Being the number one pick in a series of “The Ultimate Fighter” is almost the kiss of death. Your chances of winning the show plummet. Needless to say, Sam Alvey looks to be the most recent victim of the ”TUF Curse” barring some unforeseen occurrence that puts him back in the running.
What explains the jinx? Sure, expectations are raised significantly. So is the pressure. The coaches (and Dana) don’t see you as someone who will just use The Ultimate Fighter as a one-and-done exhibition stage? You’re expected to win. Win 4 times. And then win again in the UFC. You are expected to following the footsteps of a laundry list of fighters who have been chosen #1 and had substantial UFC careers after the show. Flaming out is not an option.
Just look at some of the guys who were selected number 1 by their coaches:
If you were starting your own promotion, you could do far worse than having this roster. Yet, all the fighters listed above share something in common.
None of them won the show. Only a handful even made it into the finals.
You know who did? Rony Jason and Cezar Mutante
Both of TUF Brazil’s top picks ended up becoming TUF champions in that country’s inaugural season. Put them alongside TUF 14’s Diego Brandao and season 2’s Joe Stevenson as #1 picks who won the show.
That’s four winners out of nearly thirty first picks. Between fifteen seasons (so far) of the American version, and both international versions, there’s a possible 28 total #1 picks. (Seasons 4, 9 and the current “Australia vs. UK” didn’t have teams picked by coaches in the way every other season has.) This leaves us 28 fighters who someone has seen and said “I have to have him on my team over everyone else” and only four of them have delivered on the promise of winning the show.
Some got close, sure.
Michael Johnson lost a tough decision to Jonathan Brookins.
Al Iaquinta couldn’t derail the Michael Chiesa’s train of momentum in last season’s “Live” series.
CB Dollaway lost to Amir Sadollah twice, once in the finals and once on the show. (Due to Jesse Taylor’s inability to stay both sober and non-violent to the Las Vegas public.)
But it’s about more than just TUF. The No. 1 pick means the UFC’s eyes are square on you. Even if you don’t win the show, odds are good performance will still land you a UFC contract. Then it’s up to each fighter to convert, and sadly again, the jinx rears its head as no number 1 pick from The Ultimate Fighter has ever won a UFC title.
Gray Maynard came literally as close as possible fighting Frankie Edgar to a draw at UFC 125. But most others pale in comparison. Junie Browning remains TUF’s biggest disappointment in potential unrealized and a large chunk of the guys who get picked first haven’t stuck around the UFC longer than the TUF Finale.
The math doesn’t lie.
Out of a possible 28 fighters, four have gone on to win the glass trophy and the guaranteed UFC contract. It’s a 1 in 7 chance if you go #1, about 14% or so, a note this season’s other number 1 pick, Dom Waters, should heed well. Not winning is the norm.
How to buck the trend?
See TUF for what it is. A 16-man free-for-all where anything can happen. Your ego needs to be left at the door and you have to fight one fight at a time. And should you be fortunate enough to come out the victor, remember, the game is not over. The game never ended. You’re in the UFC now. And you’re only as good as your last fight.