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.
Season 9: United States vs. United Kingdom
It’s time for “The Ultimate Fighter” to get weird again. Season 9, whose broadcast debut was fittingly on April Fools’ Day 2009, was titled “United States vs. United Kingdom” and featured eight lightweights and eight welterweights from each nation. As was the case in Season 4, there was no draft, as the American fighters were coached by Dan Henderson and the British fighters by Michael Bisping. However, Season 9 kept up the practice, begun two seasons earlier, of making each fighter win an elimination bout before joining the cast proper.
Despite the added elimination round, Season 9 had by far the worst cast of any “TUF” season to that point. It produced only two fighters who ended up with 10 or more UFC appearances and none with a winning record in the promotion, which is a “TUF” first. Not a single fighter from the cast remains on the promotion’s roster, and before you protest that the season took place over 11 years ago, know that there are veterans of Seasons 1, 3, 5, 6 and 7 still in the UFC, while Season 8 gave us Ryan Bader, who certainly could be, competitively speaking.
In the end, the greatest, most memorable thing “TUF 9” gave us is the Henderson-Bisping fight at UFC 100. Nonetheless, the 16 men who won their way into the “TUF” house in January of 2009 did a thing not many fighters can claim to have done and, directly or indirectly, played a part in continuing to normalize the huge influx of British talent into the UFC since Bisping’s victory on Season 3. They have stories to tell and we’ll tell them as best we can, all while sorting this mess into some sort of order by drafting Season 9 of “The Ultimate Fighter.”
1. Ross PearsonTeam Affiliation: Team UK (lightweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 8-3
Post-TUF Record: 12-14, 1 NC (12-13, 1 NC UFC)
Notable Achievements: "The Ultimate Fighter" Season 9 winner (lightweight)
Pearson was one of the more promising prospects at the beginning of the season, a 24-year-old from the north of England whose record was better than it looked at 8-3. After a lone one-off bout in 2004 at age 20, Pearson had come back in 2007 and reeled off 10 fights in 15 months, winning eight. The losses were to fellow future UFC fighter Curt Warburton in the second round of a one-night tournament and a decision loss to Abdul Mohamed, who was probably the top lightweight in England at the time and was rumored to have been signed by the UFC off the win, though he never ended up making it to the Octagon.
On the show, Pearson used his superior ground skills to defeat Whitson and Dent, paving the way to meet Winner at the finale. There, he edged out his countryman in a very close fight to become the Season 9 lightweight champion. Having proven himself to be “The Real Deal” at least in the sense of being a UFC fighter, Pearson appeared for a while to be on his way to showing more than that, as he won his first three fights in the promotion. The streak wouldn’t last, but Pearson remained a competitive and entertaining fighter, the UFC’s second-biggest British star and a staple of European cards for several more years. Along the way, he picked up some notable scalps including George Sotiropoulos, Dennis Siver and Paul Felder.
Pearson's UFC record suffers from having stuck around long enough to lose seven of his last nine, and still would have been over .500 if not for the absolute robbery against Diego Sanchez. However, none of that should distract from the fact that for half a decade, Pearson was a solid UFC lightweight who beat some very good fighters, and in Season 9 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” that’s more than enough to get you drafted No. 1.
Pre-TUF Record: 12-6
Post-TUF Record: 4-9 (4-6 UFC)
Johnson, like Pearson, entered the season with a record that did not fully reflect his skills or potential. In Johnson’s case, he was a bit of a late bloomer, starting his training while on active duty as a soldier, and did not link up with a high-level team until a few months before the show. He also suffered from some egregious early matchups. For example: After losing his debut fight, the 0-1 Johnson entered an Extreme Challenge one-night tournament, where in the first round he faced eventual winner Brock Larson, who was 12-0 at the time, would go 24-1 to start his career and is one of the greatest welterweights never to win a major title. It’s frankly admirable that the ultra-green Johnson made it out of the first round.
Johnson beat Amasinger and Osipczak to make it to the welterweight final, where he was thoroughly dominated by Wilks. Nonetheless, Johnson received a UFC contract and got off to a decent start, winning his next two. Again like Pearson, Johnson’s performances went off a sudden cliff and make his Octagon record look worse than he was at his best. “Darkness” lost his last three UFC fights by finish, then went on to lose three more in various regional shows before hanging up the gloves in 2015. Johnson is also the subject of an interesting bit of trivia: Between his losses in the UFC to Wilks and Amir Sadollah and an early career defeat at the hands of Court McGee, Johnson is 0-3 against “TUF” champions and may be the only fighter with losses to a former, current and future season winner.
3. Andre WinnerTeam Affiliation: Team UK (lightweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 10-2-1
Post-TUF Record: 12-11-1 (2-4 UFC)
This is as good a place as any to introduce the point that, in addition to being one of the worst seasons in terms of talent, “TUF 9” may have been the most disgusting season. That is a serious claim in light of the fact that a man’s pillow was urinated on in the very first episode of Season 1, touching off an arms race that had culminated with ejaculate-laced sushi in Season 8. However, Season 9 was a museum of medical curiosities, including staph, herpes and impetigo. Of those, the latter two involved visible, contagious lesions and the last one actually made it into the cage with its owner. However, the parade of dermatological horrors did not mean that the cast couldn’t get down to some good old-fashioned hijinks, and Winner running around the house spitting mouthfuls of chewed food onto his castmates was an underratedly revolting moment in “TUF” history.
Food fights notwithstanding, Winner accounted for himself well in the actual fighting, coming about as close as one can come to being a “TUF” champion in his close loss to Pearson in the lightweight final. Winner’s UFC tenure came to an end with three straight losses to tough foes in Anthony Njokuani, Siver and Nik Lentz. Outside the UFC, Winner put together a nice 5-0-1 run including wins over former or future UFC fighters Artem Lobov and Colin Fletcher.
4. James WilksTeam Affiliation: Team UK (welterweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 5-2
Post-TUF Record: 2-2
Notable Achievements: "The Ultimate Fighter" Season 9 winner (welterweight)
Wilks ran over Frank Lester twice to make it to the welterweight final, where he outclassed Johnson in every phase of the game on his way to a first-round submission win. From there, the Season 9 welterweight winner was off to a rough, but not terrible start in the UFC—losses to Matt Brown and Claude Patrick were eminently forgivable for such a relatively green fighter—when a series of injuries, in particular a fractured vertebra, forced his retirement in 2012. Whatever promise Wilks had as a UFC welterweight was never to be realized.
If Wilks is a stark reminder of the essentially capricious nature of combat sport in general, he is also an example of the cosmic irony it brings to “The Ultimate Fighter,” as the man Wilks beat in the elimination round, Che Mills, owns something neither Wilks nor anyone else from the Season 9 cast does: a winning record in the UFC.
Pre-TUF Record: 3-0
Post-TUF Record: 3-3 (2-3 UFC)
Osipczak entered Season 9 with an odd buzz around him. While he was just 3-0, all three wins were two-minute thrashings, and Osipczak openly espoused the kind of chi-based, form-heavy traditional Chinese martial arts that the first dozen UFC events were supposed to have relegated to the trash heap. It is hard to say where the 24-year-old “Slick Nick” would have been chosen if there had been a draft, but it likely would not have been as high as fifth, so he would have been a good get for whichever coach decided to take a chance on chi.
Osipczak acquitted himself well in the tournament, losing a decision to Johnson in his semifinal. He then went 2-0 at the finale, soundly defeating Mike Goldberg’s attempts to pronounce his Polish surname while choking out Lester in the first round to earn a UFC contract and ensure that Goldberg would get more practice. Osipczak exited the promotion on three straight losses and has only fought once since, but he has two more UFC wins than any other t’ai chi ch’uan practitioner can boast, and in an era in which “‘Real fighter’ knocks out t’ai chi master” is a whole category on YouTube, that’s a pretty nice achievement for his beloved art.
6. Jason DentTeam Affiliation: Team US (lightweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 20-9 (0-2 UFC)
Post-TUF Record: 2-4 (1-1 UFC)
Alone among the “TUF 9” cast, Dent had Octagon experience prior to the show, having lost to Gleison Tibau and Roger Huerta a few years before. While he had gone back to the regionals and put together another nice run, the presence on the show of a 20-9 fighter who had already gone an uncontroversial 0-2 with the promotion was an indicator of just how badly the UFC had drained the lightweight pool.
Dent was eliminated in his semifinal by eventual winner Pearson, then snared Cameron Dollar in a gorgeous anaconda choke at the finale to ensure another shot in the Octagon. That shot went no better than the first did, as he had the misfortune to draw Sotiropoulos in the middle of his eventual eight-fight win streak, and spent most of nine and a half minutes in survival mode on the ground before succumbing to an armbar. That was it for Dent’s second Octagon residency; he would only fight a few more times before retiring.
Pre-TUF Record: 5-1
Post-TUF Record: 7-4 (0-1 UFC)
Dollar had a rough time of it on “TUF 9.” After tapping out Martin Stapleton in their quarterfinal, he went into his semifinal against Winner suffering from apparent bruised ribs. How severe the injury really was is a matter of conjecture, as is the question of whether a fully healthy Dollar would have done much better, but he certainly looked less than optimal in falling to a first-round triangle choke. Dollar got another opportunity in the form of an invitation to fight at the finale, but was tapped out in the first round again, this time by Dent, in the waning seconds of a wild back-and-forth round. Post-“TUF,” Dollar went back to the regionals, racking up a decent record against very mixed opposition. He did go 1-2 against other former or future cast members including, ironically, a loss in his final fight to Waylon Lowe, who had lost in the elimination round of Season 9.
Pre-TUF Record: 5-1
Post-TUF Record: 14-6 (0-0 UFC)
Stapleton rode into “TUF 9” with a 5-1 record, the only blemish having come in an effort to help Paul Sass earn his nickname. When he was bounced from the show with ease by Cameron Dollar, he went right back to England and rattled off eight straight wins. At that point officially 13-1, “.50 Cal” got the call from Bellator MMA, where he went 0-3. He then returned to the UK and launched yet another win streak in Cage Warriors and BAMMA. While it may seem like a simple matter of Stapleton feasting on low-level competition and getting beaten when he steps up in competition, his victory over Donovan Desmae at CW 85 is a better win than anyone outside the top six can point to.
Pre-TUF Record: 4-0
Post-TUF Record: 8-6 (0-0 UFC)
Whitson’s stay in the Season 9 lightweight bracket was quite short, as he was armbarred by Pearson in four minutes. His stay in the “TUF” house was longer but equally unflattering, as he weathered accusations of spying for Team UK and sported a case of impetigo that had his castmates spraying disinfectant around the house. While he was booted after the show wrapped, with no invitation to fight at the finale, he went on to compile a respectable record against some decent opposition, including a win over the then 15-1 Travis Marx.
10. Jeff LawsonTeam Affiliation: Team UK (lightweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 12-2
Post-TUF Record: 3-3 (0-0 UFC)
Lawson seemed to be lightly regarded among the cast despite his impressive-looking professional and amateur record, likely because he seemed undersized: not short, but somewhat puny. (He did in fact fight at featherweight after the show.) Dent made light work of Lawson in their quarterfinal, choking him out in the second round. Once released back into the wild of UK regional MMA, Lawson fought for another couple of years. His modest record is buoyed by the fact that a post-UFC David Lee was still a pretty solid win, while a pre-UFC Hatsu Hioki was about as forgivable a loss as there is.
11. Dean AmasingerTeam Affiliation: Team UK (welterweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 4-1
Post-TUF Record: 6-5 (0-0 UFC)
If Lawson appeared a bit undersized for his “TUF” bracket, Amasinger had no such problem. The burly future middleweight did, however, have the problem of having to fight DaMarques Johnson in his quarterfinal. After getting triangled in under two minutes and looking hapless in the process—with a jetlagged Bisping a no-show in his corner, to boot—Amasinger’s shot at winning the tournament was over. He returned to the European scene after the show, putting together a respectable record in KSW as well as several UK promotions.
12. Frank LesterTeam Affiliation: Team US (welterweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 3-2
Post-TUF Record: 7-6, 1 NC (0-1 UFC)
Lester is probably most memorable for his quarterfinal match with Wilks, during which four of his teeth were knocked out and became stuck in his mouthpiece. (The teeth turned out to be prosthetics, but still. Did we mention this season was gross?) Despite losing to Wilks, Lester was brought back as an injury replacement, defeating David Faulkner when the latter refused to come out for a sudden victory round. That earned Lester a return date with Wilks, which did not go much better than the first, other than the whole part where his teeth stayed in his mouth. The performance garnered praise from UFC President Dana White, who called Lester “The toughest sonofabitch I’ve ever met,” which is actually not too outlandish by the standards of White’s “TUF” hyperbole.
Hyperbole or not, Lester apparently made enough of an impression to merit an invitation to the finale, where he was victimized by Osipczak. After getting his walking papers—or more accurately, not getting any staying papers—from the UFC, Lester fought over a dozen more times all over the country. His wins and losses are less notable than the fact that he appears to have decided that being a tough fighter wasn’t enough, and decided to become a dirty one. His post-UFC record features a disqualification loss and a win reversed to a no-contest, in both cases for biting his opponent, which, given what we know about Lester, is an especially bizarre choice of tactics.
13. Jason PierceTeam Affiliation: Team US (welterweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 8-0
Post-TUF Record: 3-2 (0-0 UFC)
Pierce had one of the weirder “TUF” runs of his season or any season. While he appeared to struggle with the painful aftermath of a staph infection in his foot—seriously, this entire season was like the nine plagues on Egypt—the proximate cause of his removal from the tournament was that he moped around the entire time. After repeated entreaties to “look alive,” “stop putting out so much negative energy,” and leave off giving the impression that he would rather go home than fight, Pierce was sent home without fighting. He fought sporadically for another few years, coming up short in his biggest test, against recent UFC veteran Anton Kuivanen. It would be Pierce’s farewell fight.
14. Mark MillerTeam Affiliation: Team US (welterweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 9-4
Post-TUF Record: 1-3 (0-0 UFC)
In keeping with the theme that “TUF 9” is the grossest of all “TUF” seasons, Miller had one of the least lovely nicknames in MMA history. Nonetheless, “The Meat Missile” lodged itself in the “TUF” house with one of the stronger pre-show résumés of any cast member, including a stint in International Fight League and names like Mike Pierce, Jay Hieron and Josh Neer. Strength of schedule didn’t prevent him from being knocked out of the tournament by an Osipczak head kick, however. After the show, Miller fought a few more times, but looked flaccid against far lower-level opposition than he had faced before the show. Since 2010, the “Missile” has remained in its silo.
15. Santino DefrancoTeam Affiliation: Team US (lightweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 13-4
Post-TUF Record: 0-0
When a “TUF” redraft gets down to the point at which all of the remaining fighters were eliminated in their first match and then never fought professionally again, putting them in any sort of order becomes a matter of nuance. Franco entered Season 9 with a decent-looking record, even including a submission win over Melvin Guillard, back before those were handed out like books at an Oprah taping. Nonetheless, he seemed to be lightly regarded by everyone down to his own coach, who couldn’t bring himself to say he thought DeFranco would win his quarterfinal against Winner. Henderson was right, as Winner splattered DeFranco in the first round. DeFranco never fought professionally again, but you have likely seen him crop up on plenty of major MMA broadcasts in the last few years in his post-competition career as a respected trainer and coach.
16. David FaulknerTeam Affiliation: Team UK (welterweight)
Pre-TUF Record: 2-1
Post-TUF Record: 0-0
The protocol of making every fighter win an elimination bout in order to appear on the show was instituted starting in Season 7 and was a reaction to what Dana White termed the lazy and entitled performances in the previous few seasons. For a while, it worked as advertised, with no Joe Scarola-type situations, but Season 9 is when some of the rot began to creep back in. Pierce was sent home after what felt like weeks in which he acted as though he didn’t want to fight, but refused to refuse to fight and supply a reason why.
Faulkner, at least, stepped into the cage. The problem is that, after two rounds against Lester ended in a tie, he refused to step off his stool for a sudden victory round. Thus eliminated via TKO, Faulkner was out of the tournament. He never fought professionally again, but in hindsight, maybe he sensed that the sudden victory round was when Lester was going to bite him.