Skip to main content
The Ultimate Fighter

The TUF 30 | Part 3

There Have Been Some Notable Fighters To Graduate From The Ultimate Fighter Over The Years, Here Are The 30 Best.

On June 1, the newest season of The Ultimate Fighter will premiere on ESPN+, with UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski and top contender Brian Ortega coaching a host of middleweights and bantamweights vying for a UFC contract and a win in the toughest tournament in sports.

Graduating from the TUF house has been the catalyst for several notable fighters to have success in the UFC Octagon, but who are the best to emerge from TUF? You’re about to find out.

10 - Diego Sanchez

Diego Sanchez: Top TUF Moments
Diego Sanchez: Top TUF Moments
/

It’s been a unique career, to say the least, for season one TUF winner Diego Sanchez. From his early days at welterweight, where he went 4-0 before back-to-back losses to Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck, to a run at lightweight where he challenged then-champion BJ Penn for the UFC crown, and then to his resurrection at 170, a return to 155, and a brief stint at featherweight, the man known as “Nightmare,” then “The Dream,” and back to “Nightmare” has always been exciting in the Octagon and just as compelling outside the cage. Needless to say, win or lose, odds are that we’ll be talking about Sanchez, who was inducted into the Fight Wing of the UFC Hall of Fame in 2019 for his 2009 bout with Clay Guida, for a long time.

9 - Nate Diaz

Nate Diaz reacts to his victory over Conor McGregor of Ireland in their welterweight bout during the UFC 196 event inside MGM Grand Garden Arena on March 5, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
Nate Diaz reacts to his victory over Conor McGregor of Ireland in their welterweight bout during the UFC 196 event inside MGM Grand Garden Arena on March 5, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

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 continued his run of success with 14 more Octagon victories, including ultra-impressive wins over Conor McGregor, Anthony Pettis Takanori Gomi, Donald Cerrone, Maynard and Jim Miller. On June 12, the popular Diaz faces off with top welterweight contender Leon Edwards.

Subscribe To ESPN+ To Watch The Ultimate Fighter Season 29

8 - Tony Ferguson

Every UFC Finish By Tony Ferguson
Every UFC Finish By Tony Ferguson
/

A hard-nosed battler from even before he entered the world’s consciousness when he won TUF 13, Tony Ferguson has paid his dues early on in his UFC stint by winning nine of his first 10 bouts in the Octagon. But it was his submission of Edson Barboza in 2015 that earned him Fight of the Night and Performance of the Night bonuses that took his career to a new level. In 2017, Ferguson submitted Kevin Lee to win the interim UFC lightweight belt, and while he never got his showdown with the now-retired Khabib Nurmagomedov and is in the midst of a three-fight losing skid, there’s no question that “El Cucuy” has been one of the best lightweights of this era.

View Ferguson's Athlete Profile

7 - TJ Dillashaw

TJ Dillashaw prepares to fight Cody Garbrandt in their UFC bantamweight championship fight during the UFC 227 event inside Staples Center on August 4, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
TJ Dillashaw prepares to fight Cody Garbrandt in their UFC bantamweight championship fight during the UFC 227 event inside Staples Center on August 4, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

TJ Dillashaw had a rough start to his UFC career when he was knocked out in the TUF 14 bantamweight final by John Dodson. But after shaking off the first loss of his career, Dillashaw took the long road to the top of his division, winning five of six bouts before scoring the biggest upset since Matt Serra beat Georges St-Pierre, knocking out the seemingly unstoppable Renan Barao at UFC 173 in May 2014 to win the 135-pound world title. After halting Joe Soto in his first title defense, Dillashaw proved that the Barao win wasn’t a fluke, as he made it look easy in stopping the Brazilian in four rounds. A loss of his belt to Dominick Cruz would follow, but Dillashaw took it back from Cody Garbrandt in 2017. Relinquishing the belt in 2019 after failing a drug test following his loss to Henry Cejudo in a flyweight title fight, Dillashaw will return later this year against Cory Sandhagen.

View Dillashaw's Athlete Profile

6 - Rose Namajunas

Top Finishes: Rose Namajunas
Top Finishes: Rose Namajunas
/

One of mixed martial arts’ most compelling figures, Rose Namajunas may have lost in the TUF 20 finale against Carla Esparza in 2014, but in the subsequent years she has proven to be someone capable of spectacular things on fight night. In November 2017, Namajunas shocked the world with a first-round knockout of the seemingly unbeatable Joanna Jedrzejczyk, taking the strawweight crown in the process. Namajunas repeated her victory over the Polish star in their rematch before an upset loss to Jessica Andrade in May 2019. Last summer “Thug Rose” evened the score with Andrade in a non-title fight before regaining the 115-pound title with  a 78-second knockout of Zhang Weili in April of this year.

View Namajunas' Athlete Profile

5 - Robert Whittaker

Robert Whittaker poses for a portrait outside the W Yas Island hotel on October 21, 2020 on UFC Fight Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)
Robert Whittaker poses for a portrait outside the W Yas Island hotel on October 21, 2020 on UFC Fight Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)

Winner of the TUF Smashes season at welterweight in 2012, New Zealand-born Australian Robert Whittaker had a spotty start to his UFC career, only going 3-2 in his first five fights in the promotion. But a move to middleweight in 2014 proved to be just what the doctor ordered for Whittaker, who has gone 11-1 at 185 pounds, winning the UFC middleweight title in 2017 in the process. The “1” in that 11-1 run came against Israel Adesanya in 2019, causing him to lose his title. But a trio of wins over Darren Till, Jared Cannonier and Kelvin Gastelum have him knocking on the door of another title shot.

View Whittaker's Athlete Profile

4 - Forrest Griffin

FINDING FORREST: The Story of Forrest Griffin, a True UFC Original
FINDING FORREST: The Story of Forrest Griffin, a True UFC Original
/

There’s probably no one in the game who would want to avoid the spotlight more than Forrest Griffin, but that became an impossibility when the former police officer won season one of The Ultimate Fighter with a stirring three-round win over Stephan Bonnar that kicked off the MMA explosion in 2005. After that, it was a constant stream of interviews, appearances, and photo shoots for Griffin, who still found time to engage in a memorable war with Tito Ortiz, get upset by Keith Jardine, and rebound to shock Mauricio Rua and Quinton Jackson, the latter bout earning him the UFC light heavyweight crown in 2008. Griffin went on to lose the belt to Rashad Evans and get stopped in a single round by Anderson Silva, but consecutive wins over Ortiz and Rich Franklin put the ever-popular Griffin back on track before Rua got even with a TKO victory at UFC 134. Griffin bounced back in July of 2012, decisioning Ortiz in their rubber match. He retired after the bout and was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2013.

Don't Miss Any Content From The Return Of The Ultimate Fighter

3 - Rashad Evans

An undersized heavyweight with little reputation to precede him, former Michigan State wrestler Rashad Evans wasn’t expected to do much with the giants on TUF2, but four wins later (Keith Jardine, Mike Whitehead, Tom Murphy, and Brad Imes), the New York native had won the show’s title. Evans continued to surprise in his post-TUF career, and though he received a reputation for putting on less than compelling fights early on, by the time he was blasting out Jason Lambert and Sean Salmon, that rep changed. Evans would then engage in two close battles with Tito Ortiz and Michael Bisping, decisioning Bisping and fighting to a draw with Ortiz. Those fights were preludes to a spectacular knockout of Chuck Liddell and a decisive finish of Forrest Griffin that put the UFC light heavyweight championship belt around his waist. Evans lost the title to Lyoto Machida in his first defense, but rebound wins over Thiago Silva, Rampage Jackson, Ortiz (in a UFC 133 rematch), and Phil Davis earned him a shot at the title belt held by former teammate Jon “Bones” Jones in April of 2012. Evans lost that bout via decision but wins over Dan Henderson and Chael Sonnen kept “Suga” in the headlines. Evans retired in 2018 and he was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2019.

Subscribe To ESPN+ To Watch The Ultimate Fighter Season 29

2 - Michael Bisping

Michael Bisping of England celebrates after his first round knockout win against Luke Rockhold in their UFC middleweight championship bout during the UFC 199 event at The Forum on June 4, 2016 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
Michael Bisping of England celebrates after his first round knockout win against Luke Rockhold in their UFC middleweight championship bout during the UFC 199 event at The Forum on June 4, 2016 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

The man who 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 with 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 at UFC 78 against Rashad Evans, but his gutsy performance in the razor-thin decision defeat won back some of the 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 of 2009. Eager to get back in the race, Bisping won 11 of his next 16, including bonus-earning efforts over Denis Kang, Yoshihiro Akiyama, Cung Le and Anderson Silva. And in the feel-good story of 2016, Bisping made the most of a short-notice call as he defeated Luke Rockhold in their UFC 199 rematch to win the UFC middleweight title. Four months later, “The Count” evened the score with Henderson in an emotional victory in Manchester. After retiring in 2018, Bisping got his place in the UFC Hall of Fame in 2019.

Watch Previous Seasons Of TUF On UFC Fight Pass

1 - Kamaru Usman

Kamaru Usman Post-Fight Interview | UFC 261
Kamaru Usman Post-Fight Interview | UFC 261
/

It’s hard to argue with success. But it takes more than wins to get to the place where fans are talking about a fighter as an all-time great. And Kamaru Usman is ticking all those boxes these days, just as he’s been doing it since he won season 21 of TUF in 2015. Just 6-1 as a pro at the time, Usman beat everyone in front of him in dominant fashion, even if some of those bouts weren’t as compelling as many wanted. But once the stakes rose, “The Nigerian Nightmare” lifted his game to go along with them, with a Performance of the Night win over Rafael Dos Anjos in 2018 a sign of things to come. In 2019, he shut out Tyron Woodley to win the UFC welterweight title, he stopped Colby Covington in a classic war later that year, he came back from some adversity to halt Gilbert Burns, and after a dominant win over Jorge Masvidal, he emphatically ended their rivalry in April with a devastating knockout. And he’s not done yet.

View Usman's Athlete Profile