The Ultimate Fighter is an American reality television series and mixed martial arts (MMA) competition produced by Spike TV and the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), and soon to be shown on FX. The show features unknown, professional MMA fighters living together in Las Vegas, Nevada, and follows them as they train and compete against each other for a prized contract with the UFC. The series debuted on January 17, 2005, with its first episode, "The Quest Begins". To date, there have been thirteen seasons of the show, two per calendar year, with a fourteenth scheduled. Each season features either one or two weight classes in the tournament.
The historic Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar fight in the first season drew millions of viewers to the show and launched the sport into the mainstream. Because of this success, The Ultimate Fighter was regarded as instrumental to the survival and expansion of the UFC. Many current and past UFC fighters are alumni of the show, with some competitors going on to become coaches in future seasons. The show has undergone multiple format changes since its inception, including the introduction of the wildcard bout. Many winners have gone on to compete for UFC championships with some becoming UFC champions.
The Ultimate Fighter was originally an experimental series financed by the owners of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta III. The series was aired on Spike TV for free as a last resort measure to gain mainstream exposure for mixed martial arts (MMA). Airing after World Wrestling Entertainment's flagship show Monday Night RAW, The Ultimate Fighter's debut episode was able to garner a 57% retention rate in viewers from RAW, which was double the usual rate for Spike TV. The live finale for the first season saw the historic bout of Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar. Now widely regarded as the most influential fight in MMA history, the bout took place in what was the first ever MMA event on live and free television. The bout ended in a unanimous decision victory for Griffin and led to the show's renewal on Spike TV. Regarding the success of the show, UFC president Dana White said, "It's amazing to think.... how close we came to not being here today. If it weren't for what these guys did, I don't know if there would even be a UFC. I'll never forget these guys. Ever."
The renewal of the show saw UFC produce two more series, before subsequent renewals. In order to garner more attention for the sport, The Ultimate Fighter utilizes gimmicks: one notable example, in the ninth season, employed a country vs. country theme, with the United States competing against the United Kingdom. These gimmicks enabled the UFC to appeal to fans that had been recently introduced to the sport during UFCs penetration into the European market. The Ultimate Fighter also drew record viewing figures for Spike TV when YouTube sensation Kimbo Slice participated in the tenth season. Slice's fight against veteran Roy Nelson attracted viewers to the sport, drawing an audience of 6.1 million, making it one of the most viewed MMA fights in history.
In August 2011, after a very successful run on Spike and with the upcoming announcement of the UFC's new relationship with FOX, Spike officials made a statement regarding the end of their partnership with the UFC, “The Ultimate Fighter” season 14 in September will be our last....Our 6-year partnership with the UFC has been incredibly beneficial in building both our brands, and we wish them all the best in the future.”
As part of a deal with FOX, The Ultimate Fighter will start airing on the FX channel in the spring of 2012.
- The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil (March 25, 2012 - TBA) – Featherweights and Middeweights.
- The Ultimate Fighter: Live (March 9, 2012 - TBA) – Lightweights
- The Ultimate Fighter 14 : Team Bisping vs. Team Miller (September 21, 2011- December 3, 2011) – Bantamweights and Featherweights
- The Ultimate Fighter 13 : Team Lesnar vs. Team Dos Santos (March 30, 2011 - June 4, 2011) – Welterweights
- The Ultimate Fighter 12 : Team GSP vs. Team Koscheck (September, 2010 - December 4, 2010) – Lightweights
- The Ultimate Fighter: Team Liddell vs. Team Ortiz (March 31, 2010 - June 19, 2010) – Middleweights
- The Ultimate Fighter: Heavyweights (September 16, 2009 – December 5, 2009) – Heavyweights
- The Ultimate Fighter: United States vs. United Kingdom (April 1, 2009 – June 20, 2009) – Welterweights and Lightweights
- The Ultimate Fighter: Team Nogueira vs. Team Mir (September 17, 2008 – December 13, 2008) – Light Heavyweights and Lightweights
- The Ultimate Fighter: Team Rampage vs. Team Forrest (April 2, 2008 – June 21 2008) – Middleweights
- The Ultimate Fighter: Team Hughes vs. Team Serra (September 19, 2007 – December 8, 2007) - Welterweights
- The Ultimate Fighter 5 (April 5, 2007 – June 23, 2007) – Lightweights
- The Ultimate Fighter 4: The Comeback (August 17, 2006 – November 11, 2006) – Middleweights and Welterweights
- The Ultimate Fighter 3 (April 6, 2006 – June 24, 2006) – Light Heavyweights and Middleweights
- The Ultimate Fighter 2 (August 22, 2005 – November 5, 2005) – Heavyweights and Welterweights
- The Ultimate Fighter 1 (January 17, 2005 – April 9, 2005) – Light Heavyweights and Middleweights
The winners of each season of the Ultimate Fighter are as follows, with lighter division winners listed first
- Season 13: Tony Ferguson (Team Lesnar)
- Season 12: Jonathan Brookins (Team GSP)
- Season 11: Court McGee (Team Liddell)
- Season 10: Roy Nelson (Team Rashad)
- Season 9: Ross Pearson (Team UK, Bisping), James Wilks (Team UK, Bisping)
- Season 8: Efrain Escudero (Team Nogueira), Ryan Bader (Team Nogueira)
- Season 7: Amir Sadollah (Team Forrest)
- Season 6: Mac Danzig (Team Hughes)
- Season 5: Nathan Diaz (Team Pulver)
- Season 4: Matt Serra (Team Mojo), Travis Lutter (Team No Love)
- Season 3: Kendall Grove (Team Ortiz), Michael Bisping (Team Ortiz)
- Season 2: Joe Stevenson (Team Hughes), Rashad Evans (Team Franklin)
- Season 1: Diego Sanchez (Team Liddell), Forrest Griffin (Team Liddell)
The winners of the first three seasons of The Ultimate Fighter competition, and certain runners-up depending on their performance in their competition finals, receive the touted "six-figure" contract to fight in the UFC. These contracts are specifically three-year contracts with a guaranteed first year. Each year consists of three fights, the first year's purse per fight consists of $12,000 guaranteed with a $12,000 win bonus (a maximum of $24,000 per fight), the second year's purse per fight is $16,000 with a $16,000 win bonus (a maximum of $32,000 per fight) and the third year's purse per fight is at $22,000 with a $22,000 win bonus (a maximum of $44,000 per fight). A TUF winner who goes 9-0 can earn $300,000 total on the contract, but only $150,000 is guaranteed for all three years if 9 fights are fought.
Those that have not won the competition can still fight in the UFC. Their contracts however are not the same as the six-figure deal above.
TUFFEST 25 Moments
On October 23, 2007, Spike TV aired an episode of TUF, entitled TUFfest 25 Moments, in which the producers and viewers chose the best moments in The Ultimate Fighter History (seasons 1 through 5). Later a DVD of the same name was released that included 10 bonus moments.