Winning the Ultimate Fighter reality show doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re on the fast track to stardom. In fact, there is almost a curse behind winning the show in that, once you become an established fighter in your respective division, you become a gatekeeper.
This is an unfortunate turn of events for fighters who are highlighted as top prospects as they come out of the Ultimate Fighter house. Such fighters as Roy Nelson, Court McGee, Mac Danzig, and Jonathan Brookins have all taken their place in the middle of the division, testing new prospects as they rise up the ranks. This is a disturbing trend for winners of the house as well as a cautionary tale.
Winning the title of Ultimate Fighter doesn’t grant you talent but instead should make you more aware of the skills that need improvement as you worked your way through the house. These men weren’t facing top competition during the show but instead, fighters who couldn’t make it to the finale.
Being a gatekeeper isn’t all that bad, however, when you consider how many of the winners have been kicked from the UFC. From all 22 winners, four have been kicked from the UFC roster following poor performances. That doesn’t seem like a high number but that is just about one fifth of all winners through 15 seasons. These fighters, Joe Stevenson, Kendall Grove, Travis Lutter, and Efrain Escudero were all removed once their potential had not been reached as only Stevenson and Lutter were pitted in title fights with Stevenson losing to BJ Penn, and Lutter coming in at the wrong weight, thus taking the title out of the equation in a fight that saw Lutter get submitted.
This isn’t a very impressive resume for the majority of the winners and those I didn’t mention, share that middle-of-the-road status.
Now let’s go to those who won the show and went on to win titles. Rashad Evans, Forrest Griffin, and Matt Serra. Now before we group them all together as the pinnacle of potential for season winners, lets break down each fighter. Serra beat Georges St. Pierre. This is an incredibly difficult task but one that came as a result of luck. In the rematch, Serra never showed up to a fight that watched him lose the title and get wiped off the contender map in the same instance.
For Griffin, he won in an impressive step up in skills as he dismantled Rampage Jackson with leg kicks and some much-needed patience. Since then, he kept the streak going of indefensible title fights in the light-heavyweight division by being beaten down by Rashad Evans. Since, Forrest has been a highlight of fight cards as a fan favorite, but not a serious contender.
That brings us to Rashad Evans. His recent loss to Jones isn’t close to the end of his title hopes. He must rebound strong and show that he belongs in the division. He is the shining light in a dark world, however, as the only man to be a consistent top five fighter throughout his UFC career.
Now, for last weeks winner, Michael Chiesa, he needs to carefully weigh his skills and natural talent, find holes in any aspect of his game, then close them. He must prepare for the hardest fights of his life and realize that the fights that got him to where he is are nothing in comparison to live fights on PPV or even a title shot against the best fighters on the planet who don’t bat an eye at the nice glass trophy you won for winning the Ultimate Fighter.