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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.
Sherdog Redraft: “The Ultimate Fighter”
• Season 1: Team Liddell vs. Team Couture
• Season 2: Team Hughes vs. Team Franklin
Season 3: Team Ortiz vs. Team Shamrock
The third season of “The Ultimate Fighter” aired from April to June 2006 and featured as coaches Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock, with the goal of building interest in their rematch that summer. Like the first season, Season 3 featured eight middleweights and eight light heavyweights, and like the first season, the distinction between the two was fairly loose—more so, in fact, as Ross Pointon actually jumped from middleweight to light heavyweight mid-season.
The cast of Season 3 represents an undeniable decline in overall talent compared to the first two, and the promotion seemed aware of the fact, as it is the first season of “The Ultimate Fighter” in which being on the show was not a guarantee of at least a chance with the UFC; several of the fighters from this season never appeared in an actual UFC fight. Where Season 1 featured eight fighters—exactly half of the cast—who would end up logging at least 10 fights in the UFC and Season 2 featured six, on Season 3 that number drops to four, and while Season 3 did match its predecessors’ feat in bringing a future champ into the fold, it took over a decade—and an all-timer of a Cinderella story arc by Michael Bisping—to achieve it.
Pre-TUF Record: 10-0
Post-TUF Record: 20-9
Notable Achievements: "The Ultimate Fighter" Season 3 winner (light heavyweight), UFC middleweight champion, member of UFC Hall of Fame
“The Count” completed the same hat trick as his predecessors, Season 1 light heavyweight winner Forrest Griffin and Season 2 heavyweight winner Rashad Evans: “TUF” champ, UFC champ and member of the UFC Hall of Fame. Of course, the similarities end there, as a 36-year-old Bisping was well on his way to being remembered as one of the best UFC fighters never to win a belt when he stepped up on short notice and had his “Left Hook Larry” moment at Luke Rockhold’s expense.
Winning a championship throws Bisping’s entire career into a different light. It made his induction into the UFC Hall of Fame a forgone conclusion, and makes him arguably the most accomplished fighter “TUF” ever produced; even if it was against a handpicked opponent in Dan Henderson, Bisping successfully defended his UFC title where Griffin and Evans failed.
An interesting question is how he managed to fall to fifth in the actual draft. Despite a 10-0 MMA record plus kickboxing experience, Bisping was the third light heavyweight chosen, after 1-0 Matt Hamill and 2-0 Jesse Forbes. It may be attributable to the fact that there had simply never been a great mixed martial artist to come from the UK, which might have led to his record being devalued in the eyes of the coaches. It is no coincidence that Bisping’s emergence from “TUF 3” led to a flood of British prospects joining the UFC. That historical impact on the sport is just one more reason Bisping is the No. 1 pick in this redraft by a mile.
2. Matt HamillOriginal Draft Position: 1 (Team Ortiz)
Pre-TUF Record: 1-0
Post-TUF Record: 12-8 (10-5 UFC)
In hindsight, “The Hammer” seems like an odd choice to go No. 1 overall. He was 1-0 as a professional fighter. He was a three-time Division III wrestling champion, but that is a far, far cry from the Division I credentials of a Josh Koscheck. While his being deaf was an interesting side note—and in fairness, may have left him uniquely prepared for six weeks in the “TUF” house and Team Ortiz in particular—it was neither a benefit nor a handicap to his fighting. In the end, Hamill went first in the draft largely for coming off like exactly what he turned out to be: a genial guy, a good wrestler and strong as an ox.
For a pick made on so little data, Hamill panned out just fine. After winning his “TUF” quarterfinal against Mike Nickels, he was forced to withdraw from the tournament due to injury. Returning at the finale, he brutalized No. 2 pick Jesse Forbes, then embarked on a somewhat under-appreciated UFC run that, at his peak in late 2010, saw him enter the Top 15 of Sherdog as well as FightMatrix. While he hit a ceiling against the likes of Alexander Gustafsson and Rich Franklin, his decisive finishes of Tim Boetsch and especially the previously undefeated Mark Munoz are better wins than anyone below him in this draft can muster.
There is the obvious lingering issue of Hamill’s head-to-head encounter with Bisping at UFC 75, which the Brit won by a controversial split decision. However, with all else being equal, Bisping’s overall résumé would still be superior to Hamill’s even if the decision had gone the other way. Also, consider that Bisping only won a title after dropping to middleweight, so rather than derail a rise to title contention at light heavyweight, a loss to Hamill might have convinced him to make that change sooner, if anything.
3. Ed HermanOriginal Draft Position: 12 (Team Shamrock)
Pre-TUF Record: 13-3
Post-TUF Record: 12-11, 1 NC (12-10, 1 NC UFC)
Alone among the 16 men in this draft, “Short Fuse” is still on UFC roster, and on a two-fight win streak, to boot. It is frankly mystifying why Herman was drafted 12th. He was one of the most experienced fighters in the house at 13-3. His pre-TUF wins over Brian Ebersole and former UFC champ Dave Menne were more impressive, and his losses to Kazuo Misaki and Joe Doerksen more forgivable, than anything on his castmates’ ledgers. (His win over Glover Teixeira would age quite nicely, but nobody could have known that at the time.) Yet the redheaded Oregonian was the sixth middleweight taken, right ahead of a guy half his size with a losing record. It boggles the mind.
Whatever the reasons, Herman quickly made the draft order moot, tapping out the last middleweight picked (Danny Abbadi) and the first (Rory Singer) in similarly impressive fashion to earn a spot in the final. There, he lost to Grove in a sensational and very close three-round war, after which both men embarked on respectable UFC careers. Herman, as mentioned above, remains with the promotion to this day; his only post-“TUF” fight outside the UFC was a one-off match with Ronaldo Souza in Strikeforce. While Herman has the head-to-head loss to Grove, his post-“TUF” accomplishments are just enough to give him the nod at the No. 3 spot, with several decisive wins over solid fighters. It probably felt great to pick up a “Knockout of the Night” bonus for avenging that loss to Doerksen; hopefully it feels good to be the top value pick in the original “TUF 3” draft.
Pre-TUF Record: 5-3, 1 NC
Post-TUF Record: 19-15 (7-6 UFC)
“Da Spyder” entered the season with a record that did not accurately depict what a wild time he had; he recorded a no-contest for a fight in Tijuana in which he and his opponent both went hurtling out of the ring, while one of his losses was to Savant Young, in what must have been the greatest height differential in any mixed martial arts contest outside of Japan.
The impossibly lanky Hawaiian mauled his way to the final in style, choking out Pointon in the quarterfinals. In his semifinal, he hit Kalib Starnes in the ribs until Starnes began saying loudly that his ribs hurt really badly, then kept doing so until Starnes said he couldn’t fight anymore. After his “TUF” finale classic against Herman, Grove settled into being a decent UFC middleweight for a few years. While he tallied a respectable-looking 7-6 record with the promotion, Herman would remain his best win, with the possible exception of a 22-year-old Alan Belcher.
After his UFC release, Grove fought all over the world, his winning record belying the fact that he lost in higher-level shows (4-5 in Bellator MMA, 0-2 in KSW) and won in between, though having handed a pre-UFC Derek Brunson his first career loss is a nice feather in his cap.
Pre-TUF Record: 6-0-1
Post-TUF Record: 11-11 (2-3 UFC)
You’re thinking it. You’re thinking it right now. It’s completely understandable. Starnes is No. 5? Yes, he is, and it isn’t even very close. While anyone who was a fan of the sport at the time has the same instant associations with one of the most bizarre and embarrassing fights in UFC history, Starnes’ overall performance on the show and in his post-“TUF” career wasn’t all that bad. Relatively speaking, that is; this is also an indication of where the show’s talent level is beginning to trend.
Starnes came to the show with a respectable 6-0-1 record, amassed entirely in his home province of British Columbia and capped off with a final pre-“TUF” win over fellow future UFC middleweight Jason MacDonald. 30 years old, with a seemingly brainy and serious demeanor, a complete MMA skill set and a solid middleweight frame, he was chosen fourth overall, the second middleweight behind Rory Singer. He advanced to the semifinals with ease, pummeling Mike Stine from back mount for a first-round TKO, then was eliminated by Grove in the semis.
After earning a UFC roster spot by choking out Abbadi at the finale, Starnes stuck around long enough to go 2-3. The difference between Starnes’ UFC run and that of Singer, who went 2-2 in the UFC and will be drafted next, is strength of schedule. Starnes has a real, live, uncontroversial win over Chris Leben, while both of Singer’s UFC wins are over worse fighters from his same season of “TUF.” Starnes also faced stiff competition in his losses, which were to Yushin Okami, Belcher and of course, Nate Quarry, in the infamous fight that led directly to his UFC ouster. Starnes would continue to fight for years, ranging as high as heavyweight but rarely ranging far from western Canada, before retiring in 2016.
6. Rory SingerOriginal Draft Position: 3 (Team Ortiz)
Pre-TUF Record: 8-5
Post-TUF Record: 3-4 (2-2 UFC)
In broad strokes, Singer was drafted early for some of the same reasons Starnes was. He was experienced, well-rounded and mature—he would turn 30 during filming—and had a sheen of seriousness to him. He was also a training partner of original “TUF” winner Griffin at Hardcore Gym in Athens, Georgia, discovered when producers went there to film before the Season 1 finale. After flattening Solomon Hutcherson with a head kick and punches early in the second round of their quarterfinal, he was eliminated in the semis by Herman.
At the finale, Singer made it to the UFC by triangling Pointon from his back after getting leveled with a haymaker, but wasn’t long for the promotion, or for the cage—the inside of it, at least. In a nice case of “get in, get out, buy the gym,” Singer retired from competition in 2009 and is the current owner and head coach at the very gym where he was first spotted by those producers, now SBG Athens. It doesn’t affect where he appears in this redraft, but happy endings are rare enough in this sport that we don’t like to pass up an opportunity to share one.
7. Mike NickelsOriginal Draft Position: 10 (Team Shamrock)
Pre-TUF Record: 3-1
Post-TUF Record: 6-4 (1-1 UFC)
Nickels was chosen 10th, immediately after Noah Inhofer, in spite of tapping him out at a Ring of Fire event just months before the show. (He also—presumably—had his personal life in better order than Inhofer, but more on that later.) Nickels was eliminated by Hamill in the quarterfinals, which is no shame, and came back to throttle the debuting Wes Combs at the finale. While Combs would turn out not to be UFC material, he was a 12-0 heavyweight dropping to 205 pounds and frankly might be Nickels’ second best win after David Heath.
“Big Mike,” already 34 at the time of filming, would fight on for a few more years after his UFC release, largely in and around his native Colorado, winning more than he lost.
Pre-TUF Record: 6-3, 1 NC
Post-TUF Record: 5-4 (0-1 UFC)
Well, here’s where it starts. From No. 8 pick Hutcherson through the end, the rest of the fighters in this redraft account for a combined total of zero UFC wins. That’s no knock on these nine men, or even really on the UFC or the producers of the show. It’s simply a sign that the pool of talent is finite, and an indication that it might not be sustainable to scout out 16 fighters every six months and expect a future champion, a couple of contenders and a half-dozen roster mainstays every single time.
Hutcherson entered the show with a respectable regional record, including encounters with early versions of future UFC contenders Jon Fitch and Jorge Rivera. Chosen eighth overall—the fourth light heavyweight—he was knocked out by Singer in his quarterfinal. He got a second chance in the form of an invite to the finale, but unfortunately his opponent was fellow second-chancer Luigi Fioravanti, who had lost his UFC debut a few months before. “The Italian Tank” did what he often did in those days, engaging in a fun scrap for most of a round before absolutely lamping Hutcherson with a left hook. From there, Hutcherson went on to fight for several more years in regional shows in the US and Canada.
9. Noah InhoferOriginal Draft Position: 9 (Team Ortiz)
Pre-TUF Record: 1-2
Post-TUF Record: 3-3 (0-0 UFC)
Inhofer is another somewhat mystifying pick, going ninth in the original draft despite a 1-2 overall record and—this bears repeating—a recent and decisive head-to-head loss to Nickels, who was picked next.
His post-draft performance is no less mystifying. After armbarring second overall pick Forbes in his quarterfinal, Inhofer chose to leave the show and go home to South Dakota because he received a letter that said his girlfriend believed he was cheating on her. If that was the case, they had more to discuss than mere infidelity, considering that Inhofer was at the time sequestered in a house with 15 other men. At any rate, that was the last the average UFC fan heard of Inhofer. He would fight a few more times all over North America before hanging up the gloves, but never again had even a close encounter with the big time.
10. Jesse ForbesOriginal Draft Position: 2 (Team Shamrock)
Pre-TUF Record: 2-0
Post-TUF Record: 13-5 (0-2 UFC)
There are not many ways in which Season 3 of “The Ultimate Fighter” is superior to Season 2, but at least the biggest draft bust in Season 3 is not also a sex offender. Forbes was picked second overall despite being the youngest and one of the most inexperienced fighters in the cast. Shamrock tried to explain that he’d chosen him because he thought Forbes was the man to beat first overall pick Hamill. While that is one of the craziest things Shamrock said on the show—which is saying a lot—there were a few things to recommend “Kid Hercules.” He was a junior college All-American wrestler, and had settled at a camp with a growing reputation for building wrestlers into fighters, and he was an absolute physical specimen.
None of those things helped. Forbes was eliminated by Inhofer, then invited back when Inhofer went back home to see about his girl. He was then re-eliminated by Haynes despite walloping him for the entire first round. He was matched up with Hamill at the finale, where he was on the receiving end of a one-sided mauling, with Hamill showing himself to be the more effective wrestler, grappler and especially ground-and-pounder. Three fights, three stoppage losses and that was it for “Kid Hercules.”
Except it wasn’t. It turns out that Forbes may simply have been too green at age 21 for “TUF.” Banished back to the regionals, Forbes started winning again, winning more than he lost even as he ran into future UFC talents like Chris Camozzi, Jesse Taylor and Ryan Jimmo. Almost four years after Hamill used him to mop the Octagon canvas, Forbes earned a return call from the UFC, and while he went 0-2 in his second go-round, he was visibly an improved fighter. Immediately after his second UFC release, he pounded out a lanky up-and-comer by the name of Anthony Smith who in no way looked like a future title challenger. It is an ironic meeting between a fighter who may have been brought along too soon, and one who got all the time in the world to develop in the shadows. Despite the head-to-head loss to Haynes, Forbes goes before him in the redraft thanks to the far superior post-“TUF” résumé.
11. Josh HaynesOriginal Draft Position: 13 (Team Ortiz)
Pre-TUF Record: 12-5
Post-TUF Record: 5-6 (0-3 UFC)
Despite what his nickname might have implied, “Bring the Pain” did not become a UFC mainstay. While Haynes actually had the most professional MMA experience of any cast member from Season 3, it was against very slight competition when compared to that of Herman or even Grove. He was taken 13th but exceeded expectations, beating Fletcher in the quarterfinal and then weathering a 10-8 first round against Forbes, guillotining him early in the second to make it to the light heavyweight final. At the final, he took a drubbing from Bisping, whose chief difficulty seemed to be refraining from fouling Haynes for long enough to finish the fight.
Haynes parlayed that goodwill into two more chances to get a win in the UFC, running a sort of gauntlet of fellow “TUF” veterans in the form of Season 3 teammate Singer and Season 2’s Luke Cummo. He did not come especially close either time, and after his departure from the promotion, went on to bring the pain to regional organizations for several more years before retiring in 2010.
12. Danny AbbadiOriginal Draft Position: 15 (Team Ortiz)
Pre-TUF Record: 1-0
Post-TUF Record: 3-6 (0-2 UFC)
Almost a decade and a half later, Abbadi on “TUF” still doesn’t make sense. He was 1-0, with the one fight coming at a bizarre one-night tournament in Korea. He had a striking background, but no concrete credentials or record that might stand in for his lack of MMA experience. Even among a cast with pretty liberal takes on weight classes, he looked like a welterweight.
Unsurprisingly, it played out as expected. Abbadi ended up matched up with two burly middleweights in Herman and Starnes who manhandled him. After his “TUF” experience, he fought a few more times, racking up a 3-4 record in smaller organizations.
Pre-TUF Record: 4-2
Post-TUF Record: 0-1
In a just world, Rothaermel would have been a better fighter. In the year after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the Gulf Coast, he was a man from New Orleans who had lost his father—and most of his worldly possessions—to the disaster. Though he must have been devastated, he had stayed in the ruined city, helping to rebuild homes. In the “TUF” house, he was a charming oddball who smoked cigars and read poetry. He was an inspiring sports story waiting to happen. Even the nameless production assistant who accidentally gave him 40 career wins, rather than four, in his on-screen overlay on the show, must have been feeling the pull.
If Rothaermel had turned into even a decent UFC light heavyweight, we would be watching mini-documentaries about him on Fight Pass right now alongside the ones about Nick Diaz or Josh Samman, but it was not to be. He was pummeled by Bisping in the first round of their quarterfinal, and when he got a shot in the UFC at Ultimate Fight Night 5 a few weeks after the finale, he succumbed to a first-round armbar by Rob MacDonald, who was himself one of the least successful contestants in the brief history of “The Ultimate Fighter.” With that—two chances, two first-round losses—it was over. Rothaermel never fought professionally again.
14. Tait FletcherOriginal Draft Position: 16 (Team Shamrock)
Pre-TUF Record: 3-1
Post-TUF Record: 1-1 (0-0 UFC)
What can you say about Fletcher? He was picked dead last and, in light of his draft position, provided unexpected value. He came in with a paper-thin résumé—the only good fighter he had fought, Scott Smith, had smashed him—and a vibe that was pure streaked goatee, nu-metal, early-00s MMA. After being eliminated from the show by eventual finalist Haynes, he fought twice more in local promotions before transitioning to a career as a stuntman.
In the years since that career move, Fletcher has only elevated his stock, to the point that for most of the world outside of us fight freaks, he is far more notable for his Hollywood exploits than for his brief, unremarkable fight career. Just a reminder that simply because we point out that someone was a failure at fighting—and even that is too harsh in Fletcher’s case; 99 percent of fighters active right now are not UFC material—doesn’t mean they aren’t really, really good at something else.
15. Mike StineOriginal Draft Position: 11 (Team Ortiz)
Pre-TUF Record: 3-0
Post-TUF Record: 0-0
In 2020, Stine is probably most noteworthy as a historical footnote: one of the very first examples of a Tiger Schulmann-trained fighter pinging MMA’s radar on a national scale. Years before Lyman Good, Uriah Hall or Jimmie Rivera swarmed out of the New York City dojo empire to crack skulls on your pay-per-view screen, Stine was a 3-0 fighter who was invited onto the show despite not having fought in well over two years. Unfortunately, that was pretty much it. Stine was dominated by Starnes in his quarterfinal, which just happened to be the very first episode, and never fought in mixed martial arts again.
16. Ross PointonOriginal Draft Position: 14 (Team Shamrock)
Pre-TUF Record: 4-6
Post-TUF Record: 2-11 (0-2 UFC)
What does a fighter have to do in order to be drafted after someone who was eliminated on the first episode of the season and then never fought again? Well, it takes some style points. In evaluating the post-“TUF” careers of some of the lower-level veterans of the show, we’re forced to make some judgment calls, especially when it comes to fighters who more or less disappeared in a professional sense. In most cases, the guiding principle is that it is better to have fought and lost than never to have fought at all. However, Pointon’s professional arc, on the show as well as afterwards, is dismal enough that it might well have been better simply to walk away with dignity intact, as Stine or Rothaermel did.
Pointon was invited to join the third season of “The Ultimate Fighter” despite a 4-6 professional record, because he impressed UFC president Dana White during an open casting call in his native London. That’s great, but Pointon remained a 5-foot-8 welterweight on a show full of much bigger men. Yes, he had fought as high as heavyweight—including a hot 58 seconds with Valentijn Overeem—but he was by far the smallest fighter on the show.
In his quarterfinal, Pointon was choked out by Grove, who appeared to be twice his height as they grappled. When Hamill was forced to withdraw with an injury, Pointon was invited back, but had to switch over to light heavyweight and take on his countryman Bisping, who had armbarred him in two minutes a few months before. Gee, thanks. Bisping dominated once again, this time pelting him with strikes from top position until he tapped. He then got two more shots in the UFC—an indication of just how much mileage a fighter can wring out of making a favorable impression on White—but lost in lopsided fashion to Singer and Rich Clementi.
From there, Pointon returned to the UK, where he set about the real work of earning the last position in this redraft. While we operate on the general idea that 0-2 is more admirable than 0-0, Pointon became, for lack of a better word, a can. That is not a term we throw around lightly, but Pointon’s post-“TUF” record was 2-11. He lost his last seven fights in a row, the final six by stoppage, in many cases to fighters who were themselves under .500, and in most cases appearing not very motivated. Looking at Pointon’s finishing kick, it feels cruel but accurate to say that the biggest difference between him and Shannon Ritch was time.