June 18, 2009

Another chapter in The Ultimate Fighter series will come to a close this Saturday, as two additional contestants will join a growing list of Ultimate Fighter champions. As we wait for that moment, let's examine the merits of the show by electing the most influential fighters from seasons past.

The lack of the obligatory moniker aside, Griffin (16-5-0) is as tough as they come. He is the original Ultimate Fighter and the poster boy for the popular series. His fantastic duel with Stephan Bonnar on the inaugural season's finale was coined "the most important fight in UFC history" by UFC president Dana White.

Griffin was also the second fighter from the show to win a title, when he defeated then-champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson at UFC 86. Though he lost the belt to Season 2's winner, Rashad Evans, at UFC 92, Griffin will likely remain the most influential Ultimate Fighter alumnus for a while.

Griffin will return after a string of in-fight injuries at UFC 101, where he'll face his toughest opponent to date: UFC kingpin Anderson Silva, one of the best fighters in the world. A victory would place Griffin back in title contention in the light heavyweight division and further solidify his place in UFC lore.

Evans (18-1-1) became the third fighter from the show to capture UFC gold when he beat Griffin at UFC 92. While you could make the argument that Evans should be ranked first because of that title victory, he does not possess the appeal of Griffin.

Still, "Sugar" has been relevant. After winning the second season of The Ultimate Fighter, he became the only contestant to have won all of his fights en route to a title, save for his draw with MMA legend Tito Ortiz. During that run, Evans captured another win over a Ultimate Fighter contestant in StephanBonnar.

Evans will make a return to show, only this time he'll be coaching, opposite Quinton Jackson. A win over Rampage in the Season 10 Finale could give Evans the chance to get back in title contention, and it may also allow the reserved Evans to better connect with fans.

Florian (13-3-0) is another original cast member. Competing as a middleweight, he defeated Chris Leben before losing to Diego Sanchez in the finals. Still, he's ranked above Diego for several reasons.

For starters, Florian will be the second Ultimate Fighter graduate, after MattSerra, to vie for a title twice when he takes on lightweight champion B.J. Penn at UFC 101. Ever the ambassador for the sport, Florian is also a regular panelist on ESPN.com's MMA Live show, which airs every Thursday.

Much like Griffin, Florian has been able to transcend the sport and find an appeal outside the Octagon. If he can pull off an upset at UFC 101, his stock will skyrocket and he would be favored to win a potential rematch with Sanchez.

Diego was a proud 17-0 fighter, before conceding back-to-back split decisions to Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch. Never one to be deterred, Diego brought his nightmarish pace to the lightweight division.

Having defeated Season 2 winner Joe Stevenson in his lightweight debut, Sanchez (22-2-0) will take on the frantic Clay Guida on the Season 9 finale this Saturday in a bout that may be more appropriate for the Fourth of July. A win for Sachez would have title shot implications, or at least a fight against the loser of the upcoming Penn vs. Florian championship fight.

Should Sanchez end up facing Florian, fans will be treated to a rematch of their first Ultimate Fighter Finale bout, and Diego would have a chance to, later, become one of only four Ultimate Fighter contestants to taste UFC gold.

This polarizing fighter was the light heavyweight division winner of Season 3. Bisping's popularity has since sky-rocketed, and he is a coach on Season 9. He will battle opposing coach, and MMA legend, Dan Henderson at UFC 100.

A win over Henderson would be the tipping point Bisping (18-1-0) needs to be considered a great fighter, and could propel him to the front of a crowded middleweight line vying for Anderson Silva's belt. If that is the case, the UFC will surely look to fill a British soccer stadium.

Bisping's only loss is a split decision to former light heavyweight champion, Rashad Evans.

Mike Swick went 5-0 as a middleweight before running into a much bigger Yushin Okami. After the decision loss, Swick (13-2-0) dropped down to the welterweight division, where he has compiled a four-fight win streak. It's hard to believe Swick started out on Season 1 as a light heavyweight, losing to Bonnar in the semifinals.

Swick is coming off a UFC 99 win over Season 6 alumnus Ben Saunders, and has likely earned a top-contender status. He could be next on a growing list of Ultimate Fighters to earn a title shot.

Koscheck (14-4-0) has been the busiest of all, having fought 14 times since his stint on the show's first season. He lost in the semifinals to Diego Sanchez only to exact revenge at UFC 69.

The win earned him a fight with Georges St. Pierre to determine the No. 1 contender at the time, though he took a unanimous loss at UFC 74.

Having suffered an upset in his latest outing, Koscheck will take on MMA veteran Frank Trigg at UFC 103, and a win will be critical to Koscheck moving forward in the welterweight division.

Maynard (8-0-1) lost to Season 5 winner Nate Diaz in the semifinals of the show. In his first UFC fight, which took place on the season's finale, Maynard was involved in a rare double KO, and the no-contest ruling is still the only blemish on his professional record.

"The Bully" is a solid contender in the lightweight division. His undefeated UFC run lands him in this spot, instead of Nate Diaz, even though they both have a promising career with the promotion.

Keith Jardine, who has a 14-6-1 record, or Stephan Bonnar (14-5) could possibly fill in here. Both have fought the toughest opponents the light heavyweight division has to offer. But the No. 9 slot was given to Hamill (8-2-0), a Season 3 vet, for multiple reasons.

Thought he sustained injuries that prematurely sidelined him at an early stage of the competition, Hamill earned a crack at Bisping at UFC 75, narrowly losing in one of the more controversial decisions in UFC history. A rematch was in order for UFC 78, but Hamill withdrew due to knee surgery.

Hamill's other loss is to friend, and former training partner, Rich Franklin, at UFC 88. He has an upcoming, pivotal fight against Brandon Vera at UFC 102. The bout will go a long way in determining Matt Hamill's contender status in the UFC light heavyweight division.

Every list needs a dark horse and, as such, Cote will be mentioned in lieu of graduates such as Diaz, Marcus Davis, Serra and Kendall Grove.

Cote (14-5-0) was on Season 4, which involved fighters who had previously enjoyed limited success in the UFC. Coming into the show with a 0-3 record, he made it to the finals, but lost to season's winner Travis Lutter.

With a less-than-stellar 0-4 record, the Canadian diligently bounced back to compile four consecutive wins, including a victory over Season 3 victor, Grove. The run earned Cote the shot at Anderson Silva's title that had previously eluded him.

At UFC 90, a tough Cote fought Anderson Silva to an unprecedented third round from the UFC champion. Unfortunately, he suffered a serious knee injury that brought his title dreams to a screeching halt.

Cote is currently recovering and eyes an October return to the Octagon. Look for the heavy handed striker to be back in the middleweight mix, possibly in a stand-up war against Wanderlei Silva.


And there you have it: the top 10 Ultimate Fighters to date.

In time, Ryan Bader and Krzysztof Soszynski could quite possibly make an excellent case to be ranked among the show's best, as could Season 9's DeMarques Johnson.

The potential for these prospects are seemingly endless, and with another season already in the works, the top 10 could be jumbled soon.

You May Like

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)