For almost a decade, The Ultimate Fighter has been an integral part of the UFC’s growth as a sports enterprise and the premier MMA promotion in the world. Dana White himself has claimed the fight between Hall of Famer's Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar on the premier season’s finale was the “most important fight in UFC history,” and the season as a whole was regarded as being a vital part to the UFC’s survival. Yet over the twenty seasons in the United States and the seven international seasons, many fans have felt that the quality of the fighters coming from the show has waned in later seasons as the UFC has been scooping up any talent possible from the regional scene. Now with larger divisions, it has become harder for a fighter from the show to stand out once they have finished their respective season. Many alumni from the show wash out of the UFC after only a couple losses, with some seasons having only a small handful of fighters make it to the main roster; Team Carwin vs. Team Nelson’s cast comes to mind.
The winners of each season have been a mixed bag of superstars and duds, with a few winning championships and others getting bounced out of the UFC. This list is designed to look at the best of the winners that the US version of The Ultimate Fighter has produced, based on the fighter’s UFC record, notable wins, and if they ever won UFC gold. So don’t expect to see Travis Lutter or Efrain Escudero on this list, as this list is meant for the cream of the crop who were able to persevere in the most stacked ranks in all of MMA, picking up win after win and in some cases, championship gold or a place in the Hall of Fame.
10 Ross Pearson - UFC Record: 7-4 (1)
Winning during the Team USA vs. Team UK season, Ross “The Real Deal” Pearson has shown a fighting spirit that has endeared him to fans on both sides of the ocean. Scoring four TKO victories in his UFC tenure along with two Fight of the Night awards, Pearson holds notable victories over Dennis Siver, George Sotiropolous, and most recently Gray Maynard. Unfortunately, losses to fighters like Cub Swanson, Diego Sanchez, and Cole Miller have kept him out of title contention.
9 Ryan Bader - UFC Record: 11–4
While a quick look at his record would make one think that “Darth” Bader would be higher up on the list, a closer look would show Bader for what he is at the moment, a high level gatekeeper. What separates him from other winners like Mac Danzig or Amir Sodallah is that Bader is able to string together wins over decent opponents. Yet when he comes up against guys at their peak like Jon Jones or Lyoto Machida, he always ends up getting finished. There is still a chance that Bader can make an upswing in the ranks, as his current three fight win streak shows.
8 John Dodson - UFC Record: 5-1
After knocking out current Bantamweight Champion T.J. Dillashaw in the season finale, Jojn Dodson immediately went down to the newly created Flyweight division, which more suited his size. There he showcased his skills, knocking out three of his five opponents and his only loss coming against champion Demetrious Johnson. Currently ranked as the #1 contender in the Flyweight division, it is only a matter of time before he gets a rematch with Johnson in an attempt to become only the fourth Ultimate Fighter winner to become a UFC champion.
7 Matt Serra - UFC Record: 7–7
Winning what may be the most shocking upset in MMA history, Matt Serra turned a run on the Comeback season of TUF into a Welterweight title win over the recently crowned champion Georges St. Pierre, scoring a TKO in the first round. Hoping to prove to that he was not a fluke, he was then slated to defend against former champion Matt Hughes, but injuries would postpone that match. GSP got a rematch by beating Hughes for the title shot and would defeat Serra by TKO in the second round. Serra would then bounce between wins and losses before losing his final match against the man he beat to win TUF, Chris Lytle.
6 Roy Nelson - UFC Record: 7–6
After scoring a TKO victory over internet sensation Kimbo Slice, a lot of eyes were on Roy “Big Country” Nelson. Then once he knocked out teammate Brendan Schaub in the finals, it seemed like there was a new star within the Heavyweight ranks. Unfortunately for Nelson, due to a seemingly lackadaisical approach to training and keeping in shape, Nelson has never been able to win the big fight that would put him into a title fight. Knockout wins over Stefan Struve and Matt Mitrione have earned Nelson the love of fans, but losses to Junior Dos Santos, Frank Mir, and an especially disheartening loss to Stipe Miocic have apparently relegated Nelson to gatekeeper status with the occasional novelty fight against the likes of Mark Hunt.
5 Diego Sanchez - UFC Record: 14–7
After winning the Middleweight tournament on the first season of TUF, Diego Sanchez went on a tear before losing his first pro fight to Josh Koscheck. Sanchez would work his way to a title shot against BJ Penn, ultimately losing by doctor stoppage in the fifth. He would then bounce back and forth between wins and losses, never gaining enough momentum to get back into title contention. Yet his fan friendly style has always made him a fighter to watch and the controversial decisions he would win would sometimes make him a fighter to argue about.
4 Nate Diaz - UFC Record: 12–7
Winner of season five of The Ultimate Fighter, Nate Diaz entered the very deep and dangerous waters of the Lightweight division. A skilled striker and grappler, Diaz has won only two of his UFC fights by decision, but has won five Fight of the Night awards, six Submission of the Night awards, and one Knockout of the Night award. The only thing that has really held back the younger Diaz brother has been the same thing that has affected his brother, which is their inability to battle strong wrestlers, such as the case when he fought Benson Henderson and Dong Hyun Kim.
3 Forrest Griffin - UFC Record: 10–5
The Hall of Famer deserves the accolades bestowed upon him by fans and media alike. His fight with Stephan Bonnar was the fight credited by Dana as being the most important in the history of the promotion. He also had a trilogy of fights with fellow Hall of Famer Tito Ortiz (2-1 Griffin) and beat Rampage Jackson to win the Light Heavyweight Championship. Add that to wins over Shogun Rua and Rich Franklin and Griffin had a career that many young fighters hope to achieve.
2 Michael Bisping - UFC Record: 15–6
Winning the Lightheavyweight tournament on season three of the show, Michael Bisping has become one of the most polarizing fighters in all of MMA with his brash personality. He has racked up impressive wins over Chris Leben, Brian Stann, and most recently Cung Le, but whenever he has come close to earning a title shot he has come up short in fights against Dan Henderson, Chael Sonnen, and Rashad Evans. Yet despite these setbacks, Bisping is always on the cusp of a title shot and has become one of the biggest non-American stars in the UFC.
1 Rashad Evans - UFC Record: 14-3-1
Winning the Heavyweight tournament on the second season of the show, Rashad Evans has proven time and time again why he is an elite fighter inside the Octagon. With his only losses coming from Lyoto Machida, Jon Jones, and Lil’ Nog, Evans has been able to exert his will on nearly every person he has faced. After beating fellow TUF winner Forrest Griffin for the Lightheavyweight belt, Evans’ title reign was a short one as he lost in his first defense to Machida. Despite that setback, Evans is working his way back to a title fight after wins over Dan Henderson and Chael Sonnen.