The countdown of the best fighters to ever compete on The Ultimate Fighter reality series continues today with fighters 17 through nine. But before we move on, let’s look at the Top 20 from 2009.
The 2009 TUF 20 Countdown
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
10 – Joe Stevenson
9 – Mike Swick
8 – Michael Bisping
6 – Matt Serra
5 – Gray Maynard
4 – Kenny Florian
3 – Diego Sanchez
2 – Forrest Griffin
1 – Rashad Evans
Will the rest of the list stay the same? Let’s find out.
17 – Melvin Guillard
Post TUF record: 9-4
Season two’s Melvin Guillard was always talented. The question was, could he keep his game together when dealing with a myriad of out of the ring issues and tragedies. Well, once he hooked up with the Greg Jackson team in Albuquerque, a new version of “The Young Assassin” emerged, and he’s been unstoppable, winning four in a row and seven of his last eight. Now Guillard is a major player in the lightweight division, and these days, that’s saying a helluva lot.
DEFINING FIGHT – TKO1 Evan Dunham
TUF TALK –“I’ve been through so many ups and downs in my career, and in my personal life, and one thing I always remember is that (UFC President) Dana (White) has always been good to me and he’s always been honest with me. And Dana sat me down one time a while back and he said ‘kid, you have all the talent in the world, and we like you. Don’t throw it away.’ And for my boss to come and tell me that they really care for me, that’s an honorable thing for me, and if my boss believes in me, why shouldn’t I believe in myself? I’m my own worst enemy. If I mess myself out of this, it’s because I did something. But I’m just so happy that I got to see what I was doing wrong.”
16 – Joe Stevenson
Post TUF record: 8-7
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 has hit a rough patch after that, losing five of his last eight, but given his history, it’s not time to count him out yet.
DEFINING FIGHT – Wsub1 Melvin Guillard
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.”
15 – Mike Swick
Post TUF record: 9-3
A rising star who had won five of six fights before appearing on season one of TUF, Mike 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. In his last two bouts though, Swick has struggled in losses to Dan Hardy and Paulo Thiago, and after taking some time off to deal an esophageal condition that has been plaguing him over the last few years, he hopes to return to action soon.
DEFINING FIGHT – TKO2 Ben Saunders
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.”
14 – Matt Serra
Post TUF record: 3-3
How does Matt Serra, a guy who has a .500 record since winning The Ultimate Fighter get to number six on this list? Well, first, one of those three wins 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, one of the losses (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 (a loss Lytle avenged in 2010), his wins on the show over Shonie Carter and Pete Spratt, his UFC victories over Frank Trigg, 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
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.”
13 – Krzysztof Soszynski
Post TUF record: 5-2
If you said Krzysztof Soszynski’s career before The Ultimate Fighter 8 resembled that of a journeyman, he would probably agree with you. But that’s the life you lead when you’re learning on the job and running towards killer competition on a regular basis. What this education did for Soszynski was make him a dangerous fighter when it was time to step on the world stage, and since TUF, he has proven himself to be in his fighting prime, as he’s won five of seven UFC bouts, with the only losses coming to Brandon Vera and Stephan Bonnar (in their rematch). In his most recent bout, at UFC 122, “The Polish Experiment” defeated Goran Reljic to keep his unlikely string of excellence going.
DEFINING FIGHT – TKO3 Stephan Bonnar
TUF TALK – “People look at my record and they think ‘oh, he’s just a mediocre fighter and got into the show through The Ultimate Fighter. But to me, I work my butt off every day in the gym, I give everything I have to this sport and even though I have nine losses on my record, most of them were early on in my career when I really didn’t know any better and didn’t train with anybody who was top level and who could teach me the right way. It’s been a learning experience for the last six years, I finally made it, and I’m gonna stick with it and keep training my butt off.”
12 – Matt Wiman
Post TUF record: 7-2
With an exciting fight style, seven UFC wins, and an engaging personality, you have to wonder why Matt Wiman isn’t a bona fide star yet. But with his most recent win, a dominant three round win over TUF5 castmate Cole Miller, Wiman may have begun that move into everyone’s consciousness. And if he hasn’t, you can be sure that a win over Dennis Siver at UFC 132 in July will certainly do the trick.
DEFINING FIGHT – W3 Cole Miller
TUF TALK – “I don’t feel comfortable backing up and running around. I don’t feel comfortable if I’m not working hard for something, and if I’m playing it safe, I feel like the other guy is plotting and planning, so I want to put him on the defensive and I want to push the pace and bring the fight to him. I’ve tried fighting other ways and tried to be overly technical, and it just doesn’t work for me. I obviously practice technique and I have good technique, but that isn’t the most significant thing to me – I like going hard and pushing the pace and taking care of business, not in a reckless way, but in a smart way.”
11 – Chris Leben
Post TUF record: 11-6
Whether you loved him or hated him, Chris Leben always provoked strong feelings from MMA fans while being the poster boy for bad behavior on the first season of TUF. His post-TUF career has also matched his persona, thanks to an up and down journey that has always been compelling, regardless of the final result. And though Leben’s only .500 in his last six, you can’t forget the 5-0 run that began his UFC career, and the back-to-back 2010 wins over Aaron Simpson and Yoshihiro Akiyama that came only two weeks apart, all moments that will forever keep “The Crippler” on fight fans’ minds.
DEFINING FIGHT - Wsub3 Yoshihiro Akiyama
TUF TALK - “I’m one of those guys that always thought they were gonna be famous. I thought I was somebody important before I was somebody important, I guess. In my mind, people should have always been pointing to me and saying, ‘hey, there goes Chris Leben.’”
10 - Nate Diaz
Post TUF record: 8-4
With the attitude of a true fighter and good bloodlines (brother Nick is a UFC vet), Nate Diaz was going to make it to the UFC with or without The Ultimate Fighter. But the reality series jump-started the Stockton, California native’s career, and he defeated Rob Emerson, Corey Hill, Gray Maynard, and Manny Gamburyan to win the season five title. He’s continued his run of success with eight Octagon victories, including impressive finishes of Rory Markham and Marcus Davis in his new home at 170 pounds.
DEFINING FIGHT – Wsub2 Kurt Pellegrino – UFC Fight Night – 4/2/08
TUF TALK - “I talked to my brother and my manager, Cesar, and they were telling me that it would probably be the best thing for me. I was definitely not too excited about going. I wanted to, but at the same time I didn’t. I didn’t feel like I was too good on camera, and I’m not great at interviews, but I’m glad I did it the way it turned out. I thought I was gonna be one of the least experienced guys in the house fightwise, to be honest with you. “Once I was there, I realized there were people there with less fights than me, but there wasn’t any pressure. I thought I had a good chance, that’s for sure.”
9 – Matt Hamill
Post TUF record: 9-2
The raw talent of Matt Hamill was evident on season three of The Ultimate Fighter, but it wasn’t until he bounced back from a TKO loss to Rich Franklin two years after his Octagon debut that he began fulfilling his promise. Since the Franklin fight, Hamill has won five in a row, with only his DQ victory over Jon Jones being a less than stellar performance. And when Mark Munoz, Tito Ortiz, and Keith Jardine are the kinds of competitors you’re beating, you’re a legit contender. At UFC 130, Hamill will take his next step towards a title shot when he faces Rampage Jackson.
DEFINING FIGHT – W3 Tito Ortiz
TUF TALK –“In wrestling, success came easy. It came so naturally, and the mat was my home. Joining this sport has been a challenge. I learn new things every day and others can knock me down, which they never could in wrestling. But I'm getting better and I’m still striving to be at the top in MMA also.”