With the 16th installment of “The Ultimate Fighter” set to debut this Friday on FX, heavyweight coaches Shane Carwin and Roy Nelson will have some tough decisions to make as they assemble their teams for the season.
A cast of 32 talented welterweights has already been selected. This season, a plethora of young prospects and experienced veterans will have their sights set squarely on a six-figure UFC contract.
As we count down the days to Friday’s season debut on FX, let’s take a closer look at all the contestants as we break them down into the favorites, the dark horses and the weakest links.
-Sam Alvey (19-4)
This 26-year-old Team Quest disciple is riding a two-fight winning streak, including back-to-back first-round TKO stoppages of Daniel Almeida and Lucas Lopes.
A Bellator veteran with a bevy of fights under his belt, Alvey owns notable career wins over Jason Guida, the brother of UFC lightweight Clay Guida, as well as Karl Amoussou, the menacing recent Bellator welterweight tournament winner.
Alvey’s combination of experience, heavy hands and strong wrestling pedigree certainly position him as one of the favorites this season.
-Jesse Barrett (8-0)
Carrying a perfect 8-0 record into the “TUF” house, this strong Arizona Combat Sports welterweight will be a definite contender, or at least he would appear to be on paper.
With five submission wins and a training camp consisting of elite wrestlers, Barrett’s takedowns and positional game will be critical tools he’ll utilize to exploit less seasoned adversaries.
Barrett is coming off finishes of Corey Edwards and Tyler Combs in his last two fights after returning from a hiatus spanning nearly three years.
-Ricky Legere Jr. (14-4)
Anchored at Millennia MMA, there’s no doubt Legere Jr. is one of the favorites this season.
Despite a size disadvantage as he stands just 5-foot-8, Legere Jr. impressively dispatched Chris Spang by decision at Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Jardine this past January.
Legere Jr. has also finished Strikeforce veteran Waachim Spiritwolf with strikes in 2009.
A strong proponent of takedowns and top control, Legere Jr. will likely frustrate his opposition by storming forward and getting in their face.
At this stage of his career, Legere Jr. is better than he’s ever been and he’s hoping to translate some of his recent success into a UFC contract.
-Bristol Marunde (12-7)
Fresh off a loss to Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza under the Strikeforce banner in March, the 30-year-old Marunde still has his eyes on a UFC contract.
Marunde was ultimately smothered and submitted by the Brazilian jiu-jitsu phenom, but his evolution since a rocky start to his career is notable.
At Superior Cage Combat 3 last November, Marunde notched a highly impressive win over Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Jay Silva.
With a quality team at Throwdown Elite Training Center in Las Vegas, Marunde has the big league experience and physical gifts to excel as a contestant on “The Ultimate Fighter.”
-Mike Ricci (7-2)
The first and most impressive Canuck on the list of cast members is Ricci, a member of the famed Montreal-based Tristar Gym, where he hones his skills under Firas Zahabi, while training closely with fellow welterweight sensations Georges St-Pierre and Rory MacDonald.
The 26-year-old has competed primarily as a lightweight, though he possesses the size to hold his own at 170 pounds, evidenced by a welterweight bout he won against current Strikeforce standout Jordan Mein in November 2009.
Ricci has spent the majority of his career competing on the Quebec regional circuit, though he did enter the second Bellator lightweight tournament in 2010, suffering his first career loss in a brutal first-round knockout against eventual season winner Pat Curran.
Ricci has tasted defeat only once since, losing a highly competitive decision to current UFC lightweight Daron Cruickshank in a five-round Ringside MMA title bout last October.
Ricci possesses the athleticism and technical tools to excel as he matures in his career. His conditioning, grappling, striking and wrestling have all evolved considerably, and, with a strong team behind him, he must be acknowledged as one of the early favorites.
-Jason South (8-0)
Dropping from middleweight to enter “The Ultimate Fighter” house, this 34-year-old Unified BJJ product wants to make a run at the big show while he still can.
With no martial arts background, South began training at the age of 29, amassing a tremendous unblemished record that includes eight stoppages in eight fights, including seven by way of submission.
Moreover, South is coming off his best win to date as he submitted Tim Ruberg, who will also be a cast member this season, at Showdown Fights: Breakout in February.
The slick Utah-based submission specialist is undoubtedly a threat to win it all.
-Igor Araujo (22-6)
A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Aldo Januario since 2005, the head instructor of Gracie Barra Switzerland is one of the most dangerous submission practitioners on this season of “The Ultimate Fighter.”
Now fully devoted to mixed martial arts and training at Greg Jackson’s acclaimed New Mexico academy, Araujo will look to build on a resumé that already includes 17 of 22 wins by way of submission.
Additionally, Araujo brings with him a wealth of international experience, having competed in Switzerland, Belarus, Russia, Austria, Italy, England, Germany, Luxemburg, Holland, Poland and Brazil.
-Saad Awad (11-4)
A Millenia MMA pupil and teammate of fellow cast member Ricky Legere Jr., Awad is riding a three-fight winning streak.
Most recently, Awad disposed of Matt Shorey in just 28 seconds at Gladiator Challenge: Star Wars in April.
On the other hand, Awad has dropped fights against Nam Phan, Karen Darabedyan, Diego Garijo and Joe Duarte.
A Bellator veteran, Awad is a gamer who will be dangerous anywhere the fight goes, but if past fights are any indication, the step up in competition could be too much for him to overcome.
-Diego Bautista (7-1)
Representing Subfighter MMA, Bautista should probably be competing as a lightweight.
The Maximum Fighting Championship veteran was submitted in his lone career setback against Ryan McGillivray in January.
A well-rounded fighter, Bautista’s Achilles’ heel will be the ground game, so he’ll likely benefit from standing and banging with most members of the “TUF” house.
-Frank Camacho (10-2)
A 23-year-old student of Brazilian jiu-jitsu mastermind Lloyd Irvin, Camacho will be moving up from lightweight to make a run at a UFC contract.
His 5-foot-9 frame is probably better suited for 155 pounds, but with eight knockouts in 10 victories, Camacho is a striker equipped with the hands to make an impact.
Camacho is coming off a first-round knockout of James Jones at UWC 6 in April 2009. A long layoff will be the biggest question mark surrounding his status this season and his chin has also been a source for scrutiny in the past as both Caloy Baduria and Luigi Fioravanti finished him with strikes.
-James Chaney (7-2)
At 25 years of age, Chaney represents the Goon Squad in Dublin, Calif.
Starting out his mixed martial arts career training with Trevor Prangley in Idaho, Chaney quickly adapted to the sport, implementing a dangerous offensive submission game.
All seven of Chaney’s wins have come by way of submission, including his most recent triumph over Sam Spengler at Dragon House 10 in June.
-Cortez Coleman (8-3)
A H.I.T. Squad product and a physically massive welterweight, Coleman is coming off a first-round submission win over Brandon Lyons on a King of the Cage card in April.
However, Coleman has suffered submission losses in two of his last three appearances, succumbing to rear-naked chokes against Terrel Thomas and Matt Masterson.
Coleman should benefit from some big show experience as he submitted Lucas Lopes at a Strikeforce event in December 2010.
Coleman has the arsenal to make a name for himself, but his inconsistency makes it virtually impossible to predict how he’ll fare this season.
-Cameron Diffley (3-0)
A 27-year-old undefeated prospect, Diffley will put his opponents on notice with a sublime submission game.
Diffley has finished all three of his opponents via first-round submission, including Sidney Silva at Superior Cage Combat 3 last November.
A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Ricardo Pires, Diffley is the head BJJ instructor at Las Vegas’ Throwdown Elite Training Center. He also served as Forrest Griffin’s primary coach.
Diffley has won numerous Grapplers Quest and NAGA titles and he should be the most accomplished grappler in the “TUF” house. How his grappling successes will translate to mixed martial arts remains to be seen.
-Max Griffin (4-1)
A relentless hard worker, Griffin is eager to quit his office day job in favor of becoming a full-time UFC fighter.
Griffin is coming off a five-round split decision loss to middleweight Justin Baesman at WFC: Showdown in June.
Meanwhile, Griffin knocked out veteran Jaime Jara in just 56 seconds this past January.
A powerful and highly aggressive striker, Griffin could be one of the heaviest hitters to look out for this season.
Nic Herron-Webb (11-3)
The Alaskan Herron-Webb suffered a split decision loss in a five-round title fight with undefeated Andy Enz at Alaska Fighting Championship 86 last November.
A student of Greatland Martial Arts, Herron-Webb’s other notable conquerors include UFC veterans Julio Paulino and Rob Yundt.
Herron-Webb is a seasoned grappler with nine submissions in 12 victories, but the higher level of competition could take its toll.
-Michael Hill (4-0)
The second Canadian to be featured on this season of “The Ultimate Fighter” is Hill, a representative of British Columbia’s Toshido Martial Arts, where he has trained with current UFC welterweight force Rory MacDonald.
Hill, who is a strong wrestler with a great positional game, is undefeated in four professional fights, including a unanimous decision over Mike Scarcello in his most recent bout at Aggression MMA 8 last September.
At just 25 years of age, Hill has a bright future and a heap of potential, but he’s still largely untested against legitimate opposition.
-Zane Kamaka (4-0)
A proud Hawaiian with a perfect record, Kamaka submitted Jordan Kekino in his last fight at X-1: Champions 3, which took place in March 2011.
While ring rust and inexperience are both possible factors, Kamaka has been busy expanding his training, including a stint with the world-famous American Kickboxing Academy.
Kamaka is armed with the warrior spirit we come to expect from Hawaiian fighters, but he will need to brace himself for a major leap in competition.
-Leo Kuntz (14-1)
Based in North Dakota, Kuntz is unbeaten in his last 12 fights.
Kuntz last saw action in March, forcing Nick Wagner to quit at the end of the first round.
Kuntz has been actively competing since his debut in 2008, so we know he’ll be ready and in shape. With a blend of finishes by knockout and submission, Kuntz has the well-rounded arsenal to hold his own.
-Julian Lane (4-0)
Still undefeated in his career, the Ohio-based 25-year-old Lane trains out of Wreckroom Athletics.
Lane holds an amateur record of 3-4 as he showed a major susceptibility to the submission game, an issue he appears to have addressed since turning pro.
Lane is coming off a first-round submission of Joe Heiland at Bellator 66 this past April.
Having finished all four of his foes as a professional, Lane could surprise a few viewers this season.
-George Lockhart (10-4)
An expert nutritionist who has worked with Kenny Florian, Jon Jones and Brian Stann, Lockhart is a former Marine with a professional mixed martial arts career that dates back to June 2001.
Lockhart is coming off a unanimous decision win over Jerome Hatch at Showdown Fights: Breakout in February.
Since being submitted by Edwin Dewees in his professional debut over 10 years ago, Lockhart has never been finished.
Lockhart recently returned from a hiatus of over two years, but he looks better than ever. He definitely has the experience to make a case for himself as a possible contender to the “TUF” throne.
-Lev Magen (4-0)
Perfect in his professional career, the 27-year-old Xtreme Couture product has fought only in Israel, but he should have no trouble coping with the bright lights of Las Vegas.
Naturally a lightweight who stands 5-foot-9, Magen could be too undersized to be a force as a welterweight.
With that being said, we’ve seen Magen has one-punch knockout power and he trains out of one of the area’s most accomplished gyms.
It’s too early to say if he can become a favorite to win it all, but there’s no doubting his potential.
-Neil Magny (7-1)
Standing 6-foot-2, Magny is a H.I.T. Squad and Torres MMA student who already owns a win over fellow cast member Kevin Nowaczyk.
Magny is coming off a unanimous decision win over Daniel Sadmann at Hoosier Fight Club 10 this past February. He suffered his first career blemish in his prior outing against Andrew Trace, succumbing to a first-round guillotine choke.
We’ll need to see how much Magny’s submission defense has improved, but he’s one fighter to look out for.
-Jon Manley (7-1)
A member of Team Link where he hones his skills with UFC fighters Gabriel Gonzaga and Ricardo Funch, Manley is coming off two straight wins.
The relentless pressure fighter has not competed since October 2011 when he earned a unanimous decision over Sabah Homasi at W-1: Reloaded.
Manley has never been finished and his only loss was a decision against Dennis Olson in November 2009.
-David Michaud (4-0)
Undefeated as a professional in four fights, Michaud has finished all four of his foes in the very first round.
Based in South Dakota, Michaud will need to prepare for a major step up in competition as he embarks on his “TUF” journey.
A proud Native American, Michaud is hoping to make his community proud by winning “The Ultimate Fighter,” but the task is easier said than done.
-Kevin Nowaczyk (11-2)
Nicknamed “Give Me Your Lunch Money,” the charismatic 23-year-old Nowaczyk is a coming off his biggest career win — a unanimous decision over “The Ultimate Fighter 13” cast member Chuck O’Neil, who was fresh off a win over UFC veteran Marcus Davis.
Nowaczyk has never been stopped inside the distance as his losses to UFC vet Kris McCray and Torres MMA pupil Neil Magny were both decisions.
Conversely, Nowaczyk is a proven finisher with seven submissions and one knockout in 11 career wins.
Riding the momentum of a huge win, Nowaczyk should not be discredited this season.
-Joey Rivera (7-1)
Training out of Apex MMA alongside Ed West and George Roop, Rivera is a crafty ground specialist with five submission wins to his name.
Rivera is coming off his first career loss — a third-round doctor stoppage at the hands of Chip Moraza-Pollard at Cage Fury Fighting Championship 10 in July 2011.
The loss was the result of a deep gash, so Rivera has yet to be physically stopped in a fight.
Ring rust may be a factor, but Rivera has finished all seven of his career victims, which makes him a definite dark horse candidate.
-Tim Ruberg (9-1)
A two-time Bellator veteran, having defeated Aaron Davis and Mike Fleniken, Ruberg is a solid prospect with five submission wins in nine victories.
Ruberg has lost just once in his career — a second-round submission against undefeated middleweight Jason South at Showdown Fights: Breakout this past February.
A 2005 NCAA Division III All-American, the Ohio-based Ruberg utilizes his size to bully opponents, but he’s still largely untested on the feet and we’ve already seen him tap out.
Nonetheless, Ruberg is a contestant to keep your eyes on this season.
-Dom Waters (5-1)
Nicknamed “Sho Nuff” and standing 6-foot-1, Waters is a physically gifted athlete who trains out of California’s Nor Cal Fighting Alliance.
Waters tasted defeat for the first time in his last fight in May, losing a unanimous decision against Ron Keslar.
With three TKO stoppages and one triangle choke finish in five career victories, Waters could be a threat if he utilizes his power and implements his top game effectively.
-Jerel Clark (5-1)
Very little is known about Clark, but he holds a respectable professional record.
After amassing five consecutive wins, Clark suffered his first loss in July 2011 as Bill Widler knocked him out at Rogue Fights 14.
Clark could have improved quite a bit and we wouldn’t know it, but any fighter coming off a knockout loss is unlikely to enter the “TUF” house as much of a threat to win it all.
-Eddy Ellis (17-15-1)
In a feel-good story of perseverance, the resurgent United Training Center product Ellis enters this season on a six-fight winning streak.
Having gone on lengthy losing stretches early in his career, which even included a submission loss to journeyman Shannon Ritch, Ellis appears to have finally found some rhythm.
Ellis is coming off a first-round knockout of J.T. Taylor in December 2011.
While it may be nice to see Ellis finally making a run, his recent opponents have all bordered on tomato can territory. That shouldn’t bode well for the Washington native, who will likely be eliminated early.
-Matt Secor (1-1)
A Spa City BJJ product, Secor is a capable submission player, though he only has two professional fights under his belt, one of them being a loss to Nordine Taleb at Bellator 64 in April.
Secor was exposed by the supremely talented prospect Taleb, losing a one-sided decision in a bout one judge scored 30-24.
Relying on weak takedown attempts, Secor was unable to take Taleb down and he was thoroughly dominated by the technically superior striker.
It would be very surprising to see Secor make it far this season, but stranger things have happened.
-Colton Smith (3-1)
The 25-year-old Vanguard Gym disciple is still relatively new to the mixed martial arts game, but he’s submitted three of four opponents.
Smith is coming off his first and only professional loss as he was knocked out by Steve Montgomery in the second round at CFA 5 in February.
His submissions are dangerous, but superior standup tacticians will likely expose Smith early on in the season.