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Hindsight is 20/20
For a certain type of sports fan, the draft is one of the most exciting events of the season, a chance to test their own scouting chops against the so-called pros or simply see how prospects pan out once they hit the next level. Decisions are made in the presence of unknowns, risks are taken or avoided, and plenty of picks look either inspired or ridiculous with the benefit of hindsight.
Since its 2005 debut, each season of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s reality series “The Ultimate Fighter” has begun with a draft, as the two opposing coaches select fighters to represent them on the show, and much like an NFL or NBA draft, most of those drafts have had their share of steals as well as busts. Who are the Tom Bradys—or Sam Bowies—of “TUF?” Let’s find out, as we re-rank the draft picks for each season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” based on the fighters’ future achievements on the show and throughout their careers.
“The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil”
After 15 seasons of the UFC’s signature reality series, the producers of “The Ultimate Fighter” elected to try a foreign edition, and for a maiden voyage, frankly only one country made sense. Premiering in March of 2012, “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil” featured 16 fighters—whittled down from 32—divided between the middleweight and featherweight divisions, competing under the guidance of living legends Wanderlei Silva and Vitor Belfort, who were intended to fight at season’s end in a rematch of their famous meeting at UFC Brazil in 1998.
Structurally, there were a lot of new things going on. Most obviously, the show took place in a house and training facility in Brazil, all of the fighters were Brazilian and the show was in Portuguese. (Hence why this was the first “foreign” edition; Ross Pearson might have needed closed captions for American viewers, but these guys needed subtitles.) It aired on Brazilian TV, but streamed online for North American viewers. Unlike every other “TUF” season to date, the finale was not a free Fight Night on cable, but a numbered pay-per-view. UFC 147, which took place in Brazil, served as the de facto season finale and featured every cast member fit to fight, leading into a main event between Silva and Rich Franklin that was booked when Belfort withdrew with an injury.
Beyond the purely procedural, however, “TUF Brazil” had a vibe that was utterly unique. The escalating arms race of vile pranks from previous seasons gave way to something sillier and gentler. Where once there had been fighters urinating on each other’s beds, masturbating onto sushi or running around the house spitting mouthfuls of chewed food at each other, the grossest thing on “TUF Brazil” was that the kitchen got really messy. Where previous seasons had featured borderline psychotic episodes of thrown glassware and fighters actually being sent home for brawling in the house, the only people on “TUF Brazil” who appeared legitimately close to swinging on each other were Silva and Belfort.
While many things about “TUF Brazil” felt new, at least a few were as old as the series itself. Most importantly for our purposes, the coaches were as terrible at drafting as ever. Credit where credit is due—this is the first season of “TUF” in which both season tournaments were won by the top draft picks—but outside of that bit of trivia, it’s a mess in here, just like the kitchen in the “TUF” house. Let’s clean her up.
Pre-TUF Record: 10-1
Post-TUF Record: 16-6
The second oldest fighter in the house, “Massaranduba” was the fourth middleweight taken, which isn’t too bad considering he was a lightweight. Not a borderline lightweight or a ‘tweener who sometimes bounced up to welterweight, either, but a full-time 155-pounder and the reigning Jungle Fight champion at that weight. Despite only having 11 fights before the show, Trinaldo’s credits included victories over Pride Fighting Championships veteran Luiz Firmino and future Octagon co-worker Adriano Martins, while his lone loss was in his seventh professional fight against 25-fight veteran Iuri Alcantara, who would also be in the UFC shortly.
Trinaldo’s performance on the show was not terribly impressive, as he was too exhausted to get to his feet for the third round of his quarterfinal against Thiago Perpetuo, losing by TKO. Worse yet, the tiebreaker round was of questionable necessity in the first place, as most observers seemed to believe “Bodao” had won the first two. Despite the deflating loss, he received a chance to prove himself—every fighter on the show got at least one fight in the UFC—and made the best of it, mugging Delson Heleno at UFC 147 for a first-round TKO.
That earned Trinaldo a second and more crucial opportunity: the chance to drop back down to lightweight, which he did immediately. Since then, he has ground out a remarkable career, racking up over 20 appearances in the UFC’s deepest division without ever losing back-to-back fights. For the most part his losses have come against top-flight competition, and he has skirted the edges of the Top 10 several times, most notably in 2016, when he capped off a seven-fight win streak by mauling Paul Felder at UFC Fight Night 95. Not bad for the guy on “TUF Brazil” who seemed too old and too small to make much of a splash, and incredibly, the 42-year-old remains active and competitive, having gone 3-0 in the 12 months leading up to this redraft. While he may have more to show before all is said and done, “Massaranduba” has already done more than enough to lock down the No. 1 spot.
Pre-TUF Record: 4-2
Post-TUF Record: 9-6
Notable Achievements: “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil” winner (middleweight)
Ahead of the draft, Ferreira was in many ways the polar opposite of Trinaldo. Where “Massaranduba” had been an aging lightweight with modest expectations, “Mutante” was one of the younger fighters on the show and a physical specimen. (Sure, Trinaldo was a specimen as well, just a smaller one.) Ferreira had the hallmarks of a future star for several reasons, including his relationship with Belfort, which had begun when Ferreira was in his teens and fell somewhere between coach, mentor and adoptive parent. Unsurprisingly, Belfort chose his protégé with his first pick, making Ferreira the first middleweight taken.
Of course, all of the hype around being the Phenom’s phenom would have been for naught if Ferreira couldn’t fight, but there was no problem there. Ferreira ripped through Leonardo Mafra Texeira and Thiago de Oliveira Perpetuo in the first two rounds; his head kick icing of “Bodao” in the semifinal is still one of the greatest knockouts in “TUF” history. (It also landed him a nice bonus in the form of a Ford truck, for finishing his fights in the shortest total time.) That paved his way to the middleweight final, where he defeated Moraes by unanimous decision to secure his place as the “TUF Brazil” middleweight winner.
With his lovely etched glass trophy in hand, “Mutante” went on to compile a 9-6 mark in the UFC before signing earlier this year with Professional Fighters League, where he is expected to compete next season. However, those dry facts don’t tell the full story of a career characterized by very high highs and equally low lows—which may or may not come as a surprise, considering his fight lineage. It isn’t on paper so much as in the optics; none of his losses have been to terrible fighters, but getting lamped by C.B. Dollaway in 39 seconds is an indelible image. Conversely, while he caught Thiago Santos before “Marreta” truly came into his own, Ferreira ran right through the future light heavyweight title challenger more convincingly than anyone has managed to do since. Along with the Santos scalp, decisive wins over early versions of Anthony Smith and Jack Hermansson anchor Ferreira’s post-“TUF” ledger.
Pre-TUF Record: 6-1
Post-TUF Record: 8-6-1 (8-5-1 UFC)
Moraes was the second to last middleweight taken and it isn’t immediately obvious why. He was a natural welterweight, sure, but certainly bigger than Trinaldo or Renee Forte, and the two-time Mundials champ was one of the most decorated grapplers of his era to cross over to MMA in his athletic prime. Whatever the reasons, “The Panther” went on to show everyone up as one of the greatest value picks in the history of the series. He was eliminated in the semifinals by Daniel Sarafian, but ended up taking his place in the final when Sarafian withdrew with an injury.
After losing to Ferreira at the finale, Moraes dropped back down to welterweight and went on an absolute tear, going 6-0-1 in his next seven fights and certifying himself one of the most intriguing rising contenders in the division. The ride came to a crashing halt courtesy of future champ Kamaru Usman, who was in the middle of his own win streak that is now at 12 fights and counting. From there, the decline was not long in coming, and he exited the UFC on three straight losses, a skid which he extended to four when he lost at Taura MMA 10 last weekend in Brazil. While it looks like a moot point in light of his ongoing competitive free-fall, Moraes would probably have come in behind Ferreira even before the losing streak, thanks to Ferreira’s more impressive peak wins and the result of their head-to-head meeting.
Pre-TUF Record: 8-0
Post-TUF Record: 6-6, 1 NC (5-6 UFC)
Another fantastic late pick for Belfort, Castro grappled his way to the featherweight final, where he lost to “Rony Jason.” His UFC record is better than the straight numbers look. The three-fight run that began with handing Noad Lahat his first career loss and ended with a first-round triangle choke of Andre Fili netted “Godofredo Pepey” three straight “Performance of the Night” bonuses and had him looking for all the world like a future contender. That didn’t last, but Castro’s losses were generally to very good fighters; in particular, getting his walking papers after losing three of four to Darren Elkins, Shane Burgos and Mirsad Bektic was a rough look.
After his exodus from the UFC, Castro won in Brave CF—now famous as an unexpected pipeline of prospects to the Octagon in the year of COVID-19—before logging a no-contest in a one-off fight in Russia. Still just 33, Castro may yet add to his ledger before hanging up the gloves, but he is already the top featherweight to come out of “TUF Brazil,” edging out Bezerra despite the head-to-head loss.
Pre-TUF Record: 10-3
Post-TUF Record: 5-6, 1 NC (4-4, 1 NC UFC)
Notable Achievements: “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil” winner (featherweight)
Bezerra was the first featherweight picked, and went on to win the featherweight tournament. That may sound like faint praise, but consider that it took until Season 14 for a fighter picked first to actually come in first, and “TUF Brazil” is the first season in which both tournaments were won by the top picks. After turning aside Castro in the final, “Rony Jason” embarked on a nine-fight Octagon run that began in promise and ended in flames. He won his first three, handing “Pepey” and Mike Wilkinson their first career losses in the process, then hit a wall. Of his last four UFC fights, he lost three, looking generally worse each time. His lone win during that stretch, a nifty triangle choke submission of Damon Jackson, was overturned to a no-contest after Bezerra tested positive for a banned diuretic, which cost him a “Performance of the Night” bonus as well as the win.
Shortly afterward, Bezerra was embroiled in controversy when video surfaced of him appearing to beat his sister in public, a disturbing allegation that might have led to his dismissal from the UFC even if he weren’t already washing out competitively. Since leaving the UFC, he has gone 1-2 against decent competition in Mexico and Russia, but has not competed thus far in 2020.
6. Rodrigo DammOriginal Draft Position: 8 (Team Vitor)
Pre-TUF Record: 9-5
Post-TUF Record: 3-4
The well-traveled Damm came to “TUF Brazil” with a deceptively strong 9-5 record that included stops in Strikeforce, Sengoku and BodogFight, and matchups with some of the best lightweights in the world—crushing Jorge Masvidal with a huge overhand right in Sengoku has obviously aged well, but was a huge feather in the cap even at the time. A career lightweight, Damm’s performance on the show suffered from the need to cut to 145 pounds; while he squeaked past John Teixeira in their quarterfinal, he pulled out afterward with reported kidney failure and was replaced by Marcos Vinicius Borges.
Nonetheless, he made featherweight for the finale with enough left in the tank to pull off a very impressive first-round submission of Team Vitor compatriot Anistavio "Gasparzinho." That opened the door for Damm to move to his preferred weight class and show what he could really do, but in contrast with middleweight housemates Trinaldo and Moraes, Damm’s results were mediocre. His three UFC wins include two fighters who were dropped immediately afterward in Medeiros and Mizuto Hirota, and one in Ivan Jorge who didn’t exactly set the Octagon on fire either. Conversely, while all four of his losses were to at least decent lightweights—much better than decent, in the cases of Rashid Magomedov and Al Iaquinta—he also wasn’t very close to beating most of them. After Damm’s final UFC turn, which saw Evan Dunham snap a three-fight skid at his expense, he never fought again.
7. Hugo VianaOriginal Draft Position: 4 (Team Vitor)
Pre-TUF Record: 5-0
Post-TUF Record: 3-4 (3-3 UFC)
Goodness only knows why Belfort took Viana as his first featherweight, considering “Wolverine” was the smallest and the least experienced fighter in the house. (However, since Belfort was the one with the presence of mind to finally snap up Moraes in the second-to-last round, we’ll call his draft a wash.) However, the diminutive Bahian with the namesake mutton chops made Team Vitor look pretty damned good for a while, even giving eventual tournament winner “Rony Jason” a pretty good fight in their semifinal. At the finale, he met the visibly larger Teixeira—who blew weight by five pounds to boot—and beat him, more convincingly than the split verdict would seem to imply. Handing “Macapa” his first career defeat represented by far the best win of Viana’s career to that point, and seemed to point to good things as he prepared to drop to bantamweight.
Unfortunately, it ended up being his best career win, period. Much like his onetime teammate Damm, Viana beat the average fighters while losing soundly to the good ones—though T.J. Dillashaw and Aljamain Sterling may be an even more murderous draw than what Damm had to deal with—and after one loss in the pre-Legacy Fighting Alliance-era RFA nearly five years ago, Viana disappeared from active competition.
Pre-TUF Record: 7-2
Post-TUF Record: 4-4 (2-4 UFC)
Like fellow middleweight competitors Trinaldo and Renee Forte, Sarafian stood about 5-foot-8, but nobody was waiting for him to drop to 155 after the show. An absolute tank of a man, Sarafian’s 7-2 pre-show record featured some criminal matchmaking, pun fully intended, as his second professional fight was against “TUF 2” alum Mike Whitehead, who was 20-5 and on an 11-fight win streak at the time. (While Sarafian lost, he defeated Cedric Marks a year later to go 1-1 against future felons in his first four fights.)
On the show, Sarafian went full Hulk on future lightweight Forte and future welterweight Moraes to punch his ticket to the final, looking every bit as impressive as “Mutante” in crushing his side of the bracket and setting up what promised to be an interesting middleweight final. Unfortunately, we was pulled from UFC 147 with an unspecified injury, but made his promotional debut the next January. From there, highlights are few and far between, and Sarafian’s 2-4 record in the UFC may be even worse than it looks. Some of the losses were close, including split decisions against Dollaway and Ferreira, but being obliterated in 60 seconds by Oluwale Bamgbose, who ended up 1-4 in the UFC, is not a good look. Meanwhile, his two Octagon wins were over fighters with a combined UFC record of 0-3, and even then, Sarafian was losing to Antonio dos Santos Jr. until a freak finger injury halted the fight in the second round. After his release from the UFC, Sarafian picked up wins in the pre-Legacy Fighting Alliance-era LFC and the pre- Absolute Championship Akhmat-era ACB before appearing to retire in 2018.
Pre-TUF Record: 12-0-1
Post-TUF Record: 11-5-1 (0-1 UFC)
“The Ultimate Fighter” can sometimes be a flawed measuring stick for UFC prospects. In some cases the show picks up a fighter too early in their career—or too late. Sometimes the pressure cooker of a frat-house-with-cameras isn’t a good indicator of how fighters will perform under normal circumstances, in their home training environment. Sometimes a fighter captures lightning in a bottle—think of Amir Sadollah ripping through Season 7 in one of the most dominant runs the show has ever seen, only to become an average UFC welterweight.
Teixeira is something of an anti-Sadollah: a fighter who was and perhaps still is skilled enough to be a solid UFC featherweight, but fell flat on the occasions he had a chance to show it. On the show, he was eliminated in a close fight by Damm. At the finale, “Macapa” lost another competitive, but clear-cut decision, only this time he missed weight as well, and that was it for Teixeira—not yet 26 years old at the time—and the UFC. Teixeira promptly went on a 10-fight unbeaten streak, mostly in Shooto Brazil and Bellator, which only ended when he came up against the cream of Bellator’s featherweight crop.
10. Delson HelenoOriginal Draft Position: 3 (Team Wanderlei)
Pre-TUF Record: 23-6
Post-TUF Record: 7-5 (0-1 UFC)
The oldest and easily the most experienced fighter on “TUF Brazil,” Heleno’s nearly 30-fight ledger included a distinguished run in International Fight League and some notable names, including a stoppage win over Jake Ellenberger. Significantly, Heleno’s pre-“TUF” losses had all been to very good—and in several cases far more experienced—fighters.
While “Pe de Chumbo” may have looked like a safe pick when he was the second middleweight off the board, his performance on the show was a disaster, as he got embarrassed by the lightly-regarded Moraes in a first-round submission loss. At the finale, a meeting with Trinaldo ended in similar fashion, with the primary difference being that “Massaranduba” elected to punch Heleno out after tossing him to the ground, rather than choking him out as Moraes had done. With his UFC one-and-done behind him, Heleno fought on until well after his 40th birthday, primarily in Brazil and Russia, racking up a 7-4 record against solid competition.
Pre-TUF Record: 6-0
Post-TUF Record: 9-5 (1-3 UFC)
The youngest cast member on the show at 22, Mafra came to the show with a 6-0 record compiled entirely in southern Brazil. He was the last middleweight chosen, probably in part because he was a welterweight and in part because his record was almost as paper-thin as it was squeaky-clean—handing Santiago Ponzinibbio his first career loss has aged incredibly well, but that wouldn’t become apparent for a couple more years. “Macarrao” held his own for a round and change before being slammed and choked out by Ferreira, but he did better against the eventual tournament winner than anyone else before the finals.
At the finale, Mafra gave as good as he got for two rounds against Thiago de Oliveira Perpetuo before getting blasted early in the third. He then went back to Brazil, racked up a five-fight win streak and earned another shot in the UFC. Second time was not the charm, as he managed a win against Cain Carrizosa—who would go winless in the Octagon—sandwiched between ugly losses to the two decent UFC-level fighters he faced. He has gone 3-2 since then against a variety of middling or extremely shopworn foes, but nonetheless gets the nod here ahead of de Oliveira Perpetuo despite the head-to-head loss.
Pre-TUF Record: 15-7
Post-TUF Record: 4-3 (0-1 UFC)
While it’s true that No. 1 picks on “TUF” rarely turn out to be the best fighter in the long term—or even for the next six weeks—it’s also true that the last fighter picked usually turns out not to be…bad, but not quite that bad. “Gasparzinho” was drafted dead last, had the misfortune of drawing eventual season winner Bezerra in the quarterfinals. Only he didn’t draw him at random, but was intentionally matched with him by Belfort. Why Belfort would match his last pick against Silva’s first pick, when the two were good friends to boot, was mystifying. It led to one of the rawest moments of coach strife on the season, with Silva furious that Belfort would do such a thing, in spite of it leading to Silva’s fighter getting an easy win. Nonetheless, once “Rony Jason” put Medeiros’ arm on backwards for him in a few minutes, Medeiros could go back to being the benign class clown of “TUF Brazil.”
“Gasparzinho” returned at the finale, where he fared no better against Damm, getting choked out in half a round. He soldiered on for a couple more years, going 4-2 against largely anonymous opposition, but has not fought since 2014.
Pre-TUF Record: 19-3-1
Post-TUF Record: 5-8 (1-2 UFC)
One of two fighters on “TUF Brazil” who got a second chance in their tournament due to another fighter’s injury or illness, Borges did not make the most of his windfall. Where Moraes stepped in for Sarafian, put in a valiant showing against Ferreira and then went on to a solid run in the UFC, “Vina” was recalled after losing to Viana only to lose to Castro even more convincingly. While he finally got a win at the finale, it was at the expense of the worst fighter of the season in Wagner Campos, and TKO losses in his next two Octagon appearances spelled the end of Borges’ UFC run.
Afterward, Borges stayed busy for several more years, but that’s about all you can say for him. His 4-6 post-UFC record is even worse than it looks, inflated as it is by wins over fighters with 1-5 and 1-6 records, and most embarrassingly, a victory over a debuting fighter in what would be Borges’ farewell fight.
Pre-TUF Record: 8-1-1
Post-TUF Record: 1-3 (1-2 UFC)
De Oliveira feels like a might-have-been fighter in some ways, or at least one who might have had more to show us if he had been managed differently. “Bodao” entered the season with a record that looked decent on paper, but featured almost no substantial competition. His run on the show ended up being his apex, competitively speaking; his victorious war of attrition with Trinaldo in the quarterfinal is easily the best win of his career, while handing Leonardo Mafra his first career defeat at the finale—after another rousing battle—is the best win on his official record. Unfortunately, that was it for de Oliveira, who lost his last three fights by stoppage. Even in that losing streak, there’s the feeling of near-miss, as Omari Akhmedov, Kenny Robertson and Alberto Emiliano Pereira were all brutal challenges at the time he fought them, but have aged horribly.
15. Renee ForteOriginal Draft Position: 11 (Team Wanderlei)
Pre-TUF Record: 7-1
Post-TUF Record: 1-3
Of all the ersatz middleweights on “TUF Brazil,” Forte alone looked as if he might feasibly have tried out at featherweight, and in fact appeared to be about the same size as Damm. However, he was a middleweight, at least for six weeks, and ended up having to take on the extra-burly Sarafian in his quarterfinal. He put up a valorous fight, but was predictably crumpled into a ball for his efforts.
Perhaps because he was so clearly undersized, and perhaps also because he showed some sparks of personality, Forte was given every chance to succeed in the UFC. He made his Octagon debut against Moraes a few months after the finale, and gave the tournament runner-up all he could handle for two rounds before succumbing to a rear-naked choke late in the third. Dropping all the way to lightweight, Forte defeated Terry Etim—yes, in the fight right after that one—before dropping his next two. After the last one, a loss to the debuting Francisco Trevino for which Forte also missed weight, he was released by the promotion. He never fought again.
16. Wagner CamposOriginal Draft Position: 13 (Team Wanderlei)
Pre-TUF Record: 11-3
Post-TUF Record: 1-7 (0-1 UFC)
In hindsight, there were some warning signs that “Galeto” was about to go over a cliff, competitively speaking. His record looked decent on paper—through his first 10 fights, his only loss was to John Lineker—but was heavily padded with debuting or sub-.500 fighters. Most damningly, in his three fights directly before the show he had gone 1-2. While current Bellator contender Leandro Higo is a forgivable loss, the other was to an 0-3 fighter who got his first career win at Campos’ expense. The win is even worse, as Eduardo Borba was 0-4 at the time, on his way to 0-8.
After being bounced from the featherweight tournament by “Godofredo Pepey,” Campos stopped by the finale just long enough to be pounded out by Team Wanderlei teammate Borges (i.e. 64 seconds), then returned to Brazil and got back to the serious business of losing a lot of fights. After a decision win over Fernando Duarte Bagordache that is not even as good as it looks, Campos rattled off six straight losses, five by stoppage, in several cases to fighters who were not much above .500 themselves. He has not fought professionally since a second-round TKO loss in the Imortal FC cage in 2016.