The 11th season of the Ultimate Fighting Championship's signature reality show, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), shines the spotlight on 28 middleweights vying for a UFC contract. MMA legends as well as bitter rivals Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell will square off as coaches of their respective squads.
All 28 185 pound fighters will compete in an elimination round to earn a bed in the house. With 14 competitors booked, two other "wildcard" contestants will fight one another to earn a spot in the tournament's quarterfinals following the initial series of first round pairings. This new twist to the format will give two previously eliminated fighter's a second chance in the middleweight tournament.
Compiled below is a list of the top eight fighters with the potential to make it to the quarterfinals. On paper, the cast is one that can be divided into three distinct categories: 1) experienced MMA vets, 2) prospects who have dominated on a regional level, and 3) Fighters with less than five pro fights who are high on potential.
These ranking appear courtesy of ULTMMA (Uniting Locals Through Mixed Martial Arts)
1. Kris McCray 5-0: A 28 year old prospect out of Virginia, McCray has mainly competed in the Ultimate Warrior Challenge promotion. All five of his victories have come inside the first round. McCray is a heavy-handed striker who could easily pick up a series of quick wins on his way to a deep run in the tournament.
2. Greg Rebello 9-2: Rebello is a full time fighter under famed MMA and striking coach Mark DellaGrotte. A pro since 2005, Rebello has been able to secure many of his wins via grappling rather than relying on his stand-up. The Massachusetts native enters the house riding an eight fight win streak.
3. Nick Ring 10-0: The only Canadian to make the cast, Ring brings a dangerous submission game to the TUF tournament. In 2009, Ring returned to MMA after a three year layoff due to a devastating knee injury. Ring is a balanced fighter who has also competed professionally in Muay Thai and boxing bouts.
4. Kyle Noke 16-4-1: Fighting out of Australia Noke is a former Elite XC fighter who has lost to Scott Smith, but also has fought to a draw with top middleweight Hector Lombard. Noke now trains in Albuquerque, New Mexico under the tutelage of famed coach Greg Jackson.
5. Jordan Smith 10-0-1: One of the top pure prospects to enter the house, Smith is a former 205 pound competitor. At just 24 years of age Smith is a Utah wrestler who looks to finish the fight once it gets to the floor; none of Smith's 10 wins have gone to the judge's scorecards.
6. Constantinos Philippou 5-1: A veteran of New Jersey's Ring of Combat promotion Philippou is making the drop down to middleweight after a successful run competing at light heavyweight. Philippou is a known striker with past boxing experience that has translated well to MMA. The 30-year-old also has not shied away from quality opponents on the local MMA scene, holding key wins versus Victor O'Donnell, John Doyle and TUF 7 cast member Aaron Meisner.
7. Court McGee 9-1: McGee is a teammate of Jordan Smith. The Orem, UT fighter's lone career loss came at the hands of MMA ironman Jeremy Horn. A Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter, Mcgee's grappling acumen gives him a real shot at making a deep run into the 185 pound tournament.
8. Josh Bryant 10-0: Competing almost exclusively under Oklahoma's Freestyle Cage Fighting banner, Bryant turned pro in April 2007. The former light heavyweight fighter has not faced the best opposition over his three year career, with his most notable win coming against Marcus Sursa. Bryant trains alongside former UFC fighter David Heath at the Absolute Combat Alliance in Tulsa.
Best of the rest
Victor O'Donnell 8-1-1: At 5'9'' O'Donnell is a smaller middleweight who packs a lot of power in his punches. The 26-year-old from Ohio holds wins over Forrest Petz and Rafael Natal.
Jacen Flynn 8-2: At 31 years of age Flynn is the old dog of the house. A MMA fighter since 1998, Flynn has beaten Dennis Kang and Dean Lister over the course of his career. Flynn last saw action in the cage way back in July 2007.
Jamie Yager 2-1: A reality show veteran from the BET show "Iron Ring", Yager bring a rich athletic pedigree to his MMA resume including California high school honors in football and baseball. The 25-year-old is very green, but has a high ceiling for MMA if he receives the proper coaching.
Brad Tavares 4-0: A member of Team Tapout in Las Vegas, Tavares is the youngest cast member at 21 years old. Originally from Hawaii, Tavares is skilled striker and one of the top protégés of famed MMA coach Shawn Tompkins.
James Hammortree 5-1: The 23-year-old Hammortree is a powerful wrestler. With less than 12 months of MMA experience under his belt, Hammortree is a former high school wrestler and college football player with the potential to grind his way to the latter stages of the middleweight tournament.
Remainder of the cast
Rich Attonito 7-3
Seth Baczynski 11-5
Charles Blanchard 7-2
Chris Camozzi 11-3
Bernt Cooper 5-1
Joe Henle 3-0
Charley Lynch 6-0
Clayton McKinney 4-2
Norman Paraisy 5-1
Ben Stark 3-1
Lyle Steffens 5-2
Warren Thompson 5-0
Kyacy Uscola 18-12
Cleburn Walker 9-3
Woody Weatherby 7-3