The Ultimate Fighter begins its 27th season this Wednesday on FS1, as a new crop of lightweights and featherweights share a roof and compete in a weeks-long tournament to see who gets a UFC contract and the big cash prize.
As previously announced, the coaches for this season will be heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic and light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier. The show will have yet another twist on the traditional formula, with all of the contestants being undefeated in their professional careers as per the title.
Here are some quick hits on each contestant and what they bring.
Thailand “Landshark“ Clark (7-0) – Clark is a wily and athletic fighter with great handspeed and smart positioning on the ground. His wrestling is good, yet he seems a lot more comfortable standing. Clark also fought mostly in the Kansas/Missouri circuit, earning a decision win at Bellator 150 in 2016 (his only outing for that organization). He also went 9-1 as an amateur, with a win over Chuka Willis in 2013.
Joe “Skeletor“ Giannetti (6-0) – Hailing from the New England scene, Giannetti went 6-0 as an amateur (3 submissions and 2 TKOs) before jumping to the professional ranks in 2016. Giannetti started his career as a welterweight before dropping to 155. Generally, win/loss record in the region don’t always reflect the talent level overall of fighters, but it is a bit worrisome that the opposition he’s faced is mostly composed of fighters that had middling (0-1, 3-3, 5-6) to downright abysmal (0-4, 3-9), including a then 14-63 Jay Ellis. No, that’s not a typo. As his nickname suggests, he’s got a lanky frame and long range, and can pull off some smooth submissions.
John Gunther (6-0) – Fighting out of Strong Style Fight Team, it shouldn’t be hard to guess what team Gunther is going to end up on. Starting as an amateur in early 2011, Gunther went 11-2 until going pro in 2014, racking up 8 submission wins in the process. He’s durable, and has a very come-forward pressure based approach.
José Martinez Jr. (4-0) – Fighting out of the Ohio and Western Pennsylvania area, Martinez had an 8-5 amateur record with a handful of TKO/KO wins. Two of his pro fights have ended with finishes due to strikes, and he’s a hard-nosed top control guy that puts everything into his shots. He’s another Ohio-based fighter, so he may also end up on Team Miocic.
Luis Peña (4-0) – As a pro, Luis Peña has one knockout win and three submissions. As an amateur, he went 8-2 with seven submission wins. He’s got decent boxing and gets creative when he gets loose in open space. Peña also has what is easily the best nickname of the bunch, Violent Bob Ross. He’s already a winner in my eyes for that.
Richie Smullen (3-0-1 draw) – Having gone 3-3 as an amateur, Irish fighter Richie Smullen came into the pro scene in Shinobi War and BAMMA, with one TKO and two leglock finishes. He’s crafty, and he’s quick on the pressure once he’s got the submission attempt in. Seriously.
Michael Trizano (6-0) – Trizano is a New York Tiger Schulmann fighter that went 6-0 as an amateur and is now 6-0 as a professional. He has a good standup base, but has a vicious choke game in his arsenal.
Allan Zuñiga – Zuñiga’s been fighting since 2009, and jumped into the pro pool after only one amateur bout. He’s had fights in Costa Rica, France, Brazil and Mexico, with good submission defense and is a has a pretty thick frame for a lightweight. His most notable win is over Levy Saul Marroquin, who won the Copa Combate tournament in Cancun last November. He’s got a knack for pouring on the pressure when he smells blood.
Jay Cucciniello (8-0) – This one’s a bit odd. Cuciniello is a talented European circuit fighter with very good reflexes and a mean left hand. Jay’s got some good instincts to pounce at the right moment. He’s a British fighter training out of Spain at a gym co-owned by former UFC talent Luke Barnatt. Depending on the source, he either had a loss or a no-contest against Declan Williams in 2016. It’s the only fight on his record that went to a decision, but all of his other fights are a result of him finishing his opposition. It either appears to not count for some reason, or could be a miscommunication on the behalf of the sanctioning body for that event.
Tyler Diamond (9-0) – Diamond went 7-0 as an amateur with three TKOs, then made it to the pros to remain undefeated with five TKOs and one submission. Fighting out of Sacramento’s Team Alpha Male, Diamond’s an athlete that explode in bursts and makes great use of his leg kicks.
Brad Katona (6-0) – Western Canada’s Katona has fought some tough local guys, and spent time fighting at SBG Ireland. He also went 30-0 as an amateur, all three wins being submissions.
Bryce Mitchell (9-0) – At the tender young age of 19, Mitchell worked his way up and earned 9 submission wins in the amateur ranks. As a now-24 year old professional, he’s fought for World Series of Fighting and V3 in the Southeastern U.S. with all but his last fight being submission finishes.
Suman Mokhtarian (8-0) – Sydney, Australia’s Mokhtarian is only 25 years old, and is six submission wins on his pro record. If that doesn’t tell you enough about his submission chops, he’s got a teepee/rib crusher finish as well as a Twister in his toolbox. If his surname sounds familiar, it’s because he’s the brother of current UFC flyweight Ashkan Mokhtarian. The Australian Top Team product could be a favorite to win the series.
Dulani Perry (4-0) – Perry doesn’t appear to have an amateur record, but has a flashy boxing style. The Legacy/LFA fighter is based out of Texas, and has a good defensive ground game to boot.
Kyler Phillips (5-0) – Training out of John Crouch’s MMA Lab in Arizona, Phillips had a 4-0 amateur career with two submissions, a TKO and a knockout. As a professional, he’s won with one submission and three TKOs, the last of which was on Dana White’s Contender Series last August. If he’s not a possible favorite, he could still have a very bright future after TUF.
Ricky Steele (5-0) – Idaho native Steele had two amateur submission wins, and has gone on to earn decision wins so far. Nicknamed “The Karate Kid“, he’s got a diverse striking arsenal to draw from, and has worked his defensive grappling to maximize his skillset. His last fight was in early 2016, so we’ll find out on the show if the time off has been a benefit or a detriment.
The Ultimate Fighter finale is scheduled for July 6th at the Pearl Theater, part of the Palms Resort and Casino. The series will air Wednesdays at 10:00pm EST on Fox Sports 1.
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