The 29th season of The Ultimate Fighter wrapped itself up at UFC on ESPN 30 and it saw Bryan Battle and Ricky Turcios go home with the UFC contracts in the middleweight and bantamweight divisions, respectively.
The coaches for the season were current featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega. That choice was met with some criticism initially, with other choices like Masvidal and Covington seemingly being the preference from fans. In the end it worked out well enough, with the featherweights developing a rivalry that wouldn’t have been there had it not been for the show.
After UFC on ESPN 30, Dana confirmed that the show will return next year and will always be around. What better time to look back on the seasons than now? We did just that, ranking them from worst to best.
The coaches for this season were former TUF winner Matt Serra and Matt Hughes. On paper, perhaps it should have been one of the better seasons with two Mt. Rushmore welterweights, but it just didn’t come to fruition, largely due to a lack of talent.
The only reason this season doesn’t fall to last place is the fact that there was a new champion crowned. Although, many felt the women’s flyweight division was created purely for Valentina to get a title and Nicco Montaño ended up having a lacklustre UFC career, never defending the belt and missing weight multiple times.
This season’s fighters lacked star power, with the fighter that most would know being Neil Magny, who got finished in the semi-finals. Roy Nelson and Shane Carwin as coaches was disappointing too, not to mention the fact that they never ended up fighting each other.
On paper, this one sounded like it was special because it boasted lightweight greats Frankie Edgar and B.J. Penn as coaches. However, by this point, Frankie had already beaten B.J. twice before. In hindsight, B.J. was already into his 7-fight losing streak here.
This season featured the drama between T.J. Dillashaw and Cody Garbrandt which was entertaining but felt monotonous by the end. The premise of this season was former contestants getting redemption and just felt like the UFC banking on nostalgia.
Had former champion Robert Whittaker and former TUF winner Kelvin Gastelum not been the coaches for this season, it would be even lower on the list. The coaches’ challenges were the main source of entertainment here. Whittaker even criticised his own team for being lazy after the show.
It was a pleasant surprise to see some back and forth jawing from Volkanovski and Ortega on the show, but even then, some of the pranks felt a little childish. Ricky Turcios came out of the show with the most memorable moments, with Dana comparing him to TUF 1 winner Diego Sanchez.
The show deserves credit for producing pro-wrestling star Tom Lawlor and of course, current Bellator heavyweight champion Ryan Bader. It also had some funny coaching moments from Mir and Nogueira, the former knocking out the latter to win the interim UFC title.
This season is perhaps most well-known today for being the one where Rampage smashed a door to pieces, but that doesn’t quite do it justice. It produced big names like Matt Brown and WWE superstar Matt Riddle.
With the line-up of coaches, TUF 22 was always going to be one of its most popular. It featured Conor McGregor, fresh off of his win over Chad Mendes, going up against Urijah Faber. Ryan Hall was undefeated until his last fight in July.
Looking back, this season was a gem and has aged very well. Bisping and Mayhem Miller were coaches and some of the fighters included T.J. Dillashaw, Jimmie Rivera, Dennis Burmedez and John Dodson. Miller also brought in current champ Kamaru Usman as a wrestling coach, before he even had his first professional MMA fight.
Funnily enough, this season wasn’t as well received by fans as you’d think after it aired, but it has aged well, producing a top 5 lightweight of all time in Tony Ferguson. That could have had it higher, but there weren’t enough memorable moments despite the coaches beig Lesnar and JDS.
While it was airing weekly, the show was on pace to become one of the better seasons ever, but it drops slightly on our list because of a string of bad luck. Tito Ortiz was forced into neck surgery meaning he couldn’t finish the show and Ortiz’s first pick Nick Ring also got injured.
Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock being on the show was a real treat for MMA fans and some hilarity ensued. The third season of TUF also produced legend and UFC hall of famer Michael Bisping.
Just a few years after winning TUF, Bisping found himself back on the show as a coach, going up against Dan Henderson in the United States vs. United Kingdom version of the show. The fighters were mostly unmemorable, with Team U.K. winning in both weight divisions, but Henderson ultimately KOing Bisping at UFC 100.
The second season of TUF was coached by Matt Hughes and Rich Franklin, who were the welterweight and middleweight champions respectively. Today, there’d be no doubt that they’d be in a super fight, but unfortunately they didn’t fight each other at all. The show gave us Rashad Evans and the late great Keith Jardine.
This season’s highlights were undoubtedly the tension between Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Cláudia Gadelha, which led to some famous moments. It felt like a fight could break out between the pair at any moment.
TUF 21 was interesting because it pitted American Top Team against the Blackzillians, specifically Dan Lambert and the late Greg Robinson. The two gyms have had so many great rivalries over the years. Usman ended up winning the show and is arguably the best fighter in the world right now.
The catch for this season was that every prospect on the show was undefeated. It’s an interesting one to look back on now because of how turbulent Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic’s relationship got and how cool they were at this point.
Although the concept for this season was cool – bringing together regional champions to compete for a UFC contract – I’m sure fans would have preferred it to happen in a different division.
TUF 12 created some of the best moments in the history of the show, namely GSP bringing in the unique Jean-Charles Skarbowsky to beat up the fighters and GSP baiting Josh Koscheck to pick Marc Stevens so that he could pick Michael Johnson.
TUF 15 was the first and only live edition of the show and fans enjoyed it. It saw rivals Cruz and Faber going back and forth for some fun drama, but the fights were very entertaining. It also brought us Raging Al and Michael Chiesa.
This show was made for someone like Chael Sonnen and he stepped up for his moment. He went head-to-head against Jon Jones, who of course ended up winning their fight. This was the season that featured that classic Uriah Hall KO.
This season had it all. Rampage and Rashad had a bitter feud going on which got extremely heated and nearly came to blows once. It also featured the surprising inclusion of the late legend Kimbo Slice.
The concept for this season was that the fighters were made up of UFC fighters that had not had the career they wanted. It’s famous for producing Matt Serra who ended up with the biggest upset in MMA history when he beat GSP, an advisor on the show.
TUF 20 produced arguably the most big names in one division in a single year. On the show were Rose Namajunas, Joanne Calderwod, Felice Herrig, Tecia Torres, Carlpa Esparza, Angela Hill and Bec Rawlings, amongst others. Pettis and Melendez coached.
This season was set to be coached by Ronda Rousey and Cat Zingano, but Zingano got injured late into the process, which gave us the great moment of seeing Rousey realise her rival Miesha Tate was going to coach alongside her.
The appeal of this season was initially B.J. Penn and Jens Pulver finally fighting but looking back in 2021, it’s impossible not to notice the early days of Nate Diaz, back when he was mostly known for being Nick’s young brother.
Coached by Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture, TUF 1 introduced us to superstars like Forrest Griffin, Josh Koscheck, Diego Sanchez, Kenny Florian, Nate Quarry, Chris Leben and Mike Swick. It ended with the classic fight between Griffin and Bonnar which saw both getting the contract because of the performance they put on.