Another season of the ground-breaking MMA reality show The Ultimate Fighter has hit FX, and we’re all waiting to see who sinks and swims as the tournament progresses. A lot of craziness and injuries could be in store for us, but cream always rises to the top and the best part of The Ultimate Fighter is trying to figure out who that cream is.
Below is a look at the men who have made it into the house and how they stack up in their attempt to take the converted UFC contract. Some are good, some are bad, and some are too hard to gauge at this point, but as always we’ll have a good time watching this unfold.
1. Cameron Diffley: A coach for Forrest Griffin’s TUF crew, Diffley entered the cage as a contestant this time, facing Hawaiian slugger Zane Kamaka and finishing him via straight-arm bar. Diffley not only brings extraordinary grappling talents, but a cerebral take on fighting that comes across in his calm movements and meticulous movements on the mat. While the striking aspect of his game is a large question mark, his ability to force the fight on his terms makes him a solid favorite to take the contract.
2. Sam Alvey: Team Quest product, Bellator cast-off and a good old country boy, Alvey had the most impressive outing in the elimination round, shutting down 14-1 Leo Kuntz in the grappling department, before shutting down his brain with a crushing right hook. Raw power and real wrestling skills make him one to watch in this tournament, though his lack of a second gear could make him easy pickings for aggressive strikers.
3. Colton Smith: While the fake glove tap at the beginning of the fight left a sour taste in our mouths, the utter domination against Jesse Barrett showed Smith could be an easy favorite to take this tournament. Elite-caliber wrestling and a relentless pace could be enough to break several fighters on this show, although some of the BJJ aces lurking in his ranks might have just what it takes to spoil his run.
4. Bristol Marunde: One of the largest competitors this season and with the most experience of anyone in the house, Marunde managed to find a rare bottle cap guillotine submission over Marine George Lockhart halfway through the first round. With tons of cage savvy and a plentiful arsenal at his disposal, Marunde makes for one of the stiffest tests for the young crew of men looking to take the contract.
5. Neil Magny: One of the best fights of the elimination round, Magny faced the raw natural product in Frank Camacho, but persevered and pulled out a three round decision. Magny has a level of footwork and natural striking acumen you rarely see inside MMA and was able to do a great deal of damage to a game opponent in Camacho. Unfortunately, his footwork and stance are from the world of traditional martial arts, and his takedown defense appears to be almost nonexistent. While his determination and cardio could allow him to outwork the majority of his competitors, a smart wrestler will keep Magny in check the entire fight.
6. Dominic Waters: Sporting a Diaz-style boxing game and a ridiculous 81 inch reach, Waters made fast work of Kevin Nowaczyk inside the first round with a massive uppercut and follow-up strikes. Waters lack of nerves and clearly advanced striking should serve him well here, but his obvious contempt for his opponent’s counter-striking ability may cause issues later in the bracket. Time will tell what other skills he brings to the cage, but he holds one of the better offensive striking set-ups of the cast.
7. Igor Araujo: An elite BJJ competitor in the European circuit, Araujo came into the elimination round against highly regarded Cortez Coleman. Weathering the ox-like wrestling assault of Coleman, Araujo brought his submission and positional grappling savvy to the table in the second and third rounds, finding the tapout by triangle choke in sudden victory. While his inability to stop the takedowns makes him a target for wrestlers in the house, his smooth flow on the mat could prove to be a nightmare once he’s on the mat.
8. James Chaney: Showing the will to make it into the TUF house, Chaney executed an all-offense game plan, sucking Jerel Clark into a ground battle and eventual triangle choke tap-out. Chaney presents a problem for his opponents, as someone who isn’t afraid to engage, pull guard, and work chain submissions off of his back. While fighters can see this coming a mile away, dealing with it is a whole other problem unto itself.
9. John Manley: Facing off against Strikeforce spoiler Ricky Legere Jr, Manley was able to out-wrestle the wrestler, and showed a simple, yet effective striking arsenal. Being simple and effective is something for mid-level competition though, and Manley will need to shine brightly if he hopes to have a chance to win this competition. Even so, Manley has the foundation to be something exceptional if the coaches can work with him in this time frame and put a little polish on his pedestrian skills.
10. Michael Hill: A large fighter for the division, Hill worked a measured striking game that paid off big, finishing opponent Lev Magen with a right-left hook body-head combination. Hill’s size should give him an advantage over some of the smaller competitors, but his lack of set-up with strikes and reliance on power attacks makes him a tough sell against superior talent. With all the pieces there though, he’s someone who coaches may be able to mold into a real killer in a short amount of time.
11. Mike Ricci: Most well-known for introducing the world to Bellator Champion Pat Curran after suffering a brutal KO loss, Ricci showed what he brings the cage in his eliminator bout, using precision strikes to finish off the Jason South. Unfortunately for Ricci, his reach and straight punches will have less effect at Welterweight than at his typical 155lb weight class, and he shows serious defensive flaws when pressured on the feet. While he had an impressive showing initially, he’ll be in deep waters against almost any of his fellow housemates.
12. Nic Herron-Webb: In a surprising turn of events, Herron-Webb found himself fighting for his life under ace wrestler Tim Ruberg, yet a dogged armlock finally paid off as he forced Ruberg to tap in the first round. Herron-Webb may handle other wrestlers fairly well given his performance, but with his striking being a mystery and some obvious elite grapplers in the mix, he’ll have a hard time shining in this bunch.
13. Eddy Ellis: The older fighter with the most experience in the house, Ellis used his strength and experience to hustle the smaller David Michaud, finishing in the second round with an arm triangle from his own guard. Ellis is a bull of a man, but has never done well under pressure, and in the grand scheme of things, this show is nothing but pressure. A stern test for the younger fighters, but a beatable opponent for most.
14. Joey Rivera: A judo fighter by trade, Rivera took Saad Awad to a lackluster decision with his stiff offensive grappling and willingness to exchange. Rivera has a unique set of skills for this show, but being the smaller fighter with a history of being sloppy when it counts most sets him low on my list of hopefuls. A bit of coaching could help him in his journey, but he faces a serious uphill battle if he wants to win this show.
15. Julian Lane: A major surprise to see inside the house, particularly going against top pick Diego Bautista, Lane brings youth and intensity into the cage, but is lacking in the polish needed to go deep in this tournament. Stronger things have happened for sure, but Lane’s simple and sometimes predictable fighting style will do him few favors at this level.
16. Matt Secor: The absolute last person I expected to make it to this show and one of the only fighters to ever loss a 30-24 decision in MMA, Secor used a bizarre form of submission grappling to overwhelm novice fighter Max Griffin. Despite making it into the house, Secor’s utter lack of striking ability and underwhelming grappling game are doubtful to allow him another win in this tournament.
The Ultimate Fighter Fridays: Team Carwin vs. Team Nelson will air on FX at 10pm ET/PT.