While everyone remembers the finale of the first season on The Ultimate Fighter for the epic encounter between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar, two other men battled for the same title earlier in the evening. Diego Sanchez and Kenny Florian squared off to determine the middleweight winner of TUF 1.
Though “The Nightmare” came out on top that night, Florian has flourished more in the five years since. The MMA Live analyst has put together an 11-2 record since Sanchez dominated him in April 2005, with those two losses coming in championship fights. Sometimes, it’s not the fighter who wins the finale who ends up being the best contestant that season produces. DaMarques Johnson is starting to show the same can be said of the cast from Season 9 as well.
Heading into his bout with James Wilks in the finale of the hit reality TV show’s ninth season, Johnson looked to be the man who would emerge with the “six-figure contract” and the title of The Ultimate Fighter. In fact, his battle with Britain’s Nick Osipczak in the semifinals was deemed the de facto finale by some who gave Wilks little chance of up-ending the Utah-based welterweight.
Johnson’s dreams of earning the title of The Ultimate Fighter were choked out of him by Wilks in the first round, pushing the British-born Laguna Hills, California native into “TUF Winner” territory, and leaving Johnson left to play the part of Kenny Florian to Wilks’ Diego Sanchez.
Since the season finale, Johnson has overtaken his welterweight contemporary and been the more impressive of the two. While Wilks has looked uneven in amassing a 1-1 record out of the gate, Johnson has looked strong in earning back-to-back Fight Night bonuses while beating Edgar Garcia and Brad Blackburn. Just as Florian eventually overtook Sanchez as the top contender to emerge from the middleweight competition on Season One, Johnson will look to do the same to Wilks this weekend by extending his winning streak to three over fellow TUF alum Matthew Riddle.
Johnson, a member of the United States Army who trains with UFC veteran Jeremy Horn’s Elite Performance team, may not ascend to the heights that Florian has achieved since moving to lightweight, but he’s already established himself as an exciting part of the welterweight division. Both his first round triangle choke of Garcia and the devastating body kick that buckled Blackburn were deserving of the bonus money they earned, and the performances put him in line with lightweight winner Ross Pearson in terms of competitors with the best upside since the cameras went off.
Adding another win this weekend will continue to push Johnson ahead of his welterweight contemporaries from Season 9. The TUF 6 competitor is a strong wrestler who has been able to grind out wins against Dante Rivera and Dan Cramer, as well as dominating Greg Soto before an illegal upkick ended their bout at UFC 111. Though ranking behind Riddle on the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu belt chart, Johnson has shown a greater aptitude when it comes to submissions, and possesses the more complete stand-up skills as well.
When you watched Diego Sanchez mount and finish Kenny Florian in their bout on the TUF 1 Finale, it was hard to picture the beaten Boston College grad evolving into the better of the two fighters, but that is exactly what has happened.
The same can be said of DaMarques Johnson.
Though he failed to earn a six-figure contract or the title of “The Ultimate Fighter,” Johnson may have earned something more important in the process – perspective. Fancy titles can only carry you so far; at the end of the day, how you perform in the cage is what carries the most weight, and right now, no one from the Season 9 cast of The Ultimate Fighter is performing better than DaMarques Johnson.