This Saturday night marks the ninth season finale of The Ultimate Fighter. It seems like it was just yesterday that I was sitting in anticipation for the first finale. Little did I know that Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar changed the course of UFC forever.
I was hooked on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter on Spike TV. As a big UFC fan, I relished the opportunity to see MMA fights once a week. Between the coaches and the fighters, season 1 had the greatest cast of personalities in the history of the show.
I never had any idea throughout the show as to how good Forrest Griffin would become. I never had a clue as to how great the finale between Griffin and Stephan Bonnar would be. I remember thinking about Bonnar, “What the hell is this pretty boy going to do?” What he did was make MMA history.
Griffin and Bonnar took different roads to the finals. Griffin rolled through his opponents to get to the finals. Bonnar on the other hand had a bit of difficulty along his journey. Bonnar barely made it through his first fight against Bobby Southworth, winning a controversial decision.
The night was April 09, 2005. It must be into perspective how different the Ultimate Fighting Championship was at the time. UFC was not the global juggernaut it is today. In a day when UFC fights air practically nightly on Spike, in 2005 this would be UFC’s first live event on Spike TV. Fight fans were getting their mouths watered for an onslaught of UFC.
The fight between Bonnar and Griffin changed it all. An unheard of 3.3 million viewers would tune in at one point to see one of the most exciting fights in UFC history. This would have been a disaster if 3.3 million people watched a boring or inconclusive fight. Bonnar and Griffin delivered a brawl that some will argue was the greatest of all-time.
The fight was three-rounds of non-stop action. The two spent the majority of the fight standing up. An interesting component to this was the fact that these two guys were rather friendly with each other. Imagine if they didn’t like each other? No matter how hard one hit, the other hit harder, yet neither man went down. It was truly a battle of iron men.
Something that can’t be overlooked here is the hunger of Bonnar, Griffin, and other contestants in the first season. I don’t think it is an accident that season 1 produced the most successful fighters of the series. It wasn’t about being a television star to these guys. These were guys that were hungry and just wanted to fight.
I also think that UFC has gotten away from a winning concept. The first season of the Ultimate Fighter had relatively unknown fighters. Since then, The Ultimate Fighter has featured several journeymen who have fought in UFC. I think the raw talent of the first season and their undisciplined habits made for the most entertaining season of the series.
Neither man touched gloves before the fight which showed how serious they were. Commentator Joe Rogan called the first round, the “Hagler-Hearns” of MMA history. The fight almost ended in the second round after Griffin was badly cut. The final round ended with a barrage of punches which cemented this one as a classic.
Forrest Griffin won the finale via decision over Stephan Bonnar. Nobody went down. Dana White immediately offered Stephan Bonnar a contract even though he lost the fight. It was a classy move that would pay dividends. The fight received numerous accolades including Fight of the Year by MMA Weekly.
A company bought three years earlier for $2 million would be worth over $400 million a few months later. Less than a month following the fight, Spike TV renewed The Ultimate Fighter and offered UFC several more live specials. Prior to the show, UFC averaged $1 million in ticket sales for live events. The next UFC event broke records with $2,575,450 in ticket sales and had over 250,000 buys.
Will the ninth Ultimate Fighter finale make history like the first on Saturday night? I don’t think so. However, if not for the first finale who knows where UFC would be today? The Ultimate Fighter Season One was the little engine that could. It could, it did, and the course of MMA history was changed forever.
Order the UFC Presents The Ultimate Fighter – Season 1 on DVD by clicking here.
Pre-order the documentary, BJ Penn – 90 Days on DVD.