Friday, July 10, 2009 | 1 p.m.
According to UFC president Dana White the 10th season of “The Ultimate Fighter” could be the popular reality television’s show’s best.
White’s prediction is pretty bold, but so too is a cast of notable athletes that includes four former NFL players, a UFC veteran, a former IFL heavyweight champ, and two of the most popular UFC fighters in Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Rashad Evans — who flat out dislike each other — serving as coaches.
Oh, and some guy named Kevin Ferguson, better known by the moniker Kimbo Slice — who just happens to be the most infamous street fighter of all-time.
“I’m being honest, I’m not trying to over-promote or do whatever, I’m telling you right now there’s a ton of moments in this season that I believe are the best television we’ve ever done,” White said.
The likely starts with Slice, who became an Internet sensation when his backyard brawls were posted on YouTube.
Slice won three out of his first four Elite XC fights, before the organization went defunct at the end of 2008 — including a controversial victory over James Thompson during the company’s blowout 2008 Memorial Day weekend event that marked the first time an MMA event aired on a major American television network.
But it was Ferguson’s upset loss to Seth Petruzelli in just 14 seconds in October of 2008 that convinced most mainstream MMA fans that the legend of Kimbo was a farce.
White said he would never let Slice fight in the UFC, unless he earned his way via “The Ultimate Fighter.”
Sure enough, that’s the storyline and Slice is ready to make White eat those words.
“I’m already street certified,” said Slice, flashing a big smile during media day for “TUF” No. 10 last month.
“But you can’t get that ultimate respect unless you become an Ultimate fighter. So I’m kind of here to prove that I can fight for real. I’m in a house with guys that are champions in different fields: collegiate champions, wrestling champions, jiu-jitsu champions. These guys are certified in what they do. I’m certified in the streets, so put us all together and we’ll see who walks away as the ultimate fighter.”
In addition to Slice, four NFL players —Marcus Jones, Matt Mitrione, Brendan Schaub and Wes Shivers — will participate in the competition debuting on Spike TV on Sept. 16.
Former IFL heavyweight champion Roy "Big Country" and former UFC fighter Wes Sims also highlight the heavyweight season, the first edition to feature the largest weight class since “TUF” No. 2, when Evans won the finale.
Here’s a quick look at the 16 competitors who will be trying to earn a guaranteed contract in the UFC:
Zak Jensen (11-2 MMA record): The 26-year-old Jensen was a standout wrestler at Augsburg College, who previously played football Northern Illinois University.
Marcus Jones (4-1): The 6-foot-6, 260-pound Jones was a first-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1996. The former ACC Defensive Player of the Year enjoyed an eight-year NFL career.
Scott Junk (6-2): The 30-year-old Junk was a former Division II All-American football player at Southwest Oklahoma State. Junk lost to Christian Wellisch at UFC 76.
John Madsen (3-0): The 6-foot, 240-pound Madsen defeated current UFC champion Brock Lesnar in a high-school wrestling match in South Dakota, and went on to earn a Division II national championship at South Dakota State University.
James McSweeney (12-4): The 6-foot-4, 230-pound former international kickboxing and Muay Thai champ recently made the move to train under Greg Jackson in New Mexico.
Matt Mitrione (0-0): The 6-foot-3, 275-pounder played six seasons in the NFL as a member of the New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings.
Roy Nelson (14-4): The 33-year-old was born and raised in Las Vegas, and earned the now defunct IFL's heavyweight crown, before suffering losses to Jeff Monson and Andrei Arlovski.
Demico Rogers (4-0): The 6-foot-4, 235-pound Rogers was a standout wrestler and football player in Washington.
Brendan Schaub (4-0): The 6-foot-4, 240-pound played fullback at the University of Colorado before later playing in the Arena Football League and winning a spot on the Buffalo Bills' practice squad.
Darill Schoonover (10-0): The 6-foot-2, 250-pound, 24-year-old is a decorated Army vet, who has recorded stoppages in all 10 of his fights.
Wes Shivers (3-1): The 6-foot-7, 285-pound Shivers earned all-SEC honors at Mississippi State University before stints with the Tennessee Titans and Atlanta Falcons.
Wes Sims (22-12-1): The 6-foot-10, 260-pound Sims lost two fights to current UFC interim champion Frank Mir at UFC 43 and UFC 46.
Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson (3-1): The 6-foot-1, 235-pound Ferguson earned his fame through underground fighting, but now wants to prove he can really compete in MMA.
Abe Wagner (6-2): The 6-foot-4, 265-pound Wagner played linebacker at Michigan Tech University, while earning a degree in mechanical engineering.
Mike Wessel (6-1): The 31-year-old Wessel grew up in Ohio, and played football at the University of St. Francis. He played briefly in the Arena League before serving as a strength and conditioning coach at the University of Arkansas.
Justin Wren (10-1): The 6-foot-3, 264-pound Wren was a two-time high-school national champion wrestler in Texas, who earned a spot to Iowa State, where an injury derailed his collegiate career.
Andy Samuelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-948-7837.