Despite coaching gigs from Brock Lesnar and Georges St. Pierre, The Ultimate Fighter seasons 12 and 13 are often seen by fans as among the worst of the TV show's long run. While a number of fighters have remained from the two seasons, most have flown to other divisions. However four have found a home in lightweight, and whether by chance, by choice, or by direction their careers have become intertwined.
Michael Johnson, Ramsey Nijem, Myles Jury, and Tony Ferguson are all promising lightweights; all possess a similarly nondescript skill set with Ferguson and Johnson leaning more toward striking and Nijem and Jury towards grappling and wrestling. Following them from their time in the UFC's reality dungeon, and into the cards themselves, it's still unclear where they stand in the progression of their MMA careers.
Myles Jury was the most highly touted of these TUF prospects, stemming from his early unbeaten pro-career. In fact he's still unbeaten, seeing the second and third rounds for the first time following a dominant decision victory over Micheal Johnson. But it's hard to shake the memory of his less than stellar showings both on TUF 13 (albeit he never actually fought) and in his rerun at TUF 15, where he lost a totally lackluster decision to eventual runner-up Al Iaquinta.
Michael Johnson, who Jury defeated at UFC 155, has been entirely hot and cold in his time in the UFC. He's lost, in poor fashion to Jonathan Brookins (who would eventually retire at featherweight) and Paul Sass as well, but holds impressive victories over Tony Ferguson and Danny Castillo. Eventually, he's run up a 4-4 record over the past three years. He's fighting out of the Blackzilians and his last two performances have been so poor that it's hard to take him seriously as a talent. Does he have standup skills? Sure. Does he have any other skills? Not right now.
Tony Ferguson has easily been the most impressive of these four fighters, racking up three straight wins in dominant fashion before hitting a shocking wall. His fight against Michael Johnson at UFC on Fox 3 was just bad. Apparently he broke his arm blocking a head kick in the first round, so he can tell himself that's an excuse. But realistically that's why you don't block a kick with one forearm. I give Johnson full credit for that win, and cut Ferguson no slack, when he returns from his injury it will be with the need to prove that he can sustain his rise in the division.
And all this brings me to Ramsey Nijem, at this point the dark horse of TUF vets at 155. He lost his fight against Ferguson at the TUF 13 finale via quick KO, but since then he's been on a 3-0 run. While those wins include very little name value, he's showed steady improvement. Coupled with his creative, aggressive style he could improve quite a lot over the next several years as he continues to work on defense and technique. He's fighting Myles Jury at UFC on Fox 7 on April 20th. It's a fight that will provide a solid test for both of them and provide a lot more clarity of where their ceilings lie. Jury should, and probably will be favored, but I think it could be a very close fight.
Almost every year TUF has added a new layer of fighters to the 155 lb division. Last year gave us Michael Chiesa, Al Iaquinta, and Joe Proctor. Proctor fought Nijem in December and if the UFC decides to continue mixing them together they may create a cycle of decent young fighters who never quite make the jump to the next level as they move between fighting bottom rung competition and one another. Already I feel like the careers of these fighters will be forever linked, or at least linked for as long as they remain in the UFC.
Then again this process may ultimately separate the grain from the chaff giving us an unexpected title contender as it provided in Nate Diaz. What do you think?