When the sixteen cast members were officially announced for the upcoming tenth season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” MMA fans from around the world could not help themselves from getting excited. The list of fighters includes a mixture of young upcoming talent along with several seasoned veterans. The level of experience for the 16 fighters also varies from a fighter who has forty-five bouts to his credit the whole way down to a fighter who hasn’t participated in an official professional bout.
While the taping for the upcoming season has already wrapped up, the marketing for the latest edition is just beginning. Former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion and The Ultimate Fighter: Season 2 victor Rashad Evans will coach opposite of another former 205 pound champ, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. The competition series is set to begin September 16 on Spike TV following the broadcast of UFC Fight Night 19 live from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
The tenth season of the successful reality series will focus on heavyweights (206–265) for the first time since season 2 in 2005. Unlike season 2, which showcased heavyweights along with welterweights, this season will feature solely heavyweights. In addition to all 16 contestants being above 205 pounds, many are labeled as “true” heavyweights and will have to cut weight in order to meet the 265 pound weight limit.
While the show features several former amateur wrestlers, it also includes four former NFL football players, a former kickboxer and one mainstream street fighting legend. Kimbo Slice (3-1) will no doubt be the star of the upcoming season for many obvious reasons. As a former headliner for a major UFC competitor, Slice has been the target of many dispiriting comments in the past, courtesy of Zuffa president Dana White. Slice is also the most recognizable fighter in the TUF 10 house, making him an automatic target for any fighter trying to gain credibility. It’s obvious that Kimbo will have pressure on him to succeed, more than any other member of this season’s cast. Based on his mainstream success combined with his marginal talent, it’s clear that Kimbo will have his work cut out for him.
Another familiar face in the TUF 10 house will be a 6 foot 1, 265 pound bowling ball of an athlete, Roy “Big Country” Nelson. Nelson, a former IFL heavyweight champion, is often criticized for his less than impressive physique and often overlooked when discussing top heavyweights. Surprisingly enough, Nelson is a gifted athlete who moves around the cage with technical striking and quick feet. His 14-4 record is a result of hard work, despite his recent setbacks to former UFC fighters, Andrei Arlovski and Jeff Monson.
Athletes from other areas of the sports world are also getting their chance to shine on the big stage. Marcus Jones, a 6’6” 260 pound former defensive end for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will bring his 4-1 record into the octagon as a fighter to keep your eye on. At 35 years old, Jones has gotten off to a late start with MMA, however many insiders list his name as a potential surprise for the upcoming season, especially with his top notch training at Gracie Tampa.
Other contestants with NFL experience include Matt Mitrione, a 6’3” 275 pound former New York Giants, San Francisco 49ers, and Minnesota Vikings pass rusher, who is currently in training with Integrated Fighting Academy in Indianapolis, Indiana. Mitrione has yet to appear in an official professional bout but apparently does have amateur experience. Six feet seven inch, 285 pound Mississippi native, Wes Shivers, another former NFL lineman, carries a 3-1 MMA record with him into the TUF 10 competition. Shivers trains in his home state alongside current UFC middleweight Alan Belcher. Although never appearing in a regular season NFL game, undefeated (4-0) 24 year-old Brendan Schaub was a practice squad fullback for the Buffalo Bills before playing a couple seasons in the Arena Football League. Schaub trains exclusively on the west coast at both Colorado based T’s KO Fight Club and New Mexico based Jackson’s MMA.
Some of the lesser known participants on this season’s show include Zak Jensen (11-2), a 6’4” 265 pound former collegiate wrestler at Augsburg College. Jensen found his way into MMA and eventually into the TUF house by way of “Tough Man” competitions. John Madsen (3-0), an undefeated South Dakota native was an all-state athlete in three sports in high school. Madsen, currently a H.I.T. Squad fighter, went on to star as a wrestler at Division II South Dakota State. Demico Rogers, a 6 foot 4, 235 pound Washington resident comes into the house with loads of potential. Before focusing full-time on MMA, the undefeated (4-0) Rogers used Jiu-Jitsu as a means of conditioning.
Abe Wagner, another former college football player turned MMA fighter directed his attention to MMA in 2005. Since his debut in ’05, Wagner (6-2) has stopped five out of six opponents that he earned victories against. Although only 22 years-old, former Iowa State wrestler Justin Wren (10-1) has over three years experience and ten professional bouts under his belt. Wren has spent the majority of his training in Texas under grappling ace, Travis Lutter.
The only cast member that was not born in the United States is 12-4 Englishman, James McSweeney. McSweeney, a 6’4” 230 pound Cage Rage veteran, recently made the move to New Mexico so he could train full-time under famed MMA guru, Greg Jackson. McSweeney is in the running as an early favorite along with 6’2” 250 pound Darill Schoonover. A part-time army reservist, Schoonover will bring an undefeated 10-0 record with him and mark his name as a possible dark horse in the competition.
The remaining three contestants in The Ultimate Fighter 10 have all had previous experience in the octagon. Scott Junk (6-2), Wes Sims (22-12-1), and Mike Wessel (6-1) are all trying to make one final push as legitimate heavyweights in the worlds’ top MMA promotion. Junk (6’1”/265 lbs.) is a former Division II All-American at Southwest Oklahoma State who began training in 2005. While fighting most of his early fights in his native Hawaii, Junk made his one and only octagon start in 2007 at UFC 76, losing via 1st round submission to Christian Wellisch. Sims, the most seasoned of all sixteen cast members, is winless in three UFC fights. He is probably most known for his back to back losses to Frank Mir at UFC 43 and UFC 46. Wessel, a 31 year-old Ohio resident, won his first six professional bouts before getting knocked out by Antoni Hardonk at UFC 92.
This season is sure to be the most fan-friendly season in the four year history of The Ultimate Fighter. The UFC also lists this season as possibly the most important, due to the possibility of adding several new contenders to the growing list of the once shallow UFC heavyweight division. If it accomplishes one thing, the TUF 10 season will accomplish what it has every single season since TUF 1, and produce masses of new fans to the fastest growing sport in the world today.