by Jeff Cain – MMAWeekly.com
The Ultimate Fighter was the catalyst that launched mixed martial arts into mainstream acceptance and exposure when it debuted on Spike TV in January of 2005. On April 1 at 10 p.m. EST, the popular reality show enters its ninth season pitting country versus country with Dan Henderson heading the American team and Michael Bisping coaching the United Kingdom squad. Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White thinks this season boasts the best fights in the series’ history.
“Season 9 was (expletive) awesome. It’s the craziest season ever,” said White. “First of all, it has the best fights, the best fights ever in The Ultimate Fighter history.”
While White categorizes the ninth installment as the “craziest,” for the first time he didn’t have to go to the house a single time throughout filming. “I’m not saying nothing bad happened, I just didn’t have to go to the house,” commented the UFC president.
Each season fighters enter The Ultimate Fighter house as individuals aspiring to become the eventual winner. As soon as they’re separated into teams, team unity and an “us against them” mentality ensues. National pride creeps into the storyline with the country versus country format taking it to another level.
“You know how ever season the fighters fall into this team thing – my team, we hate your team thing? They fall into that (expletive). We’re nine seasons and they get in there and it’s this crazy ‘Lord of the Flies’ thing,” explained White. “Never has it been worse than when it’s country versus country. When I say that, not only was it bad with the fighters, the coaches were even worse.”
THE ULTIMATE FIGHTER SEASON 9 CAST:
U.S. coach Dan Henderson:
A two-time Olympic wrestler, Henderson is the only man to have simultaneously held two weight-class championships in PRIDE. He was the organization’s light heavyweight and middleweight champion and is one of the top fighters in the UFC.
U.K. coach Michael Bisping:
Bisping was the light heavyweight winner on Season 3 of “The Ultimate Fighter.” He has gone on to become one of the world’s top middleweights. His only loss was a disputed decision to current UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans in the 205-pound division.
Ryan Biglar (2-1):
Biglar, 24, is a jiu-jitsu fighter originally from Guam who represents the Cobra Kai in Las Vegas.
Ray Elbe (20-11):
A Muay Thai fighter, the 25-year-old Elbe has spent the last three years working on his game in Phuket, Thailand. The most notable man he’s faced was Renato Verissimo, who knocked him out in 2003.
Christian Fulgium (6-2-1):
A wrestler, Fulgium represents the Gladiator camp in Lafayette, La.
DaMarques Johnson (13-6):
Johnson took up MMA training while in the military. Training out of Elite Performance in Salt Lake City, Johnson once faced former World Extreme Cagefighting welterweight champion Brock Larson, who submitted him in a 2005 bout.
Kevin Knabjian (10-3-1):
A wrester from Eastern Illinois University, the same school that produced UFC star Matt Hughes, the one-time WEC fighter trains at Gilbert Grappling in Chicago.
Mark Miller (10-4):
A Muay Thai fighter also based in Chicago, Miller trains at Dino Costeas MMA and Toro Muay Thai.
Jason Pierce (9-0):
A one-time collegiate soccer player, Pierce trains with the vaunted Miletich Fighting Systems camp in Bettendorf, Iowa.
Kiel Reid (8-1):
A native of Bettendorf, Reid also trains with Miletich, whose experience includes a 2004 fight against UFC veteran Luigi Fiorvanti.
Paul Bird (4-1):
A striker, Bird trains at Des Moines (Iowa) MMA. He has fought in the Midwest Cage Championships promotion.
Santino DeFranco (13-4):
A wrestler and jiu-jitsu specialist, DeFranco has experienced fighting in the now-defunct International Fight League. He also helped coach Efrain Escudero, the TUF 8 winner.
Jason Dent (19-9):
A submission specialist, Dent runs his own gym in Mentor, Ohio, at Griffon Brawl. He is a UFC veteran who has losses to Roger Huerta and Gleison Tibau.
Cameron Dollar (4-1):
Dollar trains in Colorado Springs, Colo., and is a former teammate of TUF alums Cory Hill and Noah Thomas.
Tom Hayden (4-0):
A submission fighter, Hayden is trained by popular UFC veteran Jorge Gurgel in West Chester, Ohio.
Waylon Lowe (5-2):
Lowe, 28, also fights for Gurgel.
Josh Souder (7-2):
A member of Team Prodigy, Souder has faced castmate Jason Dent in 2005, losing by TKO.
Richie Whitson (4-0):
A native Alaskan who trains with Team Quest in Temecula, Calif., Whitson is a heavy-handed striker.
Dean Amarasinghe (4-1):
A grappler from Nottingham, England, Amarasinghe trains at Rough House Gym.
James Bateman (2-1):
A striker, Bateman trains at Grimsby NHB in Grimsby, England.
David Faulkner (2-1):
A member of the Wolfslair team that features U.K. coach Michael Bisping and UFC star Quinton Jackson, Faulkner is a submissions expert.
Tommy Maguire (5-2):
The 20-year-old Maguire is a striker who works with the Tsunami Gym in Wisbech, England.
Che Mills (7-2):
A tall welterweight at 6-foot-2, Mills works with ex-UFC fighter Mark Weir’s Range Fighting Gym.
Nicholas Osipczak (3-0):
Osipczak trains in London with Pancrase UK. He’s finished all of his fights in the first round.
Alex Reid (10-9-1):
Reid, 33, trains in London with the London Shoot Fighters. He’s faced notable opponents such as Murilo Rua, Tony Fryklund, Dave Menne and Jorge Rivera.
James Wilks (5-2): Trained by veteran Eric Paulson in Orange County, Calif., the 30-year-old Wilks is a striker.
James Bryan (3-1):
A striker, Bryan, 25, is from Somerset, England.
Dan James (3-0):
A striker from Swansea, Wales, he’s finished two of his three pro bouts.
Gary Kelly (2-1):
A striker, the 25-year-old Kelly trains alongside Bisping and Jackson at Wolfslair in Liverpool, England.
Jeff Lawson (13-2):
A submission fighter with 12 finishes, Lawson trains with Team Bulldog in Dorset, England.
Ross Pearson (9-3):
A striker, Pearson trains at Sunderland Jiu-Jitsu & MMA Club in Sunderland, England.
Martin Stapleton (5-1):
A Muay Thai fighter, Stapleton is a product of Quannum Combat Arts.
A.J. Wenn (7-2):
A well-rounded fighter from the Tsunami Gym, Wenn is from Cambs, England.
Andre Winner (9-2-1):
Winner is a member of the Rough House team in London and is coming off a loss and a draw in his two fights prior to appearing on the show.