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.
Sherdog Redraft: “The Ultimate Fighter” »
• Season 1: Team Liddell vs. Team Couture
• Season 2: Team Hughes vs. Team Franklin
• Season 3: Team Ortiz vs. Team Shamrock
Season 4: The Comeback
And now for something completely different: The fourth season of “The Ultimate Fighter” aired starting in August 2006 and was a complete change-up from just about everything that had characterized the first three seasons. Instead of up-and-coming prospects, the cast was composed of 16 men who had already fought in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and rather than a mere roster spot, they would be fighting for a title shot. There were no head coaches, though Randy Couture and a very interested Georges St. Pierre were on hand as “advisers.” There was no draft; the eight welterweights and eight middleweights divided themselves into teams at random by pulling colored jerseys out of a bin.
The result was something that remains utterly unique in the history of the show, over 30 seasons into its existence. In hindsight, it’s interesting to note the enormous variance between the competitors’ credentials. Regional journeymen who were winless in multiple tries in the big league were sequestered in the “TUF” house right alongside Top 15 talents who had already been razor-close to UFC title shots. The charm is that prior credentials were a poor indicator of future accomplishment; some of these fighters made the most of a second—or fourth—chance, while others quickly disappeared back into the shadows. It isn’t a “redraft,” really, but let’s draft these 16 hopefuls, shall we?
1. Matt SerraOriginal Draft Position: N/A (Team Mojo)
Pre-TUF Record: 8-4 (4-4 UFC)
Post-TUF Record: 3-3
Notable Achievements: "The Ultimate Fighter" Season 4 winner (welterweight), UFC welterweight champion, member of UFC Hall of Fame
By parlaying his “TUF 4” win into the greatest title upset in UFC history, Serra makes it four for four: Each of the first four seasons of “The Ultimate Fighter” produced a season tournament winner who went on to win a UFC title and eventually be selected to the UFC Hall of Fame. Winning a belt makes “The Terror” a near-automatic choice for first overall draft pick here, but it isn’t nearly as much of a shoo-in as his three predecessors. On one hand, it’s possible to look at Serra’s body of work and think, “He was 4-4 in the UFC before ‘TUF 4’ and he was 3-3 afterwards. A once-in-a-lifetime 90 seconds of work against St. Pierre is all that’s keeping him from being just another roster guy from his era.”
However, describing Serra as nothing more than a .500 fighter who got lucky would be just as misleading as ascribing too much credit to his title win. After all, Serra had just a few years before been chosen as one-fourth of the UFC’s mini-tournament to crown a new lightweight champion, and in his semifinal, he had given promotional chosen one B.J. Penn a tougher fight than anyone in Penn’s first UFC run other than Jens Pulver. Even Penn’s draw against Caol Uno in the final—the infamous result that put the UFC lightweight belt on ice for five years—had felt more like a clear victory.
In rewatching Season 4, one of the most underratedly important elements is seeing Serra settle so naturally into a role of de facto coach to his fellow fighters. On a cast of fighters who were nominally equals, of whom several were just as accomplished as himself and many were older, Serra showed himself to be a natural leader and teacher. He looked like a man who might be best known as a coach one day. Fourteen years later, that is the case, and one suspects that it might have been the case with or without that legendary outing against “GSP.”
2. Chris LytleOriginal Draft Position: N/A (Team Mojo)
Pre-TUF Record: 22-12-5 (2-4 UFC)
Post-TUF Record: 9-6
Before Serra could even be in position to author his upset for the ages, he had to win the Season 4 welterweight tournament. He did so by edging out Lytle in a contentious split decision at the finale, one of the rare examples of such a high-stakes fight being decided by two 30-27 scorecards against one 27-30. Though he surely must have been disappointed—and one can imagine what he must have felt as Serra took the title shot for which they had fought and made history—Lytle made the best of his opportunity.
Over the next five years, “Lights Out” stayed in the thick of things, hovering around the fringes of the Top 10 of possibly the best division in the UFC while picking up a preposterous 10 post-fight bonuses in 15 fights and even avenging the loss to Serra. Few fighters have managed to marry high-level performance with blood-and-guts action so seamlessly for so long, much less in the final stretch of their careers. When you combine that with a storybook exit from the sport, picking up “Submission of the Night” and “Fight of the Night” bonuses in his first main event since the “TUF” finale, Lytle’s induction into the only hall that matters was a foregone conclusion.
3. Patrick CoteOriginal Draft Position: N/A (Team Mojo)
Pre-TUF Record: 8-3 (0-3 UFC)
Post-TUF Record: 15-8 (10-8 UFC)
“The Predator” benefited more from Season 4 than any other fighter, and without it, millions of post-“TUF” fans might never have come to know one of the nicest, most lead-fisted guys of his era. Before the season’s novel conceit granted him another chance with the UFC, Cote was—on paper—the very definition of “not Octagon material.” He was 8-0 in regional fights, all eight in Canada and most in his native Quebec, but 0-3 in the UFC across two separate stints. Never mind that his UFC debut had been as a (frankly pudgy) light heavyweight against recently dethroned champion and borderline pound-for-pound talent Tito Ortiz, Cote seemed an afterthought among his castmates, and if there had been a draft in “TUF 4,” we’re confident saying he would have gone no earlier than tenth.
However, a funny thing happened on the way to the dustbin of history. After fighting his way to the middleweight final and being tapped by Travis Lutter, Cote embarked on a five-fight winning streak, with a tasty filling of three straight first-round knockouts in the middle of it. It led to a title shot against Anderson Silva, and Cote acquitted himself pretty well there, at least coming forward and making the increasingly enigmatic “Spider” you know… do something… for two rounds. Cote’s UFC title shot and very respectable post-“TUF” run slot him into the No. 3 spot in this draft, as well as one of the greatest success stories the reality series ever managed, and he is the first middleweight to go in this draft.
4. Jorge RiveraOriginal Draft Position: N/A (Team No Love)
Pre-TUF Record: 14-5 (2-3 UFC)
Post-TUF Record: 6-4
“El Conquistador” is a fine example of another phenomenon of the MMA universe in the few years before and immediately after the advent of “The Ultimate Fighter”: Rivera dipped in and out of the UFC despite being a UFC-level fighter the whole time. His three UFC losses before the show were to Rich Franklin, Chris Leben and Lee Murray who, terrible person or not, was an extremely dangerous middleweight in 2004. Yet when he bounced back to the regionals, Rivera found himself facing future UFC standouts such as Anderson Silva.
As someone who would likely have found his way back into the Octagon either way, “TUF 4” was little more than an odd detour for Rivera. After putting Edwin Dewees’ lights out at the season finale, the Puerto Rican brawler settled right back into being a solid UFC middleweight. When a three-fight win streak ended in a chippy, foul-filled co-main event loss to Michael Bisping at UFC 127, Rivera’s hopes of a title shot were over, but he retired with a solid post-“TUF” UFC record of 6-4.
5. Din ThomasOriginal Draft Position: N/A (Team Mojo)
Pre-TUF Record: 20-6 (2-2 UFC)
Post-TUF Record: 6-3, 1 NC (3-2 UFC)
The parallels between Thomas and Serra jump right out. Despite being on the show as welterweights, both men may have been Top 10 lightweights at the time, and both had been part of the UFC’s disastrous lightweight mini-tourney in 2002-2003. To a fan coming to the sport in the post-Conor McGregor, post-Ronda Rousey era of MMA, both are most recognizable as high-level coaches.
Returning to the UFC for the first time in several years, Thomas promptly strung together three impressive wins over castmate Rich Clementi, then two fighters in Clay Guida and Jeremy Stephens who are still appearing on UFC main cards in 2020. Losses to Kenny Florian and Josh Neer sent him back to the regionals—he was the rumored opponent for the MMA debut of boxing bad boy Ricardo Mayorga for what felt like forever—but in any event, the American Top Team staple was not long for the inside of the cage. Today, he is best known as a trainer and mentor to top fighters such as Tyron Woodley.
Pre-TUF Record: 26-10-1 (0-1 UFC)
Post-TUF Record: 19-13 (5-4 UFC)
Because it exclusively featured fighters who had already had their shot in the UFC, Season 4 was a bridge between eras in a way the first three seasons had not been. Nearly half of the cast had been fighting professionally in the 90s, and more than one had literally been around longer than Dana White, having debuted in the UFC before the Zuffa buyout. In part because of having one foot in the Wild West era, “TUF 4” also featured several fighters who had a ton of fights. Going into the show, Clementi was 26-10-1, with a loss tally reflecting an “anyone, anywhere, any weight” philosophy borne in part of coming up in an era where many promotions didn’t have any lightweights for him to fight.
Team No Love’s namesake was eliminated on the show by fellow million-fight veteran Shonie Carter, and succumbed to Din Thomas at the finale, but secured a UFC contract nonetheless. From there, he would go 5-3 in the UFC, with notable wins over Anthony Johnson—it is still hard to reconcile the memory that such a fight ever happened—Melvin Guillard and Terry Etim. Clementi retired relatively early, at age 36, after a very respectable 19-13 post-“TUF” run.
7. Scott SmithOriginal Draft Position: N/A (Team Mojo)
Pre-TUF Record: 10-2 (0-1 UFC)
Post-TUF Record: 8-9, 1 NC (1-2 UFC)
Smith was an entertaining if limited brawler from California, a former World Extreme Cagefighting light heavyweight champion who, in a different timeline, might have settled into a nice 20-fight UFC run, alternating wins and losses while picking up a tall stack of post-fight bonuses.
“Hands of Steel” did just fine in this timeline, however. While his post-“TUF” UFC run hit a ceiling in the form of fighters like Ed Herman, who could take advantage of his ground game, and castmate Cote, who was at heart just a slightly evolved and more diverse version of himself, Smith settled into a unique role as perhaps MMA’s all-time greatest author of comeback finishes. His "TUF" finale knockout of teammate Pete Sell is still held up as one of the craziest come-from-behind wins ever, and he would pull off similarly jaw-dropping wins over Cung Le and Benji Radach.
Pre-TUF Record: 8-3 (1-2 UFC)
Post-TUF Record: 2-3 (1-2 UFC)
At No. 8, Lutter falls into the lowest draft position of any season winner thus far in this series. However, he is absolutely the author of his own misery here. After plowing through the show to win the middleweight tournament with three dominant performances—including submission wins over Smith and Cote—to earn a shot at Anderson Silva’s belt, “The Serial Killer” famously failed to make weight for the title fight. To add injury to insult, an unsmiling and suddenly motivated Silva triangled “The Michael Jordan of Jiu-Jitsu,” elbowing his head for good measure until he tapped. After a brutal non-bounceback fight against Rich Franklin, Lutter was out of the UFC. He would fight just twice more before retiring in 2010.
9. Pete SprattOriginal Draft Position: N/A (Team No Love)
Pre-TUF Record: 14-10 (2-2 UFC)
Post-TUF Record: 11-14 (1-2 UFC)
“The Secret Weapon” remains one of the most ironic nicknames in MMA history, as the scouting report on the Texan veteran was one of the least secret things ever: an ultra-fast-twitch athlete with solid kickboxing, numbing power and some glaring deficiencies on the ground. By the time the show began, Spratt remained very dangerous, even in his mid-30s—his last fight before “TUF 4” was a victorious standup war against future UFC welterweight wrecking machine Matt Brown—but his ceiling was the same as it had ever been. In a bit of ironic matchmaking, Spratt was chosen to return to the bracket when Jeremy Jackson was kicked off the show, then ended up fighting his disgraced teammate in the finale. Spratt tapped Jackson out that night to earn a contract, but was outgrappled badly in his next two UFC appearances. From there, he went back to the regionals, and would end up where it all began, fighting his last fight in Texas in 2017.
10. Shonie CarterOriginal Draft Position: N/A (Team Mojo)
Pre-TUF Record: 39-15-7, 1 NC (3-2 UFC)
Post-TUF Record: 12-18 (0-1 UFC)
Like his Season 4 castmate Spratt, “Mr. International” felt like a relic of the pre-“TUF” era, not only as the most experienced fighter in the cast and one of the oldest, but in his attitude. Like Rivera, Carter’s stint on “TUF” feels almost like a side note in his career, but where Rivera jumped right back into the UFC, Carter goofed his way through the show in his Speedo, then went directly back to bringing his trademark spectacle to regional shows around the world.
11. Pete SellOriginal Draft Position: N/A (Team Mojo)
Pre-TUF Record: 7-1 (1-1 UFC)
Post-TUF Record: 3-6 (1-4 UFC)
Sell was a talented fighter who may have suffered from timing and circumstance. He started early, he was under the spotlight early and he was perceived to be washed up early. “Drago” was 23 when Season 4 began, which is awfully early to be getting—or needing—a second chance, especially in a house with a couple of 40-fight veterans a decade his senior.
After falling victim to one of the most shocking finishes in MMA history in the series finale, thanks to charging in with his hands down to polish off Smith, Sell got no favors. While he received four more fights in the UFC, they were against the likes of Nate Quarry and Thales Leites—both future title challengers—then, after dropping to welterweight, he drew the eternally tough Joshua Burkman and Matt Brown. Little wonder that after the Brown fight, Sell took more than two years off, and would fight only once after his 30th birthday.
12. Edwin DeweesOriginal Draft Position: N/A (Team Mojo)
Pre-TUF Record: 34-9, 1 NC (0-2 UFC)
Post-TUF Record: 4-9 (0-1 UFC)
With the possible exception of Jason Reinhardt, Dewees may be the ultimate example of a small-pond fighter in UFC history. Like Reinhardt, Dewees racked up a gaudy record in local shows by being an athletic and aggressive grappler, and by the time Season 4 of “TUF” came calling, he had had two previous fights in the UFC, both of which had ended in first-round stoppage losses.
The show offered a glimmer of hope, as “Bam Bam” beat Gideon Ray via decision, then lost to Cote in similar fashion, but he was punched out in half a round by Rivera at the finale, leaving his official UFC ledger at 0-3 with three first-round losses. After the show, Dewees returned to the regionals, mostly in his native Arizona, but quickly ceased to be a dominant force even at that level.
13. Charles McCarthyOriginal Draft Position: N/A (Team No Love)
Pre-TUF Record: 9-4 (0-1 UFC)
Post-TUF Record: 1-1
There was not a whole lot to recommend McCarthy as a future UFC mainstay going into Season 4. His pre-“TUF” record featured a bad TKO loss in his one UFC appearance, as well as losses in some of his other bouts against future UFC-level fighters. He was also one of the few fighters to actually enter the show off a loss, which didn’t inspire confidence. On the show, McCarthy was eliminated by Sell, but returned at the finale and earned a measure of redemption—and a real, live UFC win—by armbarring Ray late in the first round. That performance earned him a main-card date with Michael Bisping, who was fresh off of his first career loss and dropping to middleweight for the first time. After a chippy and contentious first round, McCarthy was forced to bow out between rounds, as one of Bisping’s knee strikes had injured his arm.
That was all she wrote for McCarthy as a fighter, but the grappling expert has found success as a coach in the American Top Team system, most recently gaining notice for his handling of UFC featherweight Charles Rosa.
14. Gideon RayOriginal Draft Position: N/A (Team No Love)
Pre-TUF Record: 13-4-1 (0-2 UFC)
Post-TUF Record: 4-11 (0-1 UFC)
While almost all of the fighters entering Season 4 had losing UFC records—by definition, since it was a second-chance show—and several made good on the opportunity nonetheless, Ray did not show much promise of being one of them. His two previous shots in the Octagon had been brutal losses, most recently to Mike Swick in under 30 seconds. Like McCarthy, Ray was one of the few fighters entering “TUF 4” off a loss, having lost to Jason MacDonald just four weeks before taping started. (As a side note, MacDonald must have the most career bouts against “TUF” veterans of any fighter who never appeared on the show himself.)
It feels safe to say that, if there had been a draft, Ray would likely have gone second to last, and on the show, Ray fared about as well as expected. He was eliminated in the quarterfinals by Dewees, then armbarred in the first round by McCarthy at the finale. Cut loose by the UFC, Ray headed back to the minors, where he had a three-fight stint in International Fight League before fighting out his career mostly in and around his native Chicago, and mostly losing.
15. Jeremy JacksonOriginal Draft Position: N/A (Team No Love)
Pre-TUF Record: 7-1 (0-1 UFC)
Post-TUF Record: 2-1 (0-1 UFC)
Jackson’s story might have turned out very differently. Blessed or cursed by having blitzed and ground-and-pounded Nick Diaz for a TKO win early in both men’s careers, “The Scorpion” was suddenly locked into a trilogy: Fully three of Jackson’s first eight fights ended up being against Diaz, including his pre-“TUF” loss in the UFC. He was one of the youngest fighters on the Season 4 cast, just 23 years old at the time of filming.
However, any competitive what-ifs are rendered moot by Jackson’s actions outside of fighting. His stint on “TUF 4” is chiefly memorable for sneaking out of the house to try and meet up with a girl he met during an off-site workout session, and being kicked off the show as a result. What looked like mere poor judgment and impulse control at the time became part of a larger and far more disturbing whole when he was arrested in 2008 for raping his ex-girlfriend at gunpoint. After pleading guilty partway through the trial process, Jackson is currently serving 25 years to life.
16. Mikey BurnettOriginal Draft Position: N/A (Team No Love)
Pre-TUF Record: 5-2 (2-1 UFC)
Post-TUF Record: 0-0
More than anything, Burnett’s tragicomic “TUF” experience is reminiscent of Jason Thacker on Season 1. Burnett simply had no business being there. While he had once challenged for a UFC title, Burnett’s MMA experience consisted of seven professional fights, all of which took place in the 1990s, very much the proto-MMA era. In order to convey how different the sport was in the post-“TUF” era than what Burnett was used to, let us simply point out that at the last event in which he fought—UFC 18—there were two weight classes, and competitors were still wearing shirts and shoes in the Octagon. If Spratt and Carter were throwbacks to a previous era, Burnett might as well have been a thawed caveman.
Unfortunately, Burnett conducted himself more or less like a thawed caveman, and much like Thacker, in hindsight he provided far more pathos than comic relief. The most indelible image of Burnett on “TUF 4” is him taking a running charge at a wall in an attempt to ram his head through it. (He didn’t quite make it.) He would then be forced to withdraw with a neck injury, which he maintained had nothing to do with the wall incident. Burnett never fought again. He made headlines for his unsuccessful lawsuit against the show’s producers, then years later for surviving an armed robbery along with his son.
« Previous Matt Hughes Details Recovery Process on Three-Year Anniversary of Train Accident Next The Big Picture: Small Cages and Squash Matches »