It has been over a decade since The Ultimate Fighter first appeared on television screens across America. But even a decade later, the legacy of the show remains strong.
In fact, it could be getting stronger not just in America but all over the world. Take for example Mexico this weekend.
Since the initial incarnation of the format back in 2005, The Ultimate Fighter has become a global phenomenon for the UFC with versions in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Asia, Australia, South America and Latin America – which will see its second season finale this Saturday at the Arena Monterrey. But this card not only features contestants from the current Latin American season of the show – including dueling lightweight finalists Enrique Barzola vs. Horacio Gutierrez and welterweights Enrique Marin vs. Erick Montano – but many alums, including the first-ever winner Diego Sanchez.
“Being this is the (Latin American) Ultimate Fighter finale, it’s a big thing for me because I’m the first Ultimate Fighter.” said Sanchez, who returns after a one-year layoff and hopes to become the first fighter to win in four different weight divisions as he moves to featherweight. “I started the show and now, I don’t know how many seasons they are in but I think it’s over 20, we got Kelvin (Gastelum) on the main event – he’s like my little brother, I love that kid – you’ve got all these young fighters from Mexico making their name (on Saturday) --- it’s just a great thing to be a part of and I’m happy to be fighting my first fight in Mexico here in Monterrey – the first card in Monterrey for the UFC TUF show.”
Main event fighter Gastelum can speak first-hand about how revolutionary the show can be for a fighter. The winner the Season 17: Team Jones vs. Team Sonnen, Gastelum wanted to help others so he signed up to be one of the coaches for this Latin America season and recruited former castmate and finale opponent Uriah Hall to assist him in coaching.
“For me, it changed my life. It’s not only changed people’s minds, but it has brought champions into the UFC,” Gastelum said. “You’ve seen Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans … TJ Dillashaw. The Ultimate Fighter is just this mecca that will catapult you into the UFC and boost you up. It gives you the confidence to know that you belong in the UFC.
“I feel like I built a family and we had a great time inside that house so I’m really glad I got to be able to experience this opportunity … Yes, I have some fighters fighting not only in the finale but also in the undercard that didn’t make it to the finals but are fighting on the undercards. I do see a lot of potential. I do see a lot of future in some of them. And I hope they have bright futures in the UFC.”
Perhaps that’s the bigger legacy of the show.
Neil Magny, No. 13-ranked welterweight and Gastelum’s opponent in the main event, is also an alum having participated in Season 16: Team Carwin vs. Team Nelson. Unlike Gastelum, however, he did not succeed. But the experience was still positive and helped propel Magny to his current status – offering hopes of glory to fighters Marco Polo Reyes, Cesar Arzamendia, Alvaro Herrera and Vernon Ramos who failed to make the final of the show but will be fighting in the UFC FIGHT PASS prelims of this card.
“I started my UFC career from The Ultimate Fighter, so being able to take part in an Ultimate Fighter finale is great,” Magny said. “I’m pretty sure it’s motivating for guys who are on the show now – some of them are not going to win on Saturday night but it’s not the end of the world for them. They can lose a fight at the finale but still come back and have a great run in the UFC. I’m proof of that – I lost two fights coming off (the show) in a row and there came a point where I was questioning if I was going to get another chance to compete in the UFC. I did and I made the best of it and now I’m headlining a TUF finale.”
Jorge A. Mondaca is the Managing Editor of UFC.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JorgeAMondaca