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.
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• 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
• Season 5: Team Penn vs. Team Pulver
• Season 6: Team Hughes vs. Team Serra
Season 7: Team Rampage vs. Team Forrest
The seventh season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” which aired in April and May of 2008 and featured an all-middleweight cast, marked a couple of firsts for the reality series. Season 1 light heavyweight winner Forrest Griffin became the first “TUF” alumnus to return to the show as a head coach, and by defeating his counterpart Quinton Jackson at UFC 86 a week after the season finale, he also became the first product of the show to win a UFC title. (Matt Serra doesn't count.) Griffin would not be the last to do either of those things, but he will always be able to say he was the trailblazer.
Season 7 also brought a new procedural wrinkle that would become standard procedure for many future seasons. UFC President Dana White, claiming that he was sick of fighters’ laziness and whining once they had been selected for the show—an understandable reaction to Season 6—brought in 32 fighters rather than the usual 16 and decreed that everyone would need to win a fight even to earn a place in the “TUF” house.
That decision had several effects: some predictable, others perhaps surprising. Predictably, the need to find 32 middleweights, especially after three previous seasons had already dipped from that well, led to a major lowering of standards. Of the 32 fighters invited to the pre-show eliminators, five had no professional MMA experience whatsoever. Several others had sub-.500 records, including—and this is difficult to fathom even now, over a decade later—two who were on five-fight losing streaks and another on a four-fight skid.
What might be surprising is that while appearing to scrape the bottom of the barrel, Season 7 managed to unearth some gold. Of the five 0-0 fighters who entered the eliminators, four won places on the cast, and one—spoiler!—ended up winning the whole thing. White’s wild idea worked like a charm, as the talent level and the apparent motivation level of the cast were both improved from the previous season. The draft must have been a nightmare, given the minuscule amount of data available to the coaches, yet Griffin and “Rampage” did pretty well; better, in fact, than the coaches of some previous seasons who had the luxury of scouting well-established fighters. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t do even better, so let’s.
1. Matt BrownOriginal Draft Position: 8 (Team Forrest)
Pre-TUF Record: 7-6
Post-TUF Record: 15-11
There was really nothing to recommend “The Immortal” much higher than the No. 8 pick with which he was drafted, let alone as the man who would eventually compile the best career of anyone from Season 7. He was experienced, but barely over .500, and while a pre-“TUF” win over Douglas Lima looks sensational on his résumé today, it wasn’t even a blip on the radar at the time. Even his run on the show, which is memorable mostly for teaching Jeremy May the perils of tampering with a man’s dip, offered few clues that in a couple of years, Brown would be the terror of the UFC welterweight division and on the cusp of a title shot.
That is exactly what happened, however. After being eliminated from the tournament by eventual winner Sadollah, Brown earned a roster spot at the finale by punching out Season 6 alum Matt Arroyo, launching one of the most unlikely and hard-earned contender runs in UFC history. For three years, Brown weathered ups and downs—including three straight submission losses in 2010—before turning the corner. A seven-fight win streak, which boasted six brutal knockouts and included names like Mike Swick, Mike Pyle and Stephen Thompson, led to a welterweight title eliminator against Robbie Lawler. Back-to-back decision losses to Lawler and Johny Hendricks, the man Lawler dethroned, marked the end of Brown’s run as a title contender. However, he remains a popular welterweight mainstay and reliable action fighter even now at age 39—the only fighter from Season 7 still on roster—and is the easy choice as the No. 1 pick in the “TUF 7” redraft.
Pre-TUF Record: 6-0
Post-TUF Record: 11-10 (10-10 UFC)
Poor Clarence Byron Dollaway. As Season 7’s version of the high-level college wrestler with the right team affiliation and a brief but clean MMA record—see also: Josh Koscheck, Gray Maynard—he was a no-brainer as the first overall pick. That pick would likely have worked out perfectly if not for the fact that “The Doberman” was stuck in the “TUF” house with Sadollah, who was about to appear out of nowhere with one of the most in-the-zone six-week spans in the show’s history. After being eliminated in the semifinals by Sadollah, dominating the first round only to get armbarred in the second, Dollaway received a do-over when Jesse Taylor was kicked off the show. At the finale, Dollaway succumbed to another armbar, only more easily this time.
Once that humiliation was out of the way, however, Dollaway settled into a decade-long run as a solid UFC middleweight. Though he never strung together enough wins to become a serious title contender, and submission defense remained a problem even as he flashed impressive offensive grappling chops of his own, he hovered around the Top 15 for a good while. We don’t make the decision lightly to draft Dollaway ahead of a man who beat him twice decisively, but his UFC résumé is simply much stronger than Sadollah’s. Dollaway’s best wins, such as Ed Herman and Cezar Ferreira, are more impressive, and many of his losses—e.g. Mark Munoz, Lyoto Machida, Michael Bisping—were to higher-ranked fighters.
Pre-TUF Record: 8-2
Post-TUF Record: 18-6-1 (3-1 UFC)
Harris was picked ninth despite one of the better records of anyone on the cast. Like several other top fighters in this draft, he had the misfortune of running into the buzzsaw that was “TUF 7” Sadollah. Despite his success at slamming the eventual season winner around, Sadollah’s sweeps and escapes finally put him in position to stun Harris with a big knee in transition, leading to a TKO finish.
Here is where we must discuss what a raw deal “Hurricane” got from the UFC. Whether because of some mysterious professional indifference or—as Harris claims—mysterious personal animosity, he did not appear at the season finale. In fact, he would not get a UFC contract until he won six straight fights in regional shows, picked up the Shark Fights middleweight belt and semi-prank called Dana White on an MMA Junkie radio show.
When Harris finally did make his UFC debut, it was on short notice against an up-and-coming John Salter, whom he knocked out in the third round. In his first three UFC bouts, Harris faced Salter, Mario Miranda and David Branch. All three were undefeated, and Salter and Branch were future Top 10 fighters. All three were handed their first career losses by Harris. Even more impressively, all three were by knockout and two earned “Knockout of the Night,” including a slam KO of future World Series of Fighting two-division champ Branch that surely must have made "Rampage" smile. In spite of one of the most remarkable opening runs in the UFC in years, Harris was headed not for title contention but for a pink slip the moment he lost a fight. Since then, he has fought for a variety of promotions, winning more than he has lost, often against former or future UFC fighters. His frustration with finding fights in general—and a return to a top-level promotion in particular—has led Harris to openly consider retirement more than once.
Pre-TUF Record: 0-0
Post-TUF Record: 6-5
Notable Achievements: "The Ultimate Fighter" Season 7 winner
Sadollah winning the Season 7 tournament is sometimes held up as evidence of the show’s decline, or even the moment at which it “jumped the shark.” An 0-0 fighter running the table in the UFC’s flagship vehicle for prospects certainly called some previous truths into question, but Sadollah’s “TUF” run is more a story of lightning in a bottle than a mockery of the system. While his spot in the show was due partly to a well-made highlight video and partly to a regional connection to UFC matchmaker and fellow Richmond native Joe Silva, Sadollah’s elimination fight was against Steve Byrnes, a 6-1 prospect who had already fought in the UFC. If Sadollah wasn’t UFC material, it’s likely we would have found out right then and there, but he tapped Byrnes out with ease.
Though Sadollah initially presented as a kickboxer, thanks to having nearly as many muay Thai bouts (3) as amateur MMA fights (4), his run through the Season 7 tournament was predicated on very slick grappling, including several instances of out-finessing larger, stronger men that would have made Royce Gracie proud. After armbarring Dollaway for a second time to win Season 7, Sadollah embarked on a short and strangely quiet UFC run. His 6-5 record contains no real curiosities or outliers; for the most part he beat the so-so fighters and lost to the good ones. He remained well-rounded and a tough out—his only stoppage loss was to a pre-USADA Hendricks—but the venomous offensive grappling that had carried him through the show became a sporadic sight at best. While it feels awkward to draft Sadollah behind three people he defeated head-to-head on the show, their post-“TUF” careers featured more wins over better fighters. Ultimately, Sadollah’s competitive apex was “TUF 7” itself and his best career wins the two over Dollaway. Combined with a decent UFC run, that’s good enough for the No. 4 spot in this draft, just the same as in the original.
5. Matt RiddleOriginal Draft Position: 3 (Team Rampage)
Pre-TUF Record: 0-0
Post-TUF Record: 8-3, 2 NC (7-3, 2 NC UFC)
The scary thing is that Riddle could be even higher than this. That is a straightforward observation as well as a pun, since Riddle is tied with none other than Nick “On the Contrary, My Fight Career Is Interfering with My Weed Smoking” Diaz for the most positive in-competition tests for cannabis in the UFC—and it took Riddle fewer fights to get there.
Like Sadollah, Riddle entered “TUF 7” with no professional fight experience, but unlike Sadollah, he did not even have a reel of kickboxing and amateur MMA highlights to go on. The 22-year-old was chosen third overall for the simple, screamingly obvious reason that he was the best athlete in the cast. As expected, Riddle soaked up instruction on the show like a sponge, and as one might also expect, he was eliminated by the much more experienced Tim Credeur, getting snared in an armbar late in a back-and-forth first round. Riddle beat Team Forrest’s Dante Rivera at the finale to earn a UFC contract, then embarked on a promising run with the promotion. His UFC mark of 8-3 with two no-contests is slightly deceptive, as the promotion likely realized it had a potential star on its hands and never matched him very hard, but at the same time—we cannot stress this enough—he would have been 10-3 if not for weed. (Riddle’s rib panel tattoo of a heroically sized pink and purple mushroom makes it slightly surprising that weed is all he ever popped for.)
Riddle was released from the UFC after his second drug test failure and, after one bout in Titan Fighting Championship, left MMA behind at the age of 28 for professional wrestling. In his new career, he is served well by the same sometimes astonishing athleticism that made him a promising MMA prospect, as well as the good looks and laidback charisma that implied star potential, and presumably nobody rides him about his weed smoking. After a successful run in several independent promotions, Riddle was signed in 2018 by World Wrestling Entertainment, where he now represents the SmackDown brand.
6. Jesse TaylorOriginal Draft Position: 6 (Team Forrest)
Pre-TUF Record: 6-2
Post-TUF Record: 25-14 (1-1 UFC)
If Harris can only throw his hands up and wonder what the hell he did to deserve the way he was treated, Taylor is unquestionably the author of his own misery when it comes to the UFC and its signature reality series. He fought his way to the Season 7 final, soundly beating two of the most experienced cast members in Rivera and Credeur along the way, only to lose his spot thanks to a drunken, property-destroying rampage in Las Vegas. His antics, many of which were caught on video, included Taylor making a scene in a bar, screaming that he was a UFC fighter. (Not so fast, sir.) Taylor was removed from the final and replaced by Dollaway, who beat Credeur for the chance. The most ironic, heartbreaking part of it is that the show was over. Taylor’s shenanigans had taken place on his own time, the night after everyone had gone home; short of an actual felony, loudly shouting his association with the promotion and inviting that sort of scrutiny and embarrassment was almost the only thing he could have done that night to jeopardize his spot in the finale.
Taylor did get a shot in the UFC, losing to Dollaway via a very sassy Peruvian Necktie, and after getting his walking papers, did an unexpected but very admirable thing. He went back to the regionals, started winning fights, and openly and frankly owned his mistakes anytime someone asked. His post-“TUF” run includes runs in almost every major promotion of the last decade, and features quite a few high-level fighters. He even got another shot in the UFC after “The Ultimate Fighter: Redemption,” only to trip over his own feet once more, this time due to a failed PED test.
7. Paul BradleyOriginal Draft Position: 5 (Team Rampage)
Pre-TUF Record: 6-0
Post-TUF Record: 17-10 (0-2 UFC)
Let’s get this out of the way: Bradley’s run on the actual television show was a complete disaster. After fighting his way into the final cast of 16 and being chosen fifth, Bradley was sent home with some mysterious but disturbing skin infection, and thus never fought in the tournament. His “TUF” performance is better than that of Season 6 medical washout Roman Mitichyan only because first, Bradley actually won a fight before getting drafted; and second, his departure didn’t help get War Machine into the UFC.
However, outside of that brief travesty, Bradley has carved out a perfectly respectable career. While he ended up winless in two tough UFC matchups against Rafael Natal and Mike Pierce, the two-time NCAA All-American wrestler made positive impressions in Strikeforce and Bellator MMA before a rough finishing kick in WSOF/Professional Fighters League.
8. Tim CredeurOriginal Draft Position: 2 (Team Forrest)
Pre-TUF Record: 9-2
Post-TUF Record: 3-2
Reputedly Louisiana’s first Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, Credeur was chosen second overall, thanks to an impressive pre-“TUF” record that included tons of finishes over decent competition and losses only to UFC-level fighters in Chael Sonnen and Joey Villasenor. He performed well on the show, tapping out Riddle and Cramer before being eliminated by Taylor in the semifinals. Credeur missed out on fighting at the season finale after self-reporting use of a banned substance, but got his chance in the UFC shortly afterward, racking up a 3-2 mark against very solid competition; back-to-back losses to Nate Quarry and Ed Herman were nothing to be ashamed of. Credeur walked away from the sport early and in retirement has become a prominent figure in Gulf Coast combat sports, as the head instructor at Gladiators Academy in Lafayette, Louisiana.
Pre-TUF Record: 0-0
Post-TUF Record: 8-3 (0-1 UFC)
Yarbrough, another of the professional MMA neophytes on the Season 7 cast, acquitted himself well despite his previous best sport having been…swimming. He beat Pat Schultz, Bradley’s replacement, before running in to a predictable mauling by Dollaway. Yarbrough missed out on fighting at the season finale due to the withdrawals of castmates Cramer and Credeur, and when he and Credeur finally met a few weeks later, he was dropped and pounded out in half a round. Afterwards, however, “Aquaman” embarked on a decent journeyman campaign, facing former or future UFC talents including Rodney Wallace and Clint Hester and acquitting himself well.
10. Dan CramerOriginal Draft Position: 7 (Team Rampage)
Pre-TUF Record: 0-0
Post-TUF Record: 11-4 (1-1 UFC)
As noted already, the only thing more surprising than five 0-0 fighters being invited to compete is that most turned out to be pretty good; four of the five won their eliminator bouts and while some of those were longer for the UFC than others, all four ended up with winning records. Cramer certainly fits right in. It is no surprise that he was completely victimized on the ground by Credeur, and his UFC run came to an end thanks to a slightly more gifted fighter in Riddle. However, his post-UFC career was very respectable, and his wins over Josh Samman and Brian Rogers stack up well with the best wins of just about anyone else in this draft outside of the top five or so. “Cosmo” might have gone earlier in this draft if he had not walked away from the sport at age 29, in his apparent prime and not long after appearing in the semifinals of Bellator’s Season 8 middleweight tournament.
11. Luke ZachrichOriginal Draft Position: 16 (Team Forrest)
Pre-TUF Record: 7-1
Post-TUF Record: 7-3 (1-2 UFC)
It cannot have felt good for Zachrich, who walked into the “TUF” House with a 7-1 professional record, to be picked dead last, watching four 0-0 fighters go before him. The good news is that Zachrich is not dead last in this redraft; the bad news is that all the 0-0 fighters still got picked before him. Zachrich was eliminated in the opening round by Cramer, gassing out and being pelted to death with ground strikes after holding his own in the early going. He did not receive an immediate UFC invite after the show, but finally earned one all the way in 2014, where he went 1-2 and hung the gloves up afterward.
12. Dante RiveraOriginal Draft Position: 12 (Team Forrest)
Pre-TUF Record: 11-3
Post-TUF Record: 5-4 (0-1 UFC)
Rivera was chosen 12th despite having the most professional experience and one of the best records of any fighter on the show. It would prove to be good scouting on the part of coaches Jackson and Griffin. Despite several instances on the show in which he belittled less experienced castmates and offered outlandish bets if he should lose to them, Rivera’s one-fight UFC career would come to an end courtesy of the least experienced fighter in the house, Riddle. Afterward, the New Jersey native headed back to the northeast, where he put together a middling run buoyed by wins over fellow Season 7 veterans Bradley and Cramer—two fighters who otherwise accomplished quite a bit more than Rivera, post-“TUF.”
13. Jeremy MayOriginal Draft Position: 13 (Team Rampage)
Pre-TUF Record: 5-5
Post-TUF Record: 8-6 (0-0 UFC)
It seems that at some point in every one of these redrafts, there is one fighter who requires the disclaimer that storytelling happens in the editing room, and that reality television is television first, reality second. For Season 7, that fighter is May. To most viewers, May came off as tediously, annoyingly juvenile, a perception supported by the statements of many of his housemates on the show. It was May who made the questionable choice to put lime juice in Brown’s tobacco, and who for his efforts received the nastiest knockout of the season. (As a side note, it was a $3 can of dip. Can you imagine what Brown would have done if May had peed on his bed, full Season 1 style?)
That was all she wrote as far as “The BAMF” and the UFC were concerned, but May went on to put together a fairly respectable record all across the globe—and all up and down the scale, fighting mostly at heavyweight in the last few years. He may not even be done, as the 33-year-old fought as recently as February 2019, losing to now-UFC heavyweight Chase Sherman.
14. Mike DolceOriginal Draft Position: 11 (Team Forrest)
Pre-TUF Record: 3-4
Post-TUF Record: 2-6 (0-0 UFC)
It is an amusing irony that the third worst fighter from the “TUF 7” cast might be the third most recognizable name to the average MMA fan in 2020, after Brown and Riddle. In hindsight, it is kind of remarkable that Dolce was chosen as early as he was, considering he had lost four straight and was visibly undersized—though that losing streak was against about as tough a lineup as North American MMA outside the UFC could offer in 2007. Dolce was manhandled by Taylor in his opening-round bout, which put an end to his run on the show.
After the season, Dolce’s already sub-.500 record got even more so, and he retired in 2010 with an official record of 5-10. However, he is one of Season 7’s success stories, in that he reinvented himself as an MMA nutrition expert, one of the first high-profile consultants of his kind. While he is certainly a divisive figure—with detractors accusing him either of using “bro science” and pseudoscience, or of collecting exorbitant fees for sharing common-sense dietary advice—there are enough people who believe in his services that he has carved out a post-competition career in a way very few fighters do.
15. Brandon SeneOriginal Draft Position: 15 (Team Rampage)
Pre-TUF Record: 2-0
Post-TUF Record: 0-2 (0-0 UFC)
Sene arrived with just two fights in low-level Florida regional shows, won his way into the house by beating Aaron Meisner—who would actually go on to a much better career—and lost a lackluster decision to Rivera to end his stint on “The Ultimate Fighter.” He would fight just twice more, losing both times, before leaving the sport.
16. Nick KleinOriginal Draft Position: 14 (Team Forrest)
Pre-TUF Record: 3-0
Post-TUF Record: 0-0
Much like Sene, Klein came to the show with a few wins, but against such low-level competition that it was difficult to draw many conclusions about him. He actually looked good in his first-round bout against Dollaway, threatening with submissions before being guillotined himself, but that was it for Klein, who never fought again.
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