Last week, I examined the progress made by fighters who competed in the light heavyweight division on the Season 1 of The Ultimate Fighter reality series. Let’s now look at the other half of the picture: the middleweight contestants from Season 1.
The middleweights turned out to be a talented group of fighters: five out of eight are still competing in the UFC, and hold a .700 or better record in the Octagon. Most of them were also a bit undersized for their weight division: only Chris Leben and Nate Quarry still compete at 185 lbs; the rest dropped one or more weight classes. Also, while the fighter with most prior experience went on to win the contest, the two fighters with the highest current rankings both only had 2 wins in professional MMA bouts prior to the show.
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 WW] Josh Koscheck|
|Current Record: 10-2||Before: 2-0||On the show: 1-1||After: 8-2 UFC|
|A former NCAA Division I wrestling champion and four times All-American, Josh Koscheck only had 2 professional fights and very little MMA skill beyond his wrestling. He was still able to hang with much more experienced opponents, with a decision win over Chris Leben in his first fight on the show and a close decision loss to Diego Sanchez, who went on to win the middleweight contest. After stopping Chris Sanford in the finale and dropping to 170 lbs, Koscheck has shown tremendous improvement in recent years, adding submissions skills and striking to his repertoire and even scoring a standing knockout over Dustin Hazelett in his most recent bout. He also avenged his loss to Sanchez in another close decision (Sanchez was suffering from a staph infection at the time). Koscheck has gone the distance with the current welterweight champion George St. Pierre, which is better than most of St. Pierre’s recent opponents have fared. Josh is rumored to face Chris Lytle next, and stands a good chance of getting a title shot with another victory or two under his belt.
|[#7 LW] Kenny Florian|
|Current Record: 9-3||Before: 2-1||On the show: 1-0||After: 7-2 UFC|
|With a huge size disadvantage and only three pro fights on his record, Florian exceeded all expectations when he withstood a battering from a much bigger and more experienced Chris Leben, then landed a well-timed elbow to Leben’s face, opening a cut that brought an end to the fight and earned Florian a spot in the finale. There, Florian was quickly stopped by Diego Sanchez, and proceeded to drop to 155 lbs, winning three consecutive bouts then facing off with Sean Sherk for then-vacant lightweight title. Though Florian went the distance with Sherk, most fans still felt that his title shot was undeserved. He went on to prove them wrong, finishing his next four opponents and establishing himself as a legitimate contender at 155 lbs. ‘KenFlo’ is slated to face Roger Huerta this summer, with the winner most likely receiving a shot at the winner of the upcoming Sean Sherk – BJ Penn title bout.
|[#8 WW] Diego Sanchez|
|Current Record: 18-2||Before: 11-0||On the show: 3-0||After: 7-2 UFC|
|At 11-0, the former King of the Cage welterweight champion Diego Sanchez was the most experienced fighter in his group. He ran through Alex Karalexis and Josh Rafferty like a hot knife through butter, and dominated Josh Koscheck for a unanimous decision en route to the finale, where he stopped Kenny Florian in the first round. Diego immediately dropped down to his natural fighting weight of 170 lbs, and racked up five victories – including decisions over Karo Parisyan and Nick Diaz, and a first-round knockout of Joe Riggs – before losing two consecutive decisions to Koscheck and Jon Fitch. Sanchez briefly considered following Florian down to 155 lbs, but ultimately decided to remain at welterweight. In his most recent bout, Sanchez spoiled the UFC debut of David Bielkheden, stopping him with ground-and-pound in the first round.
|[#14 MW] Chris Leben|
|Current Record: 18-4||Before: 10-1||On the show: 0-2||After: 8-3 UFC|
|Despite being one of the most accomplished fighters on the show – with a 10-1 record that included a knockout win over Mike Swick – Chris Leben’s stint on TUF is best remembered for his antics and conflicts with other contestants rather than his performance in the Octagon. Leben was eliminated when he dropped a decision to Josh Koscheck in his first bout, but was given a second chance when his team needed a replacement for injured Nate Quarry. Chris lost his second-chance bout as well, stopped by a cut from Kenny Florian’s elbow, in a bout that Leben was dominating up to that point. Leben knocked out Jason Thacker in the finale, and went on to win four more fights in the UFC before a brutal knockout loss at the hands of the current Middleweight champion Anderson Silva. He had impressive come-from-behind victories over Alessio Sakara and Terry Martin in his two most recent bouts, and was slated to face Michael Bisping at UFC 85, but the fight has been called off when Leben was sentenced to 35 days in jail for a probation violation stemming from a past DUI conviction.
|[#49 MW] Nathan Quarry|
|Current Record: 10-2||Before: 5-1||On the show: 0-0||After: 5-1 UFC|
|Nate Quarry was injured during a sparring session and forced to withdraw from the competition before he ever had a chance to fight. He got his opportunity in the finale, stopping Lodune Sincaid in the first round. Quarry followed it up with two more first-round TKO wins over Shonie Carter and Pete Sell (the latter being a very controversial stoppage). The string of victories was enough to earn him a title shot in the shallow middleweight division; Quarry was promptly knocked out by the champion at the time Rich Franklin, and did not compete for nearly two years after, sidelined by a serious back injury. In 2007, Quarry came back to the UFC, knocking out Sell in a rematch then winning a very lopsided decision over a timid Kaleb Starnes at UFC 83.
|[NR] Alex Karalexis|
|Current Record: 9-3||Before: 4-0||On the show: 0-1||After: 5-3 (1-2 UFC)|
|Undefeated at the time, Karalexis was the first middleweight to be eliminated, outmatched by Diego Sanchez. He stopped Josh Rafferty in the finale, but was released from the UFC after losing his next two bouts. Karalexis has most recently been competing in the WEC, going 3-1 in the 155 division.
|[NR] Josh Rafferty|
|Current Record: 8-5||Before: 5-3||On the show: 0-1||After: 3-2 (0-1 UFC)|
|Like Karalexis before him, Rafferty was quickly eliminated from the show by Diego Sanchez. After losing to Karalexis in the finale, he has only fought in the smaller organizations in the past few years, as well as trying his hand at professional wrestling.
|[NR] Chris Sanford|
|Current Record: 5-1||Before: 4-0||On the show: 0-0||After: 1-1 (0-1 UFC)|
|Chris Sanford did not get to compete in the Ultimate Fighter tournament, as he was sent home by his coach Randy Couture because of his poor conditioning. He lost to Koscheck in the finale, then won a bout in the WEC and subsequently retired from MMA competition.|
Posted on May 9, 2008 by oleg