The Ultimate Fighter is an American reality television series and mixed martial arts (MMA) competition produced by Spike TV and the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). The show features unknown, professional MMA fighters living together in Las Vegas, Nevada, and follows them as they train and compete against each other for a prized contract with the UFC. The series debuted on January 17, 2005, with its first episode, "The Quest Begins". To date, there have been twelve seasons of the show, two per calendar year, with a thirteenth scheduled. Each season features either one or two weight classes in the tournament.
The historic Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar fight in the first season drew millions of viewers to the show and launched the sport into the mainstream. Because of this success, The Ultimate Fighter was regarded as instrumental to the survival and expansion of the UFC. Many current and past UFC fighters are alumni of the show, with some competitors going on to become coaches in future seasons. The show has undergone multiple format changes since its inception, including the introduction of the wildcard bout. Many winners have gone on to compete for UFC championships with some becoming UFC champions.
Dana White, the UFC president oversees each season
The Ultimate Fighter was originally an experimental series financed by the owners of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta III. The series was aired on Spike TV for free as a last resort measure to gain mainstream exposure for mixed martial arts (MMA). Airing after World Wrestling Entertainment's flagship show Monday Night RAW, The Ultimate Fighter's debut episode was able to garner a 57% retention rate in viewers from RAW, which was double the usual rate for Spike TV. The live finale for the first season saw the historic bout of Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar. Now widely regarded as the most influential fight in MMA history, the bout took place in what was the first ever MMA event on live and free television. The bout ended in a unanimous decision victory for Griffin and led to the show's renewal on Spike TV. Regarding the success of the show, UFC president Dana White said, "It's amazing to think.... how close we came to not being here today. If it weren't for what these guys did, I don't know if there would even be a UFC. I'll never forget these guys. Ever."
The renewal of the show saw UFC produce two more series, before subsequent renewals. In order to garner more attention for the sport, The Ultimate Fighter utilizes gimmicks: one notable example, in the ninth season, employed a country vs. country theme, with the United States competing against the United Kingdom. These gimmicks enabled the UFC to appeal to fans that had been recently introduced to the sport during UFCs penetration into the European market.The Ultimate Fighter also drew record viewing figures for Spike TV when YouTube sensation Kimbo Slice participated in the tenth season. Slice's fight against veteran Roy Nelson attracted viewers to the sport, drawing an audience of 6.1 million, making it one of the most viewed MMA fights in history.
The Ultimate Fighter uses an elimination tournament format, as highlighted by the series ten bracket.
For the first four seasons, prospect UFC fighters from two different weight categories were selected to compete. The fighters are divided into two teams, irrespective of weight class, with each team coached by a current UFC headliner. The teams then compete (in a manner which varies by season) with the loser being eliminated from the competition. Often, incentives are provided for the team of a winning fighter. This can include the right for their team to select the next matchup, in order to pick off fighters from the opposing team by selecting favourable matchups.
At the end of a season, the two remaining fighters of each weight class are placed in a single-elimination fight at Ultimate Fighter Finales, such as The Ultimate Fighter 1 Finale where the title of Ultimate Fighter is awarded to the winner. Seasons five to seven and ten to twelve have featured fighters from just one weight class each, with the other seasons focusing on two weight classes.
The show features the daily preparations each fighter makes to train for competition at the UFC training center, and the interactions they have with each other living under the same roof. Day-to-day events on the show are overseen by UFC president Dana White.
With the exception of the season finales, fights on The Ultimate Fighter are sanctioned by the Nevada Athletic Commission as exhibition matches and do not count for or against a fighter's professional record. This is done to keep the results from going public before the air date. However, going into the semi-final stage of each series, fights are scheduled for the full professional three rounds, as opposed to two rounds (with the possibility of a sudden victory round) for all stages prior. Though officially exhibition fights, the UFC chooses to record the results of semi-final matchups. For example, the seventh season winner Amir Sadollah has one more win on his UFC record than on his official record due to his victory in his season's semi-final round.
The first six seasons featured sixteen fighters, in either one or two weight categories. The first two seasons, however, were very different from each following season. The original format for The Ultimate Fighter saw each team compete in challenges, such as hoisting their respective coach up on their shoulders and sprinting down a beach, or a team tug-of-war. These challenges resulted in eliminations of fighters who hadn't fought, until late in the season when the challenge incentive was to select the next fight where fighters would be eliminated, having lost the fight. In the first two seasons, fighters would also leave the house for good upon losing and this often resulted in odd numbers for teams, which forced the moving of fighters to opposing teams.
Beginning in season four, fighters were no longer removed from the house after losing their fights and did not switch teams except in extraordinary cases, such as being kicked off a team by the head coach. In the seventh season, instead of the usual sixteen fighters, thirty-two fighters participated. This new rule introduced a preliminary fight, in order to get into the house, which gave the coaches an early evaluation.
The final change to date was the introduction of the "wildcard". Instead of the then-permanent 32-man tournament method, the number of fighters was reduced to 28 in the preliminary round. The winning fourteen would then enter the house, before a "wildcard" bout would take place featuring two of the losing fighters in the "round-of-fourteen". The winner of the wildcard bout would then be included in the quarterfinal round of eight fighters. This format proved highly successful for Kris McCray, who took part in the wildcard bout. Having lost his opening match in the house, he won the wildcard bout to reach the quarter finals and went on to win his next two bouts, reaching the tournament final.
The winners of the first three seasons of The Ultimate Fighter competition, and certain runners-up depending on their performance in their competition finals, receive the touted "six-figure" contract to fight in the UFC. These contracts are specifically three-year contracts with a guaranteed first year. Each year consists of three fights, the first year's purse per fight consists of $12,000 guaranteed with a $12,000 win bonus (a maximum of $24,000 per fight). The second year's purse per fight is $16,000 with a $16,000 win bonus (a maximum of $32,000 per fight) and the third year's purse per fight is at $22,000 with a $22,000 win bonus (a maximum of $44,000 per fight).
A TUF winner who goes 9–0 can earn $300,000 total on the contract, but only $150,000 is guaranteed for all three years if nine fights are fought. Some TUF competitors who did not win the series were also offered UFC contracts, although not on as attractive terms.
With the exception of seasons two, four, eleven and thirteen, the coaches fight each other after the conclusion of the show. Season two featured Rich Franklin and Matt Hughes, who were in different weight categories, eliminating the possibility for a post-season fight. The fourth season saw multiple guest coaches take the lead, differing from other seasons with two clearly designated coaches. As such, these seasons did not feature their respective coaches in competition. Season eleven coaches Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell's fight was cancelled due to Ortiz's need for neck fusion surgery. Season thirteen saw the fight between Brock Lesnar and Junior dos Santos cancelled after Lesnar was diagnosed with his second bout of diverticulitis.
In addition to the seasons which did not feature post-season fights between the coaches, several seasons have been impacted, forcing postponements. Due to injuries to the season six coaches Matt Serra and Matt Hughes, their fight was postponed. Serra suffered a herniated disc in his lower back and Hughes later suffered a torn MCL before the fight finally took place at UFC 98. The fight between season ten coaches Rashad Evans and Quinton Jackson took place at UFC 114 with Rashad Evans winning by unanimous decision. The fight was postponed by five months due to Jackson's A-Team filming commitments and his temporary decision to retire from fighting.
Though rarely taking place at the live finales, the coaches' fights are an important part of each season of The Ultimate Fighter. With each season effectively hyping the fight and the individuals for multiple weeks, the fights are usually the focal point of the pay-per-view event they feature at. The coaches' fights have resulted in the following matchups and results:
The first season of The Ultimate Fighter was the last attempt by the UFC to capture public interest in the sport. The Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin bout saved the sport according to many journalists and Dana White. Griffin and Sanchez are also regarded as the original Ultimate Fighters, after their wins at the finale. The second season saw welterweights and heavyweights compete, featuring coaches Rich Franklin and Matt Hughes. The final saw Rashad Evans defeating Brad Imes and Joe Stevenson defeating Luke Cummo. The third season highlighted the long-standing rivalry between Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock. It was also the first season to feature competitors from outside of North America, after the addition of Michael Bisping and Ross Pointon. The season saw a format change, when the team-games were eliminated in favour of a conventional knockout style tournament format. The final fights saw Michael Bisping become the first non-American winner, defeating Josh Haynes and Kendall Grove defeat Ed Herman.
The fourth season was different to others before it, as it was the "comeback" season. Past UFC fighters who hadn't had the success they were expected to have, were invited back, to compete in the show, with the winner receiving a guaranteed title shot. This season was also the only one to date to not feature team coaches. Instead, the show had guest coaches each week. The final saw Matt Serra defeat Chris Lytle and Travis Lutter defeat Patrick Côté to receive their guaranteed title shots. The fifth season was coached by Jens Pulver and BJ Penn, as the company attempted to kickstart the lightweight division. The show featured many of the future stars of the lightweight division such as Nate Diaz, Joe Lauzon, Gray Maynard, Matt Wiman and Cole Miller.Despite the fact that Team Pulver won 5 out of the first eight fights, the 3 fighters who made it through the quarterfinals on Team Penn are still in the ufc which are Gray Maynard, Matt Wiman and Joe Lauzon while only Manny Gamburyan and Nate Diaz from Team Pulver are still in the UFC.The final was contested by Nate Diaz and Manny Gamburyan, with Gamburyan falling to a shoulder injury early on. Former winner Matt Serra returned to the show in the sixth season to coach alongside Matt Hughes and oversaw a group of welterweight fighters. The final saw veteran Mac Danzig defeat Tommy Speer to become The Ultimate Fighter, before he dropped to the lightweight division. Arguably, only George Sotiropoulos has gone on to have any success post-TUF and is currently 7-1 in the UFC, while season winner Danzig is only 4-4 in the UFC and currently 2-4 in his past 6.
The seventh season saw another format change, as fighters had to compete to be official castmembers. Instead of the usual 16 fighters, the season had 32 fighters after Dana White claimed that he was tired of fighters coming onto the show for airtime. This season was coached by UFC Light Heavyweight champion Rampage Jackson and challenger Forrest Griffin, the first season's winner. The season's final was due to be competed between Amir Sadollah, who hadn't competed in a professional fight before the show, and Jesse Taylor. However, Taylor was kicked off the show after filming had completed, when he kicked the window out of a limosine in Las Vegas. His slot was taken by C.B. Dollaway who defeated Tim Credeur for the right, but Sadollah won in the final to become The Ultimate Fighter. The eighth season was coached by UFC Interim Heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Frank Mir, with lightweights and light heavyweights being the focus for the season. The show was largely dominated by the actions of Junie Browning, who would regularly get drunk and act in an aggressive manner towards his fellow castmates. The two fights at the final saw Efrain Escudero defeat Phillipe Nover and Ryan Bader defeat Vinny Magalhães. The ninth season saw a United States vs. United Kingdom theme for the show, with Dan Henderson and Michael Bisping coaching the respective sides. The two sides contrasted, with the UK side showing close friendship (with many coming from Team Rough House), whilst the US team appeared fractured. The lightweight final saw Team Rough House teammates Andre Winner and Ross Pearson face off for the contract, with Pearson coming out on top via decision. The welterweight final saw James Wilks defeat DaMarques Johnson via submission in the opening round, handing the UK team a 2-0 victory.
The tenth season was the first season to feature only heavyweights and was largely built around the internet sensation Kimbo Slice. The two coaches were former UFC Light Heavyweight champions Rampage Jackson and Rashad Evans who squabbled throughout the entire season, hyping their eventual fight further. However, midway through the airing of the season, it was announced that Rampage was filming The A-Team, as its lead character B.A. Baracus, leading to the postponement of the coaches' fight. The season also featured several former NFL players, with one - Brendan Schaub making the final of the show. Additionally, the season was occasionally criticised after the cardio of the heavyweights came into question. The final saw MMA veteran Roy Nelson and Brendan Schaub, with Nelson winning via first round knockout. The eleventh season saw former UFC Light Heavyweight champions Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell coach the two teams. Unlike previous seasons, the number of competitors in the house was reduced to 14, with 7 progressing to the quarter-finals. An eighth was added via a "wildcard" bout - a bout between two losers from the round of 14. The slots went to Kyacey Uscola and Kris McCray, which saw McCray win via submission. McCray would then go on to avenge his earlier defeat, in the semi-finals, defeating Josh Bryant. The season was blighted by injuries to multiple competitors, such as the withdrawal of Nick Ring, after he required knee surgery. After Rich Attonito pulled out of the competition, his quarter final place was taken by Court McGee. Court McGee and Kris McCray met in the final, where McGee would win via submission to become The Ultimate Fighter.
The twelfth season saw the UFC Welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre coach alongside former opponent and number one contender to the title, Josh Koscheck. The season saw the continuation of the wildcard format and 14-man tournament bracket. The show's number one pick was Marc Stevens, who would go on to lose in one of the quickest submissions (via guillotine choke) in the show's history. The wildcard slots went to Marc Stevens and Aaron Wilkinson, with Wilkinson handing Stevens his second successive guillotine choke loss. The show was dominated by Josh Koscheck's attempts to annoy Georges St-Pierre, with St-Pierre's paramedic getting involved in the arguments with Koscheck. The finale was a match between Jonathan Brookins and Michael Johnson on December 4, 2010 which resulted in Brookins winning via unanimous decision