It was recently announced by the UFC that a new season of the Ultimate Fighter would be put into production next year, and with that, tryouts will be held to find the cast. The casting call will be aimed at light heavyweights, women’s bantamweights and strawweights. With that, it looks like TUF will have its third ever season including women.
Now, we can begin to speculate the casts for the three weight classes. Obviously, only two of the weight classes will be chosen, but we can still look at each division and pick a cast of 16 that could occupy the show. So, let’s examine right now and create a hypothetical cast of 16.
Honestly, most of the best light heavyweights currently in the world are foreign and likely don’t speak enough English to be on this season of the show. Like a lot of seasons of TUF, I am sure a lot of the cast members will move up from middleweight, so there will be an interesting mix that could actually give us a very strong cast.
There are a number of foreign fighters that could easily grace the card and be instant contenders to win the show. Two of the six on this potential roster would hail from Sweden in the form of Jack Hermansson and Max Nunes. Both are natural middleweights, but bring a wealth of experience and potential. Also, Denmark’s Joachim Christensen, who is criminally underrated and more than qualified, could be one of the strongest Europeans that could make the roster.
The other three foreigners that could make the roster in a big way are Bosnian-born Elvis Mutapcic, Scotland’s Paul Craig and New Zealand’s Brandon Ropati. Mutapcic actually fights on UFC Fight Pass for Victory FC in January, so the UFC brass should be keeping an eye on this great fighter. Craig has burst into the spotlight fighting in the United Kingdom and Ireland, showing a wide range of skills that could make him a good candidate. Lastly, Ropati was a big prospect before he kind of disappeared for a while and returned with a loss. However, his physical skills and potential should be given a shot on the show, where he could develop further.
Then you have the matter of the young guns, guys with “inexperienced” records but huge upside. There are two that come to mind that should make the cast in Khalil Rountree and Phil Hawes. The legendary Anderson Silva has given his seal of approval to Rountree, a huge notch in his belt. He is as devastating as they come and has serious star potential. Hawes is another big-time prospect that could use TUF as a great development tool, as the sky is the limit on his potential.
Then, there’s a litter of American fighters that will continue to round out the cast outside of Rountree and Hawes. Of the legit light heavyweights, names like Josh Stansbury, Marcel Fortuna, Mo De’Reese, Jake Butler and Teddy Holder could be put on the cast. Fortuna and De’Reese are two lesser known fighters just looking for a chance to break out with their solid skill sets. Butler is a One FC veteran with a good wrestling base and a good background story. Holder is famous for his brutal knockout of Thiago Silva on extremely short notice in WSOF. Lastly, Stansbury was on TUF 19, but was injured during his elimination round bout with Chris Fields, despite the fact he was absolutely dominating.
The rest of the Americans are normal middleweights, but big names. Undefeated Eric Spicely, Titan FC vet Gerald Meerschaert and RFA stud Andrew Sanchez all have could round out the cast of 16 very nicely. All in all, I think there is plenty of talent that the UFC could cultivate for this potentially exciting season.
Many people have pointed out that there is not a deep talent pool at 135 pounds for the women. While it’s hard to argue against that, there are definitely 16 women with talent, good back story and name notoriety that could make a suitable cast. Honestly, it could be very fun to watch the interesting mix of fighters I have assembled for this cast.
The cast would be littered with foreign fighters just based on the fact that there are so many of them available. Sweden would provide us with Pannie Kianzad and Lina Lansberg. Kianzad’s teammate from Denmark, Anna Elmose, would also be a great candidate. Poland’s Agnieszka Niedzwiedz, whose English is continually getting better, would also grace the cast, despite a recent pregnancy that is now complete. Australia’s Jessy Rose Clark and New Zealand’s Charlene Watt would represent the Land Down Under. Brazil’s Ediane Gomes, who trains with American Top Team in Florida, is a savage that could grace this cast. Kyrgyzstani-born Valentina Shevchenko, who is a Muay Thai world champion and burgeoning star in MMA, would be a huge addition to the cast. So as you can see, the cast would come from all corners of the world and represent some of the best 135ers in the world. It would be insanely competitive.
Then there’s the Americans that would bolster the cast. Raquel Pa’aluhi, a vastly improved Hawaiian blossoming in Invicta, has the personality and skills to grab attention. Brenda Gonzales-Means, the new wife of UFC fighter Tim Means, has proven her worth on the regional scene and could surprise many. DeAnna Bennett, a normal strawweight these days, could compete at 135 for TUF given her past struggles to make weight with Invicta. After the show, she could drop back down to 115. Lastly, 5-2 Marciea Allen and 2-0 young gun Kelly McGill are also game enough to grace the cast.
Now, there are three spots left, which is where things could get interesting. I have chosen three inexperienced fighters with name recognition that could draw some eyes. Those are Colbey Northcutt, Sinead Kavanaugh and MacKenzie Dern. Northcutt is the older sister of UFC star Sage Northcutt. She has only fought as an amateur, but given her name and face, it would be interesting to see her compete. Kavanaugh is the daughter of SBG Ireland owner John Kavanaugh, known as the head coach of Conor McGregor. She is 1-0 as a pro and could also draw eyes. Finally, Dern is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu dynamo, ranked by many as the top BJJ artist in the world. She is making the transition to MMA and would be an absolute force on the ground.
It’s a cast of experienced vets, prospects and surprises. It could easily be an exciting cast that could draw interest. It was also be very, very competitive.
In examining the women’s strawweight division, there are a ton of great prospects that the UFC does not currently have on its roster. However, a good majority of those top prospects are non-English speakers, so they could not make the cast on an American version of TUF, unfortunately. Alexa Grasso (Mexico), Kalindra Faria (Brazil), Mizuki Inoue (Japan), Viviane Pereira (Brazil) and Kinberly Novaes (Brazil), among others, are some of the best, but would be unable to communicate on the English-spoken show.
However, there are a number of great prospects that could grace the season. They come from different organizations, countries, walks of lives and combat backgrounds. The foreigners on the cast include Curacao-born Jemyma Betrian, Helen Harper of England, Claire Fryer of Australia. Betrian is a world class kickboxer that is 2-0 in MMA with two first-round knockouts that were insanely brutal. Harper and Fryer would be darkhorses, but those seem to be the types that thrive on TUF.
Invicta would be able to provide some of their talent to the season, though I would not like to see their roster get plundered. Some of the fighters I took from their roster for this season, though, are Sharon Jacobson, Jamie Moyle, Stephanie Eggink, Amy Montenegro and Lacey Schuckman. Jacobson’s stock is on the rise, as her world-class wrestling and interesting personality have gained her much exposure. Moyle, a young prospect with great all-around skills, had a great fight with Jacobson, though she did lose a decision. Eggink, who would be coming off a pregnancy, would have to jump right into competition, though she definitely has the overall skill to compete with the best of them. Montenegro and Schuckman also provide good experience and skill that would bolster a 16-woman roster.
Big show veterans would also get the call to duty. Legacy FC fighter Kaline Medeiros, XFC vet Pearl Gonzalez, ONE Championship fighter Angela Lee, Bellator vet Lynn Alvarez and KOTC members Jamie Colleen and Danielle Taylor could get the call. They are all very strong competitors with commendable records. Lee is famous for her recent Twister submission victory, while most of the others are also known for their penchant to finish fights. Plus, a blossoming fighter in the form of Tessa Simpson could be the 15th name on this list.
The 16th member could come from the Muay Thai community and has a great fan following. That woman is Tiffany van Soest. She is 0-1 as an MMA fighter and has solely been doing Muay Thai fights since that 2011 pro bout. She is the type of fighter that TUF can use to develop, as she has world class Thai skills and working in the TUF Training Center could make her a very serviceable MMA fighter. All these ladies considered, this could be a very good class of strawweights.