So, we are now through with the fourteenth season of The Ultimate Fighter, and that got me thinking: we all know some obvious choices for the best TUF finalist bouts (say it with me: “Griffin vs. Bonnar”), but what about the coaches? What are the best coach fights from the show’s history? Now that Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber have been revealed as the coaches of TUF 15, the first season on FX, it’s a perfect time to count down the best coach fights in The Ultimate Fighter history.
Now, it’s pretty much a given that the one-sided beatdown that Michael Bisping gave Jason “Mayhem” Miller isn’t going to rate all that highly. We also didn’t have a coach fight after season two (friends Matt Hughes and Rich Franklin coached, and were in separate weight divisions, to boot), season four (there were no coaches), season six (Matt Serra couldn’t fight), and season thirteen (Brock Lesnar fell ill, forcing Junior dos Santos to fight Shane Carwin). In season eleven, Tito Ortiz backed out of the fight due to injury and Rich Franklin was awkwardly inserted as coach right at the end of the show, but I’ll count that to give us an even ten. Let’s rank them in reverse order:
10. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson vs. Rashad Evans (TUF 10)
9. Georges St. Pierre vs. Josh Koscheck (TUF 12)
8. Michael Bisping vs. Jason “Mayhem” Miller (TUF 14)
These three are all grouped together in my mind, and could really go in any order. I ranked them this way because at least Bisping-Mayhem saw a finish, even if it was just one guy collapsing out of exhaustion while his opponent pounded away. Still, we were spared the fight going the distance, which was not a consideration given to us in the other two fights. Also, at least Bisping and Miller fought with a little fire, at least as long as they could (in Mayhem’s case).
The three fights all share something: they were three of the more highly-anticipated coach fights because of the supposed dislike between the fighters in each pairing. However, the hype and the feuds never translated into great bouts. Evans was content to wrestle his way to victory in a by-the-numbers, rather uninspiring win, St. Pierre did the same thing with his jab, refusing to open up his striking even though he effectively blinded Koscheck early in the fight.
7. Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock (TUF 3)
It only adds to the audaciousness of Dana White’s claim that Bisping-Mayhem was the most lopsided fight he’d ever seen that he featured this ridiculous bit of matchmaking not once, but twice after The Ultimate Fighter 3.
In another bout where the hype was better than the actual action (a theme in the fights on this list, of course), Ortiz took down Shamrock and pounded him a few times en route to a quick stoppage at just 1:18 of the first round. It may have been a bit hasty, but nothing was going to change if the bout had been allowed to go on.
After another seemingly unnecessary three month training camp for both men, there was a rematch on Spike TV in order to give the fans their money’s worth…or something. Well, in a fight that was like a carbon copy of the first bout, Ortiz took Shamrock down with ease and got a TKO stoppage due to punches not quite halfway through the second round. This one gets ranked this highly mostly because in each case, it was mercifully short. Still, it was a fight that never should have happened a second time (Shamrock had already had a one-sided loss to Ortiz at UFC 40), let alone a third.
6. Frank Mir vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (TUF 8 )
Even if this wasn’t the best fight, we’re at least out of the territory of awful and/or disappointing bouts. Mir shocked us all in this one, besting Nogueira with ease on the feat before putting Nogueira away midway through the second round in a fight he dominated throughout.
It was only afterward, when persistent rumors that Nogueira had a staph infection going into UFC 92 were confirmed, that fans and pundits started to realize why Big Nog looked so listless in this one (remember, Big Nog had never been stopped before this fight). Still, it’s memorable for many reasons: the surprise we all felt when first watching it, Mir’s strange right uppercut that he kept landing at range, and his great reaction afterward where he called out Brock Lesnar.
5. Rich Franklin vs. Chuck Liddell (TUF 11)
This was a good fight, even if substituting Franklin for Ortiz at the end of the season just because Ortiz couldn’t fight was weaksauce. I’m also tempted to ding this one a bit because it was depressing to see Liddell’s career definitively end, but that’s just part of the sport and a seemingly-inevitable end for a fighter like Liddell.
Liddell looked great for about four minutes and fifty seconds of the fight. He was using a more crisp, clean approach than he had in years and even throwing leg kicks- leg kicks! He seemed to be in great shape and it looked as if he was serious in extending his career by revitalizing his striking, taking care of his body and using his wrestling more.
Then, Liddell over-committed and ran into a short counter right that put him down for the last time.
Even if everything else is on point, if you can’t take a good shot, you can’t keep fighting. The sad thing is, this fight is a reminder that this is the end awaiting every fighter, no matter how good, if they stick around a bit too long. Still, it was a good fight and even a bit historic, as it was Liddell’s last appearance.
4. BJ Penn vs. Jens Pulver (TUF 5)
Not a bad fight, if a little anticlimactic. Penn took control of the fight from the start, though Pulver showed his talent in a few choice moments, landing a couple of good shots as well as escaping an armbar and standing back up after being taken down in the first round.
Penn took Pulver’s back in the second round and we all knew it was over at that point. Sure enough, Penn finished it before long, choking Pulver until the tap and beyond before finally letting his adversary go a couple of seconds after the stoppage.
Since then, the two insist that things are cool and much of the animosity the two supposedly shared- as well as the fight itself- have been largely forgotten. It was a pretty good fight and a finish is always appreciated, but nothing extremely special.
3. Forrest Griffin vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (TUF 7)
This was the rare coach fight where the fight itself was better than the feud beforehand. I never bought into any of the hype during the season, and even when Griffin got frustrated and flew off the handle, it wasn’t quite believable and felt a bit forced.
The fight didn’t have the level of aggression we’re used to seeing from either man, but that wasn’t so disappointing because we weren’t fed a bunch of b.s. about the two hating each other beforehand. Griffin used a strategy that we’ve seen used liberally against Rampage since then, peppering the powerful fighter with leg kicks to keep him off balance. Rampage was never able to land a big shot and won a very close decision in a pretty good bout.
Randy Couture vs. Chuck Liddell (TUF 1)
Had this been Couture-Liddell 3, it may have topped the list. Their second bout was a good one, but only lasted a couple of minutes before Liddell turned Couture’s lights out. Still, it was a highly-anticipated battle in which Couture was favored by many, as he had shown very few weaknesses in their first battle.
Suddenly, the strategy he employed in his first bout with Liddell wasn’t working so well, though. He was still sticking to mostly straight punches, but Liddell was landing with increasing frequency, which was never a good sign in “The Iceman”‘s prime. Sure enough, Liddell erased Couture from consciousness before too long, finally winning the light heavyweight championship in the process.
1. Dan Henderson vs. Michael Bisping (TUF 9)
This had it all- it was a great fight with a highlight reel finish that followed an entertaining feud. Henderson was the no-nonsense veteran who didn’t like Bisping’s cocky attitude, and all season long he said he was going to shut Bisping’s mouth for good. He may not have managed to do that, but he did it in the short term in their explosive UFC 100 fight.
Both men fought, well, like themselves- Henderson stalked Bisping, looking for that one big shot, while Bisping used his jab and tried to stay out of trouble while finding openings. Bisping actually turned in a pretty good performance for much of the fight, landing his jab and slipping Henderson’s big punches. He showed very good recovery when Hendo caught him in the first round, as well. However, this fight is all about the finish, which was one of the greatest knockouts in UFC history whether you’re a Hendo fan, a Bisping fan or none of the above. While the unnecessary follow-up flying elbow smash was either really sweet or extremely sour depending on your allegiances, this was likely the best TUF coach fight we’ve seen thus far.
So…who wants to bet where Cruz-Faber will go on this list after TUF 15 concludes?
Tags: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, BJ Penn, Chuck Liddell, Dan Henderson, Dominick Cruz, Forrest Griffin, Frank Mir, Georges St. Pierre, Jason "Mayhem" Miller, Jens Pulver, Josh Koscheck, Ken Shamrock, Michael Bisping, Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson, Randy Couture, Rashad Evans, Rich Franklin, The Ultimate Fighter, Tito Ortiz, TUF, UFC, Urijah Faber