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5 best seasons in the history of The Ultimate Fighter

Scott Newman
SENIOR ANALYST
Top 5 / Top 10
30.23K   //    Timeless

The Ultimate Fighter series saw the UFC explode in popularity in 2005
The Ultimate Fighter series saw the UFC explode in popularity in 2005

Ever since its inaugural season way back in early 2005, The Ultimate Fighter has been a key part of the UFC’s programming. Largely responsible for saving the company and starting the US MMA boom with its first season, since then TUF has gone through various format changes, it’s expanded its horizons to different countries, and countless numbers of talented fighters have been produced by it.

This weekend marks the Finale of the 28th season of TUF – in the US, at least, as there have been numerous seasons outside the States – and with ratings hitting low numbers these days and the UFC’s new television deal with ESPN on the horizon, who knows how many more seasons we might see?

Some fans probably won’t miss the reality show if it does go the way of the dodo, but there’s no denying that it’s been hugely influential and quite often massively entertaining. So here’s a look at the 5 best seasons of The Ultimate Fighter.

#5 Season 17: Team Jones vs. Team Sonnen

Season 17 refreshed TUF after it had become a little stale
Season 17 refreshed TUF after it had become a little stale

The 16th season of TUF – the second one to air on FX – was an unmitigated disaster, as it featured a cast of largely sub-par fighters, a non-existent coaching rivalry between Shane Carwin and Roy Nelson, and one of the all-time most embarrassing scenes from the series in Julian Lane’s infamous “let me bang, bro!” rant. It was clear that the UFC needed to freshen things up somehow.

Thankfully they did with the 17th season, making some subtle tweaks that helped to revive the whole format, at least for a few more years. The fighters were portrayed as being far more professional – and more importantly, were of a higher quality than the previous season – and that allowed the fans to instantly build a connection with them. The likes of Uriah Hall, Kelvin Gastelum and Josh Samman thus entered the UFC with much more fanfare than the previous crop of TUF contestants had.

The coaches – Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen – were expected to have a keen rivalry to build their Light-Heavyweight title fight, but instead, the two men showed a healthy respect for one another and came across as genuinely excellent teachers who were looking to help their fighters improve. Sonnen, in particular, showed a side to him that we hadn’t seen before – a smart, inspiring figure as opposed to the braggadocios villain we’d become used to.

And the Middleweight tournament on offer lived up to the high expectations, with some truly dramatic action inside the Octagon. Overall, it was a season of great fights, great finishes – remember Hall’s legendary spinning kick knockout of Adam Cella? – and while we didn’t get much reality hijinks from the cast, after TUF 16 that felt like a breath of fresh air. In terms of the latter-day seasons, this was the best by a mile. 

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