5 Ultimate Fighter champions you probably forgot about
With its 28th season in the US alone about to end this weekend, The Ultimate Fighter is one of the longest-running reality TV shows in history. However, like other reality shows – the UK’s X Factor comes directly to mind, for instance – the winner of each season doesn’t always necessarily go on to the most success inside the UFC proper.
Sure, season winners like Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans, Tony Ferguson and Nate Diaz ended up doing tremendously for themselves, but with 28 seasons – some of which featured more than one winner – there’s bound to be a few victors who ended up slipping through the cracks.
Here are 5 former TUF winners that most fans have probably forgotten about.
#1 James Wilks (Season 9)
2009’s Season 9 was largely about pushing the UFC into the UK market, as the season was marketed as a UK vs. USA competition, with Michael Bisping representing the Brits as a coach and Dan Henderson heading up the American team. The UK side eventually came out on top in both the 155lbs and 170lbs tournaments, but strangely enough, it was a Brit based in the US who ended up winning the Welterweight bracket.
Grappling expert James Wilks – who’d moved to the US in 2000 - surprised everyone by submitting early favourite Che Mills in his qualifying fight to make it into the TUF house. He then defeated Frank Lester on two occasions – the second when Lester subbed in for the injured Jason Pierce – to make it to the final round.
The final saw Wilks tap out Damarques Johnson with a first-round rear naked choke, but unfortunately for ‘Lightning’ that was about as good as it got in the UFC for him. The win was followed up by a loss to Matt Brown in a great fight, and Wilks then defeated Peter Sobotta before losing to Claude Patrick in 2010.
Sadly though, despite being booked in multiple fights in 2011, Wilks was forced out with injuries – most notably a case of spinal stenosis – and ended up retiring in 2012 after being told he risked paralysis if he continued to fight.
Wilks ended his career with a solid 10-4 record, but due to his last UFC fight coming just a year after he won his TUF season, he’s largely been forgotten by fans since.