And then there were 10. The countdown of the best fighters to ever compete on The Ultimate Fighter reality series continues today with fighters 10 through six. But before we get to the first half of the top ten, let’s recap spots 20 through 11.
20 – Kendall Grove
19 – Patrick Cote
18 – Joe Lauzon
17 – Chris Leben
16 – Tim Credeur
15 – Efrain Escudero
14 – Nate Diaz
13 – Nate Quarry
12 – Marcus Davis
11 – Josh Koscheck
Let the countdown continue…
10 – Joe Stevenson – Season Two
Post TUF record: 8-4
Joe Stevenson, a pro since the age of 16, was about to walk away from the game when he got the call to compete on season two of The Ultimate Fighter. Stevenson went on to defeat Jason Von Flue and Marcus Davis on the show before winning that season’s welterweight title in a three round war with Luke Cummo. Following his stint on TUF, Stevenson was upset by Josh Neer, a defeat which prompted a drop to 155 pounds. At lightweight, ‘Joe Daddy’ found his home, winning four in a row before getting submitted by BJ Penn in a 2008 challenge for the vacant 155-pound crown. Stevenson hit a rough patch after that, with losses in two of his next three bouts, but two straight wins over Nate Diaz and Spencer Fisher has him back in the spotlight again, and rightfully so.
DEFINING FIGHT – Wsub1 Melvin Guillard – UFC Fight Night – 4/5/07
TUF TALK – “I probably wouldn’t have continued if it weren’t for the show. The show is such a springboard for the fight game, and for the athlete himself, that it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. There are things in your life you just don’t say no to.”
9 – Mike Swick – Season One
Post TUF record: 9-1
A rising star who had won five of six fights before appearing on season one of TUF, Swick solidified his place as one of the game’s top prospects during the show, losing a tough bout to Stephan Bonnar, and then tore through his opposition in the middleweight division, winning four straight in the first round and then decisioning former title challenger David Loiseau. But after losing a three rounder to Yushin Okami, Swick resurfaced in the welterweight division. He looked to be settling in with decision wins over Josh Burkman and Marcus Davis, but it was in his last two bouts that he finally looked to be acclimated to 170 as he stopped Jonathan Goulet and Ben Saunders. On November 14th, he could earn a title shot if he beats Dan Hardy at UFC 105 in Manchester.
DEFINING FIGHT – TKO2 Ben Saunders – UFC 99 – 6/13/09
TUF TALK - “This is my job. I’m very passionate about it and I want to move up and be the best in the world. I’ve given up a huge portion of my life for this, and I didn’t do it for nothing. I’m taking it to the top, one way or another.”
8 – Michael Bisping – Season Three
Post TUF record: 7-2
The man who truly put MMA on the map in the UK, Michael Bisping had little difficulty winning on the British circuit, and he continued his winning ways on TUF3 as he took out Ross Pointon, Kristian Rothaermel, and Josh Haynes to win the season’s light heavyweight title. His good fortunes continued in finishes of Eric Schafer and Elvis Sinosic, but his rep took a hit after a controversial decision win over Matt Hamill at UFC 75. Bisping would lose for the first time in his next bout, a UFC 78 loss to Rashad Evans, but his gutsy performance in the razor-thin decision defeat won back fans he lost after the Hamill bout. Losing to Evans prompted Bisping to drop to 185, and three straight wins (Charles McCarthy, Jason Day, and Chris Leben) followed before a devastating knockout loss to Dan Henderson at UFC 100 in July. Eager to get back in the race, Bisping returns next month against Denis Kang, and his performance in that fight will go a long way in determining where Bisping stands in the current 185-pound title picture.
DEFINING FIGHT – TKO 1 Jason Day – UFC 85 – 6/7/08
TUF TALK - “You’re not gonna see me in any factories for quite some time.” (In the locker room after winning TUF3)
7 – Keith Jardine – Season Two
Post TUF record: 6-5
Some will look at the three first round knockout losses suffered by Jardine since he left season two of The Ultimate Fighter and dismiss him, despite the fact that those defeats came at the hands of iron-fisted Wanderlei Silva, Thiago Silva, and Houston Alexander. Yet we can’t forget that Jardine holds wins over a pretty impressive group that includes the names Chuck Liddell, Forrest Griffin, Wilson Gouveia, and Brandon Vera, and in March he ate bombs from Quinton Jackson for 15 minutes before losing a hard-fought decision. So you can say ‘The Dean of Mean’ needs to find consistency, but you can’t question what he can do as a fighter. Just ask the men he’s beaten.
DEFINING FIGHT – W3 Chuck Liddell – UFC 76 – 9/22/07
TUF TALK - “Fighting is the apex of all competition, and there’s nothing harder than getting in the ring to fight. Actually, that makes it easier for everything else you do in life. Anything hard in life I might be doing, it’s just like, ‘this is nothing compared to fighting.’ I’ve conquered the demons from going into the ring and fighting, so everything else is easy after that.”
6 – Matt Serra – Season Four
Post TUF record: 1-2
How does Matt Serra, a guy who has lost two of three fights since winning The Ultimate Fighter get to number six on this list? Well, first, that one win saw him take the UFC welterweight crown with a knockout of Georges St-Pierre, a man many believe will one day be seen as the greatest welterweight of all-time, and two, the second loss (a close three round decision) came to the man who currently holds the title of greatest welterweight ever – Matt Hughes. Add in Serra’s TUF4 finale win over Chris Lytle, his wins on the show over Shonie Carter and Pete Spratt, his pre-show UFC victories over Yves Edwards and Jeff Curran, and his memorable battles with Carter, BJ Penn, Din Thomas, and Karo Parisyan, and you’ve got a body of work that certainly warrants his place among the best fighters ever to appear on The Ultimate Fighter.
DEFINING FIGHT – TKO1 Georges St-Pierre – UFC 69 – 4/7/07
TUF TALK – “I was actually in Manhattan the other day and I got stopped like six times by people wishing me good luck and stuff like that. Then I was in 7-11 and this guy stops me and goes, ‘man, you look just like Matt Serra.’ It’s kinda surreal. But listen, that could be gone tomorrow, so I keep everything grounded. I’m not gonna let anything get to my head. I went in there thinking that if I put on a good performance and get to show some skill, it can really help out my schools. Of course I wanted to win the whole thing, but I knew there would be a bunch of tough guys in there and I didn’t want to get ahead of myself. I just said, ‘man, this could really do wonders for my school.’ This is how I make my living, teaching Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and that’s what I’m sticking to. My school enrollments picked up a lot, it’s been a blessing, and I’m just keeping grounded with that. I’m not going Hollywood.”