The Ultimate Fighter has been used as a stepping-stone for dozens of fighters over the last five years. Some make the most of the opportunity and win the show and the contract, while others end up working their way through the prelims, trying to end up on TV.
The show has had more failures than success stories, but for every Junie Browning there is a Chris Leben, and for every fighter that looks to run away (Kalib Starnes) there is one looking to stand and bang (Nate Quarry).
In 11 seasons the show has produced three champions, 7 number one contenders (not including Kenny Florian’s second attempt), and more than a few fan favorites.
Success in the house is one thing, but winning after the show is what can make you a star. These 20 fighters have shown that they can win consistently on the sports biggest stage and all but one still fight inside the octagon.
Here are the top 20 fighters, post TUF.
Group 1: The New Guys
20. Ryan Bader: After being selected with the first pick by coach Antonio Rodrigo Nogueria, Bader lived up to expectations, easily winning season nine of TUF. “Darth” holds an 11-0 record and after working his way up the 205lb ladder, Bader is finally taking that step up in competition later this month, when he faces his former coaches little brother, Antonio Rodgerio Nogueria at UFC 119.
19. Roy Nelson: “Big Country” has earned a group of diehard fans since his time on TUF, mostly due to his unusual (and disgusting) appearance. Nelson first won the hearts of fans with his smothering of Kimbo Slice on the show, and has since earned knockout wins over Brendan Schaub and Stefan Struve. Nelson was a win away from a title shot before being demolished by Junior dos Santos at UFC 117. A fight with another mammoth heavyweight, Shane Carwin, seems to be next on the horizon.
18. George Sotiropoulos: The Australian native was upset in the semifinals of his TUF tournament, and shortly after the show dropped to 155lbs, where he has been unbeaten. With submission wins over George Roop and Jason Dent under his belt, along with impressive decision wins over Joe Stevenson and Kurt Pellegrino, Sotiropoulos is taking his impressive double rubber guard to UFC 123, where a win over Joe Lauzon could earn him a title shot.
Group 2: The “Fight of the Night” Winners
17. Marcus Davis: The owner of the most intense nickname in MMA, “The Irish Hand Grenade” has been mired in a slump the last two years, losing three of his last four fights, including one to hated rival Dan Hardy. Nonetheless, Davis remains a fan favorite, especially in Europe, and has won just enough to keep his job. With names like Paul Kelly, Paul Taylor, and Chris Lytle on his resume, Davis is still a force in the welterweight division.
16. Chris Lytle: Lytle seems to be one of those fighters who are guaranteed a bonus check every time they step into the Octagon. After losing in the finale of TUF 4 to Matt Serra, “Lights Out” has been impressive and is currently riding a three fight win streak into his September 25th rematch with Serra at UFC 119. One of the more well rounded fighters in the division; Lytle will look to continue his recent streak of submissions and inch closer to a title shot.
15. Nate Quarry: The eldest member and father figure of the original season of TUF, Quarry was also the fastest to reach a title shot, losing a middleweight title fight to Rich Franklin after getting hit with a devastating knockout punch in the first round. Quarry has since won one of the most lopsided decisions in UFC history when he was forced to chase the infamous Kalib Starnes and most recently lost by knockout to Jorge Rivera at UFC Fight Night 21.
14. Mike Swick: One of the better strikers in the welterweight division, Mike “Quick” Swick has become one of the most exciting fighters in the UFC. After losing to Yushin Okami at UFC 69, Swick moved down a weight class to 170 where he instantly had more success winning four straight with victories over Marcus Davis and Ben Saunders. After losing a number one contenders bout to Dan Hardy at UFC 105, Swick was bested by Paulo Thiago at UFC 109 earlier this year.
13. Keith Jardine: The only fighter on the list who is no longer under a Zuffa contract, “The Dean of Mean” was nearly awarded a title shot after getting big wins over top contenders like Forrest Griffin, Chuck Liddell, and Brandon Vera. Unfortunately, Jardine was never quite able to make it over the hump and prior to his release he lost four straight to Rampage Jackson, Thiago Silva, Ryan Bader, and Matt Hamill.
12. Patrick Cote: “The Predator” saw his middleweight title hopes disappear after his knee buckled in the third round of his middleweight title fight against Anderson Silva. Cote had been on a four fight winning streak with wins over Kendall Grove and Ricardo Almedia to earn his shot, and was sidelined for over a year because of the injury. Cote has since returned, losing by submission to contender Alan Belcher at UFC 113, and has recently begun a war of words with former TUF winner Michael Bisping.
Group 3: The Gatekeepers
11. Chris Leben: Leben was the craziest man in TUF history before Junie Browning showed up. Leben lost twice during the initial season of TUF to Josh Koscheck and Kenny Florian, but due to his antics, he earned himself a spot in the UFC. After the show Leben rattled off five straight victories and seemed to be heading towards Rich Franklin’s middleweight title. Leben then fought a UFC newcomer in the main event at UFC Fight Night 5. That newcomer happened to be future UFC Champion and record breaker Anderson Silva, who destroyed Leben in just over a minute. Leben has been up and down since that fight recently winning two fights in under a month over Aaron Simpson and Yoshihiro Akiyama.
10. Nate Diaz: The winner of TUF season five, Diaz has taken his crafty ground game and cocky attitude and turned himself into one of the UFC’s most intriguing villains. Diaz went on a four fight winning streak after the show, winning three of those by submission, including a triangle choke on Kurt Pellegrino during which Diaz leaned back and raised his middle fingers into the air. Diaz then lost three of his next four fights at 155lbs and decided to move up to welterweight where he is undefeated with a big win over Marcus Davis at UFC 118.
9. Michael Bisping: The first foreign winner of TUF, Bisping started his UFC career at light heavyweight winning 4 straight fights before losing a decision to fellow TUF winner Rashad Evans at UFC 78. He then decided to drops to middleweight due to his small frame and started out nicely there as well with three straight wins. “The Count” was then chosen to coach the U.K. team during season 9 of TUF and fought his opposing coach Dan Henderson at UFC 100. Bisping suffered his first knockout loss of his career to Henderson and has since gone 2-1, winning bouts against Dennis Kang and Dan Miller. Bisping will fight Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 120.
8. Joe Stevenson: “Joe Daddy” has faced the best the UFC has to offer, and opened his lightweight career with wins over Melvin Guillard and Kurt Pellegrino, but after losing to BJ Penn, Kenny Florian, and Diego Sanchez, Stevenson decided to mix it up and joined Jackson’s Submission Fighting camp in Albuquerque. He has since had some success winning bouts against Nate Diaz and Spencer Fisher before losing a decision to George Sotiropoulos at UFC 110.
Group 4: The Contenders
7. Gray Maynard: Considered one of the favorites to win TUF 5, Maynard ended up being choked out by Nate Diaz in the semifinals. Maynard then entered the UFC in bizarre fashion, fighting to a draw with Rob Emerson after knocking himself out during his fight ending slam. Maynard has since taken out a solid chunk of the lightweight division, posting wins over Dennis Siver, Jim Miller, Roger Huerta, Nate Diaz, Kenny Florian, and current champ Frankie Edgar. Maynard has earned a title shot and will look to defeat Edgar again to claim 155lb gold.
6. Diego Sanchez: Sanchez walked through the first season of TUF with ease, becoming the first ever champion of the show. Sanchez then defeated Nick Diaz and Karo Parisyan in two of the most entertaining fights of all time during his five fight win streak following the show. After getting out wrestled by Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch, Sanchez moved down to lightweight where he won back to back decisions over Joe Stevenson Clay Guida, with the Guida fight winning him Fight of the Year honors. After losing his lightweight title fight to BJ Penn, “Nightmare” has since moved back up to 170lb and lost a decision to John Hathaway. Sanchez will face Paulo Thiago at UFC 121.
5. Josh Koscheck: One of the most hated men in UFC history, Koscheck has used a mixture of trash talk and injury faking to turn most fans against him. After making Chris Leben’s life hell on the original TUF, Koscheck started his UFC career 7-1 before losing a decision to Georges St. Pierre at UFC 74. The American Kickboxing Academy veteran then six of his next eight, including three in a row over Frank Trigg, Anthony Johnson and Paul Daley, to earn himself a welterweight title shot and coaching gig on TUF 12 against St. Pierre.
4. Kenny Florian: Every MMA fan has to feel at least a little sorry for Kenny “Ken-Flo” Florian. He has worked his way to a title shot twice now, first losing to Sean Sherk at UFC 64 and then to BJ Penn at UFC 101. Florian has defeated virtually everyone else in the 155lb division, with big wins over Sam Stout, Roger Huerta, Joe Lauzon, Joe Stevenson, Clay Guida, and Takanori Gomi. Florian earned himself a number one contenders bout against Gray Maynard at UFC 118 but lost a decision, throwing him right back into the middle of the pack.
Group 5: The Champions
3. Matt Serra: We’ve all heard it a hundred times, but on April 7th 2007, Matt Serra shocked the world. A huge underdog, Serra connected with a flurry of punches that knocked out champion Georges St, Pierre and sent the MMA world into a collective state of shock. Serra has since lost the title back to St. Pierre and then lost a hard fought decision to rival Matt Hughes, but he will always be remembered for his unlikely title win. Serra will rematch Chris Lytle later this month at UFC 119
2. Forrest Griffin: Considered by some to be the most important fighter in UFC history, there is no doubt that Griffin is the most important fighter in TUF history. While his fight with Stephan Bonner put the UFC on the map and gained the interest of casual fans everywhere, it was his UFC 86 title win over Quinton “Rampage” Jackson that solidified him as a legitimate fighter, and as a result solidified TUF as a way to find talented fighters. Griffin holds big wins over former champions Tito Ortiz and Jackson, as well as a win over current champion Shogun Rua.
1. Rashad Evans: “Sugar” has been one of the best fighters in the UFC since he won season two of TUF. After working his way up the light heavyweight ladder, Evans scored back-to-back wins over TUF 3 winner Michael Bisping and UFC legend Chuck Liddell to earn a shot at UFC gold. Standing in his way was TUF season 1 winner, Forrest Griffin. After losing the first two rounds, Evans caught Griffin with a right hand and finished with a ground and pound clinic, securing himself the 205lb belt, and the number one spot on this list. Evans lost his title to Lyoto Machida at UFC 98, but after wins over Thiago Silva and Rampage Jackson, Rashad is back in the number one contenders spot and will face Mauricio “Shogun” Rua early next year.