Sure, we tune in for the fights at the end of each episode, the trash-talk between the coaches, and Dana White occasionally showing up to kick somebody’s ass out of the house. But over 12 seasons of The Ultimate Fighter, it’s the peripheral characters that are responsible for the show’s best moments. Take this season, for example — would it be nearly as interesting if Coach GSP didn’t bring in a special guest every week to shake up his team? With that in mind, here’s our tribute to the under-appreciated minor players that have kept TUF on its toes for the last six years…
#9: Willa Ford
In an effort to inject some eye candy into their new reality show, the UFC cast model/singer/actress Willa Ford as the host of The Ultimate Fighter‘s first season. (Her main duty was to introduce those weird elimination challenges that marked the show’s early days.) Willa was gone by season two, leaving us with fond memories of a time when TUF‘s non-stop sweaty dudeness was occasionally broken up by a pretty face.
Dude flies in from Paris, shows up to the TUF gym drunk, and gives GSP’s entire team the worst beating of their lives. What’s not to like?
#7: Mike Rowe
Even if you know Mike Rowe from his Dirty Jobs hosting gig and commercial pitchman duties, you might not be aware that he’s been the narrator of TUF for the entire series. In a voice that’s noticeably more aggro than his usual world-weary everyman drawl, Rowe helpfully reminds us what happened in last week’s episode, and teases the major action of the following week. You’ll never see his face, but once you hear the phrase "Who will become, the Ultimate, Fighterrrrr?," you know it’s time to bear witness to the fitness of the modern warrior.
#6: Ray Longo
Long Island’s greatest Italian-American striking coach made his first appearance in a TUF 4 segment on Matt Serra, and returned two seasons later to assist the Terror with pad-holding and ball-busting. Ray Longo was a Paulie Cicero-like presence on TUF 6 — he might have moved slow, but it’s only because he didn’t have to move for anybody. During the infamous Joe Scarola situation (see video above), Longo blessed us with the line "You gotta change the way you look at things, and things you look at change." That phrase is currently tattooed across my chest.
#5: The Cardboard Box
You know the deal: Every season, the head coaches square off in the "coaches’ challenge," putting their non-MMA-related athletic skills to the test; traditionally, the winning coach gets $10,000 and each fighter on his team gets $1,000. The presentation of the cash is one of TUF‘s best running gags. Instead of a locked Samsonite briefcase accompanied by an armed guard, Dana White brings the money along in whatever broke-ass cardboard box was available at the time. Yeah, we know the box is an inanimate object, but few recurring characters on the show are responsible for more excitement and good times.
#4: Karo Parisyan
Season five of The Ultimate Fighter marked the last time that contestants’ cousins were allowed to drop by and start trouble. When Manny Gamburyan was part of the TUF 5 cast, his cousin Karo came in for a two-episode arc where he basically tried to take over the team from Coach Pulver. But Nate Diaz doesn’t appreciate being ordered around and grabbed all up on his neck and shit. Words were exchanged, chests were puffed out, and the two almost came to blows. Furious, Karo had to be escorted out of the building, where he delivered the line that would haunt him forever: "Do you even know me? Do you know who I am?" No, he did not add "bro" at the end — that’s a common misconception — but feel free to keep including it whenever you do an impression of him.
#3: Mike Tyson
Mike Tyson is one of the most fascinating characters in sports history, and every time he makes a public appearance, it’s an event. Long removed from the brashness of his youth, Tyson visited Team GSP on season 12 to impart some of his hard-earned wisdom. Of course, the guys totally geeked out, particularly St. Pierre himself, who described Mike as "my idol growing up." It was a truly inspirational moment for the red team — and one that made us wish Iron Mike could come back as a head coach for season 13.
#2: Arianny Celeste‘s ass
Even when the fights fall short of greatness, we can always rely on the familiar, comforting sight of Arianny’s backside as she makes her first lap around the cage. During the last two seasons of TUF, Arianny’s ass has occasionally been replaced with Chandella Powell‘s ass — which is fine, don’t get us wrong — but we’re still partial to this old classic.
Come on, this should have been obvious. TUF 8 assistant coach Al Stankie was like Mickey Goldmill come to life, but twice as crazy. His oddball pep talks and love of sardines were entertaining enough, but it’s the stuff you didn’t see that truly made him an icon. Like the time he showed up to the Palms wearing his Team Nogueira rashguard and slapped a Celtics fan. Or his emotional sparring session against Efrain Escudero. ("Ponchita, I did this for you!") Of course, he was also a walking quote factory, giving us such lines as "Wouldn’t it be nice if you were so good on top you didn’t have to go down and get dirty, smell all those farts, bam bam bam bam! Wouldn’t that be nice?” Ah, Stankie. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore…
Dishonorable Mentions: The Worst Peripheral Characters in ’Ultimate Fighter’ History
– Tiki Ghosn, obviously.
– Noah Inhofer’s girlfriend, Dan Barrera’s wife, Mike Wessel‘s wife, and every other lame chick who brought b.s. drama into the fighters’ lives. The YMCA lifeguard who seduced Jeremy Jackson on season 4 gets a pass because that dude probably had issues to begin with.
– Jose Aguilar. Forgot about Hitler Dog, didn’t you?
Did we leave out your favorite Ultimate Fighter supporting character? Let us know in the comments section.