Sherdog Redraft: 'The Ultimate Fighter' Season 16

By: Ben Duffy
Oct 15, 2020
Ben Duffy/ illustration

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 16: Team Carwin vs. Team Nelson

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming…unfortunately.

Season 16 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” which premiered on FX on Sept. 14, 2012, featured a cast of welterweight hopefuls under the guidance of heavyweight contenders Shane Carwin and Season 10 winner Roy Nelson. It rolled back some of the format changes and innovations of the previous season, most importantly the “live” format, in which each week’s fights took place on live TV immediately after the episode. Season 16 reverted to the process that had been used in previous seasons—as well as all subsequent seasons—with a six-week taping that was edited into 12 episodes. (The one thing that was identical to Season 15, the coaches’ fight being scuttled due to injury, is just a bummer, and Carwin in fact never fought again.)

However, the problem with Season 16 is not the format but the talent. While Seasons 14 and 15 had been a breath of fresh air in that regard, stocking the UFC with a heaping batch of 135, 145 and 155-pound contenders, many of whom remain important to their divisions to this day, Season 16 was a disaster. By any possible metric, it was the worst season to that point in the show’s history and possibly the worst, period. Of the 16 fighters who made it into the house, only two have 10 or more Octagon appearances and only five won even a single fight in the UFC. Most of the fighters from the cast are out of the sport entirely, at least as competitors.

One thing that can be said for Season 16 is that at the very least, the coaches seemed to care about their charges, which had been far from a guaranteed thing most seasons. However, just because Carwin and Nelson seemed engaged does not mean they were actually great coaches, much less great talent evaluators. As such, our work is cut out for us as we sort these 16 aspiring fighters by future accomplishment, so without further ado, let us bang.

1. Neil Magny

Original Draft Position: 7 (Team Carwin)
Pre-TUF Record: 7-1
Post-TUF Record: 17-6

On Day 1, the skinny Haitian-American kid from Chicago, who was just a few days away from his 25th birthday, did not look like Season 16’s child of destiny. Magny won a spot in the house in an entertaining three-round scrap with Frank Camacho, who ended up in the UFC himself a few years later and would have come in no worse than fourth if this redraft were expanded to include all 32 fighters. He was then taken by coach Carwin with the seventh overall pick, whereupon he settled into a role as one of the more laidback members of the cast. Magny eliminated Cameron Diffley in the preliminary round, holding his own on the ground with a man in Diffley who was a rising star as an MMA grappling guru. He then took a clear-cut decision from his teammate, Bristol Marunde, to qualify for the semifinals, where he faced another team Carwin cohort in Mike Ricci. Ricci rocked Magny early, never let up, and knocked him out cold with a sensational elbow against the fence.

That might have been it for Magny—a pretty good showing for a middling draft pick on a substandard season of “TUF,” but many fighters in recent seasons had not been invited to fight in the UFC after being eliminated. However, Magny did receive a contract, in addition to the two other important things he acquired during his time on the show, namely: a relationship with Grudge Training Center, which had provided Team Carwin’s coaching staff; and a taste for fighting every two weeks.

Magny lost his second and third fights in the UFC, but promptly went on a seven-fight win streak afterwards, and has not lost back-to-back fights since. His UFC run has been characterized by consistency, gradual refinement of his skills and a fight calendar that would make Donald Cerrone tip his Stetson. Magny’s ascent from semi-anonymous “TUF” guy to welterweight contender was quiet at first—even as he tied a UFC record by winning five fights in a calendar year—but he has at this point hovered around the Top 15 of one of the deepest divisions in the sport for nearly five years. His 17-6 Octagon record includes wins over some of the biggest names of the era, even if some of them were in decline, and since that early rough patch, he has only lost to very good fighters. While the 33-year-old “Haitian Sensation” is currently on a three-fight win streak, only time will tell if he will ever string together enough victories to enter the title picture; just ask Jon Fitch or Leon Edwards how many it can take. With each successive win, however, he is putting more and more distance between himself and Alvey in what is already one of the most lopsided redrafts in “TUF” history.

2. Sam Alvey

Original Draft Position: 1 (Team Carwin)
Pre-TUF Record: 19-4
Post-TUF Record: 14-10 (10-9 UFC)

At first glance, Alvey seems like a straightforward story—chosen first overall on the show; ended up being one of the most accomplished cast members—but it has been quite a roller coaster ride for “Smile’n Sam.” Alvey was chosen by Carwin with the No. 1 pick due in part to a strong pre-“TUF” record, and in part to absolutely flattening Leo Kuntz in under a minute in their eliminator fight. However, he was knocked out of the tournament in the preliminary round by unheralded, 14th-picked Joey Rivera in a fight in which it was frankly surprising he survived the first round. (Not excusing the miserable performance, but it couldn’t have helped that Alvey, a career middleweight who now fights at 205 pounds, was cutting to welterweight when he had never done so before.)

As a result, Alvey did not receive an invitation to compete at the finale. Instead, he went back to fighting in smaller promotions for two more years, racking up a 4-1 record against extremely solid competition including three former or future UFC middleweights, before finally earning a UFC contract. Despite its delayed launch, Alvey’s UFC career has been both accomplished and memorable; his record suffers from the four-fight skid in which he is currently struggling, but three years ago he had won four straight and was on the doorstep of the Top 15. Through it all, he has been that rarest of Octagon phenomena, a personality, instantly identifiable by the sugary “Hey Soul Sister” walkout track before each fight, the supermodel wife—and now kids—in the cage afterward, and of course the ever-present, slightly creepy grin. While Alvey has not exactly been gaining on Magny these last two years, the gulf in career achievement between those two and the rest of this list is even bigger, so at least he’s safe and sound in second.

3. Igor Araujo

Original Draft Position: 13 (Team Carwin)
Pre-TUF Record: 22-6
Post-TUF Record: 3-4 (2-2 UFC)

Araujo was one of the oldest and most experienced fighters coming into Season 16, but while he had fought all over the world, much of his record had been compiled against paper-thin opposition. (Exhibit A: Araujo’s last fight before the show—as a 27-fight veteran—was against a man making his professional debut.) Accordingly, he was chosen quite late, but made it as far as the quarterfinals before being eliminated by eventual tournament winner Colton Smith.

With no Octagon contract on offer immediately, Araujo fought Team Nelson’s Nic Herron-Webb at Flawless FC 3, on a card stacked with “TUF” castoffs—including four fighters from Season 16—and got a second look from the UFC. Araujo went 2-2, including one win over a pretty decent fighter in Ildemar Alcantara, before the UFC released him. Incidentally, his first fight after his release was against future middleweight contender Marvin Vettori, who was signed by the UFC immediately afterward. It may not sound like much, but two wins in the UFC is more than anyone else from Season 16 managed, and it’s enough to get him picked third here. Araujo has not fought since March 2018.

4. Colton Smith

Original Draft Position: 8 (Team Nelson)
Pre-TUF Record: 2-1
Post-TUF Record: 5-4 (1-3 UFC)
Notable Achievements: “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 16 winner

Smith was chosen in the middle of the draft despite being the least experienced fighter in the cast. (OK, technically he was tied with Diffley, but Diffley being a former “TUF” coach kind of breaks that tie.) It is likely because because he looked completely dominant in outwrestling and outgrappling Jesse Barrett in the elimination round. It turned out to be a solid pick, as he proceeded to do the exact same thing—minus the fake glove touch—to his next three opponents on the show, then once again in the tournament final against Ricci. With his dominant win over Ricci at the finale, Smith was the Season 16 tournament champion. Not bad for a full-time Army Ranger who came to MMA as a hobby and had never truly trained full-time.

Unfortunately, that was Smith’s competitive high-water mark. While his remaining stint in the UFC was a disaster, he suffered from absolutely murderous matchmaking. In hindsight, facing Robert Whittaker in his proper Octagon debut, then dropping to lightweight, only to be matched up with Michael Chiesa and Diego Ferreira, was a bit much to ask of a four-fight veteran, and he went 0-3, getting finished all three times. (Even worse, the Chiesa loss was at a “Fight for the Troops” event.)

While it feels cruel to harp on—and it’s worth noting that he gave Whittaker a hell of a fight—Smith is the first “Ultimate Fighter” winner never to win another fight in the UFC. After being released, Smith won four straight before losing to a pre-UFC Sean Brady, but has not appeared in the cage since that loss, which was incidentally the same day as Araujo’s final fight to date, half a world away.

5. Mike Ricci

Original Draft Position: 5 (Team Carwin)
Pre-TUF Record: 7-2
Post-TUF Record: 4-3 (1-2 UFC)

One of the two Canadians in the Season 16 house, Ricci’s pre-show record included an upset of the bigger and far more experienced Jordan Mein, who would later join him in the UFC, while his only losses were to Pat Curran and “TUF 15” standout Daron Cruickshank. Combined with a quick knockout of Jason South in the elimination round, it was good enough to get Ricci chosen fifth despite being one of the more obvious lightweights in the group. It was a good pick, as Ricci beat Dom Waters and Michael Hill handily, then flattened Magny in the semifinals in what would be the best win of his career. In the final, Smith was simply too big and too good on the ground, but Ricci gave him as tough a fight as anyone else had.

Ricci got two more fights in the UFC, beating a pretty bad fighter in Colin Fletcher and losing to a pretty good one in Myles Jury, before being let go. His post-UFC run, while brief, includes solid opposition, including three former UFC fighters in Jorge Gurgel, George Sotiropoulos and Jason High. Ricci has not competed professionally since January 2016.

6. Matt Secor

Original Draft Position: 15 (Team Carwin)
Pre-TUF Record: 3-1
Post-TUF Record: 7-4 (0-0 UFC)

In hindsight, Secor was criminally underdrafted. His only loss before the show had been to future UFC mainstay Nordine Taleb—though to be fair, it had been enough of a thrashing to garner a 30-24 scorecard from one judge—and his eliminator fight to get into the house was a thorough outgrappling of Max Griffin, who is about to make his 10th Octagon appearance. However, it would have been asking a lot to predict Taleb or Griffin’s future career arcs at the time, and thus Secor fell to the last round of the draft.

Secor dropped an extremely close split decision to Mike Hill in the preliminary round, ending his tournament chances. However, even with no UFC contract in the offing, the New Yorker quietly put together one of the better post-“TUF” careers of any Season 16 cast member, including a return to Bellator MMA and a stint in World Series of Fighting. His wins are no great shakes for the most part—Ricardo Funch was solid, and handing Jeremie Holloway his first career loss was noteworthy—but there are no bad losses among Lyman Good, Chris Honeycutt, Abubakar Nurmagomedov and Logan Storley. Secor has not fought since punching out Adam Sepulveda in the CES cage in May 2018.

7. Bristol Marunde

Original Draft Position: 3 (Team Carwin)
Pre-TUF Record: 12-7
Post-TUF Record: 4-3 (0-2 UFC)

Like Araujo, Marunde was one of the older and more experienced fighters on Season 16, but unlike the Brazilian, Marunde’s record was better than it looked. His nearly 20-fight résumé included time in the International Fight League as well as Strikeforce, and most of his losses were eminently forgivable. Case in point: in his last fight before the show, Marunde had gotten arm-triangle choked by Ronaldo Souza, who would have done the same or worse to anyone else on Season 16, possibly including Carwin and Nelson.

Marunde guillotined George Lockhart—who wouldn’t make many waves as a fighter, but remains in the industry as a carb whisperer to the stars—to get into the house, then won his way to the quarterfinals, where he was eliminated by Magny.

Once Marunde finally made his Octagon debut a year later, he came up short in two chances to get a win, but in fairness, both Clint Hester and Viscardi Andrade were peaking at the time. Outside the UFC, Marunde went 4-1 in five different promotions against a solid slate of opponents, including Season 16 castmate Hill. Marunde’s head-to-head win against his Team Nelson counterpart is the difference between their positions in this redraft.

8. Michael Hill

Original Draft Position: 4 (Team Nelson)
Pre-TUF Record: 4-0
Post-TUF Record: 7-5-1 (0-0 UFC)

The other Canadian on the Season 16 cast, Hill was taken by Nelson with the pick immediately before Ricci went to Team Carwin. His 4-0 record had been achieved against rock-bottom competition, but he had looked great in blowing out Lev Magen in his eliminator fight, plus he seemed like a real nice guy. His nice-guy credentials were tested when Ricci picked him for an all-Canada quarterfinal, apparently violating some sort of secret gentlemen’s agreement, and then his fighting credentials were tested—and found wanting—when Ricci defeated him.

Hill did not receive an invite to the finale, so he went back to the Great White North, where he put together one of the more extensive post-“TUF” careers of anyone from the season. Hill’s 7-5-1 record since the show is…exactly as good as it looks. While some of his losses were against good fighters—Marunde for one, and Ryan Ford was one of the more notable welterweights outside the UFC at the time—some were not, and none of his wins were over top-level competition. Almost alone among the cast of Season 16, Hill may not be done, as he came out of a two-year hiatus to drop a unanimous decision against Bobby Lee in CFFC on Sept. 18.

9. Dominic Waters

Original Draft Position: 2 (Team Nelson)
Pre-TUF Record: 5-1
Post-TUF Record: 5-5 (0-3 UFC)

If Alvey was chosen first partly because he had the most impressive finish in the elimination fights, Waters must have been chosen second entirely because he had the second most impressive finish, splattering Kevin Nowaczyk in 30 seconds. It certainly couldn’t have been due to his pre-show record, which was quite flimsy, featuring a decisive loss in his one appearance against a decent fighter. Waters lost a competitive fight to Ricci in the preliminary round, ending his tournament hopes.

Without any immediate invitation to compete in the UFC, Waters, like Alvey, returned to smaller shows. He compiled a 4-1 record against middling competition—though his one loss was at the hands of a pre-UFC Curtis Millender—and earned a chance to prove himself in the Octagon. Interestingly, considering how many of his castmates never got even a single shot at winning in the UFC, Waters got three. However, they did him no favors, as the difficulty ratcheted up with each successive matchup, culminating in Waters being the first of eight straight wins (and counting) for Leon Edwards. That precipitated Waters’ release from the UFC and, aside from a brief comeback two years later, he has been inactive since.

10. Nic Herron-Webb

Original Draft Position: 12 (Team Nelson)
Pre-TUF Record: 14-4
Post-TUF Record: 6-4 (0-0 UFC)

“Naptime” couldn’t have taken much time for naps, at least not before his stint on Season 16. Despite being the youngest cast member, he was one of the most experienced, because there’s apparently nothing to do in Anchorage but fight five times a year. (He fought four times in the half-year leading into the show.) The grappling specialist had the misfortune of drawing Araujo, a bigger, stronger, older and more experienced grappling specialist, in the preliminary round, and he lost a competitive decision.

After the show, Herron-Webb went straight back to Alaska to stay, aside from a few one-offs, including a rematch with Araujo at the aforementioned Flawless FC 3. While none of his wins have been stellar, all four of his losses were against next-level competition, including future Octagon competitors Sheldon Westcott and Chris Fishgold. While Herron-Webb appears to be retired from competition, he remains a part of the sport, working as a referee in his home state.

11. Jon Manley

Original Draft Position: 10 (Team Nelson)
Pre-TUF Record: 7-1
Post-TUF Record: 6-5 (0-1 UFC)

Manley was drafted 10th and came close to providing the expected value for that draft position—at least by the standards of one of the worst seasons in “TUF” history. His pre-show record included a win over Sabah Homasi that looks good in hindsight but didn’t ping anyone’s radar at the time. In the Season 16 tournament, he made it to the semifinals before running into the Smith express, but that was good enough to warrant at least a one-off shot in the Octagon. Unfortunately for him, it came against Magny, who easily swept all three rounds, launching his own distinguished UFC career while nipping Manley’s in the bud.

Since then, the Massachusetts native has fought for regional mainstay CES as well as Bellator, where he is currently on a two-fight win streak. Other than a loss to a very early version of Mike Perry, his opposition has been largely unremarkable.

12. Julian Lane

Original Draft Position: 16 (Team Nelson)
Pre-TUF Record: 4-0
Post-TUF Record: 8-9-1 (0-0 UFC)

Say this much for Lane; he provided solid value for a guy picked dead last. Lane is, of course, the most memorable element of Season 16, that season’s iteration of the “drunken head case” archetype. Insert here the customary disclaimer that storytelling happens in the editing room, and reality television is television first, reality second—sometimes a distant second. Unlike emotionally raw or even dangerous previous versions such as Junie Browning, Lane’s contributions basically consisted of one inebriated meltdown, during which he screamed, tried to fight everyone and, finally, pleaded with Hill to “let [him] bang.” As he did so, he turned on a dime from shrieking rage to sobbing, at which point half of the cast—and all of the audience—started snickering into their hands. Additionally, Lane had the decency and self-awareness to seem embarrassed the next day, which kind of sucks all the fun out of things.

Lane was bumped from the tournament by Marunde, then embarked on the most extensive post-show career of anyone from Season 16 besides Magny and Alvey. He has faced largely solid competition wherever he has fought, including several fellow “TUF” alumni and a very green Paul Felder. While he has never been much above .500, he’s stayed busy and made money, and his record above doesn’t even include his half-dozen bare-knuckle boxing matches in the past two years. Most importantly, Lane’s appearance on 2017’s “The Ultimate Fighter 25: Redemption” means that, finally, he was allowed to bang.

13. Eddy Ellis

Original Draft Position: 11 (Team Carwin)
Pre-TUF Record: 18-15-1
Post-TUF Record: 3-2 (0-0 UFC)

Ellis was Season 16’s most experienced cast member by far, but like his Season 11 counterpart, Kyacey Uscola, the long record was not a good one. Ellis’ early slate was actually even worse than Uscola’s, weighed down as it is by a loss to Shannon Ritch, but so far as we know, Ellis did not go on to commit horrific acts of domestic violence, which makes him better than Uscola in any truly meaningful way. In yet another example of the capricious nature of “TUF” eliminators, Ellis won his way onto the show by defeating David Michaud, who would probably go in the Top 10 if this redraft were expanded to include all 32 fighters.

“Fast Eddy” was one of the early victims of eventual champion Smith, though the fight was ultra-close and likely should have gone to a third round. After the show, Ellis fought five times in five years, against largely credible competition, before retiring.

14. Cameron Diffley

Original Draft Position: 6 (Team Nelson)
Pre-TUF Record: 3-0
Post-TUF Record: 1-0 (0-0 UFC)

Despite having the fewest professional fights of anyone on the cast along with Smith, Diffley was chosen sixth. This was due to his celebrated stint as grappling coach for Forrest Griffin’s team on Season 7; i.e. the guy who helped 0-0 Amir Sadollah win the whole thing. By the time Season 16 rolled around, Diffley had only elevated his profile, working with Las Vegas Combat Club and Syndicate MMA; the geographic connection may have helped Las Vegas native Nelson to pull the trigger as well. Diffley won a spot in the house by making short work of Zane Kamaka, whose MMA career before as well as after the show is otherwise much more impressive. He then ran into Magny, and while Diffley had some success on the ground, the grappling was fairly even, and the difference in wrestling and striking acumen was stark. After the show, Diffley returned to coaching and, aside from a one-off return in 2014, has stayed retired from MMA competition.

15. James Chaney

Original Draft Position: 9 (Team Carwin)
Pre-TUF Record: 7-2
Post-TUF Record: 2-9 (0-0 UFC)

“Off The” Chaney was saddled with Season 16's worst nickname, but had a solid record and a nice highlight reel of submissions when he entered the “TUF” house, a reel that grew when he finished Jerel Clark with a triangle choke in 90 seconds in his elimination round fight. So far, so good, but things went horrorshow quickly and irrevocably for Chaney. He was eliminated with relative ease by Manley, and the only hard part was that Chaney bit him while being guillotined.

The combination of the loss and the biting precluded a UFC contract offer, so Chaney took his show on the road, changed his nickname to the completely appropriate “Dr. Jekyll” and started losing a whole lot of fights. Chaney has gone 2-9 since the show with no wins over fighters with a winning record, but several losses to fighters with losing records. While he is currently on a five-fight losing streak, he fought as recently as January 2020, so he may well snap or extend it.

16. Joey Rivera

Original Draft Position: 14 (Team Nelson)
Pre-TUF Record: 7-1
Post-TUF Record: 0-0, 1 NC (0-0 UFC)

You may be asking what a fighter needs to do be drafted after someone who bit his opponent on the show, then went 2-9 afterward. The oldest fighter to make it into the house, Rivera’s performance on the show was actually good. He edged out Alvey in the tournament, and that was after bumping off Saad Awad, who likely would have come in third in a draft of all 32 fighters, in the elimination round.

Rivera’s “TUF” adventure came to an end in his quarterfinal, courtesy of Manley. After that, “Boom Boom” fought a grand total of one more time. At CFFC 31 in Atlantic City, he tapped out Christian Leonard in the first round, but the result wouldn’t stand for long. On their way to the cage that night, Rivera’s cornermen had been discovered to be carrying a Walgreen’s worth of banned substances—lidocaine, smelling salts and menthol—in their pockets, and would receive a one-year suspension from the New Jersey Athletic Control Board as a result. Then, after the fight, Rivera refused to take a mandatory drug test. Only that isn’t true; it’s more that he agreed to the test, then fled the dressing room and didn’t return. That resulted in the fight being overturned to a no contest and Rivera receiving a year suspension as well, though it was moot, as he would never fight again.

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