LAS VEGAS -- It was billed as one of the deepest and most anticipated fight cards that the UFC had staged in its 15-year history. With two title fights, a third grudge match amongst MMA legends and a bevy of up-and-coming stars littered throughout the under card, Saturday's UFC 92 pay-per-view not only showed the depth of the company's talent pool but highlighted the impact that The Ultimate Fighter reality television show has had on the sports' growth since TUF premiered four years ago next month.
If you mapped out the growth of UFC's popularity on a chart along with the rise in popularity of reality television they would no doubt overlap each other on an upward slop. No one has embraced reality TV and its power to draw in viewers and potential fans more than UFC president
"The first thing I wanted to do was just get this thing [UFC] on TV," said White. "In a million years I would never have dreamed it would turn out to be the training ground that it's been. It's the most relevant reality show on television."
The high-water mark moment of the show and really the night when the tide turned for the once struggling UFC was the show's Season 1 finale, where
"Forrest Griffin-Stephan Bonner was it, that was the fight that changed it all," said White, who has carried his love of reality TV to his personal life with an all-access video blog where fans can watch him, for example, conduct business meetings with
"That night, we literally walked out in the alley and signed the deal with Spike TV. So Forrest and Stephan are my kids, man, they'll be with me until the day I die. For me to put into words and try to explain tell you how crucial that fight was for us, you have no idea. It was, hands down, the most important fight ever in mixed martial arts."
The following year,
Fast forward three years after the airing of the first two seasons and Griffin and Evans, the original TUF winners, headlined one of the most anticipated pay-per-views in the company's history last weekend. They closed out a fight card featuring a heavyweight championship fight between
"The show has been like
If TUF can be considered UFC's version of
Although both of their careers in the UFC began in TUF, the contrast in their styles was as striking as their respective entrances into the MGM Grand Garden Arena hours before their fight on Saturday. Griffin rolled in through the arena's loading dock wearing winter gloves, a beanie and had a duffel bag draped over his shoulder as he sipped on a cup of coffee. Evans sauntered in through the casino wearing a three-piece suit while an associate carried his belongings behind him. Griffin walked to the Octagon with the blaring bagpipes of
The fight provided similarly striking mood swings with both landing their fair share of hits (at one point Evans put his hands down and told Griffin to "bring it") before Evans put Griffin on the ground in the third round and broke through Griffin's guard with elbows and punches unit the fight was finally called. Evans was in tears after becoming the third fighter in the past two years to win TUF and go on to capture a UFC championship.
"There were times when we were in [the Octagon] fighting and just smiling at each other and having a great time because we got to this point basically the same way," said Evans, wearing dark glasses and a suit after the fight before checking in on Griffin, who was taken to the hospital with a broken hand. "He was the first champion and I was the second and to see how far we've gotten, it's like a movie."
The fight certainly had the feel of a modern day version of Rocky and Apollo Creed. UFC fans can only hope that the fight that reaffirmed TUF's place as the most influential reality show in sports history will offer a similarly exciting rematch in the future.