On April 20, the newest season of The Ultimate Fighter will premiere on FOX Sports 1, with UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk and number one contender Claudia Gadelha coaching a host of male light heavyweights and female strawweights 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? In Part One, we counted down from 30 to 16. Here are the top 15.
15 –Stephan Bonnar
Stephan Bonnar could have fought for another 10 years and won multiple titles, yet to most fans, he will always be remembered for the fight he lost to Forrest Griffin at the TUF1 finale in 2005. It was the war that put the UFC on the map and made Bonnar a household name to MMA fans and, ultimately, a Hall of Famer. Following that bout, “The American Psycho” had his share of ups and downs, but midway through 2010, he bounced back with three consecutive wins over Krzysztof Soszynski, Igor Pokrajac, and Kyle Kingsbury. He lost to Anderson Silva in the main event of UFC 153 in his final Octagon bout.
14 – Neil Magny
Part of a TUF 16 cast that only saw the finalists – Colton Smith and Mike Ricci – compete on the season finale card, Neil Magny was ultimately one of two fighters, along with Jon Manley, who was brought back fairly quickly to make an Octagon debut. It was a high-pressure gig at UFC 157 in February of 2013, because if Magny lost to Manley, he would likely be heading back to the regional circuit. The Coloradan beat Manley that night, but lost his next two to Sergio Moraes and Seth Baczynski. With his UFC run on the line, Magny finally showed off a taste of his enormous potential, winning seven in a row, including a record-tying five in 2014. Demian Maia snapped that streak in August of last year, but Magny has bounced back with three straight wins over Erick Silva, Kelvin Gastelum and Hector Lombard.
13 – Matt Serra
How does Matt Serra, a guy with a .500 record from the time of his win on The Ultimate Fighter 4 get to this point 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.
12 - Roy Nelson
The most experienced fighter on TUF 10, former IFL heavyweight champion Roy Nelson showed himself to be a cut above his fellow competitors as he defeated Kimbo Slice, Justin Wren, James McSweeney and Brendan Schaub to win the season title. He didn’t skip a beat with an impressive 39-second TKO of Stefan Struve in his proper Octagon debut, and while “Big Country” lost decisions to Junior dos Santos, Frank Mir, and Fabricio Werdum, knockouts of Mirko Cro Cop, Dave Herman, and Matt Mitrione put him smack dab in the title picture in 2013. From there, it’s been another cold streak for the Las Vegan, but a February win over Jared Rosholt got him back in the win column.
11 – Josh Koscheck
A no-nonsense competitor whose “tell it like it is” attitude made him a polarizing figure from the time he was on the first season of TUF, Josh Koscheck basically grew up in the UFC, with practically all of his pro fights taking place in the Octagon. Along the way, “Kos” battled the best in the game, from Georges St-Pierre and Diego Sanchez, to Thiago Alves and Matt Hughes, all the while adding new wrinkles to his world-class wrestling attack. Most potent of his new weapons was a devastating right hand, one he used to great effect over the years. And though he’s no longer in the promotion following a five-fight losing streak from 2012 to 2015, fans won’t soon forget watching him when he was in his prime.
10 - Diego Sanchez
It’s been a crazy career thus far 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 stint at lightweight where he challenged then-champion BJ Penn for the UFC crown, and then to his resurrection at 170, a return to 155, a brief stay at featherweight, then another visit to 155. The man known as “Nightmare,” then “The Dream,” then “Nightmare” again has always been exciting in the Octagon and nearly as compelling outside the cage. Needless to say, win or lose, odds are that we’ll be talking about him for a long time.
9 - Joe Lauzon
After debuting in the UFC in September of 2006 with a stirring 48-second knockout of Jens Pulver, Joe Lauzon didn’t need The Ultimate Fighter as a springboard into the organization, but he took the opportunity to compete with one of the series’ most talent-rich casts anyway. And though he didn’t take the season five title, his post-TUF stint in the UFC has been quite impressive in its own right, as he’s won 11 bouts (all but one by KO or submission) while becoming one of the sport’s premier action heroes and bonus winners.
8 - Matt Brown
Once on the verge of being cut from the UFC roster after an 0-3 run in 2010, TUF 7’s Matt Brown went on to win eight of his next nine, with seven straight from 2012-14 being part of that run. It’s been a display of the talent, determination, and heart shown during his stay on TUF, where he made a name for himself with a head kick knockout of Jeremy May before being eliminated in the quarterfinals by eventual winner Amir Sadollah.
7 – Nate Diaz
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 13 more Octagon victories, including ultra-impressive wins over Michael Johnson, Takanori Gomi, Donald Cerrone, Maynard and Jim Miller in his return to 155 pounds after a brief stint at welterweight. In December of 2012, he challenged Benson Henderson for the UFC lightweight crown but fell short via unanimous decision, but his biggest victory was yet to come, as he submitted Conor McGregor in the main event of UFC 196 in March, captivating the sports world in the process.
6 - Tony Ferguson
Hailing from the Matt Wiman school of “Why isn’t this guy a star already?” Tony Ferguson has paid his dues, and on April 16, he will get that big fight he’s wanted against unbeaten Khabib Nurmagomedov. If the TUF 13 winner emerges victorious, it will be hard to keep him from a world title fight, especially since his current seven-fight winning streak includes finishes of Edson Barboza, Abel Trujillo and Gleison Tibau, and a Performance of the Night decision win over Josh Thomson.
5 - TJ Dillashaw
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 of 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 halting the Brazilian in four rounds last July. A controversial decision loss to Dominick Cruz in January cost him his belt, but expect to see Dillashaw back in the title picture sooner rather than later.
4 - Kenny Florian
A fighter who actually caught the eye of UFC President Dana White in a losing effort against Drew Fickett in 2004, Kenny Florian entered the TUF1 house with little fanfare, but he defeated Chris Leben to make it to the middleweight final against Diego Sanchez. Sanchez pounded out a decisive victory over Florian in the finals, and many wondered where KenFlo fit in the great scheme of things. We found out soon enough as he dropped to welterweight and then lightweight, where, after a title fight loss to Sean Sherk in 2006, Florian put together a six-fight winning streak with victories over Din Thomas, Joe Lauzon, Roger Huerta, and Joe Stevenson that earned him a second title shot. And though Florian was submitted in the fourth round by Penn and lost a 2010 bout to Gray Maynard, the New Englander earned a title shot at 145 pounds with a win over Diego Nunes in June of 2011. That title shot against Jose Aldo ended in a decision defeat, and after retiring in May of 2012, Florian is doing excellent work as a studio host and Octagonside analyst for UFC telecasts on FOX Sports 1.
3 - Michael Bisping
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 in 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 has won 11 of his last 16, including bonus-earning efforts over Denis Kang, Yoshihiro Akiyama and Cung Le and a career-best victory over former world champion Anderson Silva.
2 - Forrest Griffin
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 first round 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.
1 - 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 Jonny “Bones” Jones in April of 2012. Evans lost that bout via decision, but he’s far from done as a top-flight fighter, as wins over Dan Henderson and Chael Sonnen put him back in the race, and despite a loss to Ryan Bader, “Suga” will be back on track should he beat Glover Teixeira next month in Tampa.