Welcome to day two of lodeplus.com’s 5 for 5: five of the greatest UFC moments over five days leading up to Saturday’s UFC on FOX.
Yesterday’s moment was the sale and subsequent purchase of the UFC by it’s current owners, the Fertitta brothers, Lorenzo and Frank, along with UFC President Dana White back in 2001. Together they formed ZUFFA LLC. and began to repair the reputation of MMA after Senator John McCain’s slanderous political campaign that saw the sport nearly disappear in the early millenium. (Click the link for the entire read)
We left off yesterday in the year 2005, and the UFC was all but shutting it’s doors. They had burnt through an estimated sixty million dollars in four years, but before they closed shop, they had one last ace up their sleeve…
THE ULTIMATE FIGHTER.
With popularity having reached a ceiling and having any sustainable growth stymied, 2005 was a pivotal year for the UFC and its owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, along with Dana White.
Since acquiring the UFC from it’s previous owners in 2001, ZUFFA LLC., had burnt through an estimated sixty million dollars. With the future bleak and Japanese MMA continuing to grow with the PRIDE FC organization, the UFC was all but done with the world of Mixed Martial Arts.
However, before Fertittas and White would give up, they had one last idea to try and stave off any sort of imminent demise. That idea was a TV show. A reality show, to be more specific.
Without a TV deal in place, the UFC shot its first season of The Ultimate Fighter on their own dime. No cable company was willing to take a risk on a company that was still reeling from the political slander of John McCain, only a few years earlier.
So as a last ditch effort, the UFC chose to air the show on SPIKE TV for free, hoping to attract an audience and garner the attention they always clamored for.
The show debuted in January 2005, and aired directly after the WWE’s flagship show on SPIKE TV, Monday Night Raw. The pro-wrestling audience was perfect for the UFC, as many of the same elements were on display in both products–especially with a reality show.
The first season featured coaches Chuck Liddell and then UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, Randy Couture. At the conclusion of the season, the coaches were scheduled to fight for a second time, in a battle for Couture’s belt. Couture had originally defeated Liddell a year earlier for the title, in what many considered at the time to be a fairly big upset.
Season one of The Ultimate Fighter featured 16 fighters in two different weight classes. The middleweights featured Josh Koscheck, Kenny Florian, Diego Sanchez, Chris Leben, Josh Rafferty, Nate Quarry, Chris Sanford, and Alex Karalexis. The light heavyweights featured were Stephan Bonnar, Forrest Griffin, Bobby Southworth, Mike Swick, Lodune Sincaid, Jason Thacker, Alex Schoenauer, and Sam Hoger.
If some of those names seem familiar to you, that’s for good reason–most of these fighters went on to stellar careers in the UFC post-TUF. Sanchez, Florian, Koscheck, and Quarry all earned title shots during their careers in the UFC, and Griffin managed to actually earn a title by defeating Quinton “Rampage” Jackson at UFC 86 for the Light Heavyweight Championship.
The show featured all the drama you would expect from a 00’s reality show. It had roomate-on-roomate urination, fighting, and all the drunken exploits you would expect. After all, it was a house full of cage fighters, essentially with a 6-week long open bar.
The whole time the viewing audience was tuning in for all the chaos, they were actually becoming interested in the characters in front of them. The Ultimate Fighter gave the athletes of MMA a face. It let you see them as human beings, and not as ‘fighting chickens.’ By the time the show had wrapped its run on SPIKE TV, it had established a very sturdy following amongst their desired demographic. At the end of taping, four fighters remained, and they would compete in a live ‘finale’ on SPIKE TV, to determine the winners of each respective weight division. First up were the middleweights in a battle that pitted Diego “The Nightmare” Sanchez versus Kenny “Ken Flo” Florian.
The second fight featured two light heavyweights, Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin.
Listen, there is nothing that can be said about Bonnar/Griffin that hasn’t already been said by UFC President Dana White. It is, not only the most historical and influential fight in UFC history, but it’s also arguably it’s most exciting.
Both Griffin and Bonnar had shining personalities that were displayed every week on the reality show, so therefore, the public cared more about these two fighters than anyone else in the house. They both had a happy-go-lucky attitude and seemed to let any controversy on the show roll of their backs.
They both promised to bring the fight on fight night. They said they would both stand, and neither would run to the ground and search for a boring decision. And the public believed them, they knew Bonnar and Griffin were ‘men’s men.’ There was no way they were going back on their word.
However, even the most ardent UFC fan couldn’t predict what happened that night at the Ultimate Fighter Finale. During a picturesque display of what an early MMA fight could be, these two fighters built a 3-round crescendo, the likes of which have rarely been seen in the sport.
And that night, in front of a live viewing audience, all across the world, friends told friends, who told friends, to turn on the TV, “You have to see this fight.”
UFC President Dana White has said that close to ten million people tuned in that night. The story goes, as people saw what was happening on TV, they had to phone someone they knew. Whether it be a brother, friend, fellow fighting aficionado, or neighbor, everyone knew someone who would want to watch this fight.
When it was all said and done, Forrest Griffin had defeated Stephan Bonnar in a close decision victory. So often in sports we are told there is no second place in our society. Stephan Bonnar took second place that night in Las Vegas, but in the process he changed a sport.
Try telling Stephan Bonnar that second place sucks.
The ramifications of Bonnar/Griffin are still being felt to this day. It’s everywhere you look around a UFC live event. From the infamous UFC intro video, to any number of fans that are there that day strictly because of the fight they saw that night on SPIKE, everyone in MMA today owes Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin a big thank you.
If it weren’t for them and their magic and chemistry that night, we may very well not even be mentioning a UFC on FOX this Saturday. It’s very likely Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos get day jobs, because after all, there’s no money in fighting.
Think about that for a second.