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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.
The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes
Behold, the sophomore slump.
After the encouraging success of “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil,” the producers of the venerable reality show quickly went back to the well for a second foreign edition. “The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes,” which debuted on air on Sept. 19, 2012, featured aspiring lightweights and welterweights from the United Kingdom and Australia under the guidance of UFC contenders and “TUF” veterans Ross Pearson and George Sotiropoulos. Like its Brazilian predecessor, “The Smashes” aired on cable in the contestants’ native countries and streamed via internet in the United States. “The Smashes” was produced in Australia at the same time Season 16 of the regular series (Team Carwin vs. Team Dos Santos) was taping in Las Vegas, and their broadcasts overlapped closely as well. In fact, due to the enormous 18-hour time difference between Queensland and Las Vegas, their season finales technically took place on the same day: Dec. 15, 2012.
Unfortunately, in terms of talent, “The Smashes” more closely resembled Season 16 than “TUF Brazil.” It isn’t easy to point out exactly what went wrong. While they did not have to win an eliminator fight to get onto the show like their Season 16 counterparts, the crop of U.K. and Aussie hopefuls was young, sported strong records and at least several of them were quite promising by the eyeball test. Whatever the reasons, if the goal of “TUF” is to keep the UFC stocked with talent, “The Smashes” is neck-and-neck with Season 16 for the worst season in series history. Of the 16 fighters who made it into the house, only six managed even a single win in the UFC, a number which drops to four if you don’t include fighters who beat a castmate at the finale and then never won again. Only two fighters from “The Smashes” have better than .500 records in the Octagon, though to be fair, one of those is much, much better.
Like Seasons 4 and 9 before it, “The Smashes” did not feature a draft, as the fighters were assigned to teams based on nationality, so this is simply a draft, not a redraft. It won’t be pretty, but let us put this motley crew into order based on their accomplishments during and after the show.
Pre-TUF Record: 9-2
Post-TUF Record: 13-3
Notable Achievements: “The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes” winner (welterweight), UFC middleweight champion
If you’re looking for a tiebreaker between “The Smashes” and the other candidates for the worst season of “TUF,” look no further than each season’s top fighter. While Season 16 has the very respectable Neil Magny, and coaches Pearson (Season 9) and Sotiropoulos (Season 6) were themselves the best fighters from two of the show’s worst seasons, “The Smashes” has Whittaker and Whittaker has a UFC belt on his mantel. The 21-year-old “Reaper” entered the show with a solid record that included nine first- or second round finishes, including one over “Smashes” castmate Ben Alloway. He made the final with ease, blowing through Luke Newman and Xavier Lucas in about 90 seconds of total cage time while showing off some frightening hand speed and power. At the finale, he outstruck Brad Scott for two rounds and defended himself ably on the ground in the other to become the welterweight tournament winner.
Whittaker has gone on to become one of the most accomplished fighters ever to come out of “TUF.” After a 3-2 start to his UFC run, he made the rare decision to move up in weight unprompted; while he had never failed to make the welterweight limit, he simply felt he would perform better as a middleweight. That has proven to be very much the case, as he won his first eight fights at 185 pounds, picking up six post-fight bonuses and the interim belt—later promoted to undisputed—along the way. While he lost the title to Israel Adesanya in devastating fashion just over a year ago, “Bobby Knuckles” is 2-0 since his return from a self-imposed hiatus and seems physically as well as mentally rejuvenated. Still just 29 years old and very much in the middleweight title picture, Whittaker will likely continue to build on his résumé, but the gulf in accomplishment between himself and the pack is already such that he is the easiest No. 1 pick in any season of this series so far.
2. Norman ParkeTeam Affiliation: Team UK (lightweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 16-2
Post-TUF Record: 12-5-1, 1 NC (5-3-1 UFC)
Notable Achievements: “The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes” winner (lightweight), KSW interim lightweight champion
While there was no draft on “The Smashes,” if there had been, there is a good chance Parke would have been the first lightweight off the board. The 24-year-old from Northern Ireland was the most experienced fighter in the house and his 16-2 record offered quality as well as quantity; after a loss in his professional debut, his only setback had been against future UFC lightweight Joe Duffy, while his wins included some of the UK and Ireland’s best prospects. He was also a big, solidly built lightweight, which made it a little funny and a little sad to watch him fairly effortlessly handle a bantamweight (Vaculik) and a featherweight (Loughnane) en route to the final. At the finale, Parke faced Colin Fletcher—who, if nothing else, was at least about Parke’s same size—and won a fun, but one-sided decision to become the lightweight winner of “The Smashes.”
Parke’s post-“TUF” career has been decent, but could have been better if not for a combination of bad luck, external factors and plain old shooting himself in the foot. When he tweeted on April 1, 2016 that he had been released by the UFC, his Octagon record was 5-3-1, with all three losses coming by decision, two of them split. The UFC pulling the plug on a “TUF” champ with a winning record was unexpected enough that some assumed it was an April Fools’ joke. However, it was quite true, and possibly due to his UFC fights mostly having been forgettable viewing, especially by lightweight standards. Since then, Parke has been competitive in a variety of Eurasian promotions, most notably KSW, where he won an interim title last year. However, he has been plagued by failures to make weight; incredibly, he has missed weight for title fights in two different organizations, including a scheduled defense of his KSW belt this July. Foibles aside, Parke remains a solid fighter and is the only alum of “The Smashes” besides Whittaker with a winning record in the UFC.
Pre-TUF Record: 8-1
Post-TUF Record: 3-5
Scott made his way to the welterweight final with decision wins over Lucas and Alloway, the latter being the best fight of the season. Nonetheless, in light of the way Whittaker had massacred his side of the bracket, Scott came into the finale as a solid underdog. Scott’s performance, in which he had the future middleweight champ in trouble on the ground for much of the second round, was good enough to land him a UFC contract.
Since the finale, Scott, like Whittaker, has fought at middleweight as well as welterweight. An argument can be made that his 3-5 record since the show is better than it looks; none of his losses are terrible—Whittaker and Jack Hermansson are both Top 5 fighters—and his win over current KSW middleweight champ Scott Askham looks fantastic in hindsight. What is exactly as bad as it looks, however, is the two-year suspension for cocaine metabolites that has kept him on the shelf since 2018. While that suspension is now over, there is no indication whether the promotion has kept a seat warm for him, or if he plans to return to fighting at all. Still just 31 years old, he might rise or fall in this order based on what he chooses to do—or when Loughnane passes him.
Pre-TUF Record: 5-0
Post-TUF Record: 14-3 (0-1 UFC)
Loughnane was not originally part of the cast, but got the call up when Michael Pastou was injured on the first episode. While we would generally exclude the replacement in favor of the original in these redrafts, here we’ll make an exception because Pastou was sent home before the fights started and there had been no draft or elimination round anyway, so Loughnane might as well have been there all along. (Also because Pastou never fought professionally again and this miserable season needs all the help it could get.) Despite being young, green and a bit undersized, the 22-year-old Manchester native made the semifinals, where he put up a valiant fight against eventual tournament winner Parke.
Since then, Loughnane’s career has been an epic, cosmic clash of forces, with his competitive excellence on one side and the universe’s apparent wish to keep him out of the UFC on the other. Loughnane was invited to compete at the season finale, where he lost to UK teammate Wilkinson in a decision that was at best contentious and at worst a robbery. With no UFC contract, Loughnane returned to Europe and went on an 11-2 run, avenging the Wilkinson loss in emphatic fashion along the way and losing only to Tom Duquesnoy and Pat Healy, both times by split decision.
That run resulted in an invitation to appear on Dana White's Contender Series, where he defeated Bill Algeo but was snubbed for a contract by the UFC president, who famously said he was looking for “killers” and criticized Loughnane for taking Algeo down in the last minute of the fight. Loughnane, whose last six wins had all been finishes, shrugged and signed with Professional Fighters League, where he won his next two fights. Once PFL returns to action in 2021, the 30-year-old Loughnane may well work his way up this list—and who knows?—maybe even back to the UFC one day.
Pre-TUF Record: 7-0
Post-TUF Record: 2-5 (2-2 UFC)
“The Warrior” got off to a great start, scrambling his way to a beautiful rear-naked choke submission over Grant Blackler. Unfortunately, an eye poke in training turned out to be serious enough to force him out of the tournament—and to add insult to injury, they let Vaculik, an Aussie, come back to replace him. He returned at the finale, defeating Loughnane and earning a UFC contract. Wilkinson’s four-fight UFC tenure was about as good as it sounds; while both of his wins were over previously undefeated fighters, one of them probably should have been a loss, while neither of his actual losses was particularly competitive.
After that so-so Octagon run, Wilkinson faced Soso Nizharadze in Absolute Championship Akhmat, the first of three straight losses to begin his post-UFC career, including a first-round knockout at the hands of Loughnane. Wilkinson has not competed since March of last year.
6. Ben AllowayTeam Affiliation: Team Australia (welterweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 12-3
Post-TUF Record: 7-6 (1-2 UFC)
Alloway was one of the older and more experienced welterweights on the show, and but for a razor-close decision against Scott in his semifinal, would have made it to the tournament final and a chance to avenge an early career loss to Whittaker. At the finale, he spent most of a round against Aussie teammate Manuel Rodriguez surviving on the ground before sniping him with a sensational front kick to the face, reminiscent of Anderson Silva against Vitor Belfort.
That was the apex of Alloway’s UFC run, however; he was released after back-to-back losses but has continued to fight on, primarily in Australia and the Oceanic region. He has not fought since May 2019.
Pre-TUF Record: 8-1
Post-TUF Record: 8-9 (0-2 UFC)
If nothing else, “Freakshow” had the most appropriate nickname of any cast member from “The Smashes.” MMA has always attracted more than its share of misfits and outcasts, but “The Ultimate Fighter” in particular has always given plenty of camera time to the oddballs, and by the time of “The Smashes,” the oddballs knew it and leaned into the role. Such was Fletcher. His antics—snorting wasabi, running around naked—were humorous and largely harmless to anyone but himself, so most of his vibe came from his creepy tattoos and mouthguard, plus talking about what a freak he was. Freak credentials aside, however, Fletcher wasn’t a bad fighter. He made it to the lightweight final, where he lost to Parke, and in his only other UFC appearance, dropped a unanimous decision to Season 16’s Mike Ricci. Since then, he has put together a decent record against middling opposition, almost entirely in Britain. The 37-year-old has not fought since June of 2018.
Pre-TUF Record: 9-1
Post-TUF Record: 1-4 (1-3 UFC)
Vaculik acquitted himself well on the show, considering he was a bantamweight, and not even a big bantamweight at that. He faced two of the largest lightweights in the bracket in Parke and Fletcher—not to mention the eventual finalists—but put up a game effort against both. He didn’t debut in the UFC until nearly a year after the finale, and at flyweight, three full weight classes beneath the division in which he had fought on the show. “Vas” didn’t make much of a splash, as he lost to the three decent UFC-level flyweights he faced. He fought once more after his UFC run, losing in Pancrase, before transitioning full-time back to his other great love and athletic pursuit: surfing. A surfer since childhood, Vaculik is best known in that world as a big-wave rider, because of course he is.
9. Ben WallTeam Affiliation: Team Australia (lightweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 6-0-1
Post-TUF Record: 4-6 (0-2 UFC)
“Manimal” was eliminated in the quarterfinals by Fletcher, and did not appear at the finale. Instead, like teammate Vaculik, he got the call a year later when the UFC headed back to Queensland for Fight Night 33. Wall went 0-2 in his two Octagon tries, but has remained fairly active since, fighting at least once a year mostly in and around Australia.
10. Manuel RodriguezTeam Affiliation: Team Australia (welterweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 9-3
Post-TUF Record: 2-1 (0-1 UFC)
Rodriguez had one of the true hard-luck runs of the season. The Salvadoran-born Aussie got off to a solid start, putting Bola Omoyele away with a crushing North-South choke in the quarterfinals. However, one of Omoyele’s kicks fractured Rodriguez’s leg, forcing him out of the rest of the tournament. He recovered in time for the finale, where he met Alloway and was at the very least holding his own, if not outright winning when, with less than 30 seconds left in the first round, he was the recipient of a direct hit to the cup. Referee Steve Perceval, who somehow missed the low blow, at first waved the fight off as a TKO. Even after Perceval had been corrected, he failed to offer Rodriguez the customary recovery time after a groin foul. Once the fight restarted, it was just seconds before Alloway blasted Rodriguez with that highlight-reel front kick to the face. There’s no knowing whether the fight would have turned out differently without the officiating gaffes, but they sure didn’t help. “Chalate” fought just three more times before retiring in 2015.
11. Bola OmoyeleTeam Affiliation: Team UK (welterweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 6-1
Post-TUF Record: 2-4 (0-0 UFC)
Omoyele got squeezed purple by Manuel Rodriguez in the quarterfinals, ending his UFC hopes—though one of his low kicks did enough damage to derail Rodriguez’s tournament run as well. Since then, “Cashflow” has surfaced sporadically, going 2-4 against decent opposition including Jack Marshman and Moise Rimbon. He has not fought professionally since 2017.
Pre-TUF Record: 12-2
Post-TUF Record: 0-1 (0-0 UFC)
The next three fighters in this draft were eliminated in their first fight on the show, fought once more outside the UFC afterward and lost. Putting them in any kind of order comes down to nitpicking how they lost on the show and to whom, and how embarrassing their post-“TUF” losses were. (Consider yourself warned, it gets dire from here on out.)
After a back-and-forth five minutes, Petrescu was punched out by Alloway early in the second round of their quarterfinal, eliminating him from the welterweight tournament. After the show, he fought once more, losing to future Bellator MMA light heavyweight Lee Chadwick, before disappearing from the sport.
13. Luke NewmanTeam Affiliation: Team UK (welterweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 5-0
Post-TUF Record: 0-1 (0-0 UFC)
Newman’s “TUF” experience consisted of 17 seconds of cage time. In fairness to “Luke Nukem,” he had the misfortune to be matched with Whittaker, but it still isn’t much to go on. After the show, he fought once more, losing to future Bellator MMA lightweight Ryan Scope via first-round submission, before disappearing from the sport.
14. Grant BlacklerTeam Affiliation: Team Australia (lightweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 8-0
Post-TUF Record: 0-1 (0-0 UFC)
In his lightweight quarterfinal, Queensland’s own Blackler was victimized by a nifty back-take and rear-naked choke courtesy of Mike Wilkinson. He went right back to his home promotion, Fury MMA, where he fought one more time, getting punched out in half a round by a .500 fighter in Pat Promrangka. He has not fought professionally since.
15. Xavier LucasTeam Affiliation: Team Australia (welterweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 8-3-1
Post-TUF Record: 0-0
The final two fighters in this draft lost their quarterfinal match and then never fought again professionally. That being the case, there’s nothing to go on beyond who beat them and how badly. In the case of Lucas, who came to the show after back-to-back stoppage losses in his last two fights, he dropped a decision to eventual welterweight finalist Brad Scott. Compared to Iodice, Lucas lost to the better fighter—at the time; Loughnane is certainly the more formidable fighter now—and their fight was the more competitive of the two.
16. Patrick IodiceTeam Affiliation: Team Australia (lightweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 5-0
Post-TUF Record: 0-0
It’s a bit of a mystery how the 5-0 Iodice ended up on the show in the first place. Not even 19 at the time of tryouts, he was by far the youngest cast member—the youngest in the history of the show, in fact—but had not fought professionally in almost a year. In his quarterfinal, Iodice faced Loughnane and likely won the first round, before getting thrashed badly enough in the second that no tiebreaker round was needed or warranted. Despite being still officially undefeated and just a few weeks past his 19th birthday, Iodice never fought professionally again.