It's been more than a decade since The Ultimate Fighter first launched in 2005, and the inaugural season not only helped to bring the UFC to mainstream audiences across the globe, but it also introduced the world to a group of coaches and competitors who would be remembered forever.
That first season featured future UFC Hall of Famer Chuck Liddell as one of the coaches as he went up against Randy Couture, and the list of athletes on the show included several veterans, a slew of new faces and one cop-turned-fighter named Forrest Griffin.
When it came time for the two coaches to select their teams, Liddell and Couture had to look over the talent to determine who would be the perfect fit while also selecting the fighters who had the best chance to win the entire show and go home as the first ever Ultimate Fighter champion.
Tomorrow! An all-new season of #TUFLatinAmerica featuring two Hall of Fame coaches hits #UFCFIGHTPASS!https://t.co/MfOXDjYoML
— UFC Fight Pass (@UFCFightPass) August 24, 2016
On that day, Liddell saw something special in Griffin and it turns out that "The Iceman" was right on the money because that selection paid off in a big way. Griffin ended up winning both his fights on the show in impressive fashion before engaging in a legendary bout against Stephan Bonnar in the finals to become the winner of the entire series. Of course, Griffin would eventually go on to become light heavyweight champion as well as a Hall of Famer in his own right.
Now, 11 years after they first met on the reality show, Liddell will go up against Griffin when the two Octagon legends meet as coaches on the newest season of The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America, where 16 fighters from nine countries will travel to Argentina for a chance to secure a place in UFC history by winning the show at the live finale on November 5 in Mexico City.
Thus far, The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America has produced some great young up and coming talent, highlighted most recently by featherweight standout Yair Rodriguez, who won the first season of the competition at 145 pounds. Rodriguez is now considered to be one of the fastest rising stars on the entire UFC roster and that's the exact spot these 16 fighters hope to attain while competing on the show.
The new season will feature a deeper tournament, with all 16 fighters competing in the 155-pound division, so there will be a very exciting group of bouts to determine a winner. The fighters will also greatly benefit from having veterans like Liddell and Griffin leading them through the show.
Liddell is not only a former light heavyweight champion and UFC Hall of Fame inductee, but he's also been a coach on the show on two previous occasions. Obviously, Liddell led the way on season one but he also returned 10 seasons later to coach against long time rival Tito Ortiz. Through two seasons of the show, Liddell has picked and coached winners each time he's appeared on the series, with Griffin and Diego Sanchez both coming from his team in season one and Court McGee winning under him during season 11. It will be interesting to see if Liddell can keep his unblemished coaching record on The Ultimate Fighter alive this season as well.
As for Griffin, he was a fighter and eventual winner on the first season of the show and then he returned for season seven, where he coached opposite Quinton "Rampage" Jackson. Griffin coached the eventual winner from his season on the show, as Amir Sadollah went from no previous pro fights to taking home the championship when it was all over. Following that season of the show, Griffin also went on to become the light heavyweight champion with a decision victory over Jackson.
This season, Liddell and Griffin will have to put all their coaching skills on display as they try to mold a group of highly motivated, yet very raw, prospects from all over Latin America. Many of the fighters on the show this season lack experience, but they make up for that with a willingness to learn and soak up as much knowledge as possible.
While everyone on the show will be new faces on Day One, there is some experience amongst the cast this season. Martin Bravo is a 10-0 prospect out of Mexico who trains with several past cast members, including Henry Briones and Gabriel Benitez. Twenty-year-old prospect Claudio Puelles is 7-1 as a professional with a ton of upside, and he could become a breakout star this year, just like Rodriguez from season one. Fabian Quintanar is another veteran with a 13-2 record who has been fighting some stiff competition throughout his career, including some past UFC veterans.
It will be interesting to see how Liddell and Griffin assess the competitors and decide who they want on their teams. Is it better to go with veterans who have the experience or is it better to choose younger, less seasoned fighters who can be molded throughout the season? It's up to the coaches to decide that as Liddell and Griffin look to get the better of each other.
As the first episode kicks off tonight on UFC FIGHT PASS, Liddell and Griffin will meet their prospective team members and greet them with a message from UFC President Dana White. There's no time to waste in the first episode either, as the coaches quickly move to put the fighters into a training session before team selections are made.
By the time the debut episode comes to a close, the first fight of the season has taken place and either Liddell or Griffin will have earned bragging rights to kick off the season as The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America 3 gets underway.