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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 6: Team Hughes vs. Team Serra
The sixth season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” which aired starting on Sept. 19, 2007 after its June-July production run, built on some of the elements of the successful fifth season, most notably the choice to focus once again on a single weight class. For “TUF 6,” that would be the welterweight division, and in contrast to previous seasons, the cast actually were welterweights for the most part. Like Season 5, the new season also featured coaches from the same division as the fighters in the form of longtime welterweight kingpin Matt Hughes and newly crowned champ Matt Serra. Both were familiar faces to fans of the show: Hughes had been a coach on Season 2, while Serra had been the welterweight winner of Season 4, parlaying the title shot he earned into the greatest championship upset in MMA history by dethroning Georges St. Pierre at UFC 69 in April.
Season 6 is also when, to put it bluntly, the talent level dropped through the floor. There had already been two “TUF” seasons featuring welterweights—not to mention future standouts like Diego Sanchez and Josh Koscheck who had been drafted into “middleweight” casts—and the pool of prospects was growing rather shallow. Of the 16 fighters who made up the cast on Day 1, only three would end up fighting in the UFC 10 or more times, compared to six fighters from the previous season or eight—fully half the cast—from Season 1. Almost one-third of the fighters who appeared on “TUF 6” never won another fight. For that reason, the draft order here relies on some pretty fine distinctions once you get past the top few picks, but that’s what we’re here for. Not to mention, the original draft order is positively horrible, easily the worst of any season so far. With our work cut out for us, let us commence the “TUF 6” redraft.
Pre-TUF Record: 7-2
Post-TUF Record: 7-5 (7-4 UFC)
Heading into the “TUF 6” house, Sotiropoulos had, at worst, the second strongest résumé in the cast. His two career blemishes had come against Top 10 fighter Shinya Aoki, via disqualification from a groin shot in a fight in which he had been holding his own, and fellow Aussie Kyle Noke, who would end up in the UFC himself, was substantially larger and whom Sotiropoulos had defeated in their rematch. Accordingly, after the inexplicably bad first two picks, Sotiropoulos was the first fighter to be drafted for reasons that made sense. He lived up to the high billing and then some; while he was bounced in the semifinals by Tom Speer, he defeated Billy Miles at the finale, then dropped to lightweight and went on to win his first seven fights in the UFC. The last three of those wins, against Joe Stevenson, Kurt Pellegrino and Joe Lauzon, propelled Sotiropoulos to the edge of the Top 10 and likely just a win or two away from being the first Australian to earn a UFC title shot in nearly a decade.
That was as close as he would get. Perhaps due in part to age—he had been a late starter in MMA and turned 30 in the “TUF” house—Sotiropoulos’ decline was swift once it arrived. He was defeated by Dennis Siver in a showcase matchup in Sydney, sparking a four-fight skid that led to his dismissal from the UFC. He would make one comeback try outside the UFC before calling it quits in 2014. Though he never quite made it to the summit, Sotiropoulos is the easy No. 1 pick in this redraft, as his peak ranking and best wins outstrip those of all other candidates. It is notable that, despite the losing streak that ended his tenure, he is the only “TUF 6” cast member with a winning record in the UFC.
2. Ben SaundersOriginal Draft Position: 9 (Team Serra)
Pre-TUF Record: 4-0-2
Post-TUF Record: 18-13 (10-10 UFC)
Saunders entered the season undefeated but with draws in his first two professional fights, due not to judging weirdness but the simple fact that Absolute Fighting Championships’ habit of booking less-experienced fighters in two-round fights made for a ton of draws. Despite his solid record and imposing height and reach, Saunders wasn’t chosen until the ninth pick, just one more example of how shockingly bad the original draft was. During the show, he performed about as well as expected for a middling pick, getting past Dan Barrera in the opening round before losing to Speer in the quarterfinals.
However, after beating Barrera again at the finale to earn a UFC contract, Saunders quickly became a dangerous and reliably exciting welterweight across two separate UFC stints and a lengthy run in Bellator MMA. While Saunders came up definitively short in his forays against Top 10 welterweights like Jon Fitch and Douglas Lima, his best wins are impressive; being the first man to knock out Marcus Davis is an underrated accomplishment. Saunders’ 10-10 UFC mark suffers from the ugly four-fight skid that left him a free agent this year, but his overall body of work is more than enough to make him worth the No. 2 pick.
3. Mac DanzigOriginal Draft Position: 6 (Team Hughes)
Pre-TUF Record: 16-4-1
Post-TUF Record: 6-8 (5-8 UFC)
Notable Achievements: "The Ultimate Fighter" Season 6 winner
With the possible exception of Sotiropoulos, Danzig was the most accomplished fighter at the beginning of Season 6. He was easily the most experienced cast member, and all of his setbacks had come against very good fighters. His draft position suffered mostly because Serra and Hughes were both terrible at picking fighters, but probably due in part to the eyeball test; while Danzig absolutely looked and moved like a UFC-level fighter, he also looked like the lightweight he was and would be once again as soon as the show was over.
Undersized or not, Danzig blew through his season tournament more impressively than any “TUF” competitor before—and perhaps since. He racked up effortless first-round submissions of No. 1 overall pick Joe Scarola and John Kolosci (twice) to punch his ticket to the final, where he choked out Speer in two minutes. With as little time and as little damage as he took on his way to winning the trophy, a good argument could be made that the hardest challenge Danzig faced all season was finding enough vegan food in the house. However, once Season 6’s big fish was dumped into the big pond of the UFC lightweight division, greatness simply never materialized. While he was always a well-rounded and well-prepared fighter, and managed a couple of impressive wins, he ended up 5-8 across a UFC tenure that might have been cut shorter if not for his cachet as a “TUF” winner.
4. Tom SpeerOriginal Draft Position: 16 (Team Hughes)
Pre-TUF Record: 11-1
Post-TUF Record: 10-6 (0-2 UFC)
Speer was chosen last despite an 11-1 record, probably due to strength of schedule: Most of those wins had been accumulated under the banner of UCS, the Minnesota promotion that brought us such legendary series as “Battle at the Barn” and “Throwdown at the T-Bar.” However, he performed far above expectations, defeating a series of frankly more skilled fighters in Saunders, War Machine and Sotiropoulos before running into Danzig in the final.
Speer did get another fight in the UFC, all 51 seconds of which he used bravely and selflessly to try and warn us about the dangers of getting in the cage with Anthony Johnson. Afterward, he went back to fighting in regional promotions, once again largely in Minnesota and the Midwest, where he racked up a 10-4 record before retiring. A win over fellow UFC veteran and “Rumble” victim Kevin Burns highlights a strong overall post-“TUF” campaign that earns him the No. 4 pick in this redraft. He is also, by a farmboy mile, the best fighter ever to be picked last on “The Ultimate Fighter.”
5. John KolosciOriginal Draft Position: 7 (Team Serra)
Pre-TUF Record: 8-4
Post-TUF Record: 7-5 (0-1 UFC)
Kolosci had a tough draw on the show, as replacing the injured Arroyo meant that the Indiana native ended up having to fight eventual tournament winner Danzig twice, and was dominated both times. Though he lost to Arroyo at the finale, he edges him out in the draft thanks to a pretty strong post-“TUF” run: Kolosci’s 2010 submission of Luigi Fioravanti is a better win than anyone below him in this draft can point to.
6. Matt ArroyoOriginal Draft Position: 5 (Team Serra)
Pre-TUF Record: 2-1
Post-TUF Record: 1-2
Yes, Season 6 is so dismal that a fighter who has a grand total of one official MMA win since the show is the No. 6 draft pick. There are a couple of factors at work; first, Arroyo actually did fairly well on the show, winning his way to the semifinals before being forced to withdraw due to injury. He beat Kolosci at the finale to win a UFC contract, but was done no favors by the matchmakers, losing to Matt Brown—who had already knocked him out once before either of them was on “TUF”—and Dan Cramer. After his UFC release, Arroyo never fought attain.
Pre-TUF Record: 2-1
Post-TUF Record: 1-1
Mandaloniz, a self-described “Rude Boy” from Hilo, Hawaii, and protégé of the “Rude Boy from Hilo,” B.J. Penn, cruised into the season with a 2-1 professional record. He advanced to the quarterfinals before being eliminated by Arroyo, but earned a return invite to the season finale, where he earned a UFC contract by beating his castmate Hightower. After losing to Paul Kelly in his next UFC fight, he was released and never fought again.
Pre-TUF Record: 7-1
Post-TUF Record: 3-1, 1 NC (1-1 UFC)
Taking into account only the actual show, Mitichyan might have turned in the worst “TUF” performance of all time. He was injured after being drafted but before fighting. He then threw an insane tantrum in which he screamed at a physician and impugned his medical credentials. (OK, that part was pretty funny.) Worst of all, his withdrawal created the opening that would allow news outlets to refer to War Machine as “a former UFC cage fighter” forevermore. That’s like a hat trick of sh*ttiness.
Mitichyan was invited to fight at the finale, where he earned a UFC contract by steamrolling Dorian Price. If he does not deserve too much credit for beating one of the worst fighters on the cast, then neither should it be held against him too much that in his other UFC fight, he lost to Sotiropoulos. After that two-fight run in the Octagon, Mitichyan fought a few more times, going 3-1 against mostly sub-.500 fighters.
Pre-TUF Record: 0-0
Post-TUF Record: 3-1 (0-1 UFC)
Fair warning: From here through the end of the draft, there is not a single fighter who won a fight in the UFC—not even against one of his fellow cast members at the finale. In fact, there are five fighters who never won a fight again, period. That being the case, the draft order comes down to minutiae such as who did better in the exhibition fights on the show, or whose losses were more excusable. It isn’t a pretty read.
In looking back at the season, the question that sticks out the most is why Barrera was chosen second overall. He had no professional MMA credentials. He had some boxing and wrestling experience, but neither was at an especially high level. He came across as a good athlete, but was neither a specimen like Danzig nor as tall and rangy as Saunders, both of whom were chosen well after him. It’s possible that Hughes, who used his Christian faith as a frequent coaching tool throughout the season, even sharing Bible stories with his fighters, saw Barrera as a kindred spirit. In terms of demonstrated talent for fighting, though, it certainly seems he could have been gotten with a lower pick.
Once he was on the team, however, most of his misery was not of his own making. Hughes, of all people, injured Barrera’s hand during a training session meant to teach his pupil “a lesson.” And in the same way that it’s difficult to hold it against Kolosci that he had to fight Danzig twice, Barrera ended up having to fight Saunders in the elimination round, then again at the finale. He performed well both times. In fact, Barrera did so well in their first encounter that Hughes cried robbery and even Serra, Saunders’ coach, believed the fight should have gone to a deciding third round. Once he was cut loose from the UFC, Barrera fought a few more times, going 3-0 against low-level competition.
10. Richie HightowerOriginal Draft Position: 13 (Team Serra)
Pre-TUF Record: 7-1
Post-TUF Record: 1-3, 1 NC (0-1 UFC)
Hightower looked good in eliminating Blake Bowman before getting eliminated himself by Sotiropolous, then was blasted by Mandaloniz at the finale. Post-UFC, he went 1-3 with a no contest, but against surprisingly stout opposition.
11. Jared RollinsOriginal Draft Position: 14 (Team Hughes)
Pre-TUF Record: 8-3
Post-TUF Record: 0-1
Rollins was pounded out by Sotiropoulos in their opening-round matchup on the show, which, as “TUF” losses go, could be a lot worse. At the finale, he lost a memorably bloody battle with the man still called Jon Koppenhaver at the time, but Koppenhaver turned out to be an OK fighter and Rollins had his moments in the fight. After the loss, he never fought again.
12. Paul GeorgieffOriginal Draft Position: 8 (Team Hughes)
Pre-TUF Record: 6-0
Post-TUF Record: 0-1
Georgieff is one of the first examples in “TUF” history of a new archetype character: the fighter that makes viewers ask, “What in the hell are you even doing here?” Georgieff came to the show with a 6-1 record that, like Speer’s 11-1 mark, also reflected many battles at the barn. However, once on the show, his interest in fighting seemed questionable. Where his “TUF 5” predecessor Allen Berube seemed mostly interested in the show as publicity for his restaurant, Georgieff flat-out told Hughes that he didn’t want to get hit in the head, for fear of endangering his future career in engineering. In one of the few brilliant moves he made on the show, Hughes matched Georgieff with Mandaloniz, whose only standout skill appeared to be punching heads.
After being knocked stiff by the Hawaiian, Georgieff returned at the finale. While he lost by first-round technical submission—no word on whether getting choked all the way to sleep is better or worse for engineer brains than a TKO—it was to Jonathan Goulet, a solid UFC welterweight who probably would have beaten about 14 of the 16 cast members that night. Excusable loss or not, Georgieff never fought again.
13. Billy MilesOriginal Draft Position: 10 (Team Hughes)
Pre-TUF Record: 2-1
Post-TUF Record: 0-1
Miles’ one fight during the season is one of the most embarrassing performances in the history of the show. After a minute or two of fairly even action, Miles simply stood with his arms locked around Kolosci’s waist in an apparent invitation to be guillotined, a wish Kolosci obliged after several awkward moments. It was laughable to just about everyone except Hughes, who was understandably incensed by Miles’ lack of effort. Despite the poor showing, Miles was brought back at the finale, where he did little more than hold the door for Sotiropoulos’ entry into the UFC. After the finale, he never fought again.
14. Blake BowmanOriginal Draft Position: 4 (Team Hughes)
Pre-TUF Record: 0-0
Post-TUF Record: 2-7
For those counting at home, Hughes used his first two picks on fighters with a combined record of 0-0. Like Saunders, “Bengala” was a lanky, 6-foot-plus welterweight repping American Top Team—ATT Atlanta, in Bowman’s case—but the similarities more or less ended there. After being uppercutted to death by Hightower in the elimination round, Bowman was one of the few fighters who did not receive an invitation to fight at the finale. Bowman instead headed out to the regionals, where he compiled a 2-7 record against ultra-low-level competition; his two victories came against fighters who are currently 0-1 and 2-6, and several of his losses were to sub-.500 fighters as well.
15. Dorian PriceOriginal Draft Position: 12 (Team Hughes)
Pre-TUF Record: 8-3
Post-TUF Record: 0-2 (0-1 UFC)
Price’s run on “The Ultimate Fighter” and the UFC lasted just over half a round of total cage time. He was choked out by Arroyo in the elimination round, then leglocked in a preposterous 23 seconds by Mitichyan at the season finale. Price landed a total of two significant strikes on the show, and one of them was against a boom mic, nearly getting him sent home. All in all, “TUF 6” was not a good time for Price.
16. Joe ScarolaOriginal Draft Position: 1 (Team Serra)
Pre-TUF Record: 4-0-1
Post-TUF Record: 0-0
This is it. Scarola is the first No. 1 pick to go No. 16 in the redraft, and while we still have many seasons to go, I feel confident saying he will probably go down as the worst pick in the history of “The Ultimate Fighter.” The reasons that Scarola was taken first overall are clear—he was a black belt under Serra, a teacher at his school and obviously a close personal friend—but those only explain the pick; they do nothing to justify it.
Once the show started, Scarola did nothing to justify it either. (Insert here the weekly disclaimer that storytelling happens in the editing room and reality television is television first, reality second.) He lost to Danzig in the elimination round, a loss that was embarrassing not because of the opponent—Danzig was the eventual season winner, after all—but because Scarola, at best, got outworked badly on the ground and at worst, gave up. Afterward, Scarola was a general headache for Team Serra, constantly asking to call home or to go home. Finally, after conversations in which UFC President Dana White chided Scarola for squandering the opportunity and Serra flat-out told him he would lose his teaching job if he quit, Scarola went home. He never fought in MMA again.