Last month, UFC president Dana White announced plans to begin shooting for a new season of The Ultimate Fighter. While details beyond that were scarce, it surely excited a good number of fans. The Ultimate Fighter, also known as TUF, has not shot a new season since the UFC switched over to ESPN last year. White has maintained that TUF will appear on the new platform throughout the past two years, but nothing has come to fruition as of yet. The latest statement gives renewed hope for the show’s return for a 29th season. With many new fans coming to the sport since the last TUF airing, it is important to remind everyone just how important the show has been to the UFC’s success.
The Ultimate Fighter’s Impact on the UFC
What is The Ultimate Fighter?
The Ultimate Fighter is a reality television show that features MMA prospects from preselected weight classes fighting in a tournament to determine, as the show’s title suggests, the “ultimate” fighter. The winner of the tournament is guaranteed a six-figure contract with the UFC, but other competitors usually also get the opportunity to fight in the UFC. Outside of the tournament itself, the show also highlights two “coaches”, who are typically UFC champions or top-flight contenders. The tournament participants get chosen by one of the coaches and are put onto a “team”, where they are able to learn and train from the coach and his trainers. All of the competitors are put into “The House”, where they live together for the duration of the tournament. As one could guess, this leads to a lot of tension, hilarity, and overall drama.
Prior to TUF, the UFC was struggling to stay afloat. Often known as the UFC’s “Dark Ages”, the organization was extremely close to filing for bankruptcy or folding altogether. Their pay-per-view buys were consistently abysmal, and they were hemorrhaging money left and right. TUF was seen as a last-ditch effort to save the UFC.
Infographic Credit: Betway
While the show itself had decent success in its inaugural season, it was the light heavyweight finale between Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin that truly shot the UFC into overnight success. In what is still considered by many to be the greatest fight in UFC history, the fight was a “viral” moment for the organization. After that fight’s success, the UFC truly got up and running to become the organization that it is today. TUF became an overnight success, getting plenty of mainstream attention that has led to 28 seasons of the show along with eight “international” spinoffs.
Since the TUF 1 Finale, the UFC has become an international phenomenon. There have been 475 UFC events across 21 different countries. Seven new divisions have been added, including four women’s divisions. Today, there is only one American-born UFC champion across the organization’s 12 total divisions, heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic.
The organization has also boomed monetarily. The pay-per-view events preceding the TUF 1 Finale– UFC 49, UFC 50, and UFC 51– had a combined 225,000 buyrate. UFC 52, which was a week after the TUF 1 Finale, had a buyrate of 300,000 on its own. There have been more than 90 million pay-per-view buys for UFC events since then. Assuming the average pay-per-view price across that time of $45, that buyrate means the UFC has earned over $4 billion from pay-per-views alone. It has gone from nearly filing for bankruptcy to being sold for $4 billion in 2016, with a current valuation of $7 billion.
The Ultimate Fighter Alumni Success
The show has also proven to be a breeding ground for cultivating future UFC talent. For last week’s blockbuster UFC 253, for example, six former TUF competitors were featured. Three more are fighting this week. There are six fighters in the UFC Hall of Fame that participated in TUF. There have also been 10 UFC champions (including current welterweight champion Kamaru Usman), one interim UFC champion, 23 title challengers, and 105 fighters from TUF that have had at least ten fights with the organization. Three title fights have featured TUF alumni in both corners (Rashad Evans vs. Forrest Griffin, Carla Esparza vs. Rose Namajunas, and Nicco Montano vs. Roxanne Modafferi). Two TUF alumni have even gone on to fight one of the coaches from their season (Joe Lauzon vs. Jens Pulver and Raquel Pennington vs. Miesha Tate).
Simply put, the UFC would not exist as it is today without The Ultimate Fighter. Whether the show returns or not, fans owe a great debt of gratitude to it.