First, it will be roughly two years since the season-one finale, in which fans got to see the reality show stars debut in the real octagon. Second, "TUF" has feature exactly 100 candidates in its first six seasons.
So, I figured this might be a good time to assess how the show has done. Undoubtedly, "TUF" has a lot of purposes, including the provision of purely juvenile entertainment, marketing the UFC brand, and attracting new fans to the sport (yes, "TUF noobs" are good for the UFC's pocketbook). In this regard, it's been pretty successful.
But it was primarily pitched as a vehicle for injecting new talent into the UFC. So, how has it done in that respect?
By my totally subjective, absolutely unscientific calculations, it hasn't done that well. Of the 100 fighters, including replacements for injured fighters, only about 20 percent could be generously credited as UFC stars, or even serious contenders in their weight classes. If you expand that to include B-level fighters who are reputable gatekeepers or stepping stones for others, the show's success rate grows to only 46 percent -- meaning, more than half of the "TUF" contestants were unequivocal flops in that they failed to last more than two or three fights with the organization, if even that long.
Here's the breakdown:
Not every "TUF" graduate must be championship material for the show to work, but these fighters are (or will be) mainstays in their respective divisions.
Mac Danzig -- Although it was ridiculous to put the then 16-4 Danzig through the "TUF" meat grinder, he'll be a solid competitor in a stacked division.
Forest Griffin –- Choking out Mauricio "Shogun" Rua was the final proof that these guys can be more than reality-show camera whores. Griffin is headed for a title shot and has long been one of the organization's most popular fighters.
Matt Serra -- Controversial KO, title-defense-delayed injury and abrasive attitude aside, Serra is the only "TUF" product to win a championship.
Others –- Michael Bisping, Patrick Cote, Marcus Davis, Nate Diaz, Rashad Evans, Kenny Florian, Manny Gamburyan, Keith Jardine, Josh Koscheck, Joe Lauzon, Chris Leben, Gray Maynard, Cole Miller, Diego Sanchez, Mike Swick, Din Thomas and Matt Wiman.
While some may develop solid careers elsewhere, these fighters didn't even rise to journeyman status in the UFC.
Josh Haynes, Brad Imes –- The UFC should get more out of its "TUF" runners-up than a 0-3 record in the organization.
Alex Schoenauer, Pete Spratt, Mike Whitehead -- The goal of "TUF" was presumably not to publicize serviceable fighters for other organizations.
The No-Shows -- Eleven fighters, for various reasons -- mostly ignoble -- didn't even make it to their respective "TUF" finales or ever fight in the UFC after the season ended. That's more than 10 percent of the collective cast. Blake Bowman, Mikey Burnett, Noah Inhofer, Eli Joslin, Gabe Ruediger, Joe Scarola, Mike Stine, Noah Thomas, Marlon Sims, Kenny Stevens and Wayne Weems.
Others –- Danny Abbadi, Dan Barrera, Alan Berube, Shonie Carter, Dan Christison, Edwin Dewees, Tait Fletcher, Jesse Forbes, Paul Georgieff, Brian Geraghty, Richie Hightower, Sam Hoger, Solomon Hutcherson, Jeremy Jackson, John Kolosci, Rob MacDonald, Brandon Melendez, Billy Miles, Sammy Morgan, Tom Murphy, Mike Nickels, Seth Petruzelli, Ross Pointon, Dorian Price, Josh Rafferty, Gideon Ray, Kristian Rothaermel, Chris Sanford, Pete Sell, Kerry Schall, Lodune Sincaid, Rory Singer, Scott Smith, Bobby Southworth, Jason Thacker, Anthony Torres, Jason Von Flue and Andy Wang.
Jury's Still Out (26)
These fighters are respectable, but they will need to show something in order to stay in the UFC.
Stephan Bonnar –- Despite losing his memorable "TUF" finale slugfest with Griffin, Bonnar was heavily hyped as a future star. A steroid suspension and middling 5-3 UFC record have tarnished the affable former prospect. Back-to-back victories have the fan favorite headed in the right direction, though.
Kendall Grove –- He needs a big win soon, or he'll be fighting elsewhere by 2009.
Corey Hill –- His lack of experience angered some MMA fans, but the potential to be a top lightweight is there.
Alex Karalexis – The WEC seems like a perfect destination for middle-tier "TUF" alumni, yet Karalexis (1-2 UFC, 3-1 WEC) and Jesse Forbes are the only ones to make the transition.
The Survivors of Season Six -- UFC was quick to cut almost half of the cast. Matt Arroyo, Ben Saunders, George Sotiropoulos and Tommy Speer are the most likely to have their contracts renewed; Jon Koppenhaver, Troy Mandaloniz, Roman Mitichyan and Jared Rollins may not last long in a vicious welterweight division.
Others –- Josh Burkman, Rich Clementi, Luke Cummo, Rob Emerson, Melvin Guillard, Jorge Gurgel, Matt Hamill, Ed Herman, Travis Lutter, Chris Lytle, Charles McCarthy, Nate Quarry, Jorge Rivera and Kalib Starnes.
Frustrating the UFC's attempt to recruit talent in specific weight classes, several fighters have dropped down one weight class or more after "TUF" to fight in the UFC. "TUF" winners Bisping, Danzig, Rashad Evans, Sanchez and Stevenson are all competing in different weight classes.
This is not a plea to pull the plug on "TUF." Publicity and entertainment are key reasons why the show may live to see 15 seasons.
However, while you're free to enjoy all the sausage-party hijinks common to the show (petty theft, graffiti, mindless destruction, man-thongs, crying, etc.), don't spend much time looking for the next big thing.
Many of the UFC's best young fighters are still culled from reliable feeder organizations like Ring of Combat (Frankie Edgar), Fury Fighting Championship (Thiago Silva), Gladiator Challenge (Tyson Griffin), Midwest Cage Championships (Jeremy Stephens), Cage Fury Fighting Championships (Tamdan McCrory) and Extreme Challenge (Houston Alexander -- OK, not young, but you understand).
Of course, with EliteXC, Strikeforce, DREAM and HDNet Fights fishing these same waters, "TUF" could have a long future as a recruiting tool that guarantees a sought-after prospect instant TV time, even if he has to suffer the indignity of an upper-decker in the process.
"Hyde" is the pseudonym of a Washington, D.C. lawyer and long-time reader of MMAjunkie.com. His cosmopolitan, Harvard-educated colleagues would be horrified to learn that he trains in Muay Thai and submission grappling while following a sport routinely described as "human cockfighting."