When The Ultimate Fighter was created by the UFC back in 2005, it was seen as a last resort by company executives to the point that whilst Spike TV agreed to air it, the network did so with the provision that the UFC funded the entire venture.

The initial purpose of the show originally was realistically twofold: (1) To generate an increased talent pool of fighters that the public knew of and were invested in and; (2) increase overall awareness of the sport of MMA in an effort to move away from the blood sport, “two men enter, one man leaves” angle that had been pitched numerous times by UFC executives in the pre-Zuffa era.

The show itself delivered plenty of entertainment early on, which did garner some attention from the previously uninitiated, but it was the fight at the finale between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar that laid the platform for the growth of the show and the sport overall.

Looking back, we can see a definitive trend in the early seasons not only to provide real entertainment which attracted more public interest incrementally season by season, but a solid group of fighters that could hack it in the UFC.

In recent times, the criticism of the show is that it has become too much of a reality show and less about the fights themselves. It is easy to draw this conclusion when you see that the first few seasons produced the likes of Diego Sanchez, Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans etc. Before long, another trend began to emerge in which subsequent seasons produced fighters such as War Machine and Junie Browning, who are more known for their extracurricular activities than for the fighting ability they displayed throughout the show.

This gimmick was perhaps no better illustrated than once UFC saw the impact that Kimbo Slice had upon its viewership figures. There can be no doubt about it, when Kimbo Slice entered The Ultimate Fighter show, people took notice. This produced the highest viewership figures by some distance, with a reported 6.8 million viewers watching his fight with Roy Nelson. As a result, the UFC recognized more than ever that it could get away with providing fights between less-talented fighters, so long as the intrigue and entertainment value was there.

If you were to look at the latter winners of the show and compare the records of each, it does make for harrowing reading in some cases. But that is not to say recent seasons have been all style and no substance.

You have to consider the likes of John Dodson, who came off the show as the winner of season 14 before moving down a division and eventually competing for the flyweight title.

Dodson is not the only one either. You do have a fair few past TUF winners who have continually been on the periphery of the title picture in their respective divisions. The likes of Roy Nelson and Ryan Bader stand out in this particular category as well-known fighters who have not yet made the breakthrough into the title reckoning.

There may also be a few past winners who have not yet realized their full potential, but who may one day reach the top and join the list of TUF winners to win the big prize, UFC gold. Two fighters who immediately spring to mind in this context are Kelvin Gastelum and Michael Chiesa, who since their time on the show have had marked success. Gastelum is 2-0 with a big win this weekend against Rick Story, whilst Chiesa has gone 2-1 since his impressive win against fellow TUF prospect Al Iaquinta in the finale.

These examples go to show that despite the criticism of the show overall, there still remains some credibility to winning the once coveted contract. However, as is the way in life, for every success story there are many more examples of relative failure.

As with any statistic, the accuracy depends solely upon the size of the sample used to obtain the information. The same can be said of any season of The Ultimate Fighter so far. There might be one season with two or three fighters who stick around for years to come in the UFC, whereas in other seasons might have virtually none (including the winner) who make a sustained career inside the hallowed Octagon.

As such, if you were to pick five past winners out at random, you might perhaps get a clearer picture of the general competitiveness that TUF winners have shown once they make it out of the small pond that is The Ultimate Fighter show and finale and into the much larger pond that is the UFC itself.

With this in mind, I have chosen Travis Lutter, Kendall Grove, Amir Sadollah, Mac Danzig and Colton Smith as my own random sample to see if their records, post-TUF, indicate a trend whereby even winning the show doesn’t necessarily guarantee prolonged success in the UFC.

They have a record of just 15 wins and 20 losses between them following their wins on the finale of their respective seasons*. However, throughout their entire careers in and outside of the UFC, they hold a much more impressive record of 60 wins and 38 losses**.

These figures seemingly suggest that whilst being high-level fighters, they just don’t quite match up to the elite-level competition that the UFC had to offer at that particular point in time. This is perhaps just another indication of the gulf in class between most UFC fighters and those outside of the UFC.

On the basis of this admittedly narrow sample size, it would seem to add credit to the detractors of the show who cite a switch in focus from producing talented fighters with the ability to compete in the UFC to a production line of fighters who the UFC feels it can sell in the short term, with the hope that they can turn into fighters that draw a crowd despite their limited potential.

Given the recent expansion of the UFC and The Ultimate Fighter show, it would seem that an even weaker lineup is to be expected in the near future. In five years time, it is foreseeable that the level of talent that is being produced by The Ultimate Fighter will have diminished even further still. Before long, we may find ourselves in a situation whereby a fighter getting a contract with the UFC after the show is done is an exception rather than the steadfast rule it once was.

* Post TUF records inside the UFC

  • Colton Smith (0-2)
  • Mac Danzig (4-8)
  • Travis Lutter (0-2)
  • Kendall Grove (6-6)
  • Amir Sadollah (5-4)

** Record Overall

  • Colton Smith (3-3)
  • Mac Danzig (21-12-1)
  • Travis Lutter (10-6)
  • Kendall Grove (20-13-1)
  • Amir Sadollah (6-4)

About The Author

Greg Byron
Staff Writer

Greg Byron started training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu after his brother introduced him to a local MMA fighter/coach when he was just 16 years old. Greg has trained for nearly a decade in both BJJ and MMA, competing in several grappling events within the UK. In addition to MMA, Greg possesses a law degree and works for a firm in northern part of England.