Sherdog Redraft: 'The Ultimate Fighter' Season 15

By Ben Duffy Oct 9, 2020
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 15: Team Cruz vs. Team Faber


The fifteenth season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” which aired beginning on March 9, 2012, featured lightweight prospects under the tutelage of Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber. “The Ultimate Fighter: Live” brought sweeping changes from previous seasons, driven by the big change: the move from Spike TV, which had carried the show for its entire seven-year existence, to new broadcast partner FX. With the transition to FX came the debut of Jon Anik as host and narrator, a general visual makeover and most importantly, the “live” format. Where previous seasons had been recorded in their entirety—including the fights, whose outcomes were a jealously guarded secret—then edited into weekly episodes for broadcast, Season 15 edited each week’s house footage to be aired on Friday, followed by the fights, which took place live, as the tag line implied.

Looking back on Season 15, it’s tempting to rename it “The Ultimate Fighter: Where Did You Find These Guys?” Just a year and a half before, the all-lightweight Season 12 had been terrible from a talent standpoint. It was followed by all-welterweight Season 13, which had been similarly terrible—outside of the top four fighters, all of whom were really lightweights. The somewhat surprising choice to go back to the 155-pound well is doubly surprising for having been such a success.

Despite all indications that the UFC was trying to squeeze blood from a stone, Season 15 delivered loads of lightweight talent. The 16 fighters who emerged from the elimination round ended up impressing Dana White to the point that he promised them that they would all get a chance to fight in the UFC, a promise that was kept. Six cast members from Season 15 have logged 10 or more UFC appearances, it will probably be seven by the time Vinc Pichel is done, and that only accounts for the fighters who actually made it into the house. Because of the live format, the elimination fights consisted of a single five-minute round, adding another layer of chaos to the process. Of the 16 fighters bounced on Episode 1, six would end up in the UFC, including current contenders James Krause and Drew Dober.

“TUF Live” was a one-of-a-kind season, full of firsts and surprises; the only completely predictable thing about it is the coaches’ fight being scrapped due to Cruz getting injured. It would be four years before Cruz and Faber would complete their trilogy, and now, another four years later, the “TUF Redraft” series is here to fix their draft. Let us begin.

1. Michael Chiesa

Original Draft Position: 10 (Team Faber)
Pre-TUF Record: 7-0
Post-TUF Record: 10-4
Notable Achievements: “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 15 winner

The lanky 24-year-old from Washington fell all the way to 10th in the draft despite a 7-0 record and an impressive finish of Johnavan Vistante in his eliminator fight. That finish, a rear-naked choke to cap off a completely dominant grappling display, was a fair preview of what was to come, on the show as well as in his post-“TUF” career.

Before he could even follow up that in-cage showing, Chiesa provided the rawest and most memorable bit of human drama from Season 15, as he learned during Week 2 that his father had died. Heartbroken but not completely surprised—his father had been very ill and had told him to stay on the show no matter what—Chiesa took a few days off for the funeral, then returned and carved his way through the tournament, knocking off the top two draft picks in the process. He edged out Jeremy Larsen in the preliminaries, then ground-and-pounded Justin Lawrence and James Vick to make his way to a finals matchup with Iaquinta. Chiesa choked his fellow Team Faber representative completely unconscious to win the Season 15 tournament.

That dominant performance kicked off Chiesa’s run as a Top 10 contender, first at lightweight and more recently at welterweight. His 10-4 Octagon record includes several noteworthy wins—including snapping Beneil Dariush’s five-fight win streak and being only the second man to tap out Jim Miller—while his four losses should probably be three, considering he was victim of one of the worst referee gaffes in UFC history against Kevin Lee. Now 32 years old, on a three-fight win streak and currently No. 7 in Sherdog’s welterweight rankings, “Maverick” is still building on his résumé, but what he’s done so far is already good enough to go first in the Season 15 redraft.

2. Al Iaquinta

Original Draft Position: 2 (Team Faber)
Pre-TUF Record: 5-1-1
Post-TUF Record: 9-5

Iaquinta was chosen second overall thanks to a strong record—his only pre-“TUF” loss was to UFC veteran Pat Audinwood—and a solid performance in his eliminator fight against Jon Tuck, who would end up with a nine-fight Octagon run of his own. It was a good pick, as the Serra-Longo MMA exponent made it all the way to the final, knocking off two of the best fighters in the tournament in Myles Jury and Vinc Pichel along the way.

Against Chiesa at the finale, “Ragin’ Al” was completely steamrolled on the ground, but as it turned out, Chiesa had done that to quite a few fighters and would continue to do so. Iaquinta went on a fantastic run, winning eight of his first 10 in the Octagon, losing only to Chiesa and Mitch Clarke, culminating in a short-notice lightweight title fight at the McGregor-ravaged UFC 223. While he lost soundly to Khabib Nurmagomedov, so has just about everyone else, and Iaquinta thus far remains the only alumnus of Season 15 to challenge for a UFC title.

While Iaquinta is currently on the first losing streak of his career, he remains a Top 15 lightweight, and through it all he has charted an utterly unique career path. From his infamous hotel room destruction—after his best win to that point in his career, no less—to his real estate business, which has at least partly underwritten his cavalier attitude towards his fight promoter, Iaquinta is one of a kind. Like Chiesa, he may well keep building on his legacy, which is already impressive, but the decisive head-to-head loss keeps him at No. 2 for now.

3. James Vick

Original Draft Position: 9 (Team Cruz)
Pre-TUF Record: 4-0
Post-TUF Record: 9-5

There are rangy lightweights—look no further than season winner Chiesa—and then there’s Vick. The 6-foot-3 “Texecutioner” came in with a 4-0 record compiled entirely in his home state, then won his way onto the show in a highly competitive bout with Dakota Cochrane, one of the shortest fighters there. In the quarterfinals, Vick crushed Daron Cruickshank, another of the shorter guys on the cast, with a knee that knocked Cruickshank out cold.

Vick was eliminated in the semifinals by eventual winner Chiesa by TKO which, thanks to mandatory medical layoffs and the live format, also eliminated Vick from appearing at the finale. He would debut the next summer, guillotining Season 11 runner-up Ramsey Nijem in under a minute, the first of five straight wins to begin his UFC career. After that streak ended with a loss to Dariush, Vick promptly won four more in a row, culminating in a spot in the lightweight Top 10 and his first UFC main event: a matchup with Justin Gaethje, a fight for which which Vick actually entered the Octagon as the slight favorite.

That marked the high point of Vick’s career, however, at least so far. Gaethje punched out Vick in 90 seconds, the first of four straight losses for the Texan. Three have come by first-round knockout, and a move up to welterweight has not stopped the bleeding. Whether Vick is about to make a comeback, or is done competitively, only time will tell, but for now he is one of only three fighters from Season 15 to come within sniffing distance of title contention.

4. Myles Jury

Original Draft Position: 5 (Team Cruz)
Pre-TUF Record: 9-0
Post-TUF Record: 10-5 (8-4 UFC)

Jury, you may recall, originally appeared on Season 13, where his promising run was nipped in the bud by an injury. White sent him home with a promise that he would get another shot and, good as his word, brought him back for Season 15, which suited him better anyway as a true 155-pounder. He won a spot in the house, only to lose in the preliminaries to eventual finalist Iaquinta in a fight close enough to require the “sudden victory” round.

The “Fury” tapped out Chris Saunders at the finale to earn a UFC contract, then, like Vick, went on a tear. Six wins in a row to open his Octagon campaign brought Jury to 15-0, a foothold in the Top 10 and a matchup with Donald Cerrone. Back-to-back losses to “Cowboy” and Charles Oliveira brought Jury back to earth, at which point he dropped to featherweight, where he went 2-2 in the UFC before signing with Bellator MMA. On a two-fight win streak in Bellator and a few weeks shy of his 32nd birthday, Jury may yet improve his position in this redraft if Vick continues to flag.

5. Vinc Pichel

Original Draft Position: 11 (Team Cruz)
Pre-TUF Record: 7-0
Post-TUF Record: 6-2

Coming into the season 7-0 with seven finishes, Pichel kept the streak alive, choking out future UFC co-worker Cody Pfister to earn a spot in the house. He made it all the way to the semifinals before losing to Iaquinta, but was nonetheless an obvious pick to receive an invitation to the finale. It was at that point that Pichel’s most unfortunate and noteworthy trait first raised its ugly head; i.e. his propensity for injury.

Simply put, Pichel has looked like one of the best fighters from Season 15 when he has been around, but a laundry list of major injuries has limited him to eight fights in as many years. And unlike some fighters who struggle with repeated injuries to one body part—Fedor Emelianenko’s hands, for instance, or Mauricio Rua’s knees—Pichel visits the hospital like a man trying to finish a bingo card. Shoulder surgery? Check. Biceps surgery? Check. Hip surgery? Check. A hit-and-run accident on his motorcycle, which stripped half the skin off his back? Bingo.

Now 37, Pichel signed a new contract with the UFC before defeating Jim Miller in August, and it looks as if he will finish his career in the Octagon. However things go from here, he is one of the most accomplished fighters from “TUF: Live,” and an absolute lock for its biggest what-if.

6. Daron Cruickshank

Original Draft Position: 6 (Team Faber)
Pre-TUF Record: 10-2
Post-TUF Record: 12-11, 1 NC (6-6, 1 NC UFC)

“The Detroit Superstar” was one of the more experienced fighters in the house, and despite presenting as a karate fighter, showed well-rounded skills. Case in point: he won his elimination bout over Drew Dober—who might have come in third if this draft were expanded to include all 32 fighters—with two effortless takedowns and solid top control.

The takedown thing didn’t work so well against Vick, who kneed Cruickshank’s skull halfway back to the Motor City in their preliminary round fight. He returned to defeat castmate Chris Tickle at the finale, launching a 13-fight stint in the UFC that offered impressive highlights—look no further than his annihilation of Erik Koch at UFC Fight Night 40—as well as lows, such as the trifecta of rear-naked choke losses that precipitated his departure from the promotion. (In fairness to Cruickshank, those last three fights were against Dariush, Krause and Paul Felder, one hell of a row to hoe for a guy fighting for his job.) Since then, Cruickshank has competed largely for Rizin FF, where he has compiled a winning record against reasonably strong competition.

7. Sam Sicilia

Original Draft Position: 3 (Team Cruz)
Pre-TUF Record: 10-1
Post-TUF Record: 7-10 (5-7 UFC)

Sicilia, a friend and Sikjitsu teammate of eventual season winner Chiesa, was chosen early despite being possibly the smallest fighter in the house, thanks to his impressive record and even more impressive eight-second destruction of Erin Beach in his eliminator fight. Sicilia also featured in some of the cloak-and-dagger drama that seems to crop up every few seasons, as he appeared to refuse to give his Team Cruz teammates much in the way of inside information on Chiesa.

He lost a razor-close fight to Chris Saunders in the preliminary round, but returned at the finale and earned a roster spot by knocking Cristiano Marcello out cold. From there, Sicilia was given every chance to make it in the UFC at lightweight as well as featherweight, but only got above .500 once after his debut, and was eventually let go after losing three straight. Post-UFC, he landed in Bellator, where his results have been similarly mixed.

8. Joe Proctor

Original Draft Position: 8 (Team Faber)
Pre-TUF Record: 7-1
Post-TUF Record: 4-4

A protégé of Joe Lauzon, Proctor made quick work of Jordan Rinaldi—who would be in the UFC himself in a few years—with a nice guillotine choke in the elimination round, then made it as far as the quarterfinals, where he spent a frustrating 10 minutes trying unsuccessfully to get inside Vick’s massive reach. At the season finale, he crushed Jeremy Larsen in two minutes with a knee from the clinch to win a UFC contract, though Larsen was presumably happy to wake up and find that he had been awarded one as well.

Proctor’s 4-4 UFC mark is no better or worse than it looks; two of his wins came against less accomplished castmates from Season 15, while the losses were all to good fighters, but nobody approaching Top 10 status. After the last of those losses, at welterweight to Bryan Barberena in April 2017, Proctor was released from the UFC. He has yet to fight again since.

9. Justin Lawrence

Original Draft Position: 1 (Team Cruz)
Pre-TUF Record: 3-0
Post-TUF Record: 8-5 (1-2 UFC)

Like so many other No. 1 picks in “TUF” history, Lawrence simply doesn’t make sense in hindsight. He reputedly grew up in a gym, training from childhood, but on paper he was the youngest and least experienced fighter in the house. While he was a good athlete, so were quite a few of his castmates, and standing in a lineup with titans like Vick and Chiesa, the 5-foot-8 Lawrence looked like the future featherweight he was. He looked great blowing out Krause in the elimination round, but it would be several more years before Krause truly came into his own as a fighter.

Whatever the reasons, Cruz picked him first overall and for a while, it looked like a great call. Lawrence figured prominently in one of the more humiliating moments of the season when Cruz, in control of the matchups, invited Faber to pick “[his] best guy” to face Lawrence. (Spoiler: the guy Faber picked did not do well.) He was eliminated by Chiesa in the quarterfinals, but Chiesa was a man of destiny that spring, and Lawrence gave him a better fight than anyone else, taking him to a sudden victory round before getting stuck on the bottom and punched out.

At the finale, Lawrence flattened John Cofer with a third-round head kick, picking up a UFC contract along with dual bonuses for “Fight of the Night” and “Knockout of the Night.” That auspicious beginning, however, was the apex of Lawrence’s Octagon career. Dropping to featherweight immediately, he lost badly to Max Holloway and Daniel Pineda, prompting his release. He signed with Resurrection Fighting Alliance, where he won the 145-pound title, before being picked up by Bellator. He embarked on a 4-3 run in which he lost to the three good fighters he faced, most recently A.J. McKee in April 2018.

10. Mike Rio

Original Draft Position: 7 (Team Cruz)
Pre-TUF Record: 8-1
Post-TUF Record: 2-4 (1-3 UFC)

“Wolverine” came to Season 15 sporting a solid pro record, three national wrestling titles—one at the junior college level, followed by two NAIA championships—and easily the best hair in the house. In the eliminators, he booted one of the season’s two Team Kaobon fighters, Ali Maclean, only to be swept and choked out by the other, Andy Ogle, in the next round.

Because he did not fight until Week 9, Rio was not medically cleared in time for the season finale. Rio ended up making his official debut at the “TUF 16” finale, against Team Faber’s John Cofer, who had already lost to Lawrence at the Season 15 finale. He twisted Cofer into a pretzel to earn a contract, then, like several of his castmates, was promptly thrown into the wood chipper by UFC matchmakers. After consecutive stoppage losses to Francisco Trinaldo, Tony Ferguson and Cruickshank, Rio was cut by the promotion. He returned to Florida, where he fought twice more before retiring in 2014.

11. Chris Saunders

Original Draft Position: 16 (Team Faber)
Pre-TUF Record: 9-2
Post-TUF Record: 7-6 (0-1 UFC)

Saunders at the 16-spot doesn’t appear to make much more sense than Lawrence at the 1, but what are you going to do? “TUF” coaches are not good at picking fighters. At any rate, the “SoCal Kid” provided good value for the pick: on the show, where he came within a hair of making the semifinals; and afterward, as he has more post-“TUF” victories than the remaining five fighters in the redraft combined.

After a close loss to Pichel in the tournament, Saunders, like the rest of his castmates, got his promised shot in the UFC. Unfortunately, it was against Jury, who at the time still looked like he might turn into the best fighter of the bunch. After being submitted at the finale, Saunders stayed busy for several years, compiling a winning record in promotions including Bellator and World Extreme Cagefighting, before calling it quits in 2017.

12. Cristiano Marcello

Original Draft Position: 4 (Team Faber)
Pre-TUF Record: 12-3
Post-TUF Record: 1-3

Marcello was the oldest fighter in the cast by several years and it felt that way; the cachet of being a Chute Boxe O.G. and having fought in Pride Fighting Championships gave him a distinctly old-school air. Marcello was the one who got the call when Cruz threw down his “pick your best guy” gauntlet in Week 2. Facing Lawrence, who had been six years old when Marcello made his professional MMA debut, the Brazilian was unable to get his vaunted jiu-jitsu untracked, and ended up getting punched out in the second round.

Marcello was knocked out at the finale by Sicilia, but received a UFC contract anyway. He fought three more times for the promotion, going 1-2, before being cut. Marcello retired from competition, but remains active as a coach and trainer, helping notable fighters including Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos and Bethe Correia in the UFC.

13. Chris Tickle

Original Draft Position: 13 (Team Cruz)
Pre-TUF Record: 7-4
Post-TUF Record: 2-6 (0-1 UFC)

Tickle entered Season 15 on a five-fight win streak that included some solid veterans in Brian Geraghty and Steve Berger, then won his eliminator with a sensational one-punch, 24-second knockout of Austin Lyons. Despite the auspicious beginning and in spite of being one of the oldest fighters in the house and a father of two, Tickle settled into the role of Season 15’s goofball, making excuses not to train and showing up drunk to watch his teammate Larsen lose to Chiesa. He clearly annoyed Cruz, who snapped at him, then appeared even more annoyed to have to apologize a few days later.

Tickle was submitted by Proctor in their preliminary matchup, then weathered a 10-8 first round beating by Cruickshank on the way to a decision loss at the finale. Cut loose from the UFC, the “Bad Boy” fought on for several more years, compiling a 2-4 record that, to be fair, did feature fairly strong opposition.

14. Andy Ogle

Original Draft Position: 14 (Team Faber)
Pre-TUF Record: 8-1
Post-TUF Record: 1-5

Ogle, the lone Brit to make it through the elimination round, won a rowdy scrap against Rio in the last preliminary round fight, then had to turn around two weeks later for his quarterfinal against Iaquinta, who had had six weeks to recuperate and get his weight back on track. He probably would have lost anyway, but Iaquinta made it look easy, finding his range and rhythm and blasting him with punches late in the first round.

Thanks to the TKO, “The Little Axe” was not medically cleared in time for the finale, but he made his debut a month later, losing to Season 14 veteran Akira Corassani. Ogle received a UFC contract anyway, then embarked on an Octagon campaign that makes it difficult to pinpoint his quality as a fighter. His five losses were all to solid fighters—and one very good one—while his lone win was over Josh Grispi, who was in full professional and personal collapse at the time.

15. John Cofer

Original Draft Position: 12 (Team Faber)
Pre-TUF Record: 7-2
Post-TUF Record: 1-2 (0-2 UFC)

Cofer, a product of the same Hardcore Gym that “The Ultimate Fighter” had helped bring into the national spotlight, was submitted by eventual semifinalist Pichel in the preliminary round. He was given a shot in the UFC—two, in fact—but lost decisively both times. Worse yet, the losses were to Season 15 castmates Lawrence and Rio, neither of whom won another fight in the Octagon. Cofer appeared once more a few months later under the XFC banner, but has not fought professionally in over seven years.

16. Jeremy Larsen

Original Draft Position: 15 (Team Cruz)
Pre-TUF Record: 8-2, 1 NC
Post-TUF Record: 0-3

A 27-year-old prospect from Arizona, Larsen’s pre-“TUF” record is notable mostly for his early loss to Season 8 lightweight winner Efrain Escudero, during the wilderness period between Escudero’s stints in the UFC. Larsen was eliminated in the preliminaries by Chiesa, but gave him more of a workout than most of his other opponents. That may be the reason why, after the season wrapped, Larsen received three chances to notch a win in the Octagon. The UFC wasn’t doing him many favors, though, as the opponents kept increasing in difficulty, and after the final loss, at featherweight to Andre Fili, Larsen was released from the promotion. He has not fought since.

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