A look at the UFC's The Ultimate Fighter 17 talent pool

TUF: Sonnen vs. Jones

By Daniel Galvan ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )

The 17th season of UFC's The Ultimate Fighter returns tonight on FX with a field of twenty eight middleweights all looking for that elusive UFC contract. Here’s a look at every single competitor that will compete tonight on the "fight-in" show.

Tor Troeng (15-4-1, 6 KO/TKO and 5 Sub)

Key Wins: Mats Nilsson (UD), Robert Jocz (UD)
Key Losses: Thales Leites (Sub), Mamed Khalidov (Sub)

Arguably the second best Swedish fighter on the planet, Troeng is an absolute beast. A scary fighter to stand with because of his raw power, he also has an above average takedown game and his ground and pound is devastating. Troeng is one of the more well-rounded fighters in the 28-man field. Expect him to go far in the season.

Nik Fekete (5-1, 3 KO/TKO)

Key Wins: Mark Griffin (TKO), Ovince St. Preux (UD)
Key Losses: Richard Hale (Sub)

Another fighter that I believe has a strong case at winning this season is Fekete. He’s got a great wrestling background and knockout power.  It is a bit alarming that Fekete hasn’t fought since August 2011, but if he has continued to progress at a steady pace, he should put together a few wins.

Uriah Hall (7-2, 4 KO/TKO and 2 Sub)

Key Wins: Edwin Aguilar (TKO), Roger Carroll (Sub)
Key Losses: Costa Philippou (Dec), Chris Weidman (TKO)

The Ring of Combat promotion has produced several top caliber UFC fighters such as Jim Miller and Chris Weidman and Hall is looking to join that group. Despite having less than ten professional fights, Hall has been around this sport for a long time. He has a diverse game and is comfortable no matter where the fight goes.   

Kevin Casey (5-2, 1 KO/TKO and 3 Sub)

Key Wins: Reggie Orr (Sub), Chad Vance (Sub)
Key Losses: Matt Lindland (TKO), Ikuhisa Minowa (TKO)

Few fighters on this season of TUF can rival Casey’s Brazilian Jiu Jitsu chops.  The two-time Strikeforce fighter has a black belt under the legendary Rickson Gracie and as long as he is able to get the fight down to the ground, Casey should have his fair share of success.  The issues in his game are his awkward striking and questionable cardio.

Zak Cummings (15-3, 4 KO/TKO and 8 Sub)

Key Wins: Rudy Bears (Sub), Terry Martin (SD)
Key Losses: Ryan Jimmo (UD), Tim Kennedy (Sub)

Even though Cummings’ MMA game isn’t pretty, it gets the job done.  He’s your stereotypical collegiate wrestler with submission skills that likes to grind on opponents until they make a mistake.  His stand up is slightly awkward and is where he is weakest.  Although Cummings doesn’t have a lot of upside, he is an efficient, consistent fighter.

Robert McDaniel (20-6, 4 KO/TKO and 15 Sub)

Key Wins: Eric Schambari (UD), Kyacey Uscola (TKO)
Key Losses: Alexander Shlemenko (TKO), Gerald Harris (Sub)

With over two dozen professional MMA fighters under his belt, McDaniel should be able to take advantage of some of the lesser experienced fighters on the show.  He’s won eight of his last nine and like several other cast members, his domain is on the ground where he has several submission and TKO victories.

Tim Williams (7-1, 2 KO/TKO and 5 Sub)

Key Wins: Andre Gusmao (TKO), Joey Kirwan (Sub)
Key Losses: Dustin Jacoby (TKO Cut)

Whenever a fighter is nicknamed “The South Jersey Strangler”, it’s not too hard to figure out what he specializes in.  Having submitted five of his opponents by way of choke, Williams is a menace on the ground.  It’s fun to watch him fight because he is constantly looking to finish once the bout hits the ground.

Dylan Andrews (15-4, 1 NC, 10 KO/TKO and 3 Sub)

Key Wins: Shonie Carter (UD), Hale Vaa’sa (UD)
Key Losses: Jesse Taylor (Sub), Brian Ebersole (TKO)

In an interview with, Andrews talked about how disappointed he was when he found out that he didn’t make the cut to be on TUF: Smashes.  Well, now the Maori has his shot.  Armed with high leveraged takedowns, Andrews is a fighter that you don’t want to have on top of you.  On the ground, he is able to slice through his opponent’s game and reign down blows from dominant positions like full mount and side control. On the feet, he is able to employ a disciplined attack.   

Josh Samman (9-2, 5 KO/TKO and 3 Sub)

Key Wins: Chris Cope (KO), Mikey Gomez (Sub)
Key Losses: Dan Cramer (UD), John Walsh (Sub)

Samman is a fighter with a solid takedown game and crushing power.  Although he struggled in taking down Dan Cramer at Bellator 46, Samman should find more success on the season with his wrestling.  Still a few years away from his athletic prime, the 24 year-old could be a dark horse in this season’s bracket.

Jake Heun (3-2, 2 KO/TKO and 1 Sub)

Key Wins: Ed Carpenter (TKO), Jarad Carson (TKO
Key Losses: Richard Odoms (Sub), Mark Ellis (Sub)

As a former heavyweight, Heun may possess some of the most dangerous firepower of the entire cast. The question is how long that firepower will last.  In his three fight tenure under the ProElite banner, Heun exhibited a limited gas tank and questionable takedown defense.  If he has rectified those areas of his repertoire, he should be able to surpass the elimination round and make it into the house.

Fraser Opie (10-5, 5 KO/TKO and 3 Sub)

Key Wins: Ivan Salaverry (DQ), Matthew Wise (KO)
Key Losses: Mark Godbeer (Sub), Ryan White (Sub)

In this season, there are fighters from all across the world competing to earn a UFC contract. South African Opie has strengthened the cultural diversity of the cast, an aggressive, strong middleweight that has sledgehammers for fists and an adequate ground attack.

Andy Enz (3-0, 1 Sub)

Key Wins: Nic Herron-Webb (SD), Rod Pucak (Sub)
Key Losses: None

It’s rare that a fighter fights two consecutive five round contests in his first three fights of his career, but Alaskan Fighting champion Enz has done just that.  The well-conditioned middleweight prospect has a lot of in-cage experience than pretty much any other three fighter that only has three recorded contests.

Scott Rosa (5-1, 2 KO/TKO and 2 Sub)

Key Wins: James Irvin (TKO), Rafael de Real (TKO)
Key Losses: Anthony Ruiz (TKO)

The highlight of Rosa’s young career has got to be his TKO victory UFC veteran James Irvin. Even though he dropped his next bout Anthony Ruiz, Rosa has found success in his last three fights.  One tidbit that worries me about his potential is that he just fought earlier this month for a non-UFC organization which usually entails that a fighter didn’t fair too well on the reality show.

Luke Barnatt (5-0, 2 KO/TKO, 2 Sub)

Key Wins: Lee Johnson (Sub), Matteo Piran (TKO
Key Losses: None

At 6'6", Barnatt is one of the taller members of this season’s cast.  Barnatt, a British basketball player turned MMA fighter, has a surprising amount of athleticism and has picked up various aspects of MMA quickly.  Even though his youth in the sport may hurt him during this season of TUF, Barnatt is a young mixed martial artist to keep an eye on as his career progresses.

Gilbert Smith (5-1, 4 Sub)

Key Wins: Terry Nunnalay (Sub), Michael Riggs (Sub)
Key Losses: Justin Guthrie (UD)

Make no bones about it, Smith is a grappler.  With all four of his finishes coming by way of submission, it’s clear that Smith strives on the ground.  Unfortunately for Smith -- who happened to celebrate his two year anniversary as a pro fighter last Tuesday -- he isn’t a major threat to win this season because he needs refinement in other facets of the game.  

Nicholas Kohring (3-0, 1 TKO and 1 Sub)

Key Wins: Aaron Pegg (Sub), Garth Robertson (TKO)
Key Losses: None

With a good showing out of Kohring, the Cesar Gracie gym status as one of the top MMA gyms in the world should be solidified.  It’s been almost three years since Kohring has last fought professionally which brings into question as to how much he has changed as a fighter.  Another thing to worry about if you’re rooting for Kohring is ring rust.

Adam Cella (4-0, 2 KO/TKO and 2 Sub)

Key Wins: Dominic Brown (TKO), Chance Moore (Sub)
Key Losses: None

In a grappler heavy cast, Cella should shine as one of the more refined strikers in the competition. In addition to his respectable stand-up, Cella can also fend off takedowns from solid wrestlers. What worries me is the lack of competition that he has faced thus far in his career. He hasn’t really been tested, something that will change quickly.

Clint Hester (7-3, 5 KO/TKO and 1 Sub)

Key Wins: Patrick Miller (TKO), Aaron Johnson (KO)
Key Losses: Douglas Lima (UD), Cale Yarbrough (Sub)

Hester is another above average striker.  His foundation in boxing is what sets him apart from a lot of the other fighters of this cast from a striking standpoint.  He throws tight combinations and works the angles. One major negative is that he has faltered when taking a step up in competition.

Kito Andrews (9-2, 2 KO/TKO and 4 Sub)

Key Wins: Wayne Phillips (UD), Richard Blake (Sub)
Key Losses: Seth Baczynski (Sub), Manuel Flores (Sub)

Believe it or not, there are actually Team Alpha Male fighters that weigh more than 155 pounds. Andrews, a natural welterweight, is most comfortable on the ground where the foundation of his MMA game was forged under the tutelage of Nick Diaz in 2003. Instead of setting up his powerful punches and takedowns, Andrews likes to cut to chase and act as quickly as possible.  In his most recent fight against Justin Baesman, Andrews actually caused Baesman to submit with an explosive slam.

Mike Jasper (5-0, 3 KO/TKO)

Key Wins: Manny Murillo (SD), Miguel Cosio (TKO)
Key Losses: None

A stand-up war or a grappling exhibition is not the way Jasper tends to fight.  Instead, the undefeated Elite MMA product usually gets on top of his opponents and beats them down with hard shot after hard shot. His ground and pound is the highlight of his arsenal, but with that being said, he does struggle when he can’t work his opponent to the canvas: a major concern leading up to a tournament against 28 other solid middleweights.

Eldon Sproat (3-1, 3 KO/TKO)

Key Wins: Douglas Silva (TKO), Collin Mansanas (KO)
Key Losses: Kaleo Gambill (TKO)

Sproat has spent a little over six and a half minutes in the cage since he began his professional career in 2010.  Needless to say, he cuts to the chase.  Because of his aggressive nature, he is a fun fighter to watch and is a nice addition to the cast.

Leo Bercier (7-2-1, 1 NC, 6 KO/TKO and 1 Sub)

Key Wins: Byron Sutton (KO), Carmen Cassella (KO)
Key Losses: Brandon Anderson (KO), Jared Torgeson (TKO)

The news that Bercier will fight Jay Silva at an upcoming MFC event does not bold well for his potential success.  Most fighters that do well on the show are usually signed by the UFC which would exclude them from taking fights in a promotion like MFC. It’s a shame because Bercier is an interesting character that takes great pride in his Native American background.

Eric Wahlin (4-2, 1 KO/TKO and 2 Sub)

Key Wins: Francisco Alcantara (Sub), Brandon Marchant (Sub)
Key Losses: Jarom Woodbury (SD), Jayson Dalton (KO)

In his last two fights, Wahlin has managed to pull of two unique submissions.  The first (against Brandon Marchant) was the twister and the second (against Francisco Alcantara) was a calf crusher.  Hopefully we get to see a few more fun submissions.

Ryan Bigler (9-3, 3 KO/TKO and 5 Sub)

Key Wins: Dorian Price (Sub), Keli Manglona (Sub)
Key Losses: Hyun Gyu Lim (Sub), Hiroshi Masabuchi (TKO)

With a 2-3 record in his last five fights, Bigler is an intriguing addition to the Ultimate Fighter. He must have really been impressive during the tryouts.  Regardless, Bigler does have some serious tools on the ground.  If he is to be successful, then he needs to be more mature with his approach to taking down and controlling his adversaries.  

Collin Hart (4-1-1, 1 TKO and 3 Sub)

Key Wins: Tramain Smith (TKO), Mike Arellano (Sub)
Key Losses: Ryan Wong (SD)

California native Hart has finished his opponents in every one of his career wins. He utilizes the takedown to put himself in positions to pound his opponent out and submit them. Representing the Nor-Cal Fighting Alliance, Hart could give the gym some more exposure with a good showing on The Ultimate Fighter.

Mike Persons (3-0, 1 KO/TKO and 2 Sub)

Key Wins: David Villesacz (KO), Tramain Smith (Sub)
Key Losses: None

Even though he has finished all of his opponents, Persons is simply too green to win this season. If he does, I’d be shocked.  That still doesn’t mean that he won’t make it into the house and potentially get a win or two. Persons has showcased slick grappling and quickness on the feet.

Kelvin Gastelum (4-0, 2 TKO and 2 Sub)

Key Wins: Bill Smallwood (Sub), Mike Gentile (TKO)
Key Losses: None

My sleeper for this season is Gastelum. He’s a young, tenacious wrestler that has an underrated submission game. He has picked up the sport fast and it’s only a matter of time before his striking game matures into a reputable component of his arsenal.

Jimmy Quinlan (3-0, 2 Sub)

Key Wins: Jerry Spiegel (Sub), Josh Mellen (Sub)
Key Losses: None

Quinlan falls into the same mold as Gastelum.  He’s a reputable college wrestler that can control his opponents once he gets the fight down to the ground.  One trend I have noticed with this season’s fighters is that there are a lot of young, undefeated prospects on board. Look for one or two of them to pop and have great success.

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