What we’ve learned from the UFC reality show

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Lesnar and Cigano displayed in the TUF 13 gym / Photo: Carlos Ozório

The 15th season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) reality show is under way in the United States, for the first time airing on US network television channel FOX. Leading the two teams are current bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz and former featherweight champion of the WEC Urijah Faber. And Brazil is getting ready for the premiere of its own domestic version of the show, with Vitor Belfort and Wanderlei Silva at the helm as coaches.

The show is responsible for catapulting the promotion into the mainstream, and ever since the first installment, back in 2005, 21 champions have come through its ranks. And there are plenty of lessons to reap from so many editions, some of which are remarked on below:

Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar

One of the bloodiest fights ever, an MMA classic. To many, it was the fight that definitively introduced the sport to the broader audience. Never give up—that’s was the guiding principle Griffin and Bonnar showed in the octagon. The result: Griffin was awarded the win, then going on to be crowned light heavyweight champion, and Bonnar was awarded a contract despite the loss, and he remains on the UFC roster to this day, not to mention working as a commentator on event broadcasts.

(Check out GRACIEMAG’s visit to the TUF 13 academy in photos by Carlos Ozório)

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The inaugural TUF season yielded some names that are still a part of the organization to this day. There was plenty of conflict in the house, with fighters sticking to their guns in the way they thought and behaved. Who doesn’t remember, for example, the spats between Josh Koscheck and Chris Leben? Both fell into the public’s good graces and ended up in the event.


Rashad Evans may not have been a favorite to win TUF 2, especially for his apparent size disadvantage when compared to his heavyweight counterparts. However, Rashad believed in himself, went down the line, leaving opponents in his wake all the way to the final, against Brad Imes. From there on he annihilated all opposition until capturing the light heavyweight belt. Evans’s only loss in 18 professional fights came at the hands of Lyoto Machida, to whom he lost his title. But Evans still believes, and once again he will get his shot at the top, this time against Jon Jones, who many believe to be unbeatable.

Attention grabbing

Be yourself. The following examples are quite controversial, but there’s no denying that it was thus, along with their skill as fighters, they took their place in the spotlight. Michael Bisping and Nate Diaz took the route of controversy and hence remain some of the main characters in the UFC lineup. Bisping won TUF 3, while Diaz won the fifth season of the show. The audience relishes their appearances, despite often criticizing their posture.

(Watch the video of the crew at TUF academy hard at work, taken by Carlos Ozório)

Looks can be deceiving

This one fits a certain star of TUF 10 like a glove. However many convincing wins attached to the name Roy Nelson, who was previously the champion of the IFL, but who would put their money on the chubby fighter? Nelson was a contradiction to what the winning formula should be: besides his waist line, he was a slouch in training. Still, he won the TUF title after beating the true athlete Brendan Schaub. So don’t judge a book by its cover.

Be a role model

In the 8th season, Rodrigo Minotauro, one of the coaches, graduated from being an idol just in Brazil and Japan and finally conquered the American audience. His popularity even exceeded hometown boy Frank Mir, the American coaching the opposing team. The Brazilian showed that being a famous fighter doesn’t mean you have to lose your humility. He won everyone over, while Mir was left playing the part of the villain.

Winning isn’t everything

TUF 8 champion Efrain Escudero couldn’t keep it up in the UFC. Following the TUF Finale, he lost four back-to-back fights and was fired. He returned at UFC 141, but was again defeated. In other words, making it to the UFC is one step. Staying in the promotion is something entirely different. Keep your focus.

Become more knowledgeable

Just before making his debut as a coach on TUF 13, Junior Cigano spoke of what he considered to be his greatest challenge: to communicate in English with the American public. So he hit the books, did a swell job and became a superstar. The same went for his technique, as soon thereafter he was crowned heavyweight champion. Mind and body work as one, in continuous development. Always pursue knowledge in all fiends, and evolve as a whole.

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