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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 18: Team Rousey vs. Team Tate
What a difference two years make.
Season 18 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” which taped from May to July 2013 and aired starting on Sept. 4, featured a cast of 16 bantamweight hopefuls fighting for spots in the UFC. What made it revolutionary, of course, is that half of those bantamweights—and both coaches—were female. As late as 2011, UFC President Dana White had maintained that women would never fight in the Octagon, and here they were, front and center on the organization’s flagship vehicle for acquisition of new talent.
Fittingly, the woman who almost singlehandedly brought about White’s change of heart was part of the proceedings. Bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, one of the most dominant fighters in the world at the time and one of the sport’s most transcendent stars of any time, had been scheduled to coach against No. 1 contender Cat Zingano, but an injury to Zingano led to her being replaced at the last minute by Miesha Tate, who had already lost once to Rousey. While the change cost the coaches’ fight some competitive sheen, it did wonders for the show’s primary export besides talent, namely: drama. It was already well established that Tate and Rousey did not like one another, and the fires of personal animosity were only stoked further when they stocked their coaching staffs with the likes of Bryan Caraway, Manny Gamburyan and Edmond Tarverdyan.
It led to an unprecedented level of hostility. No previous pair of coaches—not Wanderlei Silva and Vitor Belfort, not even Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber—had exhibited such deep and genuine contempt for one another, and with the benefit of reality show editing, the results ranged from hilarious to uncomfortably tense. It was a game changer for just about everyone involved, as Rousey ended up completing a real-life heel turn, which did nothing to harm her enormous star power so long as she kept winning in the cage. This is where “The Four Horsewomen” came together, even if they didn’t pick up the nickname for a while yet.
While the coaches’ fight would result in another dominant win by Rousey, the show elevated Tate’s star as well, and she would have her own moment at the top in another year or two. However, Tate was already the winner where it counts, as her draft was substantially better than Rousey’s. That is especially true on the women’s side, which might be the most lopsided draft in the history of the show to date. Put simply, all four of Rousey’s women are now out of the UFC, having combined for a grand total of one win, while all four of Tate’s are still under contract—and three of them are in the Top 15 right now. The men’s draft was closer, but that’s because there was nothing to work with. The eight men from “TUF 18” have combined for seven UFC wins, one fewer than Raquel Pennington. While the original draft was separated by gender, we will treat them as a group.
Pre-TUF Record: 3-3
Post-TUF Record: 8-5
Pennington entered the season with a deceptively mediocre record; her losses included contenders like Zingano and Leslie Smith, while she had beaten Sarah Moras—who was, inexplicably, still drafted before her—less than a year before the show. The 24-year-old from Colorado Springs earned her spot in the house by knocking off the far more heralded and far more experienced Tonya Evinger, who went on to win the Invicta FC bantamweight title, and would probably have come in no worse than third if this redraft were expanded to include all 32 fighters.
“Rocky” was eliminated in the semifinals by Jessica Rakoczy, but came back at the finale and won a roster spot with a hard-nosed win over another much more experienced fighter in Roxanne Modafferi. That touched off the best post-show career of any Season 18 alum so far, culminating in a 2018 title shot against Amanda Nunes. While that fight resulted in a horrific beating, Pennington lasted a hell of a lot longer against the sport’s most dominant woman than Tate or Rousey did. Like her record before the show, Pennington’s record since “TUF 18” is stronger than the numbers make it look. All five of her losses are to former, current or future champions, while her wins are almost all over Top 10 bantamweights. It’s certainly possible that Pennington could be overtaken in the next few years by No. 2 Pena, who is slightly younger and has been in fewer wars, but for now “Rocky” is secure as the top pick in the Season 18 redraft.
Pre-TUF Record: 4-2
Post-TUF Record: 5-2
Notable Achievements: “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 18 winner (female)
On paper, Pena was a slightly surprising choice to go first overall. She came to the show on a two-fight skid, including a decisive loss to…Moras. (It’s tempting to go in harder on Tate’s choice to draft her women in the opposite order of their head-to-head histories, but she gets a pass since they’re all still better than Rousey’s picks.) Pena did look impressive in piecing up future Octagon co-worker Gina Mazany in the elimination round, but most of her No. 1 selection was due to the eyeball test. “The Venezuelan Vixen” presented as a powerful, athletic, true bantamweight in a way that, frankly, no other woman on the cast did. She also exuded a confidence that seemed like a natural reaction to being good at one’s job, but appeared to rub many of her housemates the wrong way.
Whatever the reasons for her No. 1 draft pick status, Pena made Tate look like a genius, as she ripped through the Season 18 tournament with three finishes. On her way, she embarrassed Team Rousey’s top pick, Shayna Baszler, avenged her loss to Moras, and in the final, ended the Cinderella story of Rousey’s last pick, Jessica Rakoczy. With her No. 1 tag thus justified, Pena launched into an impressive UFC run in which the only things that have managed to stop her have been two of the best women in the sport and Pena's own knees. Solid wins over contenders such as Zingano and Jessica Eye are balanced by losses to pound-for-pound talents Valentina Shevchenko and Germaine de Randamie, but high points and setbacks alike are divided by several injury layoffs of a year or more. Still just 31 and with a bout scheduled for next month against former title challenger Sara McMann, Pena still has every chance to make this draft interesting for years to come.
Pre-TUF Record: 15-10
Post-TUF Record: 10-7 (4-5 UFC)
The most experienced fighter in the house, the affable Modafferi had already become something of a cult favorite as an American living and fighting in Japan, with a very otaku vibe to match. Popularity notwithstanding, she was drafted second to last for essentially all the same reasons Pena was chosen first. Like Pena’s elimination fight against Mazany, Modafferi’s win over Valerie Letourneau has aged well, but where Pena was a self-described “Kentucky Derby racehorse” of an athlete, Modafferi came off as…well, kind of a harmless geek. Never mind that she had beaten some of the best women in the world for nearly a decade, her demeanor and lack of conventional fast-twitch athleticism, combined with the fact that she came in on a miserable five-fight skid, ensured she would be picked late.
In her quarterfinal, “The Happy Warrior” was happy for about a round against Rakoczy, after which she was the tired warrior, and a few minutes later, the knocked-out warrior. She received an invitation to the finale, but had to face Pennington and lost a tough but fairly one-sided decision. With no UFC contract coming, and a losing streak officially sitting at six straight, one might be forgiven for assuming the women’s MMA pioneer, one of the nicest people in the sport, was done as a competitor at the highest level.
However, the strangest thing happened on the way to the dustbin of history: Modafferi went to Invicta and kept improving in a way that few 25-fight veterans ever do. Part of that may be due to relocating to the U.S. and settling in at Syndicate MMA, but Modafferi began to exhibit less of a power deficit, sharper striking and more willingness to sling ground-and-pound with ill intentions. Those improvements were amplified when she was finally able to drop to flyweight, where she probably belonged all along. (That her stint at Syndicate has involved working extensively with Mike Pyle, one of MMA’s all-time late bloomers, makes all kinds of sense.) A strong Invicta run led to an invitation to appear on Season 26, where she ended up in the finals after Sijara Eubanks withdrew. The resulting UFC contract has resulted in one of the unlikeliest contender runs imaginable, as Modafferi, even as she approaches 40, continues to hang losses on previously unbeaten prospects such as Antonina Shevchenko and Maycee Barber.
4. Davey GrantOriginal Draft Position: 4 (Team Rousey)
Pre-TUF Record: 9-1
Post-TUF Record: 3-3
“Dangerous Davey” entered the season on an eight-fight win streak, mostly by submission and mostly against awful fighters. He kept it going in the tournament, winning his first two by submission before getting a free walkover in his semifinal when Anthony Gutierrez missed weight. He was throttled by Holdsworth in the final, but was a shoo-in for a UFC contract nonetheless as one of the more impressive performers of the season—on the men’s side, anyway.
That kicked off a truly snakebitten UFC run that has been half as accomplished as Pena’s, but twice as injured. Grant has impressed when he’s been able to make it to the Octagon—blanking Marlon Vera is a win that’s aged very, very well—but he’s only fought six times in the over seven years since “TUF 18” due to a litany of injuries to his knees, ankles, arm and back. Currently healthy, on a two-fight win streak and fresh off a “Performance of the Night” bonus in his last appearance, Grant is still just 34 and may have more good years ahead of him, but he’s already done more than enough to go in the four-spot here, and on the male side at least, there’s no one with a prayer of catching him.
5. Josh HillOriginal Draft Position: 5 (Team Tate)
Pre-TUF Record: 9-0
Post-TUF Record: 11-3 (0-0 UFC)
9-0 coming in to the show, Hill was eliminated in his quarterfinal by Wooten, and while he still seemed to be a promising prospect, their fight had been preceded on that episode by a contemptuous Dana White all but calling Hill a lay-and-pray artist. With that, you just knew he wasn’t getting an invitation to the finale, and sure enough he didn’t. Instead, Hill went back to Canada, then signed on with a series of promotions including World Series of Fighting and Bellator MMA.
If anything, Hill’s post-“TUF” record is even better than it looks; two of his three losses are to Marlon Moraes, a Top 10 bantamweight then as well as now, while the other was to the criminally underrated Taylor Lapilus. Meanwhile, peak wins over Erik Perez and Bekbulat Magomedov stack up favorably with those of any other man in this draft. While he still has to come in just a hair behind Grant—even in a redraft, the show’s primary purpose is to send talent to the UFC—in a vacuum, he has accomplished more.
6. Sarah MorasOriginal Draft Position: 3 (Team Tate)
Pre-TUF Record: 3-1
Post-TUF Record: 3-5
Moras’ record included recent meetings with soon-to-be housemates Pennington and Pena, and in her elimination round match, she looked very good in sending away Tara LaRosa, one of the most accomplished fighters in the group and an early favorite to win the whole thing. Moras was bounced by Pena in a brutal and bloody semifinal, but got her chance in the Octagon the next year and seized the opportunity, upsetting the undefeated and gigantic Alexis Dufresne in a catchweight fight.
Since then, “Cheesecake” has been in the thick of the bantamweight division, losing mostly to very good fighters while picking up a few decent wins. She is scheduled to compete in January against Vanessa Melo. That will give the 32-year-old Canadian a chance to bring her career record back above .500, but win or lose, she’s unlikely to move much in this redraft, given the huge gulf between herself and the top three women, and the fact that most of the fighters below her are out of the sport.
Pre-TUF Record: 4-0
Post-TUF Record: 2-0
Notable Achievements: “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 18 winner (male)
Holdsworth’s story is just a bummer. In a just world, he would have been the best of the bad batch that was Season 18’s male bantamweight cast, and probably much more than that. Entering the show, the 25-year-old had “blue-chip prospect” written all over him, as an athletic, aggressive grappler with all four wins by submission over decent competition. He blew through the tournament just as easily as his female counterpart Pena, choking out Christopher Mario Beal, Mike Wooten and, in the final, Grant. The stage appeared to be set for yet another Team Alpha Male next-big-thing to make a splash in one of the lower weight classes.
That never came to fruition, and in fact Holdsworth would only fight one more time. In May of 2014, after a lopsided win over Chico Camus at UFC 173, Holdsworth went on hiatus due to post-concussion syndrome. That hiatus turned indefinite, then apparently permanent, and a few years later, he stated his belief that a primary source of his brain trauma had been former TAM training partner T.J. Dillashaw, alleging that Dillashaw’s insistence on overly hard sparring—and multiple cheap shots—had done more harm than his actual fights. Whatever the truth, Holdsworth has yet to fight again, and even on a season with several what-if stories, he is far and away the winner of that unfortunate category.
Pre-TUF Record: 7-0
Post-TUF Record: 3-6 (2-3 UFC)
Beal, Team Rousey’s first male taken, was eliminated by Holdsworth in the quarterfinals and did not receive an invitation to the finale. After one win outside the Octagon, he did make it to the UFC the next spring, where he won his first two fights before dropping three straight, all against middling opposition by UFC standards. After he was cut, he extended that three-fight skid to six in California regional shows before appearing to walk away from the sport in 2018. “The Real Deal” may not be completely done, however, as he had a scheduled comeback fight in August cancelled, along with the entire card, due to COVID-19.
Pre-TUF Record: 4-0
Post-TUF Record: 8-3 (0-0 UFC)
On a reality show featuring 16 physically fit, mostly single, young men and women living in close quarters, a certain amount of sexualized socializing was guaranteed to happen. For the most part, the creep factor was kept to a minimum, whether by an edict from the show runners or because too many of the cast members were too focused on the competition aspect. However, there were a few who signaled their openness to hooking up, and of those who did, the lamest was probably Gutierrez, whom most of the females just seemed to find annoying.
This seemed like as good a place as any for that aside about bragging and flirting, because Gutierrez didn’t actually do any fighting. After winning his way into the house, Gutierrez advanced via forfeit when Bollinger missed weight for their quarterfinal. Perhaps trying to show the ladies of “TUF 18” that he was a kind and sensitive man, he then paid the favor forward, blowing weight for his semifinal against Grant and giving the Brit a free pass to the men’s final. Since the show, Gutierrez has gone on to pile up a good record against fairly respectable opposition, and remains active today.
10. Cody BollingerOriginal Draft Position: 1 (Team Tate)
Pre-TUF Record: 14-3, 1 NC
Post-TUF Record: 5-5 (0-0 UFC)
“Bam Bam” was an easy first overall pick on the men’s side. Somehow the youngest and the most experienced fighter in the group, the 22-year-old Californian was also a big, powerfully built bantamweight. However, somewhere between the Season 18 draft and the UFC Hall of Fame, things went sideways. In fact, they went sideways quickly, as Bollinger missed weight for his quarterfinal and was summarily booted from the tournament. Like his fellow weight offender, Gutierrez, Bollinger was not invited to fight at the finale. He fought on for several more years, compiling a .500 record that is exactly as strong as it looks; while all of his losses are against good fighters, several of his post-“TUF” victories are frankly embarrassing for a 25-fight veteran, including two over completely winless fighters.
11. Jessamyn DukeOriginal Draft Position: 4 (Team Rousey)
Pre-TUF Record: 2-0, 1 NC
Post-TUF Record: 1-5 (1-3 UFC)
Duke might have been one of the tallest fighters of either gender on “TUF 18,” but she had one of the shortest records. Nonetheless, Rousey took Duke in the second round of the women’s draft, perhaps sensing the matchup problem the improbably lanky, yet surprisingly muscled Kentuckian might present if she were to develop a skill set to go with her unique physicality.
Unfortunately, that simply never had a chance to happen; from the time she faced Pennington in her first fight on the show, “The Gun” ended up fighting more experienced, more skilled, better-trained women every time out. The lone exception, her matchup with Peggy Morgan at the season finale, saw Duke pick up an easy decision win. Then it was back to, if not a murderer’s row, at least a huge ask for a very green fighter: Bethe Correia, Leslie Smith and Elizabeth Phillips (whom Duke had actually beaten as an amateur, but had passed her up badly). Those three losses prompted the UFC to let her go, whereupon she signed with Invicta and the hits kept coming, in the form of future contender Irene Aldana and a then-relevant Cindy Dandois. After that last fight, a 90-second armlock submission by Dandois, Duke never fought again.
12. Mike WoottenOriginal Draft Position: 8 (Team Rousey)
Pre-TUF Record: 7-0
Post-TUF Record: 2-0 (0-0 UFC)
Wooten was chosen dead last among the men, and by that measure, provided decent value. He eliminated Hill in the quarterfinals before running into eventual champ Holdsworth in the semis. With no UFC contract in the offing, Wooten went home to the U.K., where he won a couple more against decent competition. While he remained active in the sport and has appeared in the corners of Liverpool-based fighters from time to time in recent years, he has not fought since 2014.
13. Peggy MorganOriginal Draft Position: 6 (Team Rousey)
Pre-TUF Record: 2-0
Post-TUF Record: 2-4 (0-1 UFC)
Like an inverse Bollinger, the 6-foot-1 Morgan was a late starter, the least experienced fighter to make it into the house despite being one of the oldest. (Or, if you prefer, she was even taller than Duke, with an even shorter record.) Things didn’t go Morgan’s way, to put it mildly. In the season tournament, she was on the receiving end of Moras’ “Submission of the Season”—winning armbar, then returned at the finale to become the last win of Duke’s career. Morgan fought a few more times over the next few years, eventually moving up to featherweight, but was smashed by the two best fighters she faced, Aldana and Megan Anderson.
14. Tim GormanOriginal Draft Position: 7 (Team Tate)
Pre-TUF Record: 9-2
Post-TUF Record: 1-2 (0-2 UFC)
Gorman’s stint on the show was a complete wash, as he was gone with a hamstring tear on Episode 2, but he was there long enough to be drafted, so he gets to appear in this redraft. (For what it’s worth, his replacement, Louis Fisette, would have gone in this same spot.) Gorman was given a chance in the UFC the next spring once he recovered, but not much of a chance, as he was matched right out of the gate with the tough Mitch Gagnon. After losing to Gagnon, Gorman apparently failed upward into a fight with then 17-0 Thomas Almeida. After a one-sided thrashing by “Thominhas” led to his ouster from the UFC, Gorman picked up a final win in June 2015 in his native Des Moines. He has not fought since.
15. Shayna BaszlerOriginal Draft Position: 2 (Team Rousey)
Pre-TUF Record: 15-8
Post-TUF Record: 0-3 (0-2 UFC)
There was some good reason to draft Baszler early. She was one of the above-mentioned WMMA pioneers in the group, the second most experienced fighter to make it through the elimination round behind Modafferi, over whom Baszler had a head-to-head win. Rousey clearly thought highly of her, choosing “The Queen of Spades” with her first pick and then, Season 17 Jon Jones style, pitted her against Team Tate’s first pick in an apparent attempt to send a message.
At least once per redraft, I make it a point to include the disclaimer: Storytelling happens in the editing room, and reality television is television first, reality second. Maybe Holdsworth and Gutierrez weren’t the only guys on “TUF 18” who seriously thought they were going to score with multiple female housemates. Maybe Pena really was conceited, but the producers just made it seem as though people were picking on her for no good reason. And maybe Baszler wasn’t insufferably arrogant and entitled, and didn’t come to the show assuming she’d just run right through everyone.
Whatever Bazsler’s actual mindset was, she came out fairly flat in a back-and-forth first round against Pena before gassing out horribly and getting finished in the second. Message sent, even if it wasn’t the one Rousey probably planned. However, Rousey and Baszler clearly bonded on the show, and the veteran jumped right in as one of her coach’s future “Four Horsewomen.” After the show, injuries kept Baszler away for over a year. Once she recovered, there was a UFC roster spot waiting, probably thanks in part to the Rousey connection but also because of her accomplished résumé and longevity. Unfortunately, her first UFC fight was with emerging Horsewomen nemesis Correia, fresh from beating Duke. After a dismal showing in a second-round TKO loss to Correia, Baszler got the worst bounceback fight imaginable, in the form of Amanda Nunes. With her UFC career over in quick and brutal fashion, Baszler fought just once more before transitioning to the world of professional wrestling, where she currently entertains the masses as one-half of the WWE Women’s Tag Team Champions.
16. Jessica RakoczyOriginal Draft Position: 8 (Team Rousey)
Pre-TUF Record: 1-3, 1 NC
Post-TUF Record: 0-2 (0-2 UFC)
The oldest fighter to make it onto “TUF 18” as well as the only one with a losing record, the 36-year-old Rakoczy had been a late starter in MMA, and then, double whammy, had fought only sporadically. Oh, and she was also a natural flyweight—if not strawweight—as evidenced by early career losses to the likes of Zoila Frausto and Felice Herrig. All this to say that, with possible exception of Jason Thacker all the way back in Season 1, Rakoczy was probably the most obvious, slam-dunk last pick in “TUF” history.
That would make it seem the most natural thing in the world that she is also the last pick in this redraft, but the actual story is a bit more interesting. In her quarterfinal, Rakoczy outlasted and pummeled Modafferi, probably the most accomplished fighter coming into Season 18, for a second-round TKO win. Then, in her semifinal, she soundly outboxed Pennington, the fighter who would go on to accomplish the most after the show, on the way to a unanimous decision win. All of a sudden, “Ms. Irrelevant” was “Ms. Cinderella.” It wouldn’t last, as Pena at the finale was just too big, too fast and too…everything. Rakoczy would get one more chance in the UFC, against a woman closer to her own size in Letourneau, but she lost a one-sided decision to her fellow Canadian. Rakoczy never fought again, and her two surprise wins on the show go down as, by far, the best performances of her career.
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