Watch: The Insane Fight That Made UFC Popular

Published 04/09/2020, 6:13 PM EDT
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The UFC, as an organization, dates more than 25 years back. However, it didn’t always have the bright lights under which it has garnered millions of viewers. If it was one fight that had the biggest role to play in propelling UFC into mainstream attention, it was Stephan Bonnar vs Forest Griffin in the finale of the first season of Ultimate Fighter, 15 years ago on this very day.

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What went down like an over the top night of Octagon action is now indelibly etched in people’s memory. The fight is a part of MMA folklore. It is the one point which you can’t afford to leave if you’re recalling MMA or UFC history. But what most people remember is only fifteen minutes of carnage. How the fighters and the UFC reached to the point is a story as wild as the fight itself.

The Beginning – One last attempt to uplift a failing business

The Fertitta brothers had bought the UFC in 2001 for $2 million. The casino owners expected the business to make a profit. As a result, they kept investing more money. However, profits were slim. This way they could never fulfil their vision for the sport.

So they threw in the Hail Mary. The Fertitta brothers and Dana White convinced Spike TV to telecast a show that would have 16 fighters in a house. Eventually, they would compete for a UFC contract. Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell were brought in as coaches. The move showed that UFC was putting in everything, every bit of money and the very best fighters that they had as coaches.

The journey in the house was made of stuff that was cut out for reality TV. It had its moments of chaos just like all other reality shows. The biggest one being when Chris Leben, Josh Koscheck and Bobby Southworth broke out a fight and damaged property.

The single high point of the season was when Dana White delivered, what Producer Craig Piligian recalls as, the single greatest speech in reality show history.

The Fight – When two fighters pushed each other to the limit

The show had fighters form two-weight classes – Middleweight and Light Heavyweight. Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin met in the Light Heavyweight final. Both of them came from very different backgrounds. Forrest had almost given up on fighting right before he was cast on the show. He joined the show after requesting a leave of absence from his job as a sheriff’s deputy.

(Picture Credit: @ufc on Twitter)

Stephan, on the other hand, had been training since a very young age. A Carlson Gracie product, Bonnar almost got himself kicked out from the house in an attempt to sneak out of the house to get alcohol.

But none of it mattered when the door of the Octagon was shut. The previous two fights on the card of TUF finale had been a bit underwhelming. The onus was now on both of them to cap off TUF’s dream run.

As soon as the bell rang it was an all-out slugfest. Neither men cared much about technique. All they did was throw everything they had. Not even halfway into the first round, Joe Rogan exclaimed, “What a war between these two guys.”

The action dropped momentarily in the second round before going up several notches. Griffin’s face was bloodied up. So much that the referee had to stop the fight and check upon him. The blood only made both of them hungrier for what was at stake, a six-figure UFC contract.

The third round was fought purely on will. Both the fighters were exhausted. But that didn’t stop them from swinging for the fences. A stipulation was already added that if the fight was a draw after three rounds, they would go an additional round to decide the winner. But as it turned out that wasn’t needed.

The result and the aftermath – When no one lost

Before announcing the results, Bruce Buffer said on the mic what most of the viewers were feeling anyway, “three rounds of the greatest action seen inside the octagon in the history of the UFC.”

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All the three judges had scored it 29-28 in the favour of Forrest. Stephan Bonnar’s leg had enough by then and he simply collapsed. Forrest picked him and the two warriors had nothing but respect for each other. The fight was over but the legacy was still about to be written inside the Octagon.

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In a spur of the moment division, the owners of the UFC announced that Stephan Bonnar would be given a six-figure contract as well. The fight delivered what the owners wanted. Television rating went through the roofs. It was then that they realised they had made it big.

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The show made TUF a regular staple of the UFC. Several big names, such as Tony Ferguson, Nate Diaz, Kamaru Usman and others are a product of the experiment that pumped a new life into the UFC. It gave the UFC a new television deal. That was the quintessential push that the organization needed.

Forrest and Stephan would go on to have successful careers in the UFC. Griffin even became a UFC champion. Their place was solidified in UFC history when both of them were inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame together in 2013.

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Rishabh Singh

655 articles

Rishabh Singh is an MMA author at EssentiallySports since 2020. An engineer in the making, his love for combat sports began by watching Anderson Silva light people up inside the Octagon. When he isn't busy in his technical pursuits, he is an avid reader with a love for sports in general and sporting history in particular.

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