Ben Duffy/Sherdog.com 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 13: Team Lesnar vs. Team dos Santos
Season 13 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” which featured a cast of welterweight hopefuls under the tutelage of former heavyweight champ Brock Lesnar and No. 1 contender Junior dos Santos, began taping in January 2011 and debuted on Spike TV at the end of March. The coaches’ fight, which would have determined the next challenger for Cain Velasquez, never materialized, as Lesnar was sidelined with diverticulitis that would eventually require surgery. Instead, “Cigano” earned a title shot by beating Shane Carwin, then went on to make history at Velasquez’s expense at the inaugural UFC on Fox card.
The season itself served as a reminder of why we skip the 13th floor when building skyscrapers. The talent pool was absolutely dismal, as the show went back to the welterweight well yet again; it should come as no surprise that both men in the tournament final dropped back down to lightweight immediately. Season 13 kept up the practice of starting with 14 competitors rather than 16, and bringing two eliminated fighters back as wild cards, but for the first time in several years, fighters were not required to win a fight before entering the house, probably because of the difficulty in finding 28 suitable candidates. While Season 13 is not the worst season so far—that distinction still belongs to Season 9, with Season 6 right behind—it might have been if not for one man. Let’s meet that man, and 13 others, as we redraft “The Ultimate Fighter: Team Lesnar vs. Team dos Santos” and try to make some chicken salad out of this mess.
Pre-TUF Record: 10-2
Post-TUF Record: 15-2
Notable Achievements: "The Ultimate Fighter" Season 13 winner, UFC interim lightweight champion
Ferguson may not be the most accomplished alum in the history of “The Ultimate Fighter,” but he’s in the top five, and he’s almost certainly the greatest “TUF” product without an undisputed UFC title on his mantel. He is also the main saving grace of Season 13; remove “El Cucuy” from Season 13, Ross Pearson from Season 9 and George Sotiropoulos from Season 6 and from the second-best fighter to the bottom, there isn’t much difference between the three worst seasons so far.
Selected fifth overall despite having spent time at lightweight, Ferguson quickly established himself as the guy we know and love to this day: intense, unorthodox and more than a little offbeat, both as a fighter and as a person. He also absolutely massacred everyone put in front of him. In the preliminary round, he axed replacement fighter Justin Edwards with an upkick right to the jaw, then blew out Ryan McGillivray in about 45 seconds in their quarterfinal. Matched up against teammate O’Neil in the semis due to Team Lesnar occupying three of the four slots, Ferguson punished him on the way to a third-round TKO. At the finale, Ferguson faced Nijem, who was game and aggressive but simply outmatched, especially on the feet. A brutal left hook and a single follow-up ground strike left Nijem out cold at 3:54 of Round 1 and Ferguson was the Season 13 winner of “The Ultimate Fighter.”
Ferguson promptly dropped to lightweight, a division in which he has gone on to become one of the greatest of his generation. He bounced back from his first UFC loss at the hands of Michael Johnson to rattle off an incredible 12 straight wins, including nine stoppages, 10 post-fight bonuses and an interim belt. The only possible knock against Ferguson was a propensity for injury that, combined with a similar tendency on the part of Khabib Nurmagomedov, led to nearly five years of futile attempts on the part of the UFC to put together the greatest lightweight bout of all time. The streak finally came to an end this May at the hands of Justin Gaethje, but the 36-year-old remains in the title picture and while he is still building his legendary résumé, he is already far and away the most accomplished alumnus of Season 13.
2. Myles JuryOriginal Draft Position: 9 (Team Lesnar)
Pre-TUF Record: 9-0
Post-TUF Record: 10-5 (8-4 UFC)
“The Fury” goes second in this redraft despite having been a complete wash on the show. He was the second youngest fighter in the draft and had a very impressive record, but was chosen fairly late because he had hurt his knee during the evaluation workouts and it looked as though he might have to withdraw from the show. That is precisely what happened, and by the end of Episode 1, Jury was gone, replaced by Chuck O’Neil, but with a promise from Dana White that he would get another shot once he healed. (For the record, O’Neil would likely have come in around fourth in this redraft if he had been part of the original draft instead of Jury.)
While the UFC president is sometimes known to make heat-of-the-moment pronouncements that are later walked back or simply forgotten, in this case he was as good as his word. Jury came back for the “live” Season 15, where he was bounced in the preliminary round by eventual finalist Al Iaquinta. He ended up earning a UFC roster spot, however, and won his first six fights in the promotion, propelling himself to 15-0 and knocking on the doorstep of the lightweight Top 10. While he lost his last two and four of his last six in the Octagon, all four losses were to very good fighters and his eight UFC wins include Michael Johnson, Nijem and a still-relevant Diego Sanchez. Last year, Jury signed with Bellator MMA, where after dropping his debut to Benson Henderson, he has bounced back by winning both of his bouts thus far in 2020.
3. Ramsey NijemOriginal Draft Position: 8 (Team dos Santos)
Pre-TUF Record: 4-1
Post-TUF Record: 6-7 (5-4 UFC)
Nijem was another oddball on the “TUF 13” cast: a 22-year-old John Hackleman disciple fighting out of Utah and the child of Palestinian refugees. Where Ferguson was intense and slightly scary, the “Glee”-watching, toenail-painting Nijem was genial and goofy, as his hilariously eye-searing “Stripper Ramsey” persona became one of the more memorable elements of the season. In the cage, however, Nijem was serious business, and easily the brightest spot for Team dos Santos, stopping three of Lesnar’s more promising fighters on his way to the finals. (His finish of Chris Cope in the semifinals, reminiscent of Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz, must have brought a tear of joy to Hackleman’s eye.)
After the finale knockout at the hands of Ferguson, Nijem dropped to lightweight and went on a nine-fight UFC run that was better than the numbers make it look. None of the losses came against bad fighters and his 2014 knockout win over Beneil Dariush has aged very well. Since his UFC ouster, Nijem has spent time establishing his own gym as well as making a run in Professional Fighters League that has met with mixed results. Still just 32 years old as of this redraft, it’s entirely possible that Nijem will add to his record, though it would be a bit of an upset to see him overtake Jury as the No. 2 pick.
Pre-TUF Record: 8-2
Post-TUF Record: 6-7 (1-2 UFC)
If you have followed previous installments in this series, you may have noticed that most seasons seem to have a moment after which the talent drops off a cliff. For Season 13, this is that moment and yes, it’s really early. From No. 4 pick Harvison through the end of this redraft, there is not a single fighter who won a fight in the UFC after the season finale. However, none of that is the fault of Harvison, who showed up, was drafted seventh by Lesnar and, as his position in this redraft implies, overachieved.
The man who calls himself “Heavy Metal”—it’s hard to believe that isn’t the worst nickname from the season, but it’s true—edged out Mick Bowman to make the quarterfinals, where Nijem took him down, flattened him out, boxed his ears and strangled him, all in the space of 45 seconds. Harvison beat Edwards at the finale, but dropped his next two UFC fights and was released. Since then, he has continued to fight, with sporadic breaks, compiling a decent record against respectable competition, including appearances in Bellator and Legacy Fighting Alliance.
Pre-TUF Record: 2-0
Post-TUF Record: 9-3 (0-0 UFC)
“Chunty Boy”—no, this isn’t the worst Season 13 nickname either—was an outlier. At just 2-0, the Mexican was easily the least experienced member of the cast, but was chosen by dos Santos with his third pick nonetheless. Bluntly stated, Torres was a failure on the show, losing a weird fight to Chris Cope, then being brought back as a wild card only to get brabo choked by O’Neil.
With no finale invite forthcoming, Torres headed back into the wild, where he has compiled a respectable résumé. While his stints in Bellator and World Series of Fighting account for all three of his career losses, the nine wins have come against largely respectable competition, including future “TUF” notable Julian Lane, whom we will discuss in much greater detail in just a few more weeks.
Pre-TUF Record: 11-3
Post-TUF Record: 5-8 (1-2 UFC)
Dos Santos took “The Watchman” with his first pick and it isn’t hard to understand why. While he was one of the shorter cast members, he was a physical specimen and had one of the best pre-“TUF” records of any cast member. Bailey’s performance on the show was a bit of a disappointment, as he took a decision over Nordin Asrih in the worst fight of the preliminary round, then was eliminated in the quarterfinals by the much lower-drafted Cope.
Bailey used his wrestling to dominate his “TUF” teammate McGillivray at the finale, then—like essentially every other decent fighter from Season 13—dropped to lightweight. Even if the new weight class was better suited to his stature, however, Bailey washed out of the UFC after losing his new two fights. Outside the UFC, he fought on for a few more years, racking up a 4-6 record that is about as good as it looks; while the losses are all to good fighters, none of the wins are especially impressive.
7. Nordin AsrihOriginal Draft Position: 13 (Team Lesnar)
Pre-TUF Record: 15-6-1
Post-TUF Record: 14-4 (0-0 UFC)
The 32-year-old Asrih was the oldest as well as the most experienced fighter in the house, but wasn’t taken until the last round. This despite having easily the coolest nickname of any Season 13 fighter, as “The Fists of Tangier” evokes either 1930s pulp fiction, or a boxer attached to a traveling circus from the same era. Unfortunately, that was the best thing about the Moroccan-born German, as he was eliminated by Bailey in a stinker of a prelim bout.
However, Asrih simply went back to Europe and continued to be the most prolific “TUF 13” cast member. While he rarely fights outside Germany anymore, the now 41-year-old Asrih remains active and is currently riding a nine-fight winning streak which includes a couple of very solid opponents and might well pick up right where it left off, now that his home promotion, GMC, is back to putting on events.
Pre-TUF Record: 15-4
Post-TUF Record: 3-5 (0-0 UFC)
Rader was coach Lesnar’s second pick, as his impressive record included a 2-0 slate in Bellator and 13 finishes in 15 wins. And for a couple of episodes, it looked like a sensible pick; Rader’s “Superstar” nickname was given to him by his teammates and was unironic, a response to how impressed they were with him in training. It didn’t translate to the cage, however, as Nijem ran him over in their preliminary round bout, slamming him around, taking his back and applying a rear-naked choke for an instant tap. After the season, Rader headed back to Louisiana where he fought for several more years. Like Bailey, his losses are generally forgivable—Brendan Allen is one of the brightest middleweight prospects in the UFC right now—but he has a grand total of one victory over an opponent with a winning record.
9. Chris CopeOriginal Draft Position: 11 (Team Lesnar)
Pre-TUF Record: 4-1
Post-TUF Record: 4-3 (1-2 UFC)
Cope came into Season 13 with a modestly impressive record; Ron Keslar was a good win, while his only loss was to the talented and much larger Josh Samman, who would be joining him shortly in the UFC. However, he was also saddled with the worst nickname, as “C-Murder” was lifted directly from a platinum-selling rapper who—oh, right—was serving a life sentence for murder.
Cope made it all the way to the semifinals, where he gave Nijem a tough time for about a round and a half before getting melted against the fence. He earned a roster spot by taking out O’Neil at the finale, then got served up a murderer’s row: Che Mills, who was entering the UFC on a four-fight win streak, followed by Matt Brown, just as he was assuming his final form as the terror of the welterweight division. While matching up fighters with "murder" and "immortal" in their nicknames may simply have been another example of matchmaker Joe Silva's perverse humor, the in-cage result was predictable, and Cope's Octagon run was over. He went 3-1 outside the UFC to finish his career, which sounds pretty killer until you realize that of the three wins, one was against a 1-0 fighter and the other two were against debuting fighters who never fought again.
10. Michael BowmanOriginal Draft Position: 12 (Team dos Santos)
Pre-TUF Record: 7-2
Post-TUF Record: 3-3 (0-0 UFC)
The lone Brit on the show, “Mick” went to Team dos Santos with his coach’s second to last pick. Frankly, he got a raw deal, losing to Harvison via decision in a fight that should at least have gone to a sudden victory round. Fair or not, though, that was it for Bowman; there was no wild card, nor any invitation to take on a castmate at the finale, so back to the U.K. he went. He fought sporadically for a few more years, winning some and losing some, while coming up definitively short against the one future UFC talent he met, Ian Entwistle.
11. Ryan McGillivrayOriginal Draft Position: 4 (Team dos Santos)
Pre-TUF Record: 11-4-1
Post-TUF Record: 1-2 (0-1 UFC)
McGillivray was dos Santos’ second pick and for a while there, looked like a good one. In his preliminary round fight, he knocked off first overall pick Bentley in a fantastic scrap. He then had the misfortune to run into Ferguson, and while nobody was beating “El Cucuy” that season, McGillivray was the most hapless of Ferguson’s victims. He lost to Bailey at the finale and with the UFC dream squashed for the moment, headed back to his native Canada. “The Kid” fought twice more, beating future “TUF” cast member Diego Bautista and losing to future UFC welterweight Nathan Coy, before hanging up the gloves in 2012.
12. Keon CaldwellOriginal Draft Position: 14 (Team dos Santos)
Pre-TUF Record: 8-1
Post-TUF Record: 3-3 (0-0 UFC)
The last pick in the National Football League draft each year is nicknamed “Mr. Irrelevant,” but not until Season 13 did it become tempting to do the same to for the “TUF” draft. Caldwell certified his status as the most irrelevant member of the Season 13 cast by choosing to drop out of the show and go home before he even got the chance to fight. In fairness, the 21-year-old “Black Assassin” was the youngest fighter on the cast and had never even fought outside his home state of Georgia before being sequestered away in a mansion in Las Vegas for six weeks, so homesickness was a perfectly understandable reaction, if not the best look for an aspiring fighter.
Caldwell was replaced by Justin Edwards—who probably would have come in around eighth on this list if he had been part of the original draft—and went back to fighting. His next appearance was probably his most notable, as he was guillotined by a still-undefeated Nick Newell in World Series of Fighting.
13. Len BentleyOriginal Draft Position: 1 (Team Lesnar)
Pre-TUF Record: 9-4
Post-TUF Record: 1-2 (0-0 UFC)
In a world where Joe Scarola happened, Bentley doesn’t have to worry about being the worst No. 1 pick in the history of “The Ultimate Fighter,” but that’s about all you can say for him. It’s impossible to say whether “The Liger” is the second best nickname from Season 13 or the second worst. Bentley was eliminated in his first fight by McGillivray, a loss that didn’t age well once the Canadian turned out to be one of the less accomplished fighters of the season himself. Also—and here we insert our weekly disclaimer that storytelling happens in the editing room, and reality television is television first, reality second—in a season with no real bullies or villains, Bentley stuck out as one of the few really unlikeable cast members; whiny and entitled. After the show, Bentley fought just three more times, notably getting crushed by then 18-0 Alexander Sarnavskiy, before retiring from competition.
14. Zach DavisOriginal Draft Position: 10 (Team dos Santos)
Pre-TUF Record: 4-1
Post-TUF Record: 0-0
Poor Davis. Chosen 10th by dos Santos, he tapped out O’Neil with a nifty triangle in a very fun fight, only to have to face him again in the quarterfinals, thanks to a wild card. In the rematch, O’Neil won a clear decision, leaving Davis eliminated. With no more wild cards and no late freak injuries that might afford him another shot, that was the end of Davis’ “TUF” run. Adding injury to insult, Davis suffered eye damage in the O'Neil fight that led to him deciding to retire from competition. After the show, he never fought professionally again.
« Previous Sherdog Redraft: 'The Ultimate Fighter' Season 12 Next Sherdog Redraft: 'The Ultimate Fighter' Season 14 »