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 5: Team Penn vs. Team Pulver
After the coach-less, draft-less, all-UFC-veterans oddity that was the fourth season of “TUF,” Season 5, which aired starting in April 2007, was a return to normalcy—sort of. For the first time, the show featured fighters from a single weight class, and for the first time, those fighters would be lightweights. Interestingly, the 16 hopefuls were coached by two fellow lightweights in B.J. Penn and Jens Pulver. This led to some awkwardness, as two of the fighters in the house had actually fought Pulver, one of them quite recently. “TUF 5” was also the first season to put the coaches’ fight on the same card as the season finale, rather than headlining its own event a week later.
The result was the first “TUF” season not to produce a UFC champ—at least not yet—but did yield three title challengers and several more contenders and divisional mainstays for the next decade. Using the same completely arbitrary measuring stick we’ve been applying to previous seasons, Season 5 featured six fighters who would go on to log at least 10 appearances in the UFC, the same as Season 2 and more than Season 3. As an effort to provide instant roster depth and fan interest in the newly-revived lightweight division, the season must be considered a success. The season is also infamous for lots of fighters getting sent home, but more on that later. Let’s get to drafting.
1. Nate DiazOriginal Draft Position: 4 (Team Pulver)
Pre-TUF Record: 5-2
Post-TUF Record: 15-10 (UFC)
Notable Achievements: "The Ultimate Fighter" Season 5 winner
Though the 21-year-old Diaz was the youngest fighter on the “TUF 5” cast, his potential was obvious. Even leaving aside that his older brother Nick Diaz was a rising contender and burgeoning star at the time—Nick’s infamous, cannabis-enhanced gogoplata submission of Takanori Gomi actually took place while Nate was filming the show—the younger sibling was already making his own name. Only 5-2 at the time, Diaz’s losses were to the tough and far more experienced Koji Oishi and, in his last pre-“TUF” fight, to Hermes Franca, who was a Top 10 lightweight at the time and would challenge for the UFC title within a year.
On the show, Diaz lived up to expectations and then some. After choking out Rob Emerson in a fantastic first fight, he triangled teammate and No. 2 overall pick Corey Hill in the quarterfinals. He then survived a round of getting roughed up by Gray Maynard to slap a guillotine on him and earn the right to face Manny Gamburyan at the finale, where he won in anticlimactic fashion. After an exciting first round that pitted Gamburyan’s physical strength and heavy top game against Diaz’s aggressive guard, Gamburyan injured his shoulder just seconds into the second round. Just like that, Diaz was the Season 5 tournament winner.
The unconventional way in which Diaz won the season might be reason for more question marks if not for the fact that his post-“TUF” career seems to support the idea that the better fighter prevailed that night. Diaz’s record since the show, which currently stands at 15-10, belies the impressive scalps on his wall, including Conor McGregor, Donald Cerrone, Jim Miller and Anthony Pettis. While he has his share of losses as well, Diaz’s best wins, as well as his huge collection of post-fight bonuses, paint the picture of one of the most dangerous and exciting fighters of his era. Unsurprisingly, Diaz eventually blossomed into to one of the biggest stars in the sport, and for all these reasons, he is the No. 1 pick in this redraft.
2. Gray MaynardOriginal Draft Position: 1 (Team Penn)
Pre-TUF Record: 2-0
Post-TUF Record: 13-5-1, 1 NC (UFC)
That “The Bully” was chosen first overall from a field that included some 20 and even 30-fight veterans is actually not too hard to understand in hindsight. Maynard had been a three-time NCAA All-American wrestler, and while the eyeball test isn’t infallible, he brought a level of sheer physicality that nobody else on Season 5 could match. There was also a bit of insider knowledge, as Maynard’s first exposure to MMA had been as a training partner for Penn, a few years earlier. The coach knew just whom he was picking, and the pick worked out just fine.
Maynard thrashed Wayne Weems in one of the worst “TUF” beatdowns ever, then guillotined Brandon Melendez before meeting Diaz in the semifinals. After a lopsided first round in which he took Diaz down with ease and beat him up from top position, he blundered straight into a guillotine early in the second. Game over. Matched up at the finale with Emerson, Maynard suffered a bizarre and controversial finish: Maynard slammed Emerson into the canvas hard enough to injure his foe’s ribs, but appeared to knock himself out in the process. Maynard has always denied he was out, but the fight remains officially a no contest.
The Emerson fight was no more than a speed bump, as Maynard went on to win his next eight Octagon appearances in a row, using his wrestling to dominate strikers, grapplers and fellow wrestlers alike. As the 2010s dawned, Maynard was at worst the third best lightweight on the planet and, if Frankie Edgar had been made of just a slightly lesser grade of adamantium, would almost certainly have won a UFC title. If that had happened, Maynard would be the No. 1 pick in this redraft, but even in the timeline we live in, he’s an easy second, as one of the best lightweights in a mini-golden era for the division.
3. Joe LauzonOriginal Draft Position: 7 (Team Penn)
Pre-TUF Record: 14-3
Post-TUF Record: 14-12 (UFC)
There are some reasons it makes sense that Lauzon went seventh despite having one of the best records in the house. He was young, skinny and unassuming-looking, a Season 5 version of Kenny Florian next to Maynard’s Josh Koscheck. However, there is one enormous difference between “J-Lau” and just about any other fighter undergoing the eyeball test on an Episode 1 of “TUF”: Lauzon had already fought in the UFC and had knocked Pulver out of his boots. At 14-3 and having already demonstrated that he was more than a match for a former UFC champion, Lauzon makes some of first six picks look like head-scratchers.
Lauzon’s more than respectable performance on the show—he was turned away by Gamburyan in the semifinals—ushered in a quietly fantastic UFC career, at least, as quiet as one can manage while also being one of the promotion’s all-time leaders in post-fight bonuses. As of this draft, Lauzon leads all Season 5 fighters in UFC appearances with 26, though he and Diaz (25) remain neck-and-neck, just as they do in several other statistical categories. Much like Diaz, anything else Lauzon does from here on out is just additional icing on one of the most impressive UFC careers ever launched by “The Ultimate Fighter.”
Pre-TUF Record: 6-1
Post-TUF Record: 9-9, 1 NC (6-8, 1 NC UFC)
“The Anvil” was easily the most slept-on fighter of Season 5, to the point that UFC president Dana White made a point of telling him so on one of the later episodes. The shortest fighter in the house, Gamburyan was chosen 10th and promptly won his way to the final, where he was at the very least holding his own against Diaz before the fight-ending shoulder injury.
Gamburyan’s post-“TUF” record is deceptive. While his UFC tally is technically below .500, his four-fight run in World Extreme Cagefighting’s featherweight division were UFC fights in all but name. All told, the burly Armenian-American was a tough out for several years at lightweight and featherweight—and, briefly, bantamweight—before time and increasingly frequent injuries overtook him.
5. Matt WimanOriginal Draft Position: 3 (Team Penn)
Pre-TUF Record: 6-3
Post-TUF Record: 10-6 (UFC)
Like Lauzon and Gabe Ruediger, “Handsome Matt” had already fought in the UFC before “TUF.” Unlike Lauzon, he had not won, getting posterized by Spencer Fisher at UFC 60. That makes it a bit odd that he went third in the original draft, but the pick didn’t pan out too badly. After running through Marlon Sims in laughably easy fashion, Wiman was eliminated by Gamburyan in their quarterfinal. He redeemed himself with a TKO of Brian Geraghty at the series finale, then embarked on a nice run as a solid lightweight in the UFC. He was 10-4 with the promotion when he announced his retirement in 2014, but has fallen to 10-6 since returning to action last year.
6. Cole MillerOriginal Draft Position: 12 (Team Pulver)
Pre-TUF Record: 11-2
Post-TUF Record: 10-9, 1 NC (UFC)
In much the same way as Lauzon, Miller brought an impressive record to the show but ended up underdrafted for reasons that are not entirely clear, but may be in part due to not looking like an idealized fighter. Whatever the reasons, Miller got off to a promising start by submitting Allen Berube with ease in his first fight. In his quarterfinal against Lauzon, Miller was getting slightly the worse of a good back-and-forth fight when he was badly dazed by a strike to the back of the head in the second round. Though everyone seemed to recognize how significant it had been—including Lauzon, who apologized—Miller simply took his recovery time, then fought on and lost via TKO minutes later. Under other circumstances, Miller might have collected a disqualification win and advanced to the semifinals.
However, Miller would put that moment very, very far in the rear view. He returned at the finale and flattened Andy Wang, then embarked on a long and respectable UFC run, picking up a “Knockout of the Night” and four “Submission of the Night” bonuses. Despite being picked 12th, Miller went on to have a 20-fight run in the UFC, tied with Maynard and behind only Lauzon and Diaz for the most of any Season 5 fighter.
Pre-TUF Record: 7-6
Post-TUF Record: 13-9, 1 NC (3-3, 1 NC UFC)
Emerson’s pre-“TUF” record was more impressive than it looked thanks to a brutal strength of schedule; his MMA debut had come against none other than Pulver, in his absolute prime, immediately after he had beaten Penn and then left the UFC. Four of Emerson’s first five professional opponents were former or future UFC fighters. Nonetheless, as a barely .500 fighter and somewhat undersized lightweight, “The Saint” went ninth.
Emerson didn’t fare all that well on the show, losing his own opening-round bout as well as the second chance fight he received when Ruediger’s cake-and-colonics weight management plan performed as well as expected. Given a third chance—if a slim one—by being booked against Maynard at the finale, he benefited either from a horrible tactical blunder on the part of his opponent or a miserable call by the referee, depending on your point of view. Whichever was the case, he made the most of the opportunity. Contract in hand, Emerson pieced together a decent UFC run, including a chilling 12-second knockout of season finalist Gamburyan, then a very respectable post-UFC campaign, often at featherweight.
Pre-TUF Record: 10-3
Post-TUF Record: 8-5 (0-2 UFC)
Readers who remember Season 5 may be surprised to see the name of one of the show’s two biggest laughingstocks this early in the redraft. It is due to two factors: One, Ruediger’s post-“TUF” run wasn’t too bad; and two, the talent level goes straight off a cliff, starting here. Ruediger was chosen fifth, thanks to a pretty good record that already included a WEC title and one UFC bout, though it is unclear how much his stock rose by letting Melvin Guillard crumple him with one of the hardest body shots in Octagon history.
Ruediger could have used a few more of those body shots on the show, considering that a whole episode revolved around his efforts to cut almost 20 pounds by mechanically removing fecal material from his colon. Ruediger’s stint on “TUF” was, in short, a complete disaster. Inserting the obligatory disclaimer that storytelling happens in the editing room and that reality television is television first, reality second, he came across lazy, unserious and just a bit dishonest, didn’t get to fight and even caused a penalty to be inflicted on his team after his departure.
Then, an unexpected thing happened. Banished from the big leagues, Ruediger went back to the regionals and started winning. He put together a six-fight winning streak and earned a return invite to the UFC. While he fared little better in that second run, which ironically began with a fight with Lauzon, to have even fought his way back to the UFC was a feel-good sports story almost worthy of the other Ruettiger… Rudy, that is.
Pre-TUF Record: 17-10-1
Post-TUF Record: 9-10 (0-1 UFC)
Geraghty is one of those fighters for whom “TUF” ended up being a mere side note in a perfectly respectable journeyman career. While he was one of the more experienced fighters coming into the season, his draft position reflected the (correct) perception that he might have hit his competitive ceiling when he was invited to be part of the show.
That would prove to be the case; Geraghty’s two fights at the UFC level ended in a complete steamrolling by Lauzon on the show, and one at the finale that was different mostly in that Wiman elected to punch him out rather than choke him out. Afterward, Geraghty went right back to regional promotions, and fought all over the world for the next five or six years, winning as often as not. Nothing at all wrong with that.
10. Andy WangOriginal Draft Position: 11 (Team Penn)
Pre-TUF Record: 5-6
Post-TUF Record: 3-3-1, 1 NC (0-1 UFC)
Readers who remember Season 5 may be surprised to see the name of the other of the show’s two biggest laughingstocks this early in the redraft. Wang is most memorable for doing his best Enson Inoue impression on the show—complete with actual Inoue quotes about being a samurai and living and dying like a man—but apparently missed the idea of setting and scale. Inoue’s doomed choice to slug it out with Igor Vovchanchyn was strategically disastrous but, given the high stakes and the bright lights of Pride Fighting Championships, tragically heroic in its way. Wang standing and getting soundly outstruck by a fellow journeyman in the “TUF” gym, while his coach repeatedly screamed, “TAKE HIM DOWN, ANDY!” was nowhere in the same galaxy.
Despite being booted from Team Penn, then initially refusing to join Team Pulver—and, of course, delivering a soliloquy about now being a “ronin,” or masterless samurai—Wang was invited to the finale, where he was wiped out by a Miller head kick. While he never approached the UFC level again, Wang did win more than he lost in the next few years, and even made an appearance in One Championship, where his traditional martial spirit probably went over great.
11. Corey HillOriginal Draft Position: 2 (Team Pulver)
Pre-TUF Record: 1-0
Post-TUF Record: 5-9 (1-2 UFC)
Hill’s is a complex story. On one hand, he is one of the “TUF 5” cast members who is notable for having lied about his previous fight experience; his claim to being 10-0 turned out to be a complete fabrication. On the other hand, he really was a fighter with potential. While his fake fight record probably mattered far more than his real junior college wrestling experience in getting him drafted second overall, the revelation of the truth—that he had practically no fight experience and had not even trained with a team before—was such a stunner that assistant coach Jeremy Horn invited him to train with him after the show. Hill was also a 6-foot-4 lightweight, which seemed a circus sideshow-level curiosity at the time but would barely merit a mention in a modern UFC in which 6-foot-3 Luis Pena was given permission to try dropping to featherweight.
After being eliminated by Diaz in the quarterfinals, Hill was brought back by the UFC in 2008. While he won a fight in the Octagon, which is more than several fighters above him in this draft can say, he is chiefly remembered for suffering one of the most gruesome injuries in the history of the sport. After his horrible leg break against Dale Hartt, Hill took more than a year off, but was never the same fighter again. He lost his last five fights in a row before passing away tragically young, at the age of 36 on May 15, 2015.
12. Noah ThomasOriginal Draft Position: 15 (Team Penn)
Pre-TUF Record: 11-5
Post-TUF Record: 3-2 (0-0 UFC)
Thomas, like “TUF” castmate Geraghty, ended up seamlessly returning to the minors. He came into Season 5 on a four-fight win streak and, after falling victim to a first-round kimura from Gamburyan—the Hayastan special—went back to Colorado and promptly started a new three-fight win streak. That’s a neat story, interrupted only by the fact that Thomas was sent home after getting in a brawl with castmate Marlon Sims, who also got the boot. The resulting monologue from White is one of the most convincing moments the show ever elicited from the bluster-heavy UFC president, so I suppose we’ll always have Thomas to thank in part for that.
13. Allen BerubeOriginal Draft Position: 13 (Team Penn)
Pre-TUF Record: 2-1
Post-TUF Record: 2-2 (0-1 UFC)
Sometimes, in hindsight, a draft pick is just right. Berube was over 30 years old, yet only a three-fight veteran at the time of “TUF 5,” and seemed not to be too serious about the whole fighting thing. He was a fun personality on the show, but the three times he came up against UFC-level competition, in the form of Miller, Leonard Garcia at the finale and an early-career meeting with Jonathan Brookins, he was wiped out in the first round.
14. Brandon MelendezOriginal Draft Position: 6 (Team Pulver)
Pre-TUF Record: 20-12
Post-TUF Record: 5-13 (0-1 UFC)
Melendez is another of the fighters who entered the Season 5 “TUF” house under some questionable pretenses. While Hill vastly overstated his experience and we’ll get to Sims next, Melendez’s deception was the very idea that he could make lightweight, let alone do so three times in six weeks, as the show might require. While Melendez reluctantly admitted on the show that he was “usually a welterweight,” the author of this article happened to live in Utah during Melendez’s entire pre-“TUF” career. Having seen Melendez keep an incredibly busy schedule—he fought 12 times in 2006—all up and down the weight scale, against numerous over-200 pound opponents like Hank Weiss and Kyacey Uscola, I would be surprised if Melendez had actually made the lightweight limit more than once in his over 30 fights.
None of that detracts from Melendez as a fighter, however, and his draft position was an accurate reflection of how dangerous he was. He had predictable difficulty making weight, but saw success as the other half of the tragicomic eliminator fight against Wang. He gave Maynard a good round and change before succumbing to a guillotine choke, but was badly outmatched against Lauzon at the finale. From there, “The Murderer” returned to smaller promotions. His dismal post-“TUF” record is not an indication that he declined—he remained largely the same fighter and is even today only 37—but that the sport was in a new age. Melendez was one of the last products of a Wild West MMA scene that paid little heed to weight classes or other niceties, and he remains one of the best fighters to come out of Utah in the early 2000s.
15. Marlon SimsOriginal Draft Position: 8 (Team Pulver)
Pre-TUF Record: 3-1
Post-TUF Record: 0-3 (0-0 UFC)
Of the fighters who played fast and loose with the truth on the Season 5 cast, Sims is the hardest to understand. Hill and Melendez had understandable motivations and clear endgames; Hill needed to get by until he won some fights and didn’t need to lie about his record anymore, while Melendez simply planned to work hard to make lightweight so that it wouldn’t matter that he was usually a middleweight, and in both cases, it actually worked.
In contrast, Sims was a classic bullsh*tter of the kind most of us have known in our lives. His falsehoods were implausible, unfalsifiable and most of all, pointless. He was already in the house, on the merits of his own actual accomplishments, when he decided to start bragging about being an undefeated veteran of hundreds of street fights. He could scarcely have chosen an audience less apt to be convinced or impressed by his fabrications, and it’s depressing that he didn’t know any better at age 33. The result was hilarity at his expense, the best example coming from Wiman who, after eliminating Sims from the show, deadpanned that beating a 300-fight veteran had done wonders for his confidence.
Sims’ other contribution to the show was less humorous, as he was the other half of the street fight that got himself and Thomas kicked out. (For the record, he was in no way assured of his 301st win before it was broken up.) After “TUF,” Sims went 0-3, including one appearance in Strikeforce, before presumably returning to the mean streets.
16. Wayne WeemsOriginal Draft Position: 16 (Team Pulver)
Pre-TUF Record: 12-2
Post-TUF Record: 0-0
Too often, it feels as though the last pick in our “TUF” redrafts is a bit of a bummer. Weems certainly fits the mold. Though he was 12-2 coming into the season, “The Wayneiac” was chosen last because of the incredibly, uniquely, historically unimpressive nature of that record. Of Weems’ 12 career wins, nine were against debuting fighters and two more were against fighters with losing records. And while the eyeball test, as stated previously, is not infallible, it did the pale and doughy Weems no favors either.
This is all a bummer, rather than the setup for a great punchline, because like fellow No. 16 pick Jason Thacker, Weems seemed to sense on some level that he was out of his depth. He worked hard, making some physical gains and eliciting praise from coach Pulver, but his first-round matchup with Maynard was like some kind of cosmic joke. After the expected smashing and elimination from the tournament, Weems never fought again. He remains one of the nicest guys from Season 5 of “The Ultimate Fighter” and probably the worst 12-2 fighter ever.