It's been difficult to follow The Ultimate Fighter over the last several years. As the fighter quality waned, the quantity of dumb behavior waxed. The UFC soon fostered the image of the show as a place not so much about grooming prospects with reality TV, but in bludgeoning the exposure of its grudge matches between champions and contenders with reality TV.
And hey...if the show somehow defecates a good UFC-quality fighter, so be it. But fetching prospects is Plan B to marketing the main event of a PPV's Plan A. Needless to say, the show hasn't interested me in some time.
Until this season.
I can't really pinpoint any one thing as to why that might be. The production value on the show is a big part of this, but it's not just because it makes the show look prettier. But because the editing lends gravity to the proceedings. In addition, the season sidelined the silly manufactured drama between the coaches, relying less on Hulk-Smash theatrics (Forrest Griffin's "man period" being one of the least believable), and more on the coaches' interaction with the fighters.
As much as I hate to do it, the credit goes to Chael Sonnen in that department. He had some borderline compelling interactions with guys like Urijah Hall, and well...Urijah Hall. I'm not sure bringing in Mickey Rourke, who looks increasingly like the bad guy from Robocop post-toxic waste bath (lay off the knife Mick!), was a good idea, but if nothing else, Rourke seemed to have a sense of humor about it all. Contrast that with say...Steven Seagal pretentiously explaining to a bunch of pups the way of the samurai or something.
So about these pups. What does the future look like for TUF 17's contestants?
Not a lot of people thought Kelvin would win, myself included, although I was on the same page with Dallas Winston, who basically predicted a Gastelum win without actually picking Gastelum (for shame) by feeling like Kelvin would be feisty enough to make it competitive early. I felt like the size difference would translate into a win for Hall, but somehow Kelvin keeps winning in spite of it.
It's difficult to articulate what Kelvin does well, but the biggest thing is that he moves forward while being defensively aware. He moves his head, shoots in with solid leverage, never overextends on the ground, can take a punch (can give one), and keeps his eye out on the submission.
Gastelum's still too small for MW though. I wouldn't be surprised to see him end up at LW when all is said and done. He'll be a mainstay in the division. Just not a contender.
Prediction: Kelvin Miller...Jim's less determined half to Dan's more successful one.
As much as I don't buy Dana White's "Hall beat himself" thesis (Gastelum kept him on his back foot, and took him down when needed), Hall can do some things habit-wise that can make him better. First thing that needs to happen is for Hall to realize that Anderson Silva is literally the exception to getting away with a hands-down, Sweet Pea style defense. The 'standard' is Muhammed Lawal.
Swagger's fine, but in small doses, and as a means to an end. What Hall did so well on the show was immediately establishing the jab. He needs to continue doing this in order to set up his power strikes. Not land one by getting your opponent to think you're a lunatic.
Hall still has a future though, and despite the hype bubble bursting, he'll remain a threat at MW, which is light on strong wrestlers.
Prediction: Not Phillipe Nover.
Once you get passed the tears, moaning, groaning, more tears, and more groaning, Bubba McDaniels' identity is fairly easy to surmise. Some of the exchanges between him and Gulbert Smith on the ground were interesting, and they go a long way into revealing his future. He's a journeyman, but a crafty one. Like Joe Doerkson, he'll pick up an unexpected win every now and then, but for the most part, he's there to make blue chip prospects look good.
Prediction: Matt Brown, the Mortal.
Samman seemed like one of the favorites on the show. He's got a good offensive submission game, but a not so good defensive one. However, he's got moderate power, and good knees if his opponent is gassed. To be honest, his fight with Kevin Casey wasn't all that impressive, like most fights involving Kevin Casey (granted). He'll pick up some wins in the UFC with his offensive alone.
Prediction: C.B.'Smoked Samman' Dollaway.
Barnatt certainly has some moves. Still, that's two brutal wars so far...one with Andrews and now one with Colin Hart. He needs to figure out how not to become another tall guy unaware of his height.
I'm not sure what to expect from Andrews who wasn't spectacular on the show. One of the things he has going for him is a powerful, sturdy right hand, and a gameness that was on display against Luke Barnatt on the show.
I thought Hester looked like a million bucks in his fight to get into the house. Just goes to show you how level of competition can shift perspective. Nonetheless, he's got power and that'll take him far on the undercards.
Prediction: To Be Determined.