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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 19: Team Edgar vs. Team Penn
Fittingly for a show built around a Frankie Edgar-B.J. Penn trilogy fight that nobody had been clamoring to see, “The Ultimate Fighter Season 19” was as weird as Penn’s excursion to featherweight, and as terrible as the fight itself.
“The Ultimate Fighter: Team Edgar vs. Team Penn,” which taped from October to November of 2013 and debuted on Fox Sports 1 on April 16, 2014, featured a cast of eight light heavyweights and eight middleweights vying for UFC roster spots. One obvious difference between “TUF 19” and its immediate predecessor, the Ronda Rousey vs. Miesha Tate 18th season was the relative lack of coach drama. In the wake of perhaps the most hostile “TUF” coaching duo before or since, Edgar and Penn clearly liked each other just fine, and worked in an atmosphere of mutual respect tinged with occasional tension. Penn also brought in former nemesis Matt Hughes as a guest coach, which seemed to indicate that “The Prodigy” had been burying hatchets all over the place. It was a marked change from the chippy and confrontational Season 5 performance that led up to his 2007 title rematch with Jens Pulver.
What had not changed between 2007 and 2013 was that Penn was still a middling coach — in the context of “TUF” — and terrible at drafting fighters. In Season 19, it led to a somewhat anticlimactic final in which all four finalists were Team Edgar fighters. Add in the drubbing that the listless and dehydrated Penn received from Edgar at the finale, and it all adds up to a pretty lopsided evening in favor of New Jersey’s finest.
Even if the season was all Edgar, however, it probably won’t go down as one of his greatest accomplishments, as with every passing year it becomes more obvious that “TUF 19” was one of the most talent-poor in the history of the show. Just two of the 16 fighters who made it into the house ended up logging 10 or more appearances in the UFC. Of those two, only one is over .500, and he is currently cashing checks in the cylindrical cage of Bellator MMA, rather than the Octagon that “TUF” is intended to keep stocked with talent. Not only was the season a failure from the standpoint of a talent pipeline, it was a drag as a reality TV show, low on drama, low on characters and jammed with lousy fights. For perhaps the first time in series history, there seemed to be an equal lack of energy in the house and the cage. Dana White clearly sensed it, as he gave one of his patented “do you want to be a f*ckin’ fighter” speeches late in the season, to little avail.
Speaking of not making it into the house, Season 19 is almost as notable for the fighters who were bounced in the preliminary round as for those who made it. MMA’s naturally chaotic nature means that plenty of fighters lose their “TUF” fight-ins, then go on to do better than some of the competitors who do make it, but Season 19 takes that dynamic to a whole other level. If this draft were expanded to include all 31 fighters who showed up on Episode 1, Nordine Taleb and Lyman Good might have gone No. 2 and 3, and Bojan Velickovic and Jake Heun would at least be in the top 10.
While the original draft split the cast into weight classes for two separate mini-drafts, for purposes of this list we will treat them as a single group. Now let us redraft “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 19, without further ado, aside from one final caveat: I did my best, but after the third pick or so, your guess is really as good as mine.
1. Corey AndersonOriginal Draft Position: 1 (light heavyweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 3-0
Post-TUF Record: 13-5 (10-5 UFC)
Notable Achievements: “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 19 winner (light heavyweight)
If only one thing in Season 19 worked out as well or better than expected, it was Anderson going to Team Edgar first overall. The man who went by the handle of “Beastin’ 25/8” was an ultra-raw prospect, just 3-0 as a pro and the second-youngest fighter to make it into the house. What he lacked in experience or professional plaudits, however, he made up for in amateur credentials and the ever-important eyeball test. Anderson was a former standout NCAA Division II and III wrestler with freakish strength, good athleticism and a stamp of approval from Roufusport, which had brought him in to provide wrestling rounds for its fighters only to discover that he himself took to MMA like a natural.
Natural or not, Anderson was still fairly one-dimensional at the time of “TUF 19,” but that one dimension was enough to grind down Kelly Anundson, Josh Clark and Pat Walsh on his way to the tournament final. There, against Matt Van Buren, he showed flashes of what the division could expect going forward, as he clubbed Van Buren with a left hook early, floored the taller man with an effortless takedown and stayed all over him with brutal ground punches on the way to a 61-second TKO win.
For several years after his “TUF” win, Anderson remained a dangerous but flawed fringe contender, prone to shocking knockout losses, but in 2018 he embarked on a four-fight win streak that brought him to the cusp of a title shot. He came up short against Jan Blachowicz, who would go on to win the vacant belt in his next fight, and was surprisingly released afterward. As a Top 5 contender still a few weeks shy of his 31st birthday, Anderson is arguably the second best fighter ever let go by the modern UFC after Demetrious Johnson. He was promptly signed by Bellator, where he has gone 3-0 and earned a shot at dethroning incumbent titleholder Vadim Nemkov in the finals of the Bellator light heavyweight grand prix next year. Should he win, considering he is 1-1 against Blachowicz and 1-0 against current UFC champ Glover Teixeira, Anderson will have a decent case to call himself the best light heavyweight on the planet. Win or lose, he is already the most accomplished fighter to come out of “TUF 19,” and the gap in achievement between him and No. 2 is already greater than that of any other season to date.
2. Cathal PendredOriginal Draft Position: 6 (middleweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 13-2-1
Post-TUF Record: 4-2
In hindsight, it’s slightly surprising that Pendred slid all the way to sixth out of eight middleweights taken. Yes, he had typically fought at 170 pounds on his way up, but he was a big, powerful welterweight and still looked to be one of the most physically imposing 185-pounders at the tryouts. It’s possible that his stock suffered for being the only fighter to make it into the house without getting to show his stuff in a preliminary fight, as several prospective opponents came up injured or blew weight, but he had the best résumé of anyone in the cast, buoyed by a Cage Warriors Fighting Championship title and wins over former UFC welterweights Che Mills and David Bielkheden. Oh, and he also happened to be one of Conor McGregor’s main training partners at SBG Ireland.
Whatever the reasons for his late selection, Pendred’s run on the show showed that he was better than his draft position. It also gave a very accurate impression of what “The Punisher” was going to bring to the UFC: tough, grinding fights that would usually be close, and leave no margin for error — his own, or the judges’. His quarterfinal win over Hector Urbina was a nail-biter, as was his semifinal loss to eventual tournament champ Eddie Gordon. Pendred earned a UFC contract despite the loss — he probably would have anyway, but being an Irish MMA fighter in 2014 came with unprecedented levels of benefit of the doubt. He won his debut in front of an adoring Dublin crowd at UFC Fight Night 46, the first of four straight wins to open his UFC career. He appeared to be poised for a run at the Top 10, but after a pair of losses — a close decision to John Howard, then a blowout at the hands of Tom Breese — he somewhat surprisingly retired in late 2015 at age 28. He promptly moved on to a career in acting and has not fought since.
3. Dhiego LimaOriginal Draft Position: 3 (middleweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 9-1
Post-TUF Record: 6-8 (4-7 UFC)
By the time “TUF 19” began filming, Lima was already firmly ensconced as “the other Lima brother,” as his older brother Douglas had just won the Bellator Season 8 welterweight tournament and would go on to capture the belt vacated by the departed Ben Askren. In contrast, the 24-year-old Dhiego was a 9-1 prospect with a broadly similar skill set, but just not quite the same sizzle. Like several of his middleweight castmates, Lima was a welterweight by preference, but Edgar nonetheless drafted him with his second pick. Lima justified his coach’s faith by winning his way to the final, even if he had to work his way out of a world of trouble in both his quarterfinal and semifinal matches, surviving nearly a full round with Tim Williams on his back, then getting floored by Roger Zapata before executing a beautiful sweep to an armbar for the finish.
That’s when Lima’s nine lives appeared to run out, as Gordon knocked him down at the finale, but then finished the job with heavy ground-and-pound. That set the tone for a post-“TUF” run that has been better than it looks on paper, but not by much. He went 1-3 in with three first-round KO losses in his first four UFC fights, prompting him to be cut. After a couple of wins in LFC and Titan FC, he earned a spot in the all-second-chancers 25th season of “TUF,” where he made it to the finale, only to lose to the ultimate second-chancer, Jesse Taylor. Lima has stuck around since, and even appeared to be turning a corner with a three-fight win streak, but back-to-back losses in 2021 have knocked him well below .500 in the Octagon once more.
4. Patrick WalshOriginal Draft Position: 3 (light heavyweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 4-1
Post-TUF Record: 6-2 (1-1 UFC)
As painful as it is to say immediately after drafting a fighter who is 4-7 in the UFC, here is where Season 19 really goes off a cliff. In defense of Walsh, though, whatever else he may have achieved on the show or for the rest of his career, he will always be on the side of the angels for eliminating Doug Sparks from the house on Episode 1, thus saving us from a full season of an adult man walking around with fuzzy white ears clipped to his head, claiming that his father copulated with a polar bear.
Walsh also provided one of the few moments of legitimate tension from “TUF 19,” as his request to get in extra reps ahead of his all-Team Edgar semifinal against Anderson by working with members of Team Penn ended up in an emotional confrontation that, even allowing for whatever magic happens in the editing room, must have been extremely distracting. Walsh was competitive with Anderson nonetheless, at least until his gas tank failed him, and came back at the final with a win over Team Penn’s Dan Spohn. He lost his next time out, against then-surging Daniel Kelly, and that was it for Walsh’s UFC run. He went 5-1 against respectable competition, mostly in his native New England, before retiring in 2017.
5. Dan SpohnOriginal Draft Position: 6 (light heavyweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 8-3
Post-TUF Record: 10-5-1 (0-1 UFC)
Like his middleweight counterpart Pendred, Spohn has overachieved in relation to his draft position, even if all of those achievements have taken place outside the UFC. He provided the most memorable moment of the elimination round, felling Tyler King and then absolutely punching his skull in as King’s horrified mom looked on from cageside like Apollo Creed’s wife in “Rocky IV.” The Ohioan was eliminated in his semifinal by Matt Van Buren — ironically, it was perhaps the second most brutal knockout of the season — then returned at the finale and almost managed to pull out the win over a flagging Walsh. After the loss to Walsh, Spohn was cut loose by the UFC and promptly went on a tear. He won 10 of his next 11 fights, including an emphatic finish on Dana White's Contender Series that would almost certainly have resulted in a contract anytime in the last two years, and a run through the inaugural season of Professional Fighters League that only came to a halt when he met eventual tournament winner Sean O’Connell. Since that setback in October 2018, Spohn has remained with PFL, where his fortunes have taken a turn for the worse, but he still remains one of the most accomplished alumni of “TUF 19.”
6. Tim WilliamsOriginal Draft Position: 4 (middleweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 8-1
Post-TUF Record: 7-4 (0-2 UFC)
Williams, like Spohn, has carved out a very respectable body of work since the show, but which suffers slightly for purposes of this redraft for mostly having taken place outside the Octagon. “The South Jersey Strangler” had appeared on Season 17, where he was eliminated in Episode 1 by Dylan Andrews. The second time was the charm: Williams made it into the house with a TKO of Velickovic, who would come in no worse than fifth in this redraft if it were expanded to include everyone who appeared in Episode 1. He then gave Lima all he could handle for a round, dominating him on the ground before having the tables turned in the second frame. Having been eliminated in the quarterfinals, Williams didn’t receive an invite to compete at the season finale, so instead headed back to the mid-Atlantic, primarily Cage Fury Fighting Championships, where he notched wins over former or future UFC middleweights Ron Stallings, Nah-Shon Burrell and Jay Silva, offset by a pair of losses to future title contender Anthony Smith.
Williams finally received the call-up from the UFC in 2018, but got the matchmaking equivalent of being thrown feet-first into a wood chipper: a February date with then-undefeated Oskar Piechota, followed by a tilt in August with Eryk Anders, who was coming off his frustrating first career loss against Lyoto Machida. After gaining a measure of immortality as a part of Anders’ highlight reel, Williams has yet to compete again.
7. Eddie GordonOriginal Draft Position: 5 (middleweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 6-1
Post-TUF Record: 2-6 (1-3 UFC)
Notable Achievements: “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 19 winner (middleweight)
Gordon was probably the hardest fighter to size up in the original draft, and he remains the hardest to place in this redraft. The Jamaican by way of Long Island came to the “TUF” house with less professional fight experience than one might expect from the second-oldest cast member, but with the cachet of being a training partner of then-freshly minted UFC champ Chris Weidman, and ended up being taken with coach Edgar’s third pick. His run through the middleweight bracket includes a gutty win over Pendred and a complete steamrolling of Lima, the top two fighters in this draft from his weight class. And while his post-fight record looks dismal, his strength of schedule outstrips that of every other cast member aside from Anderson. After facing a low-key murderers’ row in the UFC — on a two-fight skid, he was forced to fight for his job against Antonio Carlos Jr. — Gordon landed in PFL, where he drew three more brutal matchups. Since the last of those, a decision loss to John Howard in the 2018 PFL playoffs, Gordon has not fought again.
8. Anton BerzinOriginal Draft Position: 2 (light heavyweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 3-1
Post-TUF Record: 2-1 (0-0 UFC)
Berzin was Team Penn’s first light heavyweight off the board, a 24-year-old Philadelphian with a BJJ black belt, powerful build for the weight class, and just a little bit of a mean streak, in a good way. His quarterfinal, against Walsh, was a grueling ground affair that saw Berzin go three full rounds for the first time in his amateur or professional career. Perhaps not surprisingly, his gas tank failed him badly and the “sudden victory” third round was all Walsh. That was all she wrote for Berzin’s UFC hopes, but his brief post-“TUF” career boasted an impressive strength of schedule. He knocked out future PFL standout Jamelle Jones to win the vacant CFFC 205-pound title, then appeared on the first season of DWCS, took on Kennedy Nzechukwu and gave the titanic prospect a hard enough time that the promotion elected not to sign him immediately.
9. Hector UrbinaOriginal Draft Position: 7 (middleweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 16-8-1
Post-TUF Record: 1-3 (1-2 UFC)
Urbina arrived to Season 19 with the kind of “anyone, anytime, any weight” journeyman record that was already a throwback in 2013 and is all but extinct today. At first glance, his win-loss tally before the show shouts mediocrity, but he had been subjected to matchmaking that would be considered a war crime in 115 countries today. Case in point: A week after his 19th birthday, and just three weeks after his professional MMA debut, Urbina was thrown into a cage with Tim Kennedy. Six months later, the still-teenaged Urbina drew 25-fight veteran Jason “Mayhem” Miller, who by that time had already fought Georges St. Pierre in the UFC, and had faced Robbie Lawler and Frank Trigg in his last two fights.
What that meant for “El Toro,” as it had for previous-season analogues such as Brandon Melendez, is that he checked into the “TUF” house as a decrepit 26-year-old. Urbina was eliminated in the very first quarterfinal by Pendred, and while he did not compete at the finale, he guillotined Edgar Garcia at UFC 180 to earn a real, live UFC win. It took a matchup with a guy in Garcia who went winless in the Octagon — and in fact went winless for the rest of his career — but by that point, Urbina deserved at least one relative softball. After that, however, it was back to the hard way, as Bartosz Fabinski and Vicente Luque showed Urbina the door with consecutive defeats. He fought just once more before hanging them up, and in the most Hector Urbina ending possible, got lanced by a pre-UFC Dequan Townsend. After that knockout loss, the now 34-year-old has not appeared in competition again.
10. Josh ClarkOriginal Draft Position: 4 (light heavyweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 9-2
Post-TUF Record: 3-3 (0-0 UFC)
One of the most damning indictments of “The Ultimate Fighter” franchise is that it has given us two fighters who go by the nickname “The Hillbilly Heartthrob.” Like his Season 2 namesake Brad Imes, Clark came to the show as a raw but physically imposing prospect, and also like Imes, he met his end as soon as he ran into a good wrestler. The difference is that Imes didn’t have to deal with Rashad Evans until the “TUF 2” finale, whereas Clark got bounced by Anderson in his first fight. The only real note of interest in an otherwise forgettable fight is that one judge managed to score a round for Clark, rendering one of the most one-sided bouts of the season a majority decision. With no invitation to the finale forthcoming, Clark fought on for a few more years, at light heavyweight as well as heavyweight, but never again threatened to make any noise at the highest levels of the sport.
11. Chris FieldsOriginal Draft Position: 8 (light heavyweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 10-5-1
Post-TUF Record: 2-3 (0-0 UFC)
The UFC’s search for “the next Conor,” which coincided perfectly with Season 19, was predictably fruitless, but that didn’t stop the promotion from trying. Fields, who sadly would not start calling himself “The Housewives’ Choice” for another few years, was a proto-McGregor, if anything. Already 30 at the time of taping, he was a relative OG in Irish MMA and a longtime stalwart at both the gym (SBG Ireland) and the promotion (Cage Warriors) that his younger teammate had helped make, well, notorious.
Fields’ age, unremarkable record and lack of eye-popping athleticism conspired to drop him to the very end of the light heavyweight draft. By that standard, at least, he did provide decent value. Fields lost his quarterfinal to Van Buren by majority decision in one of the most crushingly dull fights in a season full of them. Paradoxically, the buildup to their fight had been quite entertaining, as they made fun of each other’s accents to the point of actual hurt feelings, despite the fact that many American viewers could probably have benefited equally from subtitles for both of them. After the show, Fields returned to Europe, where he went 2-3 in BAMMA and KSW against a generally solid slate of opposition, and ended up taking his own gym out from under the SBG umbrella a few years ago. He has not fought since 2018.
12. Todd MonaghanOriginal Draft Position: 7 (light heavyweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 7-2
Post-TUF Record: 2-0 (0-0 UFC)
Monaghan was chiefly memorable on the show for being a full-time preacher, which rubbed some of his castmates the wrong way, at least when paired with his other, less divine and more materialistic interests. In terms of fighting performance, Monaghan’s problem is that his best win during or after the show, when he eliminated Jake Heun on Episode 1, happened before the draft. With that impressive win discounted — Heun would probably have come in around seventh if this redraft were expanded to 31 fighters — we’re left with his valiant but ultimately kind of one-sided loss to Spohn in their quarterfinal. After the show, Monaghan fought twice more, both of them wins in one-off fights against extremely regional competition. He has not fought professionally since June 2017.
13. Matt Van BurenOriginal Draft Position: 5 (light heavyweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 6-2
Post-TUF Record: 1-4 (0-2 UFC)
Almost every season, I feel compelled to repeat my usual “TUF” disclaimer at least once. In case you’re unfamiliar with this series, the disclaimer is: Reality TV is television first, reality second; and storytelling happens in the editing room. It usually appears in the section about one of the season’s controversial fighters, whether it be the mean-spirited bully archetype (e.g. Bobby Southworth), the guy self-medicating for psychological issues (e.g. Chris Leben) or even the generally unlikeable miscreant (e.g. Jeremy May). I’m rolling it out here before discussing Van Buren, but he’s barely worth it. “Gutter” put forth some effort toward living up to his nickname, being kind of rude and insulting, but like almost everything else from Season 19, it fell flat, and no amount of clever editing could make him into even a Julian Lane, let alone a Junie Allen Browning.
Aside from his persona, Van Buren had a strange run. His time on the show, with wins over Fields and Spohn, was actually the high-water mark of his career in terms of competitive achievement. His 1-4 post-“TUF” record looks awful, but in fairness, Anderson and O’Connell were a tough ask for anyone, and even his two losses outside the UFC were against big-league-level competition.
14. Mike KingOriginal Draft Position: 2 (middleweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 5-0
Post-TUF Record: 0-1
This deep into a redraft, especially of a season as bad as “TUF 19,” sorting the fighters out comes down to splitting hairs. Most of the fighters at the 10-spot or later were eliminated in their quarterfinal, fought once or twice more and called it a career. King, despite the upside that led coach Penn to take him with the second pick at middleweight, checks all those boxes. In his favor, his loss during the season was to eventual tournament winner Gordon, which is, if not good, less bad at least, while his lone UFC appearance was a loss to Pendred, who ended up being the best fighter of the bunch. King is also similar to several other fighters in the bottom third of this list in that his best win on the show, and in fact his best career win, period, came in the elimination round, when he sent Nordine Taleb packing. Considering that Taleb would top everyone else in this draft other than Anderson if the field were expanded to include him, that’s a serious feather in King’s cap — or would be, except that it happened before the draft.
15. Roger ZapataOriginal Draft Position: 8 (middleweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 4-1
Post-TUF Record: 0-1
Zapata was the last middleweight chosen, for reasons that are completely inverse to, but equally obvious as, the reasons Stephens was first. Even in a cast of “middleweights” that was composed of about 50% former welterweights, Zapata stood out as undersized, and had nothing approaching the frame or apparent athleticism of Pendred or Lima. That made it even more ridiculous when Edgar forced the matchup between Zapata and the first-picked Stephens, who was half again his size and looked to be carved from marble. Of course, the joke was on Edgar, as Zapata fought Stephens to a majority draw that would have been a decision win if not for a controversial point deduction by referee Steve Mazzagatti. Zapata advanced to the semifinal in spite of the official draw, adding another layer to the weirdness of that fight, but even a draw against Stephens was still the best “win” of Zapata’s career. He made an official debut at UFC Fight Night 75, a year and a half after “TUF,” for which the promotion managed to match him up against an even smaller welterweight in Shinsho Anzai, and Zapata still managed to lose badly, dropping two lopsided rounds before bowing out with a hand injury. After that, he never fought professionally again.
16. Ian StephensOriginal Draft Position: 1 (middleweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 4-0
Post-TUF Record: 1-0 (0-0 UFC)
How do we even rate Stephens’ performance on “TUF 19?” He was drafted first overall despite being the second least experienced fighter in the cast other than Anderson, Edgar’s first pick in the other division. Like Anderson, he had a solid amateur wrestling background — he had won the NAIA title at 184 pounds earlier that year — and aced the eyeball test, to put it mildly. If anything, Stephens’ combination of comic-book-hero physique and functional athleticism exceeded Anderson’s, and approached Josh Koscheck-Ryan Bader territory. Compounding his pedigree and physical tools was the fact that as a 4-0 relative neophyte, Stephens had bounced former Bellator welterweight champ Good from the elimination round with embarrassing ease, leading to a derisive chuckle and a “That was the Bellator champ?” from Dana White.
With Stephens’ first-overall-pick credentials established, things get muddy really quickly. Edgar chose to pit Stephens against Roger Zapata, Team Penn’s last-picked man, in what looked like a jobber match in a pro wrestling developmental show. However, Zapata ended up “winning” by majority draw in one of the most controversial and frankly bizarre matches in “TUF” history. Controversial or not, that was it for Stephens the MMA prospect. There were quite a few rumored bookings over the years, but he did not step back into a cage until 2019, when he snagged an easy first-round submission over a 1-2 fighter. Stephens would be higher in this redraft if not for the fact that his domination of Good — maybe the best win by anyone all season, in hindsight — happened before the draft. As it stands, all coach Edgar has to show for his top pick is a controversial loss in an ultra-weird fight, and a lot of apparent potential floating out there in the ether, and Stephens takes his place right behind Joe Scarola as the second worst No. 1 pick in “TUF” history.
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