Thursday, June 9, 2011

PENICK: Power Ranking Previous Ultimate Fighter Champions Ahead of Season 13 Finale

By: Jamie Penick, MMATorch Editor-in-Chief

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The Ultimate Fighter season 13 comes to a close this Saturday night on Spike, with Tony Ferguson and Ramsey Nejim fighting for the "six-figure-contract" and the title of The Ultimate Fighter. The winner will become the 19th winner of the TUF tournament, but while winning The Ultimate Fighter is certainly a big step in the door for the UFC, having success after that is something different entirely.

18 men have won their respective seasons of The Ultimate Fighter, with some seasons featuring two weight classes, but they've all had mixed results inside the Octagon. The following are my power rankings for those winners.

THE CHAMPIONS

1. RASHAD EVANS: The most successful alumnus of the show, season two heavyweight winner Rashad Evans remains firmly at the top of the light heavyweight division in 2011. His win over Brad Imes to take the season two crown was the last fight he took at heavyweight, and since then he's gone 9-1-1 in the UFC, defeating the other top TUF winner on this list in Forrest Griffin in 2008 to capture the light heavyweight belt. His only career loss was by knockout to Lyoto Machida in 2009, but Evans has won two straight since that bout, and a win over Phil Davis at UFC 133 keeps him in line for another shot at the belt.

2. FORREST GRIFFIN: Technically the second-ever Ultimate Fighter winner, with Diego Sanchez taking his weight class earlier in the night at the TUF 1 Finale, Griffin has remained a staple for the UFC for a long time. He became the first winner of the show - who had not previously competed in the UFC - to fight for a title in the organization, and at UFC 86 in 2008 he defeated Quinton "Rampage" Jackson to capture the belt. Throw in a 9-4 overall record in the UFC, and wins over four former or future champions, and Griffin's legacy in the UFC is set. A second win over Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in August at UFC 134 in Rio de Janeiro could bring him back into the title picture as well.

3. MATT SERRA: The winner of the "comeback" season four earned a title shot against Georges St. Pierre in 2007, and in the biggest upset in MMA history, he knocked out the young champion to capture the belt. I've got him a bit high on the list, as he would lose that belt just over a year later in a rematch with St. Pierre and his UFC record is a pedestrian 7-7, but he remains the only other fighter on this list to hold a title in the UFC. Because of that, he takes his spot here.

THE CONTENDERS

4. DIEGO SANCHEZ: Sanchez is one of two others on this list (with one that was supposed to, but we'll get to him) who have fought for a title in the UFC and lost, though he's the only one with any hope of getting back for a second chance. The very first winner of the reality show, Sanchez has appeared in the Octagon more times than any other winner of the show, with 16 fights in the UFC to his credit. Those 16 fights have come in three different divisions, and he's been a serious threat in two of them. He finally earned a title shot at the end of 2009 when he took on B.J. Penn for the UFC Lightweight Championship. In what was the worst loss of his career, he was stopped due to a cut in the fifth round, and moved back up to the welterweight division as a result. He's now won two straight fights, and brings his 12-4 UFC mark to Denver in September in a fight against former Welterweight Champ Matt Hughes.

5. MICHAEL BISPING: The Brit is about to embark on his third endeavor with The Ultimate Fighter this month, as he takes up the reigns of coaching for the second time. The season three winner has gone 11-3 in 14 fights in the UFC, including winning four of his last five fights. A win over Jason "Mayhem" Miller in December after their stint on TUF could finally send Bisping into the title fight he's wanted since winning the show in 2006.

6. RYAN BADER: The 27-year-old winner of the show's eighth season has shown the most promise of any of the show's recent winners. After defeating Vinny Magalhaes to win the show in 2008, Bader rattled off four straight wins in the UFC, finishing that stretch with a win over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. However, Bader ran up against a buzz-saw in Jon Jones at UFC 126 earlier this year, who then went on to capture the UFC Light Heavyweight Title. A bout with former champ Tito Ortiz next month could set him back on a path towards an eventual title shot, and perhaps a rematch with Jones.

PROVEN COMMODITIES

7. ROY NELSON: UFC 130 performance aside, Nelson was one of the most accomplished fighters to ever enter the Ultimate Fighter house. The longtime veteran had amassed a 13-4 career record upon entering the UFC, and won his first two fights in the Octagon by vicious knockout. However, decision losses to Junior Dos Santos and Frank Mir have hurt his stock and sent him down the ladder. Though he may not necessarily be title challenging material at this stage, he's still a viable guy in the pack.

8. NATE DIAZ: Much like with Nelson, Diaz's recent two-fight losing streak doesn't mean a ton to his value as a fighter. He's yet to really find his rhythm in the Octagon, delivering both good and bad performances at lightweight and welterweight. After getting bullied around in his last two fights, he's heading back to the lightweight division, where he still may end up being a force. Though he sports an average 8-5 record in the UFC, he hasn't yet been finished, and if he turns things around at 155 lbs. could make his way back up the ladder.

PROMISING, BUT THE JURY IS OUT

9. ROSS PEARSON: Pearson's shown promise in his five-fight UFC stint, but though he's won four of those fights, his submission loss to Cole Miller last September sticks out. Miller was on a tear at the time, but he's not an elite level lightweight in the UFC. Still, Pearson's striking skills are good and he's a fun fighter to watch, but his ceiling hasn't yet been determined. He will certainly continue to improve, but there's no telling yet how far he can go in the lightweight division.

10. AMIR SADOLLAH: Sadollah is a unique fighter on this list of season winners, as he's the only one to get through the show having never had a professional fight before entering the house. His submission win over C.B. Dollaway kicked his career off, and his entertaining personality helped him become a more well known fighter than some of the others on this list. At 30 years old, Sadollah is entering an important stretch to determine just how far his career can take him. He picked up his most impressive win in March, taking out TUF 9 runner-up DaMarques Johnson with a brutal display of ground and pound. He showcased a viciousness in that fight that hadn't been seen from him before, and moved his record to 5-2. He's still technically young in his career, and if he continues to improve he's got quite a bit of upside.

11. COURT MCGEE: Though he's only had two fights in the UFC, season 11 winner Court McGee has impressed in both. He fairly handily defeated Kris McCray in their season 11 finals bout, and then he showed an ability to come from behind his next time out against Ryan Jensen. The four-year vet is 13-1 overall in his career, and hasn't lost since December of 2007, where he dropped a decision longtime veteran Jeremy Horn.

THEIR BEST IS BEHIND THEM

12. MAC DANZIG: Danzig may be able to climb out of the hole he's gotten himself into here recently, as his knockout win over Joe Stevenson in December was the best he's looked in his eight-fight UFC stint. However, Danzig had lost four of his previous five fights, and is only 4-4 in the UFC, so while he may be able to recover his career to a point, he's still got a long ways to go.

13. JOE STEVENSON: Joe "Daddy," season two winner of the show, is the only other fighter on this list to have competed for a title. That title fight came three years ago, where B.J. Penn made Stevenson look like he just left the set of a horror film. Since the loss to Penn, he's gone just 3-5 in his next eight fights, and his overall UFC record only sits at 8-7. With three straight losses, Stevenson is nearing the end of his time in the UFC, and he's hoping a move to the featherweight division this month will turn things around.

14. KENDALL GROVE: Grove's loss to Tim Boetsch at last month's UFC 130 event was the sixth time he's been defeated in 13 fights in the UFC. Grove has been consistent in beating fighters he's supposed to beat, and losing to fighters who are simply better than him, and it's got him in a bit of a holding pattern in the middleweight division. As one of two winners in season three, Grove's got the tenure with the UFC to keep getting booked in fights, but his 2-4 mark in his last six fights has him nearing the chopping block yet again.

15. JAMES WILKS: This may be a bit low to have him, as Wilks is just 2-2 in four appearances in the UFC, but a series of injuries has taken him out of a number of fights, and at 33-years-old those injuries are not a promising sign. And outside of his season winning performance over DaMarques Johnson, Wilks has failed to inspire much confidence in his ability to rise above the middle of the pack to this point.

THE UNPROVEN WINNER

16. JONATHAN BROOKINS: The season 12 winner hasn't yet fought outside of his season finals win over Michael Johnson, and injuries have already taken him out of two planned returns to the cage in 2011. There's not much else to say on him until we see what he can do against someone else in the lightweight or featherweight divisions, depending on where he makes his return.

THE EXILED

17. EFRAIN ESCUDERO: The first TUF-only product to get the axe from the UFC, Escudero found out the hard way what happens when you don't perform in three straight fights. After a submission loss to Evan Dunham last January, Escudero picked up a win in an awful fight with friend Dan Lauzon, and when he came into his next fight, he missed weight by four pounds. When he subsequently lost to Charles Oliveira in that bout last September, the UFC cut him. He went out and won three fights in a row outside of the organization, but a loss to former UFC lightweight Fabricio Camoes last month again halted any potential return to the organization.

18. TRAVIS LUTTER: Lutter was the other winner of the "comeback" show in season four, earning a title shot against Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva. Lutter's first stint in the UFC saw him go just 1-2 in three fights, but his win over Patrick Cote in the season four finals was huge for him. However, Lutter failed to make weight for his title fight, turning the bout to a non-title fight. Though he put Silva on his back a few times in the first two rounds, he found himself trapped in a triangle choke by "The Spider." A series of elbows to the head, along with the ever-tightening hold, forced Lutter to tap. A follow-up loss to Rich Franklin led to his release. He's only fought twice since then, and hasn't appeared in a ring or cage since a knockout loss to Rafael Natal in May of last year.


Reader Question: Who would you rank higher and who would you rank lower on this list? What type of future in the UFC do you see for either Ferguson or Nejim after Saturday's finale? Web visitors, comment below in our new Reader Comment Area (linked to Facebook). App users, send us your thoughts at mmatorch@gmail.com or visit our desktop website to comment.

Source: http://www.mmatorch.com/artman2/publish/penickstake/article_9510.shtml

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