You know what makes everything better in life?
Say what you will about the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, the NHL or any other sports league worldwide but there’s something special about draft night. The fortunes of a team can change on any given night based on a 20-something with potential. And a team can see its fortunes go from good to bad overnight as well based on a draft pick that doesn’t pan out. Some live on in infamy as well; we debate now why someone would take Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan in hindsight because we know the final career path of both men.
And this season’s “The Ultimate Fighter” has everything you’d want going in. You have a mixture of top veterans, unproven rookies and people between. After 16 fights in 150 minutes gave us 16 fighters to choose from, the toughest part comes now. Who do you pick? If you’re Urijah Faber and Dominick Cruz, there are some choices to be made as to whom you want on your team. And since we’ll be finding out who is on either team tonight, we’ve decided to try and test our hands in the team assembling game to try and figure out who the best team would be for either man.
Shawn M Smith and I will be taking turns in this “Ultimate Fighter” draft as to whom we’ll pick if we were either Dominick Cruz or Urijah Faber. The format will be two picks per round over four rounds for eight fighters apiece per team.
We flipped a coin earlier backstage and I will be making the first pick.
Scott Sawitz: My first pick will be the most experienced member of the cast: Cristiano Marcello. My first thought on building a team of guys to fight is that I want the guy with the most experience and the most polish in one area on my team. Marcello has probably forgotten more about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu than anyone on either coaching staff knows; he was the guy who coached the legendary Chute Boxe team in the art. Since none of the losing fighters go home anymore you have 12 weeks with guys to find out what they have. I want a guy with his skill level for three months at a bare minimum to teach my team how to refine their grappling from a BJJ standpoint. He’s also my pick to win the whole season, too, so it makes sense. He looked superb as a grappler and part of how you win the show is being really good at one particular thing; most of the fighters aren’t as well rounded as full timers in the UFC and someone who’s good in most areas but is an absolute killer in one can win. Even if he doesn’t my team is going to have to train together for three months; their BJJ is going to improve by proxy of merely working with a guy his caliber of skill. It’s like how Tito’s team on Season 3 was improved at takedown defense because they had Matt Hamill drilling double legs on them all day.
Shawn M Smith: My first pick is going to be a contestant that had previously been included on Season 13 of the show, Myles Jury. After suffering a knee injury on episode one of that season, Jury returned to active competition in time for this edition of the show. In his fight-in bout, the ground and pound specialist beat Akbarh Arreola for the final spot in the house with a dominant performance. How he’ll match up against the heavy hitters in this season’s show will be determined later; he’s cut a weight class to be here so we know the guy has the heart to win this year.
Scott: I’m going to grab Justin Lawrence. Lawrence was the big surprise of the first show because he took out the guy many thought would win the whole thing in James Krause. Lawrence didn’t just beat him, either; he crushed him. It may have been a fluke or a flash KO, perhaps, but in a lot of drafts you draft someone high because they show potential to be special. Lawrence could be and thus I’m taking him.
Shawn: Can’t believe that this guy fell to me, but I’m taking Long Island-product Al Iaquinta. While his fight with Jon Tuck will be remembered more for the grotesque dislocation of Tuck’s toe, Iaquinta showed great wrestling and solid striking throughout the bout. The Serra-Longo prospect has a strong camp behind him and if not for a recent submission loss, he’d be another undefeated fighter in this year’s house.
Scott: I’m shocked Shawn didn’t take this guy, Sam Sicilia, of the eight second knockout. So I will. We didn’t get to see much because of just how powerful his hands were to start that first round but Erin Beach comes out of a great camp and was a guy thought to get into the house fairly easy. Sicilia has this nasty habit of knocking out everyone he sees and that can get him far in this year’s show.
Shawn: Team Smith is going to need a submission guy, someone that is comfortable on their back and will be the type to deliver massive punishment in the open guard. That guy is going to be Vinc Pichel. After an early takedown in his fight-in bout, he recovered well and fought for a mix of submissions that Cody Pfister had no answer for. After a massive laceration was opened on the head of Pfister, Pichel was the proverbial “shark in the water” and took the fight into his hands, earning a submission win via rear naked choke in the process.
Scott: This might be a bit of a reach for him but I want another guy who’s been around the block on the bigger shows. Daron Cruickshank will be getting one of my jerseys. He may not have finished his opponent but Cruickshank has been a steady opponent and was supposed to be in Bellator a while back. He’s another guy who’s stopped a lot of guys with strikes, as well, which will put him in good company on Team Sawitz.
Shawn: With the last pick in our “first round,” we’re going to take Chris Tickle. His big stoppage of Austin Lyons in 24 seconds proved that the man has serious dynamite in his hands. Tickle is better than his 7-4 record might imply and if we’re looking at knockouts for this season, this is another fighter that we can count on to deliver them.
Scott: Sometimes you need familiarity amongst your teammates to establish good training habits early on. That’s why I want Michael Chiesa with the first pick of the second round. Chiesa trains with Sicilia and sometimes having a couple of guys who know how to push one another will be good for your team. Another thing that’s been happening on TUF is that guys on the same team outside of the show who are pushed onto differing teams still work together to ensure they both survive to fight another day. Why not prevent this and get them together?
Shawn: Training hard is one thing. Having partners that can add to your repertoire is just as important. Seeing that we’ve already chosen several grapplers, we’re going to add another one with Joey Proctor. The 7-1 Proctor has 4 submission victories in his 8 professional fights coupled solid decisions and a TKO win. Proctor can grind one out if he needs to, which he might have to against Sawitz’ big strikers, so if he gets this to the mat, Proctor could be set for a long run on the show.
Scott: That reminds me: I think I might need another high level grappler. Mike Rio, three time NAIA champion, fits the bill. His only loss is to another TUF winner in Efrain Escudero and his abilities on the mat will help. Rio has great submission skills and takedown abilities, winning by rear naked choke in his fight to get into the house, and sometimes a hard-nosed wrestler will be just what the doctor ordered.
Shawn: Needing someone that can avoid big strikes while remaining true to their wrestling pedigree, we’re taking John Cofer. The American comes into the house with a 7-1 record with 3 wins by submission, 3 by decision and one KO victory. Cofer was able to get inside Mark Glover’s strikes and grind out a win. He’s an enigma, having fought mainly on shows in the Southeast, but this guy has the tools to make a run as well. Sawitz might think my team reads like a NAGA tournament, but I think this season’s winner sits firmly on my side thus far.
Scott: Much to Shawn’s chagrin the winner is going to be on my side. Why? Because I’m picking Chris Saunders, who has won two belts already (MEZ Sport and NAIOP), that’s why. Championship edge and whatnot.
Shawn: You know who could really surprise people in this year’s competition? Jeremy Larsen has 8 career wins. He ground out a solid win over fellow contestant Jeff Smith and withstood some desperation attempts for a submission finish. Guts, skill…sounds like a winner to me.
Scott: Every time there’s a British fighter who makes it onto the show in a non “Team England” season then something special could happen. That’s why I want Andy Ogle; he may be fighting in the states for the first time but sometimes it’s that kind of a guy who shocks the world.
Shawn: Happily, this leaves me with James Vick. Vick earned split decision win over Dakota Cochrane and showed good clinch defense against Cochrane. As the bout wound down, Dakota went for broke, but Vick weathered the storm and almost sank and anaconda choke. Despite ending the round on the bottom, Vick took his place in the house, bringing with it his 4-0 record.