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Florian reflects on 18 seasons of TUF
There's always something special about being first. Being cast in the maiden season of The Ultimate Fighter was a truly unique and special time for me. More importantly, it was a pivotal moment for the MMA's top organization, the Ultimate Fighting Championship. TUF, much like other reality shows, has gone through its series of changes since debuting in 2005. I'd like to take a walk through memory lane and highlight the many "firsts" TUF has experienced over 17 groundbreaking seasons.
For starters, let's identify the key ingredients for a good Ultimate Fighter formula:
- Begin with popular UFC fighters as coaches (always better if the coaches have an existing beef and are set to fight each other after the show).
- Mix in some Dana White.
- Add talented mixed martial artists with a pinch of crazy.
- Create a tantalizing prize for the competitors to fight for (a six-figure contract with the UFC).
- Put the competitors in a house and BOOM ... reality show gold.
During my time on Season 1, the competing teams had various physical challenges thrown at them. Based on those results, we would find out who would be fighting whom. Fighters could change teams and fighters could even fight their own teammates at the end of it.
TUF kept the same format for Season 2. Many well-known fighters and future UFC hall-of-famers came out of the first two seasons including Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans, and my eventual finale foe, Diego Sanchez.
Season 3 got rid of the physical challenges and teams got to pick their respective representatives to fight (very "Hunger Games"). It got right to the point and the fans definitely enjoyed that aspect. This was also the first time we saw fighters outside of North America compete, including Englishman Michael Bisping, who won his division and became the UK's first legitimate MMA star.
Things got shaken up in Season 4 of The Ultimate Fighter with "The Comeback". TUF brought back UFC veterans to compete for a $100,000 purse, a $100,000 Xyience sponsorship, and a shot at UFC champs at 185 and 170. Travis Lutter earned the shot against Anderson Silva at middleweight and got to some dangerous positions on the ground against the eventual GOAT, but in the end it was Silva who defended the belt.
Then in one of the most shocking upsets in UFC history, Long Island's Matt Serra defeated welterweight king Georges St-Pierre to become the UFC welterweight champ. Season 4 was also the first without team coaches.
The 5th and 6th seasons went back to the more traditional format with Season 5 being another superstar-generating show, producing guys like Manny Gamburyan, Nate Diaz, Joe Lauzon, and Gray Maynard.
The format changed once again with Season 7 as fighters had to fight before becoming official cast members. This is a trend that has become the new norm for getting on the show. TUF Season 8 produced a winner by the name of Ryan Bader, who will headline Wednesday night's headline fight against Glover Teixeira.
The 9th season of The Ultimate Fighter mixed things up with a "country vs. country" theme as Dan Henderson coached his team USA versus Michael Bisping's Team UK.
The 10th season had a huge buzz around it ... literally. It was made up exclusively of heavyweights, and also featured Internet sensation Kevin Ferguson (aka "Kimbo Slice"). Slice ended up getting eliminated by current heavyweight fan favorite Roy Nelson, who would go on to win that season.
Aside from the usual coaching changes, the show format stayed the same through Season 15. That season was the first season to air on the FX network. It also moved to a live format which I found to be particularly exciting. It was a brutally exhausting and long season for the competitors. Inspired by the death of his father, Michael Chiesa reigned supreme when it was all over.
Then, if doing a live show wasn't enough, the UFC expanded TUF to Brazil at the same time with The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil. Although Vitor Belfort and Wanderlei Silva were the coaches and scheduled to fight after the show, the match never happened due to a Belfort injury.
The Ultimate Fighter continued its expansion with other regional versions like "The Smashes" UK vs. Australia and The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 2.
The most recent Ultimate Fighter featured trash-talking Chael Sonnen versus pound-for-pound favorite Jon Jones. The season was very successful and entertaining, employing a dynamic new look and feel, with Sonnen winning the coaching battle and Jones winning the fight.
We are now coming up on Season 18 of The Ultimate Fighter and once again we see another "first" for the reality show with women getting into the mix along with men for a very interesting format change. Getting the nod for the first time as coaches are female fighters Miesha Tate versus bantamweight champ and long-time rival Ronda Rousey.
Not only do we have two coaches who truly detest one another, we also have a completely new and experimental dynamic with men and women sharing the house for the first time. Things could get very interesting.
If it was hard for some fighters to focus before, it's about to get much more difficult. Fighters aren't allowed to unwind by reading, watching TV or using communication devices of any kind. They're stuck with each other, for better or worse. Could we be in for cat fights and cage fights? I hope so.
One thing is for sure, the show will provide fans with a separate male and female winner and will be providing some excellent drama in and out of the house. I can't wait to see how this season unfolds. This season's "Ultimate Fighter" recipe just got a lot spicier.