slowly build the winners of its reality show into contenders, and as long as the promotion sticks with the formula it has used to propel Dillashaw and countless other prospects into contention, Holdsworth has a solid shot at becoming a contender in the UFC. It could easily be argued that the UFC’s bantamweight division has become one of it’s softest at this point, especially with two of the fighters currently residing in the promotion’s top 10 dropping down to flyweight in the near future.

The door will be open for Holdsworth to earn a couple of wins before making an impact on the 135-pound title scene. An undefeated record and a TUF title are two of the most marketable tools a UFC fighter can have in their back pocket, and Holdsworth has a big opportunity to become a future star at bantamweight if he can keep winning. If he runs through the competition in the UFC anything like he did the rest of the guys on TUF, Holdsworth may become a contender faster than anyone saw coming.

Photo: Chris Holdsworth (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

About The Author

Vince Carey
Staff Writer

Vince Carey has been writing about the sport of mixed martial arts since 2010. Although he is just 21 years old, the Omaha-based writer is looking to provide readers with interesting content on all things related to MMA.