TJ Dillashaw is one of the early favorites to win the bantamweight crown on the fourteenth season of The Ultimate Fighter. Photo by Amber Pappe.
UFC President Dana White made it clear to fans this summer that this season of The Ultimate Fighter would be "great" and "awesome", declarations that have become synonymous with a heavy sigh and a massage of the temples from the hardcore fanbase. There was already some upside for fans as the season would feature two of the UFC's newest and quickest weight classes in the bantamweight and featherweight divisions, but a peek at the released roster reveals that the level of talent hasn't increased as dramatically as one would hope.
There is still the possibility that the action will warrant oohs, ahhs, and profanity-laced, jaw-dropping reactions, but it's difficult to see this class progressing through the ranks of the UFC like the earliest seasons of the reality series. The roster is filled with records that would indicate that the UFC and Spike TV stacked one side of the midpoint in order to produce entertaining television. To give you an idea of what to expect, here's a breakdown of The Ultimate Fighter 14's cast:
Featherweight: Micah Miller (17-4)
The American Top Team product, who's also the younger brother of UFC veteran Cole Miller, should enjoy an edge in terms of experience and skill if he enters The Ultimate Fighter house. His physical attributes should also factor in to his success as his 6'1" frame could be problematic for most of his competition.
Bantamweight: T.J. Dillashaw (4-0)
Dillashaw was a NCAA collegiate wrestler at Cal State Fullerton, and he's a current team member of the vaunted Team Alpha Male. He doesn't have any collegiate wrestling titles to his name, but it's difficult to ignore the historical trend of Team Alpha Male fighters. Dillashaw fits the mold of a relentless, hungry young fighter who has the wrestling skills to smother his competition despite his novice status in the sport.
A complete breakdown after the jump...
Rising to the Top
Out of this group, Jimmie Rivera, who was ranked #3 on the 2011 World MMA Scouting Report, has the style to grind his way to victory and challenge for The Ultimate Fighter crown. His size will be a problem, however, as he's fighting outside of a more natural fit in the bantamweight class. Regardless, Rivera's blue-chip style of fighting and endless gas tank will be a tough test for anybody in the field to deal with.
Caraway and Marriott are two of the more experienced veterans on the roster with bouts on the big stage. Caraway is the more appealing pick as he's only lost to legitimate, high caliber competition throughout his entire career, and he was on the WEC's roster at one point. Marriott took a slightly different path, attempting to make waves under the Bellator banner. Unfortunately, his style may not have been entertaining enough for Bellator's brass as Marriott relies on his smothering Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu base to control his opponents.
Siler and Bass are relatively unknown to most fans. Siler has amassed a 18-9 career record, but he's managed to string together a 13-2 record in his last 15 fights. Those two losses came against Cole Escovedo and Chad Mendes. Not bad for a fighter who began his career as an abysmal 5-7 journeyman. He also happens to train at Victory MMA, home of Jeremy Stephens, Myles Jury, Court McGee, and Pascal Krauss.
Bass is an undefeated prospect who trains under Lloyd Irvin. Unlike some of the other prospects who have padded their records ala Jason Reinhardt, Bass has battled more worthy veteran opposition, and he's defeated that opposition with an aggressive Muay Thai striking game coupled with submission savviness. He's one of the true prospects to key in on when the show begins in September.
Dustin Pague might be the dark horse pick in this entire season. His record might not indicate the worthiness of that moniker, but rest assured that Pague has improved considerably over the course of the last year. Pague possesses knockout power, and I imagine we'll see someone on end of one of his bombs in the elimination round.
Jaggers and McVeigh offer the most experience in the face of a green fighter like Dillashaw. Jaggers is powerful and submission savvy, making him one of the most well-rounded fighters in the field of bantamweights. McVeigh has been hyped as the #1 bantamweight in Europe, although he has proven his inconsistency with sporadic losses to unknowns. I'm not quite sold on McVeigh, and it would take a miraculous run for him win this show.
Both Dodson and Gaudinot are intriguing upset picks, mainly due to their small size and exceptional speed. Both men would fit well into a UFC flyweight division, and I have no doubts in my mind that the UFC is using some of these picks as a means to birthing the division after the end of this season. That shouldn't take away from their chances to win the show however. Speed kills in this sport, and both Dodson and Gaudinot have plenty of it.
On the Outside Looking In
Bermudez and Brimage have outside chances of making an impact in this tournament. Both men have key wins that give them some upside, Brimage with victories over Bryan Goldsby and UFC veteran Kyle Bradley, and Bermudez with a win over former UFC fighter Shannon Gugerty.
Clopton has no formal background in martial arts, but he has trained extensively with both Matt Wiman and now Gilbert Melendez. Newell trains with professional boxers David Rodela and Victor Ortiz. Yes, the Victor Ortiz. He's also a BJJ student under the legendary Fabio Leopoldo.
Pearman holds a split decision victory over Mike Richman, a previously undefeated prospect who was considered the bigger 145 lb. fighter in the lead-up to the fight. Pearman was able to avoid Richman's stand-up and strategically bury him into the ground. That performance gives us a little insight into Pearman's intelligence and grittiness to succeed.
Delorme has fought better competition than most of the lower tier of the roster. He also possesses a Judo background that won him the Canadian Nationals at age 16. While that experience will have a hard time revealing itself in this competition, it is experience nonetheless that could give Delorme an edge over some of the fighters in the field.
Bedford is a submission fighter who can get very creative on the ground. He's won a few of his fights by Brabo chokes and kimuras, submissions that aren't as likely as the standard armbar or RNC. He's also fought average competition, a far cry from some of the awful strength of records many of the fighters possess on the roster.
BJ Ferguson, whose younger brother Josh is also on the show's roster, is one of the bigger bantamweights in the competition. He also knocked out fellow prospect Jeremy Pender in the first round in February of last year.
Orville Smith has fought a couple of the show's contestants before, notably Josh Ferguson and Matt Jaggers. He's solid in the clinch, and he's creative in the ways in which he can wrap his opponents up on the ground. Solid submission fighter who could use those past experiences to progress deeply into the show.
- Brandao is a Team Jackson fighter with legit BJJ black belt skills. Unfortunately, he can't use those skills when he's knocked out cold on the ground. A very chinny fighter who will have problems dealing with the power that some of these fighters possess.
- Lenjoint trains out of Wolfslair, which is a good sign that he will have some of the best training in Europe. His strength of record, however, is below average, and he was completely worked by Jeff Lawson last February, succumbing to a choke in only 0:34 seconds. Hard to imagine he won't find himself in similar situations with a roster that has a number of submission specialists.
- Neace has a plethora of experience, and he's fought solid competition over the course of his career. He also holds a win over Johnny Bedford. He's inconsistent however, and I foresee those issues showing up once again during this competition.
- Corassani has fought average European competition, and he enters the show coming off a loss to Paul Reed in February.
- Hansen is relatively green, and he's been limited to fighting local Hawaiian competition, which is as bad as fighting on regional Illinois cards. The only upside is that he trains with the best that Hawaii has to offer with the exception of BJ Penn, and he's shown proven power.
- Merkt might be a surprise pick as a long shot to many fans, but one look at his 30-46 combined strength of record is a good indication that he'll meet the end to that streak quickly.
- The younger Ferguson is more of a flyweight than bantamweight, and he's been on a long layoff from the sport. Those two issues alone make this a steep climb up the mountain for him.
- Casey Dyer has the worst strength of record on the show at 19-44. He's going to have a rude awakening when he runs into legitimate opposition.
- Beebe, the younger brother of WEC vet Chase Beebe, has fought primarily in my home state of Illinois, which has a terrible regional scene. His competition has combined for a 19-37 record, narrowly missing Dyer's mark.
- Albert also has a horrible strength of record (17-29), and he's entering the elimination round coming off a loss to 7-10 fighter Roy Bradshaw.