With victories in The Ultimate Fighter Season 9 finale, Ross Pearson and James Wilks are most assuredly bound for title fights and UFC greatness, right? Well, if you look at the recent history of TUF winners you would likely conclude otherwise. In fact, there’s a nasty trend that has developed and these two fighters from the UK will be focused on bringing it to an end.
Consider this. The first four seasons of TUF produced eight winners. Of them, three have won championship belts since their win on TUF (Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans and Matt Serra), one has fought for a championship (Joe Stevenson) and one has blown a weigh in that would have been for a championship fight (the bonehead award goes to Travis Lutter, who might still be in the sauna).
Of course that leaves three chumps who accomplished nothing after TUF? Not exactly. Diego Sanchez is 9-2 since winning Season One and the “yes man” looks to be back in the title picture after his win over Clay Guida this past weekend. Kendall Grove is a respectable 4-2 and Michael Bisping is 6-1 and very much in the mix for a future title shot.
In four subsequent seasons (prior to Season 9), the five winners are a combined six wins, four losses and nothing that resembles a title fight. But these five winners haven’t had enough time to turn their TUF victories into a title shot you say? Season 5 dates back to June 2007 which means some of these fighters have had two full years to make their mark. Need I remind you that Brock Lesnar was fighting for a championship ten minutes after he first took off his wrestling boots?
So what’s the story and what possible lessons can we pass along to Pearson and Wilks?
Part of the problem has been the Clay Guida factor. Both Nate Diaz and Mac Danzig took losses at the hands (or maybe the hair?) of Guida, then followed that up with another loss. The UFC treats a single loss as a blip on the radar screen, but back to back losses are trends and it seems only legendary MMA fighters are guaranteed to fight meaningful fights after such a trend appears (see Chuck Liddell, Wanderlei Silva). If Guida is a trend starter, maybe Dana White keeps him out the way for future TUF winners? If you think that’s going to happen, you don’t know Dana White.
The second part of the story is injuries. The last three TUF winners (Amir Sadollah, Efrain Escudero and Ryan Bader) have produced the following results: no fights (injured), no fights (injured) and one fight for Bader-but of course-he was injured during his fight and now out 6 months! Injuries are a part of MMA and unfortunately for recent TUF winners, they seem more snake-bit than winners from the first few seasons. (Please note that none of the recent winners are actually out of action due to snake bites). If Pearson and Wilks can stay healthy, they’ve got a leg up on many.
While Dana White would like both of his newly crowned fighters to become champions, he would be satisfied if just one could break this streak. The odds might then favor Welterweight Wilks as there have been two Welterweight representatives to earn title fights (Stevenson and Serra), but no Lightweight winner has ever stood in the cage with a belt on the line, since Stevenson won a season of welterweights. Guida isn’t fighting at 170 lbs either, so another advantage for Wilks.
Much like American Idol, the UFC hopes that their fighters go on to long and successful careers after the show to lend legitimacy to the elimination style tournament. The UFC is hoping that they’ve found another Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood to carry the flag for their franchise. God help us all if Pearson or Wilks turn out to be Ruben Studdard.