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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 8: Team Nogueira vs. Team Mir
The eighth season of “The Ultimate Fighter” debuted on Spike TV in September 2008 and featured as coaches interim heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and former champ Frank Mir, who fought for Nogueira’s belt—and a presumptive title unification bout with Brock Lesnar—after the season finale.
After three straight seasons with a single weight class, Season 8 returned to the original format, featuring eight fighters each in the light heavyweight and lightweight divisions. In a new twist, however, Nogueira and Mir chose their light heavyweights first, followed by lightweights, rather than drafting from a combined pool. The show also continued the practice, begun after Season 6, of bringing in 32 competitors and making everyone fight their way into the house.
For most fans, the immediate mental association with “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 8 is, “Oh right, that’s the Junie season!” followed by a laugh, a shake of the head or an expression of disgust. Certainly, the self-described “redneck from Kentucky” ratcheted the drunken hijinks as well as the legitimate emotional and mental issues of previous seasons up to shocking new heights, but aside from his volatile presence, Season 8 featured quite a few quirky and memorable characters ranging from harmless geeks—remember David Kaplan knowing the capital of every country in the world?—to miscreants capable of keeping up with Browning, at least for short stretches.
While the original “TUF 8” draft split up the fighters by weight class, we will stick to picking from a single pool for purposes of this redraft. The primary reason is that, as you will see, the light heavyweights by and large went on to accomplish far more than their smaller teammates, and it feels more accurate and informative to line everyone up accordingly.
1. Ryan BaderOriginal Draft Position: 2 (light heavyweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 7-0
Post-TUF Record: 20-5, 1 NC (15-5 UFC)
Notable Achievements: "The Ultimate Fighter" Season 8 winner (light heavyweight), Bellator MMA light heavyweight and heavyweight champion
This pick is very, very easy. Bader is the most accomplished alumnus of his season by such a wide margin that it’s only rivaled by previous season winners who went on to capture UFC gold. Not that it was difficult to see future greatness in Bader, who was picked second overall as his season’s version of the “high-level collegiate wrestler built like a comic book character” archetype. (See also: Koscheck, Maynard, Dollaway).
After beating Kingsbury to earn a spot in the house, Bader manhandled Lawlor and Marshall with ease to make it to the final, where he blasted Magalhaes in half a round to win the light heavyweight tournament. Afterward, he quickly fought his way into the Top 10 and stayed there. His 15-5 UFC mark features losses to five former or future champs or title challengers, and with the exception of an embarrassing upset loss to Tito Ortiz, all were in or near their prime.
Bader was on a two-fight win streak and ranked No. 4 by Sherdog and No. 5 by Fightmatrix in March 2017, when he announced that he had signed with Bellator after the UFC had elected not to match its rival’s offer. That made him the highest-ranked fighter ever to jump from the UFC to Bellator and one of the best fighters to leave the UFC in the modern era, period. He quickly fulfilled his promise there, winning the light heavyweight title before moving up in weight and entering the heavyweight Grand Prix. Bader plowed through the tournament, beating Muhammed Lawal, Matt Mitrione and Fedor Emelianenko—without allowing any of them to land a single significant strike—to become Bellator’s first simultaneous two-division champion.
Pre-TUF Record: 20-9-1
Post-TUF Record: 6-3
For as much as Bader had “probable future contender” written all over him, it isn’t ridiculous in hindsight that Soszynski was picked first. A 30-fight veteran coming into the show, he had more professional experience than any two of his castmates combined. To put that into perspective, only three of the 15 other fighters from Season 8 have more than 30 fights now. Offering quality as well as quantity, his 20-9-1 résumé included a respectable run in International Fight League and half of his losses were to huge heavyweights like Ben Rothwell. The eyeball test didn’t hurt either; while “The Polish Experiment” didn’t have quite the same Johnny Bravo-esque taper as Bader—who does?—he was a physical specimen himself, as well as a frankly scary-looking dude.
Soszynski did well on the show, armbarring Kyle Kingsbury before getting some of his own medicine from Vinny Magalhaes. At the finale, he tapped out Shane Primm with a painful-looking kimura to earn a UFC contract. A respectable 6-3 run with the promotion, with solid wins over Brian Stann and Stephan Bonnar, was cut short by a gruesome knockout loss to Igor Pokrajac in December 2011 that left Soszynski with memory issues. He never fought again and announced his retirement officially in 2014, by which time he had already transitioned to a career in acting.
3. Tom LawlorOriginal Draft Position: 7 (light heavyweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 4-1, 1 NC
Post-TUF Record: 6-6 (6-5 UFC)
“Filthy Tom” was the steal of the original Season 8 draft. Chosen seventh out of eight light heavyweights due to his thin record, smallish physique and jokester demeanor, Lawlor was predictably wiped out by Bader in the quarterfinals but beat Kingsbury at the finale to secure a roster spot. (We must also never forget that Lawlor scored the cleanest one-punch knockout of the season, leaving Dave Kaplan face down and snoring in a pile of dirty laundry.) He went on to compile a 6-5 UFC record that stands out for quality wins—Dollaway, Patrick Cote and Gian Villante stack up well against the best wins of anyone else on this list besides Bader—and for being one of the first fighters to bring humor and whimsy back to UFC weigh-ins, doing his best impression of fighters as diverse as Dan Severn and Conor McGregor.
Post-UFC, Lawlor took his charisma, athleticism and love of dress-up to the squared circle of professional wrestling, where he has experienced significant success, signing with Major League Wrestling in 2017 and becoming one of the organization’s top stars.
Pre-TUF Record: 7-1, 1 NC
Post-TUF Record: 4-5
Poor Kingsbury. After having the rotten luck to draw the best fighter on the show, Bader, in the elimination round, Kingsbury received a second chance when Karn Grigoryan was injured. He was then matched up against the second best fighter on the show, Soszynski, and was eliminated in the quarterfinals. Perhaps sensing the potential in the former Arizona State University football player, the UFC invited him to fight at the finale, where he had to take on the third best fighter on the show in Lawlor and lost a decision.
Despite his 0-3 record against his castmates, Kingsbury was offered a UFC contract, whereupon he promptly won four straight fights. This brought a step up in competition and once he ran into the Glover Teixeiras of the world, Kingsbury promptly lost four straight. The final loss, in a mini-comeback after nearly two years off, marked the end of his run as a professional fighter. Still, for someone who only made it back into the “TUF” house because of another man’s busted nose, Kingsbury had a very nice run in the UFC. And of course, he can always claim to be the real winner of Season 8, marrying former UFC Octagon girl Natasha Wicks and settling down to an apparently idyllic domestic life. No word on whether his keto cooking classes include sushi.
Pre-TUF Record: 10-0
Post-TUF Record: 21-16 (5-7 UFC)
Notable Achievements: "The Ultimate Fighter" Season 8 winner (lightweight)
Behold, the first lightweight to be chosen in this redraft. Chosen fourth out of the eight lightweights despite having easily the best record, Escudero showed coaches Nogueira and Mir the error of their ways in poetic fashion, defeating No. 3 pick Nelson, No. 1 pick Browning and No. 2 pick Nover to become the lightweight winner of Season 8.
After his upset of Nover at the finale, Escudero took his shiny new contract and became an average UFC lightweight. His 5-7 record across two separate stints with the promotion is exactly as good as it looks: Cole Miller and Drew Dober are solid wins, while Kevin Lee and Charles Oliveira are forgivable losses, but Escudero never flashed any serious promise of future contendership. Outside the UFC, his record is extensive but spotty, marred by pointless catchweights and egregious weight misses; he infamously squandered an opportunity with Professional Fighters League by coming in heavy for his first two fights.
Pre-TUF Record: 4-1
Post-TUF Record: 6-3 (3-3 UFC)
Like Kingsbury, Marshall lost in the elimination round but was called back as an injury replacement, in his case when Antwain Britt turned out to have broken his hand in his own elimination fight. Marshall eliminated Primm with ease in the quarterfinal, then gave eventual winner Bader his stiffest challenge before bowing out in his semifinal. After steamrolling Jules Bruchez at the finale, Marshall won two more fights in the UFC before being somewhat unexpectedly dropped after a single loss. Marshall won three regional fights before being called back up, only to look uninspired in back-to-back losses to Luiz Cane and Brandon Vera. Post-UFC, Marshall has become a respected trainer as the head coach at Elevation Fight Team.
7. George RoopOriginal Draft Position: 7 (lightweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 8-3
Post-TUF Record: 7-10-1 (5-8 UFC)
Roop came into the season with very modest expectations, a gawky 6-foot-1 lightweight who was chosen second to last, but exceeded those expectations and then some. After he lost at the season finale and was not offered a UFC contract, he turned up in Zuffa-era World Extreme Cagefighting and was absorbed with the rest of the denizens of the little blue cage in 2011.
Throughout his UFC and WEC tenure, Roop elected to steer into his unique physicality, transforming himself from a gawky 6-foot-1 lightweight into a very gawky 6-foot-1 featherweight, then a positively skeletal 6-foot-1 bantamweight. While he lost more fights than he won, his high points were impressive; being the first man to finish Chan Sung Jung—with a brutal head kick, no less—is something nobody can ever take away from the man.
8. Shane NelsonOriginal Draft Position: 3 (lightweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 10-3
Post-TUF Record: 6-4 (2-2 UFC)
A disciple of B.J. Penn, Nelson came from the same Rumble on the Rock scene that produced a seemingly endless supply of “just scrap” Hawaiian kickboxers. Nelson had the misfortune to be matched with Escudero in his quarterfinal, and had little to offer the bigger, better wrestler and grappler; the most memorable thing about their fight was Browning climbing into the cage like an idiot afterward.
Nelson beat Roop at the finale to earn a shot in the UFC, but other than the head-to-head win, his post-“TUF” output is inferior to Roop’s in every way. A split with Aaron Riley and a loss to Matt Wiman round out his UFC record, and his post-UFC run was against middling opposition at best.
Pre-TUF Record: 2-2, 1 NC
Post-TUF Record: 17-10 (1-4 UFC)
Lining up to be drafted by two of the best heavyweight grapplers in MMA, Magalhaes was like a bag of BBQ-flavored pork rinds at a gas station: tempting, yes, but screaming future regret to anyone who took 10 seconds to think it over. The 2007 Mundials gold medalist was one of the best Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners in years to cross over to MMA so young. He was a physical specimen and a good athlete. However, his professional record stood at 2-2 with a no-contest but, more importantly, had already made it abundantly clear that he did not like getting hit in the face. Time and reps can shore up all sorts of skill deficiencies, but it’s truly rare that someone suddenly decides he enjoys knuckle sandwiches on his 50th try.
To the surprise of nobody—except perhaps Mir, who had chosen him third—Magalhaes cruised all the way to the light heavyweight final, only to crumple like a bag of chicharrones when Bader started punching him in the face. If possible, Magalhaes’ UFC run was worse than his 1-4 record implies; getting his lights put out by Anthony Perosh in 14 seconds far outstrips Bader’s loss to Ortiz as the most embarrassing UFC performance by a Season 8 cast member. Outside the UFC, Magalhaes put together a very presentable résumé including an M-1 Global title and an appearance in the PFL Season 1 final. And back in the world of grappling, “Pezao” has only expanded his footprint, adding an Abu Dhabi Combat Club gold medal and three bronzes to his trophy case.
10. Shane PrimmOriginal Draft Position: 4 (light heavyweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 1-0
Post-TUF Record: 4-5 (0-1 UFC)
It’s a bit mystifying that Primm was chosen fourth. He was a smallish light heavyweight. He did not come from a high-level background in another martial art or combat sport. He had one professional fight that, while it was a win over “TUF 8” castmate Lawlor, had ended in disqualification in under 30 seconds and offered next to nothing in terms of scouting.
Primm had a predictably rough run on the show, being thoroughly outclassed on the ground by Marshall on the show and Soszynski at the finale. Without a UFC contract, Primm kept busy for another couple of years, fighting six times in 2010, but lost definitively to the two UFC-level fighters he faced, Luigi Fioravanti and Bristol Marunde. In the end, ironically, Primm’s best win by far was beating Sean O’Connell to get into the “TUF” house in the first place.
11. Phillipe NoverOriginal Draft Position: 2 (lightweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 5-0-1
Post-TUF Record: 6-8 (1-6 UFC)
Not every season of “The Ultimate Fighter” gets one, but Nover was Season 8’s edition of one of the saddest “TUF” archetypes: the guy who garners inordinate, unrealistic hype through no fault of his own. Much like his Season 17 successor Uriah Hall, Nover seemed to be a nice, slightly introverted guy who was more than a little uncomfortable with the whole thing, but when UFC President Dana White is calling you “the next Anderson Silva,” merely being an RN with a BJJ black belt is going to leave a lot of people disappointed.
That’s being disingenuous, though, as Nover’s UFC run was disappointing by almost any standard, and unlike Hall, Nover never had a mid-career resurgence. Not only is his 1-6 UFC record one of the worst in the history of the promotion, the lone win was a split decision over Yui Chul Nam, who never won a UFC fight. Meanwhile, his losses included some seriously washed fighters: Nover was the last UFC win for Kyle Bradley, Rick Glenn and worst of all Renan Barao, who went 1-7 in his last eight UFC fights. Nover’s win over Darrell Horcher at Bellator 95 is easily his best post-“TUF” win.
12. Roli DelgadoOriginal Draft Position: 8 (lightweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 7-3-1
Post-TUF Record: 4-3 (1-2 UFC)
Delgado was picked last among lightweights despite a decent record, but it isn’t hard to understand why, as he had lost an ugly eliminator fight to Roop before getting called back as a replacement for the injured Brian McLaughlin. Delgado put up a good fight against the bigger, stronger Browning in the quarterfinals, losing by split decision, and received an invitation to fight at the finale. There, he defeated Polakowski to earn a UFC contract. While he finished 1-2 in the UFC, his brief post-“TUF” career features a winning record against fairly strong competition.
Pre-TUF Record: 2-0
Post-TUF Record: 3-6 (1-1 UFC)
The good news is that in a world with Joe Scarola, Browning had no chance of being the worst No. 1 draft pick in “The Ultimate Fighter” history. The bad news is practically everything else. Let us insert here the obligatory once-per-draft caveat: Storytelling happens in the editing room and reality television is television first, reality second. Having said that, no amount of editing could have conjured Junie Browning out of a mentally healthy person. Once in the house, Browning became the most infamously unhinged “TUF” cast member to date and perhaps of all time: a drunken, manic-depressive, antagonistic mess who veered from sobbing to bullying to hurling glassware perilously close to his housemates’ faces.
Browning’s behavior made Season 1 Chris Leben look like Season 26 Roxanne Modafferi, but unlike Leben, who underneath the pain and unresolved issues was a tough-as-nails guy who just “got” fighting, Browning was at best an average fighter, who could be outworked as well as outclassed and threw tantrums when he lost. After being eliminated by Escudero in the semifinals, Browning dominated Kaplan at the finale. That earned him enough additional time in the Octagon—a minute and 58 seconds, to be precise—to learn the folly of calling Cole Miller’s jiu-jitsu overrated.
After his release from the UFC, Browning spiraled downward, losing five straight fights in higher and higher weight classes while exhibiting erratic public behavior, including multiple brushes with the law. While he has fought only once since 2012, it is heartening that the news reports around him in that time have been few and generally positive.
14. Jules BruchezOriginal Draft Position: 8 (light heavyweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 0-0
Post-TUF Record: 1-2 (0-1 UFC)
While the introduction of elimination fights in Season 7 unquestionably elevated the motivation and engagement level of fighters in subsequent seasons, it also introduced an additional layer of March Madness-esque chaos to an already unpredictable process. Think of the fact that Kingsbury, one of the best fighters to come out of Season 8, lost his eliminator and only made it into the house due to another fighter being injured. Then think of the fact that Sean O’Connell and Ryan Jimmo didn’t make it at all, while the 0-0 Bruchez did.
Bruchez was chosen last at 205 pounds for all of the obvious reasons: He was one of the smallest light heavyweights if not the smallest and—oh, that’s right—he had no MMA experience. While Bruchez was clearly a savvy grappler, he drew Magalhaes in the quarterfinals, which was like bringing a knife to a chainsaw fight. Magalhaes armbarred him effortlessly, and at the finale, Marshall rocked him with a right hand, slammed him to the canvas and cinched up a rear-naked choke for the tap, all in 90 seconds. In the end, Bruchez’s nickname was longer than his career: “Cotton Mouth from the South” would fight just twice more before hanging ‘em up.
15. John PolakowskiOriginal Draft Position: 6 (lightweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 2-1
Post-TUF Record: 0-1
Whoever said that nice guys finish last may have been watching “TUF 8,” as Polakowski was one of the friendliest guys in the history of the show, all smiles and hugs. “Buckets of Blood” was a John Hackleman disciple and kickboxer with one of the most bizarre pre-“TUF” careers ever, as his 2-1 record included three fights against the same man, Olaf Alfonso. All three were wonderful fun and Polakowski got generally the better of the trilogy, as indicated by the win-loss ratio and Alfonso's face.
Polakowski’s run on “TUF” was pretty miserable, however, as he was eliminated from the tournament by Roop, then returned at the finale and was submitted by Delgado. After that loss, Polakowski never fought professionally again. Oh well, we’ll always have the moment he made a grinning Nogueira say, “Ees okay, I like hugs too.”
16. David KaplanOriginal Draft Position: 5 (lightweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 3-1
Post-TUF Record: 0-3 (0-2 UFC)
Kaplan was nearly as nice as Polakowski and twice as strange. He actually came into “TUF 8” with a decent résumé—his professional record was bolstered by a 4-0 amateur mark—but was positively hobbit-sized for a lightweight, which was exacerbated by the fact that he also had an oversized head and the reach of a dolphin. Once in the house, “Diamond Dave” distinguished himself by boasting that he knew the capital of every country in the world—which proved true, as far as we could tell—and that he could not be knocked out. This latter claim would be tested, at Kaplan's insistence, by a man at least 50 pounds heavier than himself in Lawlor, and proven completely, hilariously incorrect.
Kaplan’s quarterfinal elimination by Nover was nothing to be embarrassed about, but he was also thoroughly whipped at the finale by Browning, who outstruck as well as outgrappled him before getting a very slick armbar in the second round. From there, Kaplan fought twice more, including a loss to Roop in the UFC, before retiring in 2010.
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