Back in 2005, the UFC was facing bankruptcy. A far cry from its success that we know of today. The change in fortune for the world’s biggest MMA promotion can be directly traced back to The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season 1.
Financially, the UFC relies heavily on pay-per-view sales, and in the months prior to TUF season 1 they were not selling. For example, the three events preceding the TUF 1 finale -UFC 49, 50 and 51 – sold a combined 225,000 pay-per-views.
Whereas, UFC 52, which was almost immediately after the TUF 1 finale, sold 300,000 on its own. This was the first UFC event to reach that mark.
In addition to this, the fighters produced by TUF have massively contributed to the quality of the UFC.
In the fifteen years since its creation, TUF has produced six Hall of Famers. Namely, Forrest Griffin, Diego Sanchez, Stephan Bonnar, Rashad Evans, Michael Bisping, and Matt Serra.
Griffin and Bonnar are particularly relevant to the UFC’s revival. Their all-out war is widely accepted to be one of the greatest fights in UFC history and a turning point in the history of the organisation. It was Griffin who won one of the two initial six-figure contracts, along with Diego Sanchez. Sanchez continues to contribute and will compete at UFC 253 next Sunday.
The same event also sees another TUF graduate in Paulo Costa. Costa challenges Israel Adesanya for the middleweight title.
Accordingly, this brings up the importance of TUF graduates to the UFC. Sanchez is one of 22 fighters who have challenged for a title.
Furthermore, 10 fighters have emerged from TUF to claim a professional belt. The aforementioned Griffin, Evans, Bisping, Serra, along with T.J. Dillashaw, Carla Esparza, Rose Namajunas, Nicco Montano, Robert Whittaker, and Kamru Usman.
Usman is the most recent of these to win his belt. He was the winner of TUF 21 in 2015. Then, he proceeded to win the welterweight title in March 2019. This is proof enough that the show continues to produce world-class talent.
In contrast to the financial boost TUF provided the UFC, the iconic moments its fighters have produced are invaluable.
UFC participants from TUF have won 439 post-fight bonuses. Displaying incredible moments earns fighters these bonuses. For emphasis, these bonuses are worth $50,000. They included 212 Fights of the Night and 227 Performances of the Night.
For example, TUF 4 winner Matt Serra’s victory over Georges St-Pierre to become the welterweight champion at UFC 69 is considered one of the biggest upsets ever.
It’s moments like this that explain the meteoric boost to pay-per-view sales. In the 15 years since TUF 1, the UFC have sold more than 90 million pay-per-views.
In 2016, the UFC’s parent company -Zuffa – was sold to WWE-IMG for $4.05 billion in 2016. Four years later, it’s valued at $7billion.
Perhaps the most important impact to come from TUF’s success is the global reach.
USA, UK, Japan, and Brazil were the only countries to host promotional events prior to 2005. Subsequently, there have been 475 events across 21 different countries. This vast network that continues to expand is an indirect benefit of the TV show’s success.
As a result, the UFC would not exist as it does today were it not for TUF.
Likewise, superstars such as Conor McGregor, Ronda Rousey, Anderson Silva, or Georges St-Pierre would not have ever reached such prominence.
The sport of mixed martial arts itself would likely still an underpopulated sport.
However, thanks to TUF and its incredible success, the UFC has become a sporting empire thriving in one of the world’s fastest-growing sports.
Whether it was due to the financial kick it received post-TUF1, the plethora of quality fighters it inherited, or the ability to expand worldwide, one thing that is certain is that the UFC owes a great debt to The Ultimate Fighter.