There is no question that the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ reality series – better known as ‘TUF’ – has been the most influential vehicle for promoting the success of UFC, and to a lesser extent MMA in general, in North America. The careers of most contestants have been boosted like they could have never imagined. Even the ones who never came close to winning were still given a chance to prove their worth in the UFC, and many of the fighters released from the UFC were instantly picked up by smaller organizations simply because of the newly acquired name recognition.
With the show now in it’s seventh season, let’s take a look back at where it all started. The first season of ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ took place in 2005, and featured 8 middleweights and 8 lightheavyweights competing for two ‘six figure’ contracts with the UFC. Most of the contestants were virtually unknown in the MMA world at the time, yet all are now very familiar names for most fans. I will start with the light heavyweight division, and examine the middleweights next week.
Fighters are listed in order of their current Fightmatrix.com ranking, regardless of the weight class. Fights that took place in the live finale are counted in the ‘After’ column.
|[#5 LHW] Forrest Griffin|
|Current Record: 15-4||Before: 9-2||On the show: 2-0||After: 6-2 UFC|
|With wins over Chael Sonnen and Jeff Monson, Griffin was the most experienced fighter in the group, and an early favorite to win his weightclass. He did not disappoint, stopping Alex Schoenauer and Sam Hoger On the show the show, then defeating Stephan Bonnar by a unanimous decision in the finale to become the first man to earn the title of ‘The Ultimate Fighter’. After the show, Griffin amassed a UFC record of 6-2, with another decision victory over Bonnar, a controversial split decision loss to Tito Ortiz, and a first round knockout loss to Keith Jardine. In his last fight Griffin choked out Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua, whom many considered to be the top 205 fighter in the world at the time, and earned a shot at the light heavyweight title along with a spot as a coach on Season 8 of TUF – competing against the current champion Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson.|
|[#15 WW] Mike Swick|
|Current Record: 11-2||Before: 5-1||On the show: 0-1||After: 6-1 UFC|
|It’s hard to believe that Swick, who currently fights at 170 lbs, competed as a light heavyweight on the show. Not surprisingly, he was eliminated in his very first fight, losing by a triangle choke to a much bigger Stephan Bonnar. After knocking out Alex Schoenauer in the finale in only 20 seconds, Swick dropped down to 185 lbs and gained another three first-round victories, earning himself the nickname of ‘Quick’. Swick’s next two fights were not as quick, both going to lackluster decisions. After being outmuscled and nearly stopped by Yushin Okami, Swick decided to drop yet another weight class. His debut at welterweight produced another uneventful fight, a majority decision victory against Josh Burkman. Swick is slated to face Marcus Davis at UFC 85. Both guys love to stand and trade strikes, so this fight will hopefully produce the fireworks that lacked from Swick’s past few bouts.|
|[#21 LHW] Stephan Bonnar|
|Current Record: 11-4||Before: 6-1||On the show: 2-0||After: 5-3 UFC|
|Stephan Bonnar entered the show with a record of 6-1, his only loss being a TKO stoppage to Lyoto Machida. He chocked out Mike Swick and defeated Bobby Southworth by a close decision to earn a spot opposite Forrest Griffin in the finale. He lost the close bout by decision, but the fight was so exciting that the UFC President Dana White awarded Bonnar the winner’s contract along with Griffin. Bonnar has been a mainstay of the UFC since the show, with a decision loss to Rashad Evans, another decision loss to Griffin, a submission victory over James Irvin and a very controversial decision victory over Keith Jardine. He has also tested positive for anabolic steroids after the second Griffin bout, but came back strong from his suspension, stopping his last two opponents.|
|[#29 LHW] Alex Schoenauer|
|Current Record: 14-9||Before: 6-0||On the show: 0-1||After: 8-9 (0-1 UFC)|
|Another undefeated prospect at the time, Schoenauer has not had much luck on TUF, getting stopped by Forrest Griffin in the elimination match then suffering another TKO stoppage at the hands of Mike Swick in the finale. Schoenauer has been the most active of any competitor from his group, fighting 15 times since finale (10 of those bouts in the IFL), but not able to go above .500 and break into the elite level of competition.|
|[#51 LHW] Bobby Southworth|
|Current Record: 8-5
(1 No Contest)
|Before: 6-3||On the show: 1-1||After: 2-2 (0-1 UFC)|
|The only Season 1 contenstant with a ‘major league’ bout under his belt (a submission loss to Vitor Belfort at Pride 13), Southworth started out with an impressive knockout of Lodune Sincaid in the very first elimination bout. He then lost a split decision to Stephan Bonnar in the semi-finals. Southworth traded words with Dana White at one point On the show the season, and combined with the fact that he dropped another decision to Sam Hoger in the finale, this guaranteed that Southworth would not be invited back into the Octagon. Southworth only fought four times since then – all bouts taking place in Strikeforce where he captured then lost the Strikeforce Lightheavyweight title.|
|[#68 LHW] Sam Hoger|
|Current Record: 6-4||Before: 4-0||On the show: 0-1||After: 2-4 (2-3 UFC)|
|Miletich-trained Sam Hoger is best remembered for being accused of stealing hats and t-shirts from his fellow TUF cast members. He did not endear himself to fans nor fellow fighters, and was eliminated from the show after being stopped by Forrest Griffin. Hoger defeated Southworth in the finale, and has had four additional UFC fights since then, with decision losses to Rashad Evans, Lyoto Machida, and Stephan Bonner, as well as a win over Jeff Newton. Hoger’s most recent fight was a submission loss to UFC veteran Vernon White in the IFL. This marked his third consecutive loss, and he has not fought in over a year, concentrating instead on his job as a trainer at a Miletich facility in Houston.|
|[#96 LHW] Lodune Sincaid|
|Current Record: 12-6||Before: 6-0||On the show: 0-1||After: 6-6 (0-1 UFC)|
|Undefeated prior to the show, Sincaid was the first lightheavyweight to lose an elimination fight, getting knocked out by Bobby Southworth. He was also stopped by Nate Quarry in the finale, and has not returned to the UFC. Lodune has had several WEC fights – most notably defeating James Irvin by decision and losing to then-champion Doug Marshall. Sincaid has also fought in other smaller organizations, going .500 in his post-TUF career.|
|[NR] Jason Thacker|
|Current Record: 0-1||Before: 0-0||On the show: 0-0||After: 0-1 UFC|
|With no professional fight experience, a bland (by reality television standards) personality, and in poor physical shape, it remains a small mystery why Jason Thacker was casted on this show. Thacker never got a chance to fight as he was sent home early due to his lack of conditioning by his coach Randy Couture. He will be always remembered for being the victim of a foul prank when Chris Leben urinated on Thacker’s bed on the first episode of the show.Leben added injury to the insult, knocking Thacker out in a preliminary fight on the finale. Jason has not competed in MMA since then.|
Stay tuned for the TUF 1 middleweights next week!