Gearing up for UFC 100 -- five days and counting! -- Yahoo! Sports has been looking back at every UFC event from 1-99, but it's hard to look back and not realize the importance that "The Ultimate Fighter" television show has had in the growth of the UFC. The finale of each show has become an event in its own right, where the season's finalists square off for the six-figure UFC contract, and UFC fighters headline the card. Here are the top five fights from those events:
5. Rashad Evans defeats Brad Imes by split decision, TUF 2, November 5, 2005: Evans was physically overmatched in this bout. His 5'11" frame seemed tiny next to the 6'7" Imes. But the future light heavyweight champion knocked Imes down twice in a slugfest that saw both fighters look inexperienced but determined to win that six-figure contract.
4. Diego Sanchez beats Clay Guida via split decision, TUF 9, June 20, 2009: This bout was the best fight on a card so good that three Fight of the Night bonuses were awarded. Sanchez rocked Guida early, and it looked as if "The Carpenter" was finished in the first round, but Guida's well-known determination showed as he survived the early onslaught. Sanchez continued to try to put Guida away, but had to hold off Guida's elbows and takedowns. With this win, Sanchez put himself into title contention in the lightweight division.
3. B.J. Penn submits Jens Pulver, TUF 5, June 23, 2007: Pulver and Penn were both coaches of season five of "The Ultimate Fighter," and both trash-talked throughout the series. Penn discounted Pulver's victory between the two, and Pulver laughed at Penn's "warrior" attitude. Penn got the better of the two legends in their rematch, as he submitted Pulver via rear naked choke in the second round. This ended up being Pulver's final fight in the UFC, as he dropped down to featherweight and the WEC for his next bout.
2. Roger Huerta defeats Clay Guida via rear naked choke, TUF 6, December 8, 2007: Phew. This fight had me literally standing on my couch and yelling. The two lightweights, at that point considered up-and-comers in the UFC, went toe to toe on their feet, traded control on the ground, and just didn't stop for the entire fight. Going into the third round, Guida looked as if he was winning after two rounds, controlling Huerta much of the fight with ground and pound, but Huerta came back in the third round, evading Guida's takedown, and sinking in a rear naked choke for the win.
1. Forrest Griffin wins by unanimous decision over Stephen Bonnar, TUF 1April 9, 2005: It's hard to overstate the importance of this fight. "The Ultimate Fighter" had built up a new following of fight fans who were drawn in by the raw but talented fighters on the first season of the show. However, to cement that following, the UFC really needed interesting fights from the show's finalists, Diego Sanchez and Kenny Florian at middleweight and Stephen Bonnar and Forrest Griffin at light heavyweight. Rich Franklin and Ken Shamrock headlined the card, but they were not the stars of the night.
Sanchez finished Florian quickly with a first-round TKO, but Griffin and Bonnar had a fight that people still talk about today. The two showed everything in their arsenal, and engaged in a three-round, bloody battle in which neither fighter showed an ounce of quit. Griffin won the unanimous decision, but Bonnar's heart and effort in the fight won him a UFC contract on the spot.
This fight is at the top of the list not only because it was a three-round, unrelenting battle, but also because it happened at the exact moment that the UFC needed it to happen. The UFC was hardly the cash machine it is now, and they took a chance that unknown fighters on a reality show would save the company. Luckily enough, that's exactly what Griffin, Bonnar, Sanchez and Florian and the rest of the cast did. Several fighters from that season have now gone onto become UFC stars, and "The Ultimate Fighter" is currently taping its tenth season, slated to air this fall on Spike.
Did we miss anything? Do you disagree? Tell us in the comments.