When “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series debuted, it was an all-in poker play by the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Hemorrhaging money, it appeared to be on its last leg and in dire need of a miracle. Seven years, 15 seasons and one iconic fight later, “The Ultimate Fighter” has become a staple of the promotion, supplying it with invaluable mainstream visibility and a steady stream of talented personalities.
Everyone remembers the epic encounter between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar in April 2005: three rounds of human drama through which the UFC carved out its niche in the marketplace. Other memorable moments followed in those enormous footsteps, some of them largely forgotten.
As the latest season draws to a close with “The Ultimate Fighter 15” Finale on Friday at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, we thought it prudent to look back on some of the less-ballyhooed moments from the reality show’s finales. Here are five that came to mind:
The Armbar“The Ultimate Fighter 7” Finale
June 21, 2008
As Josh Burkman and Dustin Hazelett scrambled up in the whizzer position, the latter struck swiftly and deftly, as he threw his left leg up and over his foe’s face from the side and transitioned into an armbar attempt. While a clearly surprised Burkman managed to clasp his hands, his defense proved futile, as his spindly opponent ripped apart the guard, torqued his hips and finished the sensational submission. Many believed the maneuver could springboard Hazelett to bigger and better things. However, following losses to Paul Daley, Rick Story and Mark Bocek, he was jettisoned from the UFC roster and has since disappeared from the MMA scene entirely.
When Nobody Wins“The Ultimate Fighter 5” Finale
June 23, 2007
A tooth-and-nail struggle quickly unfolded between Gray Maynard and Robert Emerson, as the two lightweights exchanged fists with reckless abandon in the center of the cage. Maynard connected with a thudding right hand and slowly but surely established his superiority through the first five minutes. In the second round, “The Bully” delivered one of his trademark uppercuts, closed the distance and slammed Emerson violently to the mat. In visible pain, Emerson tapped out immediately. However, Maynard was not capable of continuing, either, having knocked himself silly when his head struck the canvas during the slam. Despite Maynard’s protests, the bout was ruled a no contest. Replays provided vindication for the decision. Maynard has since fought for the UFC lightweight championship twice. Emerson compiled a 3-3 mark in the Octagon, only to be cut loose.
Out Cold“The Ultimate Fighter 12” Finale
Dec. 4, 2010
A decorated Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, Fredson Paixao probably does not recall much about his run-in with Pablo Garza’s right knee. Less than a minute into their match, the man they call “The Scarecrow” countered Paixao’s attempt at a double-leg takedown with a beautifully timed and savagely executed flying knee. The Brazilian hit the mat unconscious, his arms stiff. Paixao remained on his back for nearly four minutes. He was eventually fitted with a neck brace, escorted to the cage door and seated on a stretcher. The 33-year-old Paixao, now roughly 18 months removed from the incident, has not competed since.
Bathed in Blood“The Ultimate Fighter 6” Finale
Dec. 8, 2007
Violence flowed naturally between Jon Koppenhaver, now known as War Machine, and Jared Rollins. Koppenhaver turned to his elbows in the first round, opening a cut over the Team Oyama standout’s right eye. Rollins answered with a series of elbows from his own, delivered in rapid-fire succession from his back. The blows lacerated the top of Koppenhaver’s head, and, soon, the two men were bathed in blood and sweat. The battle raged on. Early in round three, Rollins moved for a takedown, only to have Koppenhaver land in top position. He again unloaded with elbows, and though he had Rollins in trouble, the Californian recovered to force a restart from referee Steve Mazzagatti. Rollins responded with a crisp punch and a knee to the head, and he followed the dazed Koppenhaver to the mat. Seconds later, Koppenhaver swept into top position with a kimura, transitioned to mount and blasted away with punches for a stunning finish. In the ensuing months and years, Koppenhaver changed his name, dabbled in pornography and wandered in and out of prison. Rollins has yet to fight again.
Hail Mary“The Ultimate Fighter 10” Finale
Dec. 5, 2009
Buoyed by takedowns and a heavy top game, Dennis Hallman had two rounds and change in the bank against John Howard. With 24 seconds remaining in their welterweight scrap, Howard capitalized on a restart from referee Josh Rosenthal. He sprang forward in a desperate leap of faith, the thought of a miracle knockout clearly on his mind. Howard’s left hook found its intended target, as Hallman fell backward into the fence. Howard let loose with another left hand, and Hallman was out cold. Only five seconds remained on the clock. With that, MMA had its version of the Hail Mary.