The Ultimate Fighter makes it’s long awaited return tonight on Fight Pass after a three year absence.
Featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski and contender Brian Ortega will serve as the coaches to two teams comprising of bantamweights and middleweights, before eventually going head to head for the 145lbs title themselves at a later date.
But with season 29 finally upon us, what are the greatest seasons that have come before this? We’ve seen legends created through the show like Michael Bisping and TJ Dillashaw, but these five seasons stand out for me more than any other.
TEAM JONES VS TEAM SONNEN
The greatest fighter of all-time according to most people was a TUF coach once upon a time, lining up alongside ‘The Bad Guy’ Chael Sonnen to coach a bunch of welterweights.
Names like Uriah Hall and Kelvin Gastelum stood out the most, as Jones and Sonnen kept it mostly civil throughout the season – preferring to settle their beef in the octagon rather than the gym.
The coaches challenge was hilarious and there were some incredibly highlight reel knockouts to go with it before a fun finale fight ended in split decision. There was even a cameo by female superstar Ronda Rousey as she promised to make an appearance for one fighter in particular after he declared his love for her. It’s well worth the watch.
TEAM LESNAR VS TEAM DOS SANTOS
If your name isn’t Conor McGregor, then you have no claim to being a bigger box-office draw than Brock Lesnar in the UFC. The former world heavyweight champion was looking to bounce back after losing his title to Cain Velasquez and a bout with diverticulitis by taking on Junior Dos Santos.
It was a series that really endeared Lesnar to MMA fans, as it showed just how seriously he took his training and how incredibly strong his mentality to win was. He often talked to his team about “turning chicken shit into chicken salad”, rather than make excuses and it was something that many noticed.
Dos Santos had in-house problems, sending a coach home during the series for trying to take sessions over, while Team Lesnar had a war amongst themselves when a drunk Tony Ferguson made some crude remarks during an argument in the house.
Overall, the series was great entertainment with highly competitive fights and two coaches who wanted to win at all costs.
TEAM RAMPAGE VS TEAM EVANS
One of the most heated coaches rivalries in the show’s history took place in season 10, as the heavyweights season reignited a concept that was beginning to dwindle.
Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson and Rashad Evans were fierce rivals in the light-heavyweight title picture and agreed to take part as coaches of two heavyweight-filled teams for this season. There was extra spice added to the show as UFC president Dana White made the shock announcement once the teams were revealed that there was still another contender – legendary street fighter Kimbo Slice.
Joining the ranks alongside the likes of Roy Nelson and Brendan Schaub, Kimbo competed under the UFC banner for the only time in his career. Add to that some very heated clashes between the coaches, including the infamous scene where Jackson literally ripped a door to shreds, it’s more than worth your time.
TEAM LIDDELL VS TEAM COUTURE
Where it all began. 28 seasons later and the first ever season of The Ultimate Fighter is still among the best there is.
Legendary names in the sport like Diego Sanchez, Josh Koscheck, Chris Leben, Forrest Griffin, Stephan Bonnar and Kenny Florian all debuted in the UFC in this series of the show, coached by the just as legendary light heavyweight Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture.
It was the season that introduced us all to the craziness that was the TUF house, as Sanchez paraded around drunk and doing yoga in the rain while Leben showed us just how emotionally charged the whole process can be.
In the end, it also led to one of the greatest fights ever in the finale between Griffin and Bonnar that was so close both fighters were awarded contracts with the UFC despite Griffin getting the nod on the scorecards. Legendary.
TEAM PULVER VS TEAM PENN
For me, without a doubt the greatest season there is of The Ultimate Fighter. Some of the most iconic moments in the show’s history took place as lightweights matched up, with former champion BJ Penn and Jens Pulver going head-to-head as coaches.
Names like Nate Diaz, Manny Gamburyan, Gray Maynard, Joe Lauzon and Cole Miller were apart of the series, where we saw the good and bad sides of the fighting community. From Penn asking the fighters who absolutely didn’t want to be on Pulver’s team and ten of the 16 putting their hand up, to a fighter being 20lbs overweight, to personal feuds spilling over into the octagon it really had everything.
Several fighters made it into the UFC and enjoyed long stints with the company but it was the season that made me fall in love with the sport and I expect it will do the same for you too.