Does winning The Ultimate Fighter even matter anymore?
by Sergio Hernandez on Jun 2, 2012 6:00 PM EDT
A little over seven years ago, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) beamed into millions of homes and completely changed the mixed martial arts (MMA) landscape forever.
Since then, the sport -- and the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in particular -- has grown leaps and bounds in ways once thought unimaginable.
There are live fights almost every single week, the sport has been on broadcast television and the biggest events get all-star treatment with giant banners hanging in the heart of New York City.
And most of this success is thanks to TUF.
The reality show opened doors for the UFC which were once bolted shut. And its winners went on to be some of the company's biggest stars.
Guys like Forrest Griffin and Diego Sanchez -- TUF 1 winners -- have won or contended for titles and are mainstays in the main event crowd. Other guys like Rashad Evans and Michael Bisping -- TUF 2 and 3 winners, respectively -- have built careers out of being reviled by fans.
But with each successive season, TUF winners are becoming less and less recognizable and more and more dispensable.
So does winning the reality show tournament even matter anymore?
Last night, Michael Chiesa became the 22nd man to be crown The Ultimate Fighter. He made his professional MMA debut almost four years ago with just about every single one of his fights being held in his native Washington.
If not for his mountain man hairstyle and beard, one would be hard pressed to pick him out of a lineup.
In fact, the same can be said for the last four or five winners.
When the show started, it culled the best regional talent from around the country. King of the Cage champions, International Fighting Champion and World Extreme Cagefighting veterans were the norm.
Nowadays, it's not rare to see someone land in the TUF house with only two or three -- or possibly even zero -- pro fights on their resume.
Amir Sadollah won the seven season of TUF without having fought once before and since then has achieved mixed success inside the Octagon.
The talent level outside the UFC is simply too shallow and it's been this way for a while. The show's early seasons produced a pair of world champions and a slew of title contenders. The last season to produce a genuine challenger was the lightweight-focused fifth season with Nate Diaz.
Since then, the TUF winners have struggled inside the Octagon with none managing to break through the proverbial glass ceiling. It's not that they are untalented fighters, it's simply the case of them not being ready for the competition the upper echelon the UFC provides.
The UFC doesn't only house the best of the best, that much is true. But the best are most definitely in the UFC, this can't be denied.
TUF was created to find the next UFC champion, hidden in the regional MMA scene. A diamond in the rough, the Octagon would polish this fighter and make him one of the elite.
The show did its job admirably early on but one by one, the winners became less and less successful. Joe Stevenson and Kendall Grove have been cut. Efrain Escudero finds himself fighting for the UFC again after being handed his walking papers in 2010. He's lost his two fights since his return.
The fighters TUF produces now aren't champions in the making.
They are FX and Fuel TV event filler.