Which The Ultimate Fighter contestants went on to become UFC champions?

Joshua Rogers June 2, 2021
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Which The Ultimate Fighter contestants became UFC champions? Here we take a look at all the former TUC fighters who have tasted UFC gold.

The Ultimate Fighter – the iconic fighting reality TV series – is back this week after a two-year lay-off.

The upcoming series will be season 29 of the hit show, with 145lb champion Alexander Volkanovski and #2 ranked featherweight Brian Ortega serving as coaches.

Over the years, a number of elite martial artists have come through the TUF ranks and gone on to lift UFC gold.

Let’s take a look at which The Ultimate Fighter contestants became UFC champions.

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How many The Ultimate Fighter contestants became UFC champions?

Of all the hundreds of fighters on TUF over the years, only a select few have gone on to win a UFC belt.

Including interim titles, there have been 11 fighters who were on The Ultimate Fighter who became UFC champion.

Forrest Griffin

The winner of the very first TUF was none other than Forrest Griffin.

Griffin won season 1 of TUF after defeating Stephan Bonnar in what some people still call the greatest fight in UFC history.

Without TUF, the UFC might not even exist today and Griffin vs Bonnar was in many ways responsible for getting the sport of mixed martial arts off the ground.

Griffin later returned to TUF, as a coach in season 7, alongside UFC light heavyweight champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.

Griffin won the show and the subsequent fight, defeating the heavily favoured Jackson at UFC 86 to win the UFC light heavyweight title.

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Rashad Evans

A distinctly undersized Rashad Evans won season 2 of TUF after defeating Brad Imes by split decision in the finale.

Once in the UFC, however, Evans dropped to light heavyweight, where he knocked out Chuck Liddel in incredible fashion.

Evans would go on to become light heavyweight champ at UFC 92 after defeating Forrest Griffin via TKO in the third round.

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Michael Bisping

In season 3 of TUF, Michael Bisping, along with Ross Pointon, became the first fighter to live outside North America to participate in the series.

Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock were coaches and, in the light heavyweight finale, Michael Bisping defeated Josh Haynes by TKO.

Bisping’s career in the UFC was a tumultuous one, but his career highlight came with a left hook in round 1 against champion Luke Rockhold at UFC 199 to win middleweight gold.

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Matt Serra

Matt Serra won season 4 of The Ultimate Fighter, but his greatest achievement was to fight all-time great Georges St-Pierre.

GSP was the undisputed welterweight king and nobody fancied Serra to beat him at UFC 69.

Serra, however, did just that, knocking out GSP in the first round to not only win the welterweight title but cause one of the biggest upsets in UFC history.

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T.J. Dillashaw

Despite losing to John Dodson in TUF season 14 finale, T.J. Dillashaw went on a tear when he first arrived in the UFC.

The bantamweight would face Renan Barao at UFC 173, who had been a dominant fighter until that point.

Dillashaw completely outclassed him, though, getting the finish in the final round.

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Robert Whittaker

Whittaker took part in The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes, which was recorded in Australia.

The Smashes is a play on the 130-year-old cricket rivalry between England and Australia, The Ashes, with Britain’s Ross Pearson and Aussie George Sotiropoulos serving as coaches on the series.

Whittaker took part as a welterweight, defeating Brad Scott by unanimous decision in the finale.

However, it wasn’t until he moved up to 185lbs in the UFC when he lifted the belt.

Whittaker beat Yoel Romero for the interim middleweight title at UFC 213 and, after Georges St-Pierre’s retirement, the Australian was promoted to undisputed champ.

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Tony Ferguson

Tony ‘El Cucuy’ Ferguson has been a fans’ favourite since he won TUF season 13.

Ferguson is one of the best ever UFC lightweights, winning the interim lightweight belt against Kevin Lee at UFC 216.

His rivalry with Khabib Nurmagomedov will always be a case of ‘what if’ for fans.

Their fight was scheduled – and cancelled – a record five times over the years.

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Carla Esparza 

Season 20 of The Ultimate Fighter saw the introduction of ten straw-weight fighters, with one being crowned the first ever UFC straw-weight champion.

Carla Esparza was the last woman standing, submitting Rose Namajunas in round 3 to become the UFC’s inaugural straw-weight champion.

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Rose Namajunas

Although defeated in TUF season 20 finale, ‘Thug Rose’ would have her moment in the spotlight against Joanna Jedrzejczyk.

Jedrzejczyk was a dominant champion, and few people gave Namajunas a chance. However, Rose dropped Joanna twice in the fight before finishing it inside round 1.

Namajunas later faced Jéssica Andrade in the main event at UFC 237, where she would lose her straw-weight title.

However, she became the first female fighter to lose and regain a UFC championship belt after knocking out champ Zhang Weili with a head kick at UFC 261.

Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

Kamaru Usman

Kamaru Usman represented former gym “The Blackzilians” on Season 21 of TUF against American Top Team.

‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ would beat Michael Graves and Steve Carl before victory over Hayder Hassan in the finale.

The wrestler eventually faced welterweight champion Tyron Woodley at UFC 235. Usman dominated the former champion over five rounds to be crowned the king of 170lbs.

Since then, he has been on a historic run, beating the likes of Colby Covington, Gilbert Burns and Jorge Masvidal (twice).

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Nicco Montano

Nicco Montano was a relative unknown before entering season 26 of The Ultimate Fighter.

The up and coming flyweight upset Lauren Murphy and defeated former Invicta FC champion Barb Honchak.

Montano faced Roxanne Modafferi in the finale, winning by unanimous decision to become the inaugural UFC women’s flyweight champion.

She was later stripped of the title when she was hospitalised due to her weight cut at UFC 228.

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Joshua is a senior sports writer with over four years' experience in online writing. He graduated with a BA in Ancient History from The University of Manchester before receiving an MA in Sports Journalism from The University of Central Lancashire. He became a trending writer for a leading social publisher and later spent time covering the 2018 World Cup for The Mirror Online. He then moved to a social marketing agency where he acted as website editor. His specialties on The Focus include F1, tennis, NBA, NFL and combat sports.