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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.
Season 12: Team GSP vs. Team Koscheck
Season 12 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” which began taping in June 2010 and aired beginning in September, featured an all-lightweight cast under the guidance of UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre and top contender Josh Koscheck. Both coaches were familiar faces to fans of the show, as Koscheck had been a standout competitor on the first season, while St. Pierre had been an “advisor” on the coach-less Season 4. The post-“TUF” clash between St. Pierre vs. Koscheck at UFC 124—a rematch of their first meeting three years before—was the first coaches’ fight since Season 8 to have a UFC belt on the line.
Just as in the previous season, “TUF 12” used a pool of 14 rather than 16 fighters, allowing each coach to bring back one eliminated fighter as a wild card. In terms of talent, Season 12 was a dud. While it isn’t the worst season so far—that distinction still belongs to Season 6—it is neck-and-neck with Season 9 for second worst. Season 12 produced two fighters who managed 10 or more UFC appearances, tied with Season 9 for the fewest so far, though to be fair, both of them have over 20 and are still with the promotion, adding to those numbers.
The bad news for those fans who tune in for the hijinks and drama rather than the fights is that “TUF 12” was largely a dud in that aspect as well. The presence of the genial, polite and very buttoned-down St. Pierre seemed to throw a wet blanket over some of the usual “TUF” madness and bad behavior, to the point that Koscheck was rarely able to jar him out of his shell despite trolling efforts so earnest yet inept that they merited the Seanbaby treatment. The good news for us is that St. Pierre and especially Koscheck were just as bad at scouting talent as any other pair of coaches in series history, so our work is cut out for us. Let us redraft the 14 competitors from Season 12 of “The Ultimate Fighter.”
Pre-TUF Record: 8-4
Post-TUF Record: 11-12
Johnson entered the “TUF” house a few days after his 24th birthday, boisterous and brimming with confidence; he had tried out for more than one previous season, and flat-out told producers he was going to keep coming back until they couldn’t ignore him. Johnson’s good, but not great 8-4 record was partly due to jumping right into the deep end of the pool—he was fighting solid 20-fight veterans by his second pro fight, and future UFC co-workers like James Krause shortly after. It was also due in part to the fact that he has always been capable of losing to fighters he should be able to beat, a trait that plagues him to this day.
“The Menace” was chosen second, thanks to his outstanding skill set and an impressive performance against Pablo Garza to win his way into the house. He survived two close rounds with Aaron Wilkinson before choking him out early in the third to advance to the semifinals, where he eliminated Caceres by unanimous decision. In the season final, Brookins won the last two of three wild rounds to earn the “TUF 12” championship trophy, but signing Johnson as well was a no-brainer for the UFC.
In the near-decade since the Season 12 finale, Johnson has mounted the most maddeningly inconsistent career in UFC history. His spectacular speed and power, complete striking arsenal and underrated offensive wrestling have carried him to convincing wins over the likes of Tony Ferguson, Edson Barboza and Dustin Poirier, yet lapses in concentration and strategy have led to lackluster decision losses or submissions at the hands of fighters who were nowhere near his talent level. Johnson appears to be in decline; in the nearly four years since he sparked Poirier for the best win of his career, Johnson has gone 2-6, including dropping his last three in a row. For now, however, the proud St. Louisan remains the most accomplished alumnus of Season 12.
2. Alex CaceresOriginal Draft Position: 8 (Team GSP)
Pre-TUF Record: 5-2
Post-TUF Record: 12-10, 1 NC
As the season began, Caceres frankly did not look like a future standout. The Floridian was very young—he turned 22 during filming—and unlike Johnson, his thin record looked even thinner under scrutiny, as he had lost to the only two decent fighters he had faced. In addition, while Season 12 featured quite a few future featherweights, Caceres looked like one, and in fact would fight as low as 135 pounds in the next few years. Accordingly, he was drafted eighth despite an impressive submission of Paul Barrow in his eliminator. He tapped out Jeff Lentz in his preliminary round fight, showing off the slick, aggressive ground game and quirky charisma that would define his run on “TUF” as well as his later career.
“Bruce Leeroy” was eliminated by his bigger, stronger and equally skilled teammate Johnson in the quarterfinals. He was invited to compete at the finale against Nam Phan, but had to withdraw after being injured in training. He made his Octagon debut a few months later, at featherweight. Since then, he has launched one of the more unlikely 20-fight UFC careers in memory. Though he got off to a shaky start, losing his first two and three of his first four, Caceres has not only hung around but gradually improved. While Caceres is only two fights above .500 in the UFC—though he would be 13-10 if not for the devil’s weed—he has several good wins on his ledger and almost no bad losses.
Considering that Caceres is still only 32 and fighting better than ever, it is possible that he may go down as the most accomplished “TUF 12” alum once all is said and done. However, for the time being, Johnson’s multiple victories over Top 10 fighters and head-to-head win over Caceres on the show keep “Bruce Leeroy” in the No. 2 spot.
Pre-TUF Record: 11-3
Post-TUF Record: 5-7 (2-3 UFC)
Notable Achievements: "The Ultimate Fighter" Season 12 winner
Brookins was drafted fourth, thanks to an impressive resume that featured solid wins over Yves Jabouin and Luis Palomino, decision losses to two far more experienced fighters in Harris Sarmiento and Greg Loughran, plus a third-round TKO at the hands of Jose Aldo in his lone appearance in the World Extreme Cagefighting cage. By the time “TUF 12” kicked off, Aldo was the WEC featherweight champ and fast becoming one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world, and if anything it was seen as a positive that Brookins had done as well as he had.
Brookins eliminated the Glendale Two, Magakian and Chivitchyan, by similarly dominant first-round submissions to make his way to the semifinals. He then outgrappled Watson for three one-sided rounds, earning a date at the final with teammate Johnson. Brookins outworked and outlasted Johnson to win the Season 12 championship, which ended up being the peak of his career. For a variety of reasons, some of which may not be clear, Brookins fizzled out quickly. The first issue is that he was matched up brutally. Dropping back down to featherweight immediately after the finale, Brookins’ next four opponents in the UFC were Erik Koch, Vagner Rocha, Charles Oliveira and Dustin Poirier. Ouch. He went 1-3, but frankly, only about eight featherweights on Earth would have done much better.
However, even after his dismissal from the UFC, Brookins seemed to deteriorate rather than regroup. Already a wispy 6-foot-tall featherweight, he unsuccessfully tried dropping all the way to 125 pounds, then settled at bantamweight, but continued to lose more than he won until 2017, when he made his final appearance to date.
Pre-TUF Record: 11-0
Post-TUF Record: 5-11 (3-4 UFC)
In the same way as previous season laughingstocks like Andy Wang, Gabe Ruediger and Kevin Ferguson, but to an even greater degree, McKenzie comes up earlier in the redraft than you might expect because his in-cage performances were overshadowed by the silliness. Despite having the only undefeated record of any fighter in the cast, McKenzie was chosen late because, to put it bluntly, he had been guillotining nobodies in the middle of nowhere. He also presented as a minus athlete compared to most of his castmates, and came off as an oddball, but where previous seasons had offered up variations on the likeable oddball in Luke Cummo and David Kaplan, McKenzie’s castmates and even coaches seemed to find him off-putting.
Despite all that, McKenzie had a good run on the show, winning his elimination fight as well as his preliminary bout in the house by lightning-quick guillotine. Nam Phan lanced him with a nasty body shot to eliminate him in their quarterfinal, but McKenzie came back at the finale and put away castmate Aaron Wilkinson with—yep—a first-round guillotine choke. UFC contract in hand, the “AK Kid” went on a not-completely-terrible run in the Octagon. His wins were both over good fighters, while his losses were to very good fighters and Chad Mendes in particular was a war crime of a matchup, even on short notice.
After his release from the UFC, however, the wheels started falling off the wagon quickly. The short version is that McKenzie went 2-7 in smaller and smaller shows, at higher and higher weights, while popping up in the news for increasingly ridiculous reasons. However much of a punchline he was by the end, however, McKenzie has three UFC wins, which is as many as all of the remaining fighters in this draft combined.
5. Andy MainOriginal Draft Position: 7 (Team Koscheck)
Pre-TUF Record: 4-1
Post-TUF Record: 8-3-1 (0-0 UFC)
Main was the fourth fighter picked by Koscheck and ended up having a better career than any of his first three—just not for Team Koscheck or the UFC, unfortunately. The young New Jerseyite was bounced in the preliminary round by Kyle Watson, in sufficiently one-sided fashion that he apparently merited neither a wild card nor an invitation to the finale. With no clear way to the UFC, Main returned home and, unsurprisingly for a talented 21-year-old, kept improving. While he popped up in Bellator MMA and East Coast stalwart CFFC, his greatest success came in Pancrase, where he won the featherweight title, defeating none other than former castmate Nam Phan.
UFC wins are heavily weighted in these redrafts, since stocking the promotion with talent is the primary purpose of the show. Thus, it is rare to select a fighter like Main, who never even made it to the Octagon officially, ahead of castmates like Watson and Phan who at least managed a win or two there. However, Main’s high win percentage and strength of schedule carry the day here; despite Phan’s UFC run, Main’s decisive finishes of Brian Kelleher and Phan himself mean that he has just as many wins over UFC-level fighters. Still just 31, Main has not fought since 2018, but could build on his already impressive résumé if he chose.
6. Nam PhanOriginal Draft Position: 9 (Team Koscheck)
Pre-TUF Record: 16-7
Post-TUF Record: 5-10 (2-6 UFC)
Phan entered Season 12 as the most experienced fighter on the cast, but much like Kyacey Uscola on the previous season, the sheer numbers did not completely obscure the fact that for the most part, he had beaten the bad fighters and lost to the good ones. He was also one of the more obviously featherweight-sized competitors, and ended up being chosen ninth overall by Koscheck. Phan defeated Spencer Paige in the round of 16 by unanimous decision, then showed some veteran wisdom by being the first fighter in the tournament not to bumble into a “McKenzitine.” His body-shot TKO of McKenzie made Phan the only member of Team Koscheck to reach the semifinals.
Phan was eliminated by Johnson in a razor-close fight, but was invited back to face Caceres at the finale. When Caceres was forced out with an injury, Phan instead took on Leonard Garcia and ended up losing via split decision in one of the most infamous robberies in MMA history. Whether because it felt bad for him or simply decided to treat the loss as a win, the UFC not only signed Phan but gave him a very long rope, allowing him to go four fights below .500 and at least avenge the travesty of the first Garcia fight before finally cutting him. Phan fought on for several more years, even winning the featherweight King of Pancrase, before losing it to castmate Main in his first title defense.
7. Jeff LentzOriginal Draft Position: 13 (Team Koscheck)
Pre-TUF Record: 6-1
Post-TUF Record: 5-5-1 (0-0 UFC)
Like the man picked directly after him, Sayers, Lentz was in the unusual position of losing his last fight before the show, though it was to a man in Anthony Morrison who was on the rise and would shortly be fighting Top 5 fighters in the WEC. Combined with the fact that Lentz was expressly a featherweight before the show—oh, and he smoked cigarettes—it is understandable that he was not chosen until Koscheck’s final pick. Lentz fared well against Caceres in their preliminary round match for a round, then found himself ensnared in the tricky guard of “Bruce Leeroy” early in the second, eventually succumbing to a triangle choke.
After the show, Lentz headed back to New Jersey where he racked up a stronger-than-it-looks .500 record, picking up the CFFC featherweight belt along the way. Losses to Bill Algeo and Andre Harrison are pretty forgivable, while handing Jared Gordon his only pre-UFC loss—in emphatic fashion—is a better win than anyone outside the top four or five picks in this redraft can claim.
8. Marc StevensOriginal Draft Position: 1 (Team Koscheck)
Pre-TUF Record: 12-5
Post-TUF Record: 12-7 (0-0 UFC)
While there is some question over whether St. Pierre “tricked” Koscheck into drafting Stevens first overall, it didn’t look like a bad pick on paper. Stevens was one of the more promising-looking prospects on the show and had obliterated an even better-looking one, T.J. O’Brien, in 13 seconds in the elimination round. However, the Stevens express never really pulled out of the station. In his first fight of the season proper, “The Spartan” was matched with Cody McKenzie. Facing a man who came into “TUF 12” on a streak of 10 straight first-round submissions by guillotine choke, then won his way into the house with yet another first-round guillotine, Stevens—and this is difficult to fathom even now, a decade later—elected to shoot for a takedown immediately. Eighteen seconds later, the No. 1 pick in the Season 12 draft was completely unconscious in the dumbest way imaginable.
Stevens came back courtesy of a wild card slot—both wild cards ended up going to Koscheck because so many of his fighters were eliminated in the first round—and was bounced once again, this time by Wilkinson and again by guillotine because of course he did. With no invitation to the finale forthcoming, Stevens returned to the tristate area, where he racked up a solid-looking record but lost decisively on the occasions he bumped into future UFC talents like Paul Felder, Billy Quarantillo and Ricky Rainey. Ironically, Stevens’ blitzing of O’Brien on Episode 1 might be his best career win.
Pre-TUF Record: 8-3
Post-TUF Record: 5-3-1 (0-0 UFC)
Magakian was the first of two Armenian-American judokas from Hayastan Grappling to end up on Team Koscheck. Compared to his friend Chivitchyan, Magakian was the more promising prospect: younger, larger and having won eight of his last nine, with the only loss coming at the hands of future UFC lightweight Bobby Green. Unsurprisingly, he went earlier in the draft, as Koscheck took the “Silverback” with his second pick. However, he had the misfortune to be matched with eventual winner Brookins in the preliminary round. In what felt like a bit of an upset at the time, Brookins made Magakian look silly, executing a slick standing back take and choking him out in two minutes.
With wild cards at a premium thanks to the collapse of Team Koscheck in the round of 16, that was the end of Magakian’s “TUF” run. Released back into the wild, he won his next four fights in a row, but it did not result in a second look from the UFC, as Magakian continued to hit a ceiling against the better fighters he faced, and never solved that submission defense thing.
10. Dane SayersOriginal Draft Position: 14 (Team GSP)
Pre-TUF Record: 7-1
Post-TUF Record: 5-3 (0-0 UFC)
Sayers was the rare example of a fighter entering “The Ultimate Fighter” off of a loss, which may have contributed to his being picked last, along with needing a come-from-behind submission to earn his way into the house. Sayers succeeded in getting St. Pierre to call him “Red Horse” in recognition of his partial Native American heritage, but that was pretty much his only win on the show. Sayers was valiant but clearly overmatched in his preliminary round bout with Chivitchyan, who was himself one of the worse competitors of the season. With the unanimous decision loss, Sayers was out of the tournament. Returning to the northern Midwest, “Red Horse” finished out on a 5-3 run that saw him come up short against future UFC fighters Bryan Barberena and Marcus LeVesseur.
11. Aaron WilkinsonOriginal Draft Position: 11 (Team Koscheck)
Pre-TUF Record: 6-3
Post-TUF Record: 5-4 (0-1 UFC)
Wilkinson was a 23-year-old Manchester native whose pasty complexion and build certified his “Daywalker” nickname as a South Park rather than a Blade reference, and who prior to “TUF,” had never fought further from home than Wales. Accordingly, he was chosen 11th despite knocking off Mike Richman, one of the more promising cast members, in the elimination round. Wilkinson gave Michael Johnson a good run for his money for a round and change before being choked out late. However, after an emotional scene in which he received the news via phone that his grandmother had died, Wilkinson was brought back to face Team Koscheck castmate Stevens in the wildcard round. In a reversal of the Johnson fight, Wilkinson dropped the first round badly before snaring a gassed-out Stevens in a guillotine in the second.
Unfortunately, any possible “heartbreak and redemption” angle came to an abrupt end in the quarterfinals, where Watson absolutely ran him over on the way to a first-round submission. He received an invitation to the finale, where he faced McKenzie and actually had the cojones to try and guillotine him. While his moxie was admirable, his fight IQ was not, and before the first round was halfway through, it was Wilkinson who was tapping out to a guillotine choke. Wilkinson headed back to the UK, where he won more than he lost, due in large part to having faced fighters who ended up with 1-26, 7-37 and 4-11 records. Yuck.
12. Kyle WatsonOriginal Draft Position: 10 (Team GSP)
Pre-TUF Record: 12-6-1
Post-TUF Record: 1-2 (1-1 UFC)
Watson was one of the more experienced fighters coming into the season and, at 30 years of age, one of the oldest, but had come up definitively short against the UFC-level fighters he had faced. As a historical aside, Watson won his spot in the house with a first-round submission of a 22-year-old Joseph Duffy, who had choked out future “TUF” winner Norman Parke in his previous fight and would head back to Ireland and repeat the feat against some guy named Conor McGregor in his next one.
Chosen by St. Pierre with the 10th pick, Watson substantially outperformed his draft position, at least within the context of the season if not afterward. He tapped out Main with a rear-naked choke to make it to the quarterfinals, then dominated Wilkinson to earn a spot in the semis. There, he lost to Brookins in lopsided fashion, but earned a chance to compete at the finale. He defeated Chivitchyan with relative ease to earn a spot on the UFC roster, but was knocked out cold by a spinning backfist from John Makdessi in his next appearance. After one more loss outside the UFC, Watson was done, and much like Stevens, his best career win was probably his eliminator fight to get into the “TUF” house.
13. Sako ChivitchyanOriginal Draft Position: 5 (Team Koscheck)
Pre-TUF Record: 5-0
Post-TUF Record: 3-1 (0-1 UFC)
Chivitchyan, like his real-life teammate Magakian, came into the season with the same strong judo background and do-you-know-who-I-am-bro swagger that characterized previous Glendale exports to “The Ultimate Fighter.” Disappointingly for a guy who went by “Sako the Psycho” and clearly did not lack for confidence or aggression in his interpersonal relations, Chivitchyan was a letdown in the cage. He eliminated Watson in the preliminary round—as one would expect of a No. 5 vs. No. 10 matchup chosen by the winner’s coach—but the fight was tepid in the extreme and Chivitchyan’s most effective technique was grabbing the fence.
In the quarterfinals, Chivitchyan enabled Brookins to complete his matching set of first-round rear-naked chokes, only he made it look even easier than Magakian had. Chivitchyan made an appearance at the finale, looking uninspired in losing all three rounds to Watson, and that was it for any UFC aspirations. While Chivitchyan racked up three more wins in California before calling it quits, they were against fighters whose records currently sit at 13-17, 0-1 and 5-11.
14. Spencer PaigeOriginal Draft Position: 6 (Team GSP)
Pre-TUF Record: 7-2
Post-TUF Record: 0-0
“Mr. Fantastic” rode into Season 12 with a fairly strong résumé, featuring wins over some decent northeast prospects and losses only to future WEC featherweights Morrison and Josh Grispi. He was chosen sixth despite being one of the smaller competitors and…that was about it. His preliminary round match, as set up by his own coach, pitted him against similarly sized and lower-drafted Nam Phan, and Paige simply got handled, especially on the ground. The frustration of the loss itself was compounded by the embarrassment of being the first member of Team GSP to be eliminated in the round of 16. As both wild cards would end up being used to bring back Koscheck fighters, that loss marked the end of Paige’s run in the Season 12 tournament. It turned out to be the end of his MMA career as well, as the 24-year-old never fought professionally again.